Wednesday, January 17, 2007

With thanks to Andy Towle of the invaluable Towleroad, I found an interesting story that points out the inconsistent way the U.S. government operates and the egregious unfairness of its current policies. Here's the story of an openly gay police officer, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, raising a son with his partner of 12 years, who was pursued by the State Department to join the police force in Afghanistan to train personnel in a wide variety of human rights, tolerance, and diversity issues. A lightly condensed version of the story is below.

Now the question I would love to have answered is why this man, properly valued for his particular skills, can be courted by one branch of the government to serve in a foreign country that the U.S. currently occupies, while hundreds of equally skilled young Americans (including, reportedly, the majority of our desperately needed Arabic speakers in Iraq) have been thrown out of the military for being gay? Can anyone find the slightest thread of logic here?

MISSOULA TO AFGHANISTAN / Protect, serve abroad
By TRISTAN SCOTT of the Missoulian

Missoula Police Officer Scott Oak turns in his motorcycle Thursday morning as he prepares to leave the force and travel to Afghanistan to help train the Afghan National Police force for one year. Oak leaves Missoula on Saturday.
Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

Scott Oak enjoys a challenge, especially if it means putting his neck on the line.

In November 2005, that mentality gave Oak cause to volunteer as the liaison officer between Missoula's police department and the local gay community. It's also the reason he became a police officer and, before that, the impetus for his military service and commitment to the U.S. Air Force.

On Saturday, Oak will embark on yet another selfless venture by traveling to Afghanistan, where he'll help train the Afghan National Police force for one year.

"It's just the way I'm hardwired," Oak said. "I come from a background in service with the military and law enforcement. I'm sort of set on offering those services wherever they're needed." So it's no surprise that when the U.S. State Department contacted him about an International Police Mission six months ago, Oak displayed the same mettle he's come to exhibit whenever a situation looks dire. In this case, Oak hopes his work will lead to a speedy acclimation for a country struggling with the concept of an independent democracy.

Oak says he was contacted by officials with the State Department because of the high volume of publicity he received after taking on the responsibility as Missoula's first gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex - or GLBTI - liaison. Oak was asked to carry that expertise abroad and conduct training in human and civil rights, ethics, diversity and basic police operations.

"I could be training police on everything from human rights to building searches," Oak said. "But I think, because of my experience as the GLBTI liaison officer, I'll be helping to enlighten them about cultural diversity.

Meanwhile, Oak hopes Missoula will continue on its own path to enlightenment with the aid of interim GLBTI Officer Nicole Pifari. "She and the chief have both pledged their support to keeping the position, so I have no doubt it will be waiting for me when I return," Oak said.

Although Oak frets some about the risks he knows exist in Afghanistan, his biggest concern is leaving his family and friends. Oak, who is gay, is raising a teenage foster son with his partner of 12 years. "In all that time, the longest we've been apart is 12 months," Oak said. "They'll both receive a lot of support through the foster program and from our families, but it's still going to be difficult on us."

So then why, save for personal resolve and civic responsibility, has Oak chosen to leave his position at the Missoula Police Department and travel to a country at war?
"A lot of people think I'm crazy," Oak said, "but for me it's just another challenge and an opportunity to help people in need."

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Vant of the blog Die Fledermaus and Jason Tarvin of Let's Say You're Right . . . yesterday afternoon. Matt had come to Boston due to the passing of his father and Jason followed to support him. Before heading back home, they're spending a couple of days seeing the city as Jason had never been here before. While we didn't have too much time together, I did get a chance to show them around our design and production building, which I think they enjoyed as both are interested in theater and Matt's an actor/singer with a local company in Cincinnati. Hopefully they'll be back at some point as they're very nice guys and great company.

I'm off to New York City later today for a concert performance at Carnegie Hall of Rossini's opera "Otello" adapted from Shakespeare's "Othello." Giuseppe Verdi's version of the same plot, from later in the 19th century, more or less swept Rossini's opera out of the repertory. But on its own terms, the earlier work is quite lovely (I know it only from recordings) and is actually closer in structure and plot detail to the original play than is Verdi's treatment. I'll be back in town tomorrow.

Hey, have a great trip to NYC. It sounds like a blast. And a great story from Missoula!
I wasn't aware Rossini had an "Otello"!
Lucky man, to have met Jason.
It was so nice meeting you Will. Thank you for your enthusiasm and patience showing us around your workshop. Sorry we had to bolt so quick, but luckily everything worked out with his furnace. Looking forward to my next trip to Boston :)
I need to get my arse to Boston. I want a tour. Oh, to be in a "real" theatre again. It feels like eons.

I'll bring my tap shoes.

(I've added my resumes to my blog -- as you can see I have a rather extensive history, but mostly HS and community theatres.)
You get off a plane at Logan and they'll be a warm welcome, lots of good talk over wine or cocktails (your choice) and a tour of the city, including some of our theaters. Just give me notice of when.
Thanks for the story. You are right, there is very little logic sometimes from our venerated government. What amuses me now is that all those republican house members who vehemently supported Bush's war plan years ago are now against it.. just in time for the democratic pendulum swing.
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