Melanie Nathan was excited to speak during Pride Month before a military audience at two Southern California naval bases last month.
Nathan, a well-known speaker and writer based out of San Francisco, was eager to relate the history of the long, ongoing struggle for LGBT rights in the U.S. and around the world. The talk would have been especially poignant given the difficulties the military has faced in grappling with the issues of gays, lesbians, and trans people serving in uniform.
But then, just as she was polishing her presentation, the Naval Equal Employment Opportunity officerCriticize Trump and You’ll Pay
"> cancelled the engagement, violating their signed contract. Because of “several comments you’ve made on Twitter regarding our nation’s current administration . . . we need to cease further discussions with you regarding our Pride Month events,” the message said.
The Navy acknowledged that they were wrong and we were right. And they didn't ask for confidentially about the payment. Melanie has the absolute right to speak out about how she stood up for her rights.
Nathan was devastated, less because of the loss of income than the missed opportunity.
"The biggest loss for me was the lost chance to share the history of LGBT community. What I enjoy most about the talks I give is the question and answer sessions afterwards, the chance to interact back and forth with the audience members," she said yesterday. "Here, there was loss all around."
But rather than slink away, Nathan decided to fight back, engaging civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom to press her case.
And Monday, Bloom announced that the Navy acknowledged its error, apologizing for the inconvenience and paying Nathan the full amount promised for the speech she had planned to give.
"This was a big, big victory," Bloom said. "The Navy acknowledged that they were wrong and we were right. And they didn't ask for confidentially about the payment. Melanie has the absolute right to speak out about how she stood up for her rights."
The Navy blamed a "misunderstanding," but neither women buy it.
"That can't be true," said Bloom. "Since the conversation was all done by email, it's easy for me to follow as an attorney. The facts could not be any clearer."
"Lisa was just there, there, there," said a joyful Nathan. "She was on top of the issues every step of the way. Wonderful work!"
Putting herself out front in battles over LGBT rights isn't always easy, for Nathan or anyone else.
"One time, I was speaking at the Commonwealth Club and I'd taken my 13-year-old daughter," Nathan said. "When I asked for questions from the audience, my daughter asked, 'When I was little and you would go out to rallies, I always worried that you would get shot. Do you ever think you'll stop?'"
"I had to tell her, 'No, nothing in the world will stop me,'" Nathan continued. "There's just something about me."
Nathan said she drew inspiration from her mother's opposition to apartheid and other civil wrongs in their native South Africa.
"One time, we went into a bank where my mother asked for a safety deposit box. The manager told her she'd need a signature from her husband," Nathan said. "My mother went ballistic. She raised holy hell with me right there. That memory stuck with me. I realize now what that moment modeled for me."
"So, what I did with this Navy contract was model behavior for my 20-year-old and my 13-year-old, just as my mother had done for me," she said. "That's my duty as a mother—and as a fellow American."
Bloom draws parallels between what happened in shutting down Nathan's LGBT talk with broader attempts to stifle dissent by the Trump administration and others.
"As President Trump daily attempts to destroy our democratic norms of equality, diversity, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and so many others, we want everyone to know that you can stand up for your rights—and win,” said Bloom in announcing the victory. “Nathan is a shining example of the courage it takes to oppose the U.S. government’s growing authoritarianism, and I hope she inspires others to stand up for their rights.”
Unfortunately, after Nathan's Pride talk was cancelled at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake and Oxnard, no other talk replaced it.
"With the military, there seems to be a schism between the Trump administration and the top military leaders. The higher ups in the military know that the data supports integrating gays and lesbians into the ranks," said Nathan. "But there's a lot of fear that if you cross Trump's people, you could lose your job."
Even though Nathan didn't get to speak to the military audience, Bloom counts the outcome as an important lesson for activists everywhere.
"The First Amendment right to free speech is useless if people won't stand up and speak about their rights. Melanie had the guts to speak out," said Bloom yesterday. "It's important that people see that."
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