Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lesbians, Gays, Economic Development & Social Acceptance

Milk got me thinking about GLBT things again, something I was maybe more into when I was younger. I read quite a bit into LesBiGay history back then, pretty much devouring every book on the topic that the library had.

However, I was never the activist the way Harvey Milk and his friends where, more on the fringes of that scene, more the "checkbook activist", though I did my small turn marching in gay pride parades.

There were, and are, some good solid activists and organizers in Dayton (one was Leon Bey, who in modern times helped organize the Save the Arcade campaign). Yet, back in the day, the one that sort of brought me into this activist thing and out of the bars was one Steve Bickford.

Steve was a good organizer, politically aware, and also pretty good about networking and making connections. He even got me to attend the big NGLTF Creating Change conference one year.

So what happened to Steve? He was fired and left town.

Where was he fired from? Wright-Patterson AFB. And he was out of the closet at work. It didn't take to long after he came out before he was told to clean out his desk, metaphorically speaking. Who knows if his homosexuality had something to do with it? He did tell me that he had co-workers who refused to work with him, and management accomodated their refusal.

Which is why I just have to laugh at the worship of Wright-Patterson among the economic development & creative class poobahs here. They see the local defense presence as a big plus and source for economic growth and the network of contractors, civilians, military, and retired military as big human resource and talent pool.

But is this such a big plus for gays and lesbians? I suspect it is quite the contrary.

After organized religion the military is the most homophobic institution in US society. The miltiary excludes lesbians and gays as a matter of policy. And the security clearance process (administered by the military) can be used to exclude gays and lesbians from civilian contractor employment. Beyond that retired military bring their prejudices with them when they are hired into the private sector.

So one can see how a hostile or at best grudginly tolerant "don't ask/don't tell" social and work climate would begin to permeate the region if the defense sector becomes more and more prominent and influential.

This may already be happening. An indicator is the recent referendums on gay marriage in Ohio (2004) and California (2008). As one can see of the top Ohio metro counties, Montgomery County did the worst in point spread, where the no vote was over 16% more than the yes vote. This was the even worse than Akron and Toledo, both old industrial citys. Dayton is , paradoxically, more high-tech (higher % in engineering, scientific, and professional work), yet had a higher % no vote. Perhaps the presence of the defense sector here accounts for the slighly higher % in Dayton.

And then there was last years California vote. Statewide the spread was 5% between the yes and no vote, indicating how close this was, and also indicating a modicum of social acceptance of lesbians, gays, and their relationships vis a vis Ohio. Only Franklin County (Columbus) equaled the California spread. Sacramento, the fourth largest metro area in the state, in the conservative Central Valley, voted no with a higher spread, but it was more equivilant to Cleveland and well below Dayton/Montgomery County's 16%.

Of course one can ask is it really good anywhere in the US for gays and lesbians. After all Calfiornia did render same-sex marriage unconstitutional via referendum. There is social progress over time, but some places are better or worse than others, and progress is always tenuous and contingent. It was only a generation ago that gays and lesbians were in a gray area overlapping between criminality, immorality, and mental illness.

In any case it's questionable what place gays and lesbians have in the economic and social life of this community if it becomes more and more oriented toward the defense sector.

13 comments:

Brother OMi said...

just an FYI
security clearances DO NOT ask about sexual orientation
if he worked at WPAFB, then he had at least a secret security clearance.

i agree however, that the military is very homophobic.

Billy said...

"Which is why I just have to laugh at the worship of Wright-Patterson among the economic development & creative class poobahs here. They see the local defense presence as a big plus and source for economic growth and the network of contractors, civilians, military, and retired military as big human resource and talent pool."

This comment is obviously directed at the conversation happening at DMM. In fact, knowing the conservative nature of the base I did ask the question - how do typical base employees and contractors feel about there being several gay bars downtown and is that a turn-off for them? Gee, you could have offered your opinion then instead of coming back to your blog to "laugh at" the conversation.

You do some very good stuff, Jeffery - but comments like this are disappointing to hear.

74ta455 said...

I don't think creative types are drawn to work at the base. I think they're put off by the restraints of a military and security culture. Seems to go against the creative class idea. It's unfortunate so much of the engineering work in this area is tied to the base.

I can see how it would be hard to be openly gay out there.

kevin said...

I hope Jeffrey's not becoming a bitter old man. :p

I'm not one to offer any resolve for the plights the GBLT community deal with at the base. I would suspect that any efforts for equal treatment will help level the playing field, so don't give up.

Anonymous said...

Security clearances most certainly do screen sexual orientation, as the threat of outing is a classic spy agency technique for turning homosexuals into assets.

While I don't outright laugh at the creative class poobahs' misguided notion of WPAFB as economic savior, I do get a gutteral chuckle. WPAFB is connected to Dayton only by geographic happenstance. The Air Force is currently downsizing and R&D budgets being reduced. Next!

Billy said...

Anon - I don't think anybody is viewing WPAFB as some kind of economic savior (at least on DMM), but it does happen to be a rather large concentration of high tech workers and such, and it would be pretty stupid to simply ignore it despite any current downsizing.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't in this town...

Greg Hunter said...

One must laugh as Dayton, not unlike the Military is mired in Groupthink. Look at most of the Creative Class selections; most are acolytes in major Dayton institutions, which typically elevate ass kissers, not innovators. Management is not talented enough to recognize creativity. There is internationally recognized engineers and developers in this town, but none on the creative contingent. The mediocre judge the talented in Dayton. Latest example of groupthink = Amy Schrimpf as selectee for Kettering City Council,

Anonymous said...

The Dayton Most Metroids have over leveraged themselves on Richard Florida's false promise. That isn't working, so they are fighting a slash-n-burn rearguarde action to salvage their credibility. Anyone who does not share their Lotus-eater excapism is forced to drink hemlock.

Jefferey said...

The point of this post was to question the place of lesbians and gays in a community that is increasingly oriented to the military and defense sector.

The creative class people are actually the antithesis of this as they have to buy in, to some degree, to Florida's concept of tolerance, which famously includes lesbians and gays.

Being gay myself I can't oppose that, seeing the creative clas concept as an ally. But I smile at the irony at the disconnect with the concept and that military thang going on here.

And guess what, that bar chart I posted shows Florida is right. Look at Columbus and ponder how this is the coolest city in the state, but also, apparently, the most gay-friendly.

Anonymous said...

A large number of Evangelical Christians have been planted in the Air Force's Corp of Chaplains. They have effectively changed the Air Force's once progressive culture to one of feudal biggotry. It's gotten so over the top that even the Bush Junta has instructed them to tone it down.

The Most Metroids, of course, selectively ignore this.

Joe Lacey said...

I was happy to learn that my Ohio house district, the 39th, voted no on Issue 1 in 2004. It includes southwest Dayton, some of froc, Jefferson Twp and most of southeast Dayton.

Joe Lacey said...

I was happy to learn that my Ohio house district, the 39th, voted no on Issue 1 in 2004. It includes southwest Dayton, some of froc, Jefferson Twp and most of southeast Dayton.

Jefferey said...

Yeah, the geography of that vote in Montgomery County would be neat to know...do some point spreads by neighborhood, precinct and suburb. Hopefully the board of elections still has the results somewhere.