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Questions surround Lieberman’s ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal bill

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U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

The announcement that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) would introduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation next week in the U.S. Senate was hailed by many opponents of the law as an important step toward undoing the nation’s ban on service by open gays and lesbians.

But some are questioning the wisdom of Lieberman introducing a standalone bill when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal can be accomplished through other methods.

According to an internal memo obtained by DC Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign is taking credit for landing Lieberman as the champion for repeal in the Senate.

“Additionally, working with the White House and Senate leadership, HRC has secured Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) as the Senate lead sponsor — someone who not only sits on the Armed Services Committee, but also brings a centrist approach and net to this issue,” says the memo.

The HRC memo also addresses the strategy of winning repeal via the defense authorization bill and notes particular concern about where members of the Senate Armed Services Committee stand on the issue.

“Including [repeal] in the base [Department of Defense] authorization bill will require a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee,” says the memo. “Only one Republican on the committee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is likely to support repeal. In addition, a number of key Democrats do not currently support repeal: Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Jim Webb (D-VA). Securing a minimum of two of these five Democrats is essential. Nelson, Bayh and Webb are the three best prospects.”

The memo also says that convincing House members from New Jersey and Texas to sign on in support will be crucial for House passage of the bill.

Last month, a group of LGBT advocates held a secret strategy meeting related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A source who attended the meeting, speaking to DC Agenda on condition of anonymity, questioned why HRC pursued the Lieberman-led path for repeal when the consensus among many lobbyists is that including repeal as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill is the best route.

“As for Lieberman, I would just say I applaud that he did it because there has not been a bill in the Senate and now we can start asking people to sign on and figure out where people are, but I’m not sure that it’s not just a diversion tactic to show that HRC’s done something,” the activist said.

In a statement, Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director, said her organization has been working with Lieberman for months about introducing standalone legislation because “it’s an important educational and organizing tool.”

“It helps constituents lobby their senators to co-sponsor and publicly support repeal,” she said. “Introduction of a bill in no way precludes strategy involving the Defense Department Authorization bill.”

Kevin Nix, spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said that HRC was not alone in pursuing Lieberman as lead sponsor of repeal legislation and noted that his organization has worked with the senator for some time.

“We’ve been working with Lieberman for, I think, years — just like HRC has been, as well,” he said.

Nix said despite the imminent introduction of a standalone “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill, advancement of the effort as part of the upcoming defense authorization bill is “absolutely” the best way to go.

“Obviously, it’s historic,” he said. “We welcome all of this stuff with Lieberman, and introducing a standalone bill is hugely significant, but if we’re going to get legislative repeal this year, then the repeal language needs to be in the authorization bill, and we’ll be working with [Senate Armed Services Committee] Chairman [Carl] Levin to make sure the votes are there.”

In a statement, Lieberman said he’d proudly sponsor “the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity.”

“To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause,” he said.

News of Lieberman’s bill was first reported by Jamie Kirchick in the New York Daily News. Several important details about Lieberman’s upcoming legislation weren’t immediately revealed this week, though, such as whether any Republican senators have signed on as co-sponsors. It’s also unknown whether the legislation will call for the same timeline for repeal provided in the House legislation sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

Servicemembers United, a gay veterans group, is calling for a longer implementation time that would allow 18 months for the Pentagon to first complete its expected yearlong study of implementing repeal.

Lane Hudson, a D.C.-based gay activist, said the “devil will be in the details” for Lieberman’s bill and that he’s hoping the senator incorporates the timeline advocated by Servicemembers United.

“As long as Lieberman is going to introduce viable legislation, I think he’s an excellent person to be the chief sponsor,” Hudson said. “He’s got a great relationship with the Blue Dogs in the Senate caucus, and he’s probably the best Democrat to keep [Republican U.S. Sen.] John McCain from fiercely opposing repeal.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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National

Memphis police release Tyre Nichols arrest, fatal beating video

29-year-old Black man died after traffic stop

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(Screenshot from NBC News Now)

Three videos consisting of both body cam footage and street surveillance footage were made public by the Memphis Police Department Friday evening showing the violent arrest and beating of Memphis resident 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.

Nichols died three days after he was beaten by police in a traffic stop in the Hickory Hill neighborhood around 8:22 p.m. on Jan. 7, in an altercation Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis described, saying “in my 36 years in law enforcement, I don’t think I have witnessed the disregard for a human being displayed in this video.” 

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced Thursday that five now-former Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith — were fired for misconduct, indicted by a grand jury and taken into custody.

Each is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and official oppression. By Friday morning, they had posted bond.

Left: Justin Smith, top center: Emmitt Martin III, top right: Desmond Mills Jr., center left: Demetrius Haley, right bottom: Tadarrius Bean (Photos provided by Memphis Police Department)

As news of the beating and death spread beyond Tennessee, officials expressed concern that release of the footage would touch off violent protest in reaction.

The attorneys and family of Nichols asked for justice for their son, and peace in their city, at a press conference in Memphis on Friday, WREG News 3 reported.

Speakers included family members, attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Van Turner, president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP.

Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said that he initially wanted first-degree murder charges against the officers, but the family is satisfied with second-degree murder.

He pleaded for peace in Memphis Friday night.

“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance,” Wells said. “Please, please, protest, but protest safely.”

Protests took place in Memphis after police released more than an hour of footage in the case with some major highways temporarily shut down.

Other protests were organized in New York, as well as D.C., Sacramento, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle, with police at the ready for potential violence.

“Tonight, I stand with the millions of Americans sending condolences and love to the family of Tyre Nichols as the navigate this unimaginably difficult tragedy,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement. “We are a nation traumatized by violence, especially violence against Black Americans. We don’t even need to see the video to feel outraged that those five former officers, sworn to protect their community and now arrested and charged with murder, killed Tyre. But tonight, many people will see the video and it will elicit strong feelings — from sadness and anger to confusion and despair. Tonight, we are a city and country united by tragedy, but we are also determined — to deliver justice for Tyre and change for our nation.”

The White House held a joint emergency call Friday with the mayors of at least 16 cities before the video’s release “to brief them on federal preparations in support of state and local leaders.”

“Participating mayors shared their perspectives on how important it is to recognize the pain felt by communities across this country, be prepared in advance with a game plan to provide adequate community support, and to reinforce the importance of peace and calm during these difficult moments,” the White House said in a statement about the call, which included cities from New York City, to Atlanta, Los Angeles, D.C., Seattle and Portland.

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement condemning the actions of the Memphis officers and calling for demonstrations to remain peaceful.

“The accounts of the circumstances of this heinous crime and the criminal actions of those involved are reprehensible,” the LAPD said.

“The department will do all within its power to ensure the lawful expression of the public’s anger and frustration is protected and prepared to facilitate those wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told local media that it is preparing for the possibility of disturbances after the footage is made public. and is coordinating with other state, local and federal agencies.

“Our patrol stations and specialized units remain in a state of readiness to respond to any disturbances that might occur,” the LASD said.

“The sheriff’s department supports the First Amendment and the people’s right to protest.”

Speaking with reporters as he prepared to depart for Camp David at the White House Friday evening, President Joe Biden said that he had spoken with Nichols’ mother prior to the video footage release for about 10 or 15 minutes.

“I spoke with Tyre’s mother and expressed my condolences and told her that I was going to be making the case to the Congress to pass the George Floyd Act. We should get this under control. I can only do so much on the executive order at the federal level,” Biden said. “I was really pleased that she called for peaceful protest, no violence,” he added.

When asked about the potential for violence Biden said:

“I’m obviously very concerned about it. But I think she has made a very strong plea. She’s obviously in enormous pain. I told her I had some idea of what that loss is like and although it is impossible to believe now, a time will come when his memory brings a smile before a tear.” 

The White House released a statement from the president that said in part:

“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death. It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day. 
 
My heart goes out to Tyre Nichols’ family and to Americans in Memphis and across the country who are grieving this tremendously painful loss. The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged. Those who seek justice should not to resort to violence or destruction. Violence is never acceptable; it is illegal and destructive. I join Mr. Nichols’ family in calling for peaceful protest.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to the Memphis Police Department’s body camera footage being released, showing the deadly actions that took the life of Nichols, a Sacramento native, and led to the charging of five since fired Memphis law enforcement officers.

“Jennifer and I send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Tyre Nichols. Tyre Nichols should be alive today. The video released shows abhorrent behavior and these officers must be held accountable for their deadly actions and clear abuse of power,” said Newsom. “Today, we are a country in mourning, and must continue our work nationwide to push reforms to prevent excessive use of force and save lives.”

“Tonight, we saw ferocious violence from an out-of-control herd,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

Late Friday evening Vice President Kamala Harris’ office released a statement from the vice president on Nichols:

“Tyre Nichols should have made it home to his family. Yet, once again, America mourns the life of a son and father brutally cut short at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. The footage and images released tonight will forever be seared in our memories, and they open wounds that will never fully heal.
 
The persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force in America must end now. 

I join President Biden in his call for accountability and transparency. We must build trust—not fear — within our communities.”

VIDEO COURTESY OF KTLA:

TYRE NICHOLS VIDEO VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED, GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE WARNING.

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