Tomorrow the Queens Chapter of the New York City PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays hold their Annual Awards Reception and Luncheon. I have been asked to read the speech of honoree Cliff Arnesen who is being honored with the “Brenda Howard Memorial Award.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Greetings and blessings to all participants of the Queens NYC Chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) “Annual Awards Reception and Luncheon.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am unable to be with all of you today to receive the “Brenda Howard Memorial Award,” for my dual roles as an advocate of 24 years on behalf of the Bisexual Community; and our Country’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Heterosexual military veterans. Thus, Bryan Ellicott, has generously agreed to read my acceptance speech to you as follows:
I am humbled and honored to be selected by the The Queens NYC Chapter of PFLAG to receive the Brenda Howard Memorial Award, for helping to secure human and civil rights-not special rights- for my bisexual brothers and sisters within society.
However, as is always the case when seeking equality for any “minority” population of people within society , I stand upon the shoulders of the monumental accomplishments of Bisexual pioneers, such as the late Brenda Howard, and so many others.
The seeds of my journey of advocacy was prompted in the details of my dysfunctional childhood growing up in Brooklyn, NY. Although I had biological parents, around the age of three, my loving mother was forced by the state of New York to place me in an orphanage , after being physically assaulted by my violent alcoholic father.
At the age of ten, my Mom sent me away to the predominately African American, Wiltwyck School for Boys, where I met and became friends with the late First Lady, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was on the Board of Directors. It was at Wiltwyck that I knew that I was physically and emotionally attracted to other boys, as well as girls.
1n 1965, At the age of seventeen, I joined the U.S. Army, but agonized over the painful necessity of having to conceal the “attraction and affection” I felt in my heart toward other soldiers. Finally, I told my Company Commander that I was gay/bisexual , because I could no longer live my life as a lie and conceal my “secret.”
Thereafter, I was court court-martialed and sentenced to a year at hard labor in the stockade-of which I served three months in “segregated confinement,” as other prisoners in the general population had threatened to rape and kill me. Then, in 1967,
I was given an “Undesirable Discharge” based on homosexuality, as the military made no distinction between a soldier who was gay or bisexual.
Ten years later, in November of 1977, I petitioned the Department of the Army for an upgrade in discharge, which was granted and changed from “Undesirable” to “General Under Honorable Conditions.”
In 1988, I attended a meeting of the New England Gay & Lesbian Veterans in Boston, MA. After the meeting, I ran for office and was elected president.
Subsequently, on May 3, 1989 and May 16, 1990, respectively, I became the first and only openly bisexual veteran in U.S. history to testify before Congress on behalf of GLBT veterans before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, on issues relating to veterans who suffered from HIV/AIDS, PTSD, homelessness, and less-than-honorable discharges based on homosexuality and bisexuality.
During my 24 years of advocacy as an “openly bisexual veteran” I took a lot of “heat” from miscellaneous organizations and individuals for speaking up so vociferously as an out bisexual veteran.
To these organizations and individuals, I sincerely state that it was, and is, my moral and ethical responsibility to speak out on the issue of the marginalization of bisexuals in the military under the now repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; and within the larger Gay Community, as all should know what terrible consequences people can suffer when one does not “speak out” about external and internal injustice. I only sought acceptance and recognition for ALL bisexual people who have made enormous contributions in helping to secure human and civil rights for the larger gay community.
Personally, I wish we as human beings did not have to “label”
our sexual orientation(s). But, as was the case in the U.S. Military where bisexuality was “specifically” encoded as a basis for discharge, I had to “speak up” when it was not fully integrated in the equation of the generic “Gays” in the Military,” espoused by many gay organizations, and the gay and straight media – whether intentional or unintentional.
For the record, I state that bisexuality is NOT a counterfeit behavior. It is a true “sexual orientation.” The unfounded fear lies within the mindset of people that oppose the concept of bisexual people as having “heterosexual privilege.”
To those folks, I state that people have lived and died without ever having found love in this world. Thus, no love by anyone of a specific sexual orientation or gender identification or expression should be judged by others!
GLB&T people must remember that all of us are God’s children, and that we need each other to fight our real mutual enemies: the Religious Right; perverted organized religions; cults; fundamentalists; conservatives; and so many others who hate GLBT people and use the Bible as a means and tool to try and justify their sick hatred of us-collectively.
Thus, we must ALL band together to fight the injustice of the aforementioned dark forces of evil. Otherwise, we defeat the very purpose of trying to secure human and civil rights for
each other-which is the ultimate injustice!
To this effect, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
So, I rest secure in the knowledge that all Bisexual people , along with GL&T people- have a rightful place in the universe and within our society, as “we” are God’s children -and God does not make mistakes!
The greatest feeling in my heart today is to know that I have tried for 24 years to make this world a better place in which to live for all GLBT people.
And, I am grateful to my Bisexual brothers & sisters who supported me over the years, which gave me the strength to carry on. Among those iconic nationally known bisexual icons and friends were Loraine Hutchins; and Professors Lani Ka’ahumanu, Robyn Ochs, and many others too numerous to pay tribute to.
As for myself, I have learned in my painful journey through life that “love is where one finds it.”
Sincerely and bisexually yours,
Cliff Arnesen, Past Bisexual President
New England GLBT Veterans, Inc. Boston, MA
( “Dissolved” on Nov. 1, 2013 after 28 years of advocacy
on behalf of our Country’s GLBT military veterans.)
Former Board Member: National Bisexual Advisory Board
Former Medical Patient Services Assistant, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Facebook Master Photos: Cliff Arnesen