Melanie Nathan, a much sought-after speaker on human rights generally and LGBT rights specifically, was looking forward to delivering Pride Month speeches for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake and Oxnard later this month.
"People in the military contacted me about speaking at these Pride events and recommended me to the Navy," Nathan said. "This was their second year of having pride events at these bases. Last year they had Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mother."
Given the Trump administration's demonstrated lack of support for the LGBT community, these Pride events are especially meaningful to this community. After receiving the request to speak, Nathan submitted an outline of her talk as well as a set of pictures she intended to include in her Power Point presentation. Her proposal was reviewed and she received the go-ahead from from the Naval Air Warfare Center in May.
"I had planned to cover the history of LGBT rights in America, with some international focus as well," said Nathan, a South Africa native who volunteers virtually full time with the African Human Rights Coalition.
"I had planned to cover the history of LGBT rights in America, with some international focus as well," said Nathan, a South Africa native who volunteers virtually full time with the African Human Rights Coalition. "I would talk about marriage equality, but would also wonder if we'd set the bar too low by not reaching hard enough for full equality."
But then, as Nathan was filling out forms for her badge, a fateful email message came from a Naval EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Manager terminating the engagements. 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.
But there was much more than "discussions." There was a signed contract.
"Melanie had a legal contract—an offer, an acceptance, and a consideration," said Lisa Bloom, the attorney Nathan engaged once she decided she needed to speak out. "Since they're sticking to their position in voiding that contract, all legal options are open."
With so much going on at the border, Nathan wondered if she should just accept the situation. "But I thought that if this could happen to me in this context, we're all duty-bound to speak up."
"Under the First Amendment, the highest level of protected speech is political speech," added Bloom. "The Navy's email straightforwardly said they were ending the contract because of Melanie's Twitter comments, which were clearly protected speech."
"Yes, I had been critical of Trump on social media. He blocked me on his Twitter feed when I called him a liar for the way he shut down the government," Nathan said.
"I have my own blog—O-blog-dee-o-blog-da—where I'm very visible. I come from a point of view not of journalism, but of advocacy," Nathan continued. "I take strong positions across the board, for all to see. Certainly, anyone could have found out all about me from that blog and my own website."
But the Navy had entered into a legal agreement with her and had been working with her to shape the talks.
"Initially, the Navy thought my speech outline was too Africa-centric," Nathan said. "So I changed the focus to the San Francisco Pride theme—'Generations of Strength.'"
"I agreed that the speech would be educational, not political, and sent an outline and pictures to their legal department," Nathan said. "They approved my work on the proviso that I send the final presentation two weeks before the speaking date."
Nathan and Bloom find it particularly ironic that an EEO manager would deliver the message that Nathan, an internationally known speaker on LGBTQ rights, was not welcome at the Pride event. "It's possible that there is a growing climate of fear" Nathan said. "Their sudden reversal just doesn't make sense".
"We all talk about how Trump is violating our norms," added Bloom. "This is just a perfect example. Here we have a president who won't tolerate any criticism whatsoever even though we have a fundamental right to criticize the government."
Bloom added that the highest level of protection is afforded political speech by our Constitution—a fundamental right that must be upheld.
This experience with the Navy isn't Nathan's only weird, abusive run-in with the federal government.
As part of her extensive work with the African Human Rights Coalition, Nathan has been serving as an expert witness for a gay man from Uganda, who has been held in detention for a year.
"But when I flew from San Francisco to El Paso to join the pro bono attorney for the man's hearing, the government was a no-show," said Nathan. "They changed the date to August without informing the attorney, the witnesses or even the detainee. Utterly disgraceful."
[dc]"I[/dc]f I were to read between the lines, there must be a culture of fear," Nathan concluded regarding her Navy Pride speech affair. "If the EEOC is going to shut me down this way, someone must be very afraid of something."
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