Category Archives: LGBT Rights

Bree Carlson

The Personal Is Political

Bree Carlson has been politically active almost as long as she has been alive. She learned the importance of political engagement from her mother who passionately demonstrated it as a board member of Planned Parenthood. Her mom was also active in fighting for union representation at the casino where she worked as a cocktail waitresses. With her mother as role model, Carlson knew that she wanted to make a difference, though she did not know it would be in organizing.

Bree Carlson with her mother
Photo Courtesy of Bree Carlson

She originally envisioned a career in public service or in electoral politics, but once she was introduced to the idea of organizing as a way to win change, she knew that was for her. She was working a service job with a gang intervention program when her friendship with Bob Fulkerson at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada showed her there was another, more radical road. In her own words, “When I understood what an organizer was, that was clear it was what I wanted to do.”

Carlson counts herself lucky to have been raised by a single mother and a “flock of cocktail waitresses” who taught her everything she needed to know, including self-sufficiency. “I am the only child of a single mother who was a cocktail waitress. Single mothers are smart humans. The only things that ever got done in my childhood, everything that got fixed, everything that got solved, everything that was made possible, was made possible by a woman. I never learned there were things I was not supposed to be able to do because I was a girl and I am so grateful for that.”

Now that she is married, her self-sufficiency bumps into her partner’s helpfulness from time to time. “For example, I got a flat tire and though he knows I am capable of changing a tire he never considered that it’s my car, so I would change it,  it’s my tire and I never considered anyone else what going to change the tire but me. There’s all these things that most women understand and navigate have to overcome that I never learned.” Continue reading

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Tanya Domi

The Personal Is Political

At thirteen, Tanya Domi was volunteering for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign. The assassinations of Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers shocked and horrified her sense of justice. She attended Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis, a school named after the prelate who, in 1938, integrated all the Catholic schools in his diocese. While the public schools were de facto segregated, Cardinal Ritter’s student body was one-third students of color. This was also a time when the Catholic church was active in supporting the Civil Rights and AntiWar movements, both formative influences on Domi’s worldview.

Cardinal Ritter High School Crest

Cardinal Ritter High School was less progressive on issues of gender. Only boys were allowed to run for student body president and only girls could run for secretary. Domi successfully lobbied to change that during her junior year and in her senior year was elected the first female student body president. One of her first actions addressed the lack of representation of students of color in student government. Domi invited the Black Student Union to nominate a representative and an alternate from each class to student government. All these years later, she still takes great pride in her work to foster a more inclusive and representative student government.

Domi describes her father as a racist and violent man who brutalized both her mother and her, if she dared to challenge him. Nonetheless, when her parents divorced in a bitter dispute while she was in college, she felt overwhelmed and flunked out of school. Her confusion and depression were likely exacerbated by her realization that she might be a lesbian, though she did not know that with certainty until  after she was being Mirandized for it.

Captain Tanya Domi

She enlisted in the Army, a utilitarian decision based on the G.I. Bill education benefits. There, she felt she found a home. She excelled and was promoted, moving into increasingly more responsible positions in Army Intelligence and was transferred to Ft. Deven, Massachusetts just in time to get swept up in a widespread investigation of lesbians in the army.

In March, 1974, she went  with five other women to The Other Side, her first gay bar. All of them were reported as lesbians. When she came back to base, she was Mirandized and told she was under investigation. Domi, unlike the usual target, had been a member of the A.C.L.U. since high school, so she knew she had rights. She called a lawyer for herself and the five other women. She survived an 18-month investigation and was found “not guilty” of being gay, mostly because they charged her before she had the chance to do more than think about it. “Did I know I was gay? I was thinking I was gay, but the messages I was getting was really it’s not okay to be gay at all.”

“The thing is, I was really good at it. I was good at being a soldier. The Army gave me a home.” Randy Shilts’ Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military covers the Fort Deven investigation and multiple additional investigations as Domi continued to advance and excel in the military. She was investigated several times but provided no fodder for successful prosecution. Women who were promoted were often accused of lesbianism by less capable men and so was Domi. She was also accused of being a lesbian after she made a complaint of sexual harassment, a common retaliatory tactic. When she was nominated to be an instructor at West Point, she was targeted with yet another investigation and decided she had enough and resigned her commission. Continue reading