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Defense leaders support open service

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Adm. Michael Mullen (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Top Pentagon leaders announced Tuesday their support for allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military while unveiling new plans for a working group that will examine the impact of such a change in the armed forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen made the remarks in the first Senate hearing in 17 years dedicated to the issue of gays in the military.

Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he favors allowing gays to serve openly as a matter of fairness for those who are serving in the armed forces.

“Speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is the right thing to do,” Mullen said. “No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape … the fact that we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Gates similarly expressed support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” noting President Obama’s last week restated his commitment to repealing the law in his State of the Union address.

“I fully support the president’s decision,” he said. “The question before us is not whether the military decides to makes this change, but how we best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving out accordingly.”

Mullen and Gates’ support for allowing gays to serve in the U.S. military stands in stark contrast to how military leaders in 1993 opposed open service and favored “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The Senate panel received Mullen and Gates’ endorsement of allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military with mixed reactions — with those opposing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” applauding them and those supporting the policy expressing their discontent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the committee and strong proponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said he was “deeply disappointed” with Gates’ testimony and said it showed his bias on the issue.

“It would be far more appropriate, I say with great respect, to determine whether repeal of this law is appropriate and what the effects it would have on the readiness and the effectiveness of the military before deciding on whether we should repeal the law or not,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) noted Mullen only came out in favor of allowing open service after Obama announced his intent to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” suggesting Mullen was taking that position to fall in line with his superior.

Sessions said Mullen’s position would interfere with his subordinates’ ability to evaluate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the implication of its repeal.

“I guess, if it was a trial, we would perhaps raise the undue command influence defense flag,” Sessions said.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) came to the defense of Mullen, saying the admiral was showing leadership and acting as required by a Senate-confirmed nominee by expressing his personal opinion.

“It was clear to me and, I think, clear to most of us that you think this is a view that you hold in your conscience and not given to us because you were directed to by anybody, including the commander-in-chief,” Levin said.

Gates and Mullen expressed support for a change in policy while at the same time highlighting the importance of a new Pentagon working group that would examine the issue.

Mullen said he didn’t know fully what impact ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have throughout the armed forces — especially in a time of two wars — and said further investigation would bring to light those implications.

“That there will be legal, social and perhaps even infrastructure changes to be made certainly seems plausible,” Mullen said. “We would all like to have a better handle on these types of concerns.”

Gates unveiled new plans for a working group that he said would examine the implications of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” By the end of this year, the group is charged with producing recommendations in the form of an implementation plan in the event Congress decides to repeal the statute.

Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Jonson and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, have been chosen to lead this working group, Gates said.

The working group, Gates said, would be charged with reaching out to the force to understand their views about repeal, examining changes in regulations and policy that need to be made and looking at the potential impact of a change in law on military readiness.

To supplement the efforts of this working group, Gates said the Pentagon will ask the RAND Corp. to update its 1993 study on the impact of allowing gays to serve in the military, which at the time found that open service wouldn’t be detrimental to the U.S. military.

In addition to the working group, Gates said he’s directed the Pentagon to review the regulations used to implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, within 45 days, present recommendations that could be applied under existing law to “enforce this policy in a more humane and fair manner.”

“You may recall that I asked the Department’s general counsel to conduct a preliminary review of this matter last year,” Gates said. “Based on that preliminary review, we believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform.”

While the recommendations aren’t yet complete, Gates said the Pentagon is considering a number of options that could allow for greater latitude on discharging gay service members under current law.

Gates said it’s possible to change implementation of current law by raising the rank of officers who are authorized to either initiate or conduct inquiries under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also said officials can “raise the bar” on what is considered credible information or who is considered a credible source to start an inquiry on a service member.

“Overall, we can reduce the instances in which the service member who is trying to serve the country honorably is outed by a third-person with the motive to harm the service member,” Gates said.

Many LGBT activists praised Gates and Mullen for coming out in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military and working to adjust the rules for discharges. Still, activists maintain that full repeal is still necessary.

Lt. Dan Choi, a gay U.S. Army infantry soldier who’s facing discharge after publicly coming out last year, told DC Agenda after the hearing that “there will be some impact” by the interim changes proposed by Gates, but said it’s “missing the point.”

“When you still have people that are lying about who they are, you haven’t solved the root of the problem,” Choi said. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the establishment of a closeted policy, and I don’t think that anybody has to be closeted in our military.”

Lawmakers considering ‘Don’t Ask’ moratorium

Gates’ announcement on the formation of a new working group raises questions about whether Congress will act this year to repeal the law or instead wait until the working group completes its review.

Levin suggested he may include language that would change “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the upcoming defense authorization bill.

After Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) made a comment that senators need to find 60 votes to pass repeal legislation, Levin replied, “Unless there’s a provision in the defense authorization bill that goes to the floor, which would then require an amendment to strike it from the bill, in which case, the 60-vote rule would be turning the other way.”

Following the hearing, Levin told reporters that it’s possible to include in the defense authorization bill a moratorium on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that would be in place until the Pentagon completes its study.

“If we throw a moratorium on it, then what I consider to be a slow pace then would be more practical,” he said.

Asked whether he’s ruled out actual repeal in the defense authorization bill in favor of a moratorium, Levin replied, “I haven’t ruled anything out.”

Also foreseeing the possibility of repeal this year is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the most vocal proponents in Congress of overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

After the hearing, she told reporters she doesn’t think the time Gates is asking for review “will affect legislative progress” and that “we can actually write the bill and pass the bill now.”

“I think all that Adm. Mullen and Secretary Gates were saying is that they want to have a sensitivity to the impact it will have on the military and their families, and to have input in order to decide how to best to implement a policy change,” she said. “So, if they need to take time to do that, that’s fine and appropriate, but it doesn’t mean we can’t pass the repeal now, which is important to move forward on this.”

Gillibrand said she would support the inclusion of a moratorium in the defense authorization bill this year in addition to efforts for outright repeal. She said she thinks there are 60 votes in the Senate for full repeal and recalled how she considered a moratorium amendment last year on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that she ultimately didn’t introduce.

“When I did my bill on moratorium [and] I counted the votes, the only undecided Democrats at that time said their reasons were they wanted to see leadership in the military, or wanted to see leadership from the president,” she said. “And I think what this hearing brings us is leadership on both.”

But Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, a think-tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was pessimistic about the chances of passing legislation to address “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.

He said the Pentagon’s establishment of a working group would make Congress reluctant to take action until the results of its study are known.

“I think that it would be anticipated that many legislators will be waiting to hear what comes out of the study group’s report at the end of the year,” Neff said. “I think that there are enough questions that are being raised that, I think, would be difficult without this study report.”

Whatever effort Congress takes in moving toward repeal this year, lawmakers are set to hear more testimony on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in later hearings.

Levin told reporters the Senate Armed Services Committee would revisit the issue of gays in the military Feb. 11 and will hear from an “outside panel” of expert witnesses.

He also said he expects senators to ask questions on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the service chiefs and service secretaries testify before Congress this month on the president’s budget request.

On the House said, Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in March that will follow up on previous testimony the subcommittee heard in 2008.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tim

    February 3, 2010 at 9:48 am

    This event was a mixed bag, in that I appreciate the joint chiefs, particularly Admiral Mullen, saying he believed DADT should be repealed; while I have reservations about this one year waiting period for action. The year wait has got to go, because this is probably a delay tactic designed to hold off action until next year when anti-gay Republicans will most likely have taken back several seats in the house and senate. If DADT doesn’t get repealed this year, it won’t get repealed for 10+ years, because the Republicans sure as Hell won’t do it. Just look at that clown Jeff “Big Ears” Sessions and that gay bashing old fart John McCain’s reactions in the committee. If we want this repealed, then we have to pressure the Democrats in Congress to do it this year. And while we are at it we should call Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid and tell them to call for a vote on the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, (H.R.2517) which has passed out of the committees in both houses. They could vote on the bill now, so why the hold up on a vote??

  2. Bill

    February 3, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    What was equally disgusting was the behavior of the Republicans. Log Cabin and GOProud are just Uncle Toms and should return from under the rocks where they crawled.

  3. Peter the Saint

    February 5, 2010 at 1:43 am

    “The question before us is not whether the military decides to makes this change, but how we best prepare for it.”

    Gawd (rolling my eyes), they’re gonna find out it was such a non-event. I can’t wait. Because they’re all shivering with this perverse anticipation that “we” will stride onto bases wearing boas, shaking our hips and throwing kisses…

    LOL, don’t they know that’s reserved for the National Military Gay Pride Festival??
    Muwahahahahaha ;)

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National

In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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