Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bye Bye, DADT! + Niemeyer's 103rd

There's been so little to celebrate of late with the current administration or the now lame-duck Congress, and the capitulation on the tax cuts for millionaires-to-get-an-extension-of-unemployment insurance for the most vulnerable Americans, during the winter holidays no less, was a particularly bitter pill.  But today proved that the government will not end the year only on low notes.

Today brought one of the highest of the year thus far. Although Senate Republicans last week killed a bill to provide funding for 9/11 first-responders and the Defense Appropriation Bill, which had included a DADT repeal component, and this morning, with the support of five Democrats, quashed passage of the Dream Act for the children of undocumented immigrants, the Democrats with some GOP help today broke this sorry string by first voting 63-33 (a third of the US Senate was still voting no, but six Republicans, Collins, Brown, Murkowski, Olympia Snowe, Mark Kirk and George Voinovich, voted with nearly all the Democrats) to invoke cloture on a bill introduced by Joe Lieberman, then voted 65-31 this afternoon to repeal the 1993 Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy, which barred openly lesbian and gay servicepeople from serving in the US military. The House had already passed a DADT repeal earlier this week. President Obama, who had promised in campaign to repeal this odious policy, has fulfilled this promise, and is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.

For years before the 1993 policy, enacted under President Bill Clinton as a response to extreme reactions to his attempts to end the prior, harsher policy against LGBT servicepeople (Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was strongly against allowing openly gay LGBT to serve), brave active duty soldiers, veterans and gay activists had fought to allow LGBT people to serve openly in the military, and after the 1993 policy took effect, activists increased their efforts to repeal DADT, since like previous policies it consigned valuable members of the US military to dismissal, destroying their careers and livelihoods prematurely, based solely on their sexual orientations or others' perceptions thereof.

After this week's votes I, like all other LGBTQ people, and like all Americans, can say I have lived to see the day that this heinous, unequal policy and the one preceding it were repealed by my federal representatives, and signed into law by the President. Most impressive to me was that Congress's courage finally matched that of the American people, who in increasing numbers in recent years have come to believe this policy should be ended, and that of the military's leaders, officers and soldiers, who also agreed that it should be repealed.

Thank you to all those who fought tirelessly to end this policy, through protests, lawsuits, putting their careers and lives on the line. Thank you to all the LGBT people who protested, wrote their officials, wrote articles and blogs to push for the repeal, and to all the non-LGBT allies. Thank you to all those in the military leadership, from the Secretary of Defense to the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs and present and past officers, who changed their views and did the right thing. Thank you to the rank-and-file, whose responses helped to shape the broader public discourse and the specific arguments used by those who still were unsure. Thank you to Congress, especially Speaker of the House Pelosi, and Senators and Majority Leader Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman, and Kristen Gillibrand, along with the handful of Republicans, for passing this bill. And, once President Obama signs it into law, we will be able to thank him for doing what he promised he would do, and what should have been done years ago.

***

On Wednesday, one of the great living architects, Oscar Niemeyer, an artist whose medium is sinuous concrete and steel, turned 103, and celebrated his birthday by inaugurating the newly opened site he had designed in 1997, the headquarters of the Fundação Oscar Niemeyer (Oscar Niemeyer Foundation), in Niterói, a city across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.  The Foundation was created in 1988, but is only now debuting this spectacular, futuristic site, which is several kilometers to the north of another of Niemeyer's masterpieces, the space ship-atop-a-hill that houses Rio's/Niterói's Museum of Contemporary Art. Both the foundation's new headquarters and the Museum are part of a series of buildings and sites, known as the Caminho Oscar Niemeyer, in Niterói (formerly the provincial capital when Rio de Janeiro was the federal capital of Brazil), which also includes People's Theater of Niterói, Charitas Boat Station, and Plaza JK (Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil's president from 1956-1960, and the visionary behind Brasília).  All are accessible after a short and picturesque ferry-ride from the city of Rio.

Though Niemeyer has designed notable sites and buildings all over the world, 600 in total, including some of the buildings at the United Nations (with Le Corbusier), he is perhaps most famous for his site plan and structures for Brazil's third and permanent capital, at Brasília, which he created at the behest of then-president Juscelino Kubitschek beginning in 1956.



Debuting in April 1960, Brasília unfolds on a vast plane in the hinterlands along a monumental axial plan devised in 1958 by Niemeyer. All of its iconic buildings are his designs, dating from the late 1950s forward: the Palácio da Alvorada, the Presidential residence; the Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília; the National Congress Building; the Federal Supreme Court; the Palácio de Planalto Presidential offices; the Square of the Three Powers; the Itamaraty Palace, for foreign relations; and the Brasília airport.

For these and his many other works, Niemeyer was awarded the 1988 Pritzker Prize for Architecture. He continues to design buildings and sites; one of the newest is the Prince of Asturias's Cultural Center, in Avilés, Spain, which also debuted on Wednesday.  Parabéns e feliz aniversário, Oscar Niemeyer e que foram muitos anos mais!

Niemeyer, with his wife (to his right) fans, at the event.

 Niemeyer and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói
Fundação Niemeyer site from a distance (photo by Fábio Barros)

 Prince of Asturias Cultural Center, in Avilés, Spain

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