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Service chiefs back Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask’ review

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The top Navy and Marine Corps officials expressed support Wednesday for the Pentagon’s review on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” without outright backing repeal — and voiced opposition to any legislative moratorium on discharges that Congress may enact before the study is complete.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway offered support for the Defense Department review during a House Armed Services Committee hearing geared toward the president’s budget request for the Navy Department.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who’s said Congress should hear from military leaders before proceeding with repeal, questioned Roughead and Conway on whether they support overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Roughead replied that his “personal view” is “to go forward with [the] assessment that has been called for by the Secretary of Defense.”

“There are a lot of bits of information, and surveys that have taken place, but there has never really been an assessment of the force that serves — and equally important to that force is the opinions of the families who support that force,” he said.

Conway said he thinks Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan would examine the issue “in a way that’s never been done,” an effort he supports. But Conway cautioned against enacting any change that would impair the military effectiveness of the armed forces.

“I would encourage your work, mine and that of the working group to be focused on a central issue — and that is the readiness of the armed forces of the United States to fight this nation’s wars,” he said. “That’s what our armed forces are intended to do.”

Even though Conway emphasized maintaining military readiness, his endorsement of the Pentagon review is noteworthy in part because media sources have reported he’s emerged in internal deliberations as a leading opponent of allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

Both Roughead and Conway voiced opposition to enacting a legislative moratorium on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges until the Pentagon completes its review. Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has recently floated the possibility of addressing the law this year with a temporary halt to discharges.

“In regard to a moratorium, I believe that it would be extremely confusing to the force, and I do not recommend that,” Roughead said.

Conway agreed, echoing the notion that instituting a moratorium would be confusing.

“There’s an expression we have: Keep it simple,” Conway said. “I would encourage you either to change the law or not — but in the process, half measures, I think, will only be confusing in the end.”

By supporting the Pentagon’s review process and opposing a moratorium, Roughead and Conway echoed comments previously made by top leaders in the Army and Air Force. The new endorsements from Roughead and Conway means all the service chiefs are in alignment in backing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” review process.

Kevin Nix, spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a statement that the testimony from Roughead and Conway was encouraging.

“We also found ourselves agreeing with Gen. Conway, both that military readiness must always be paramount and that this debate must be about full legislative repeal of the 1993 ban, not about confusing interim measures like a moratorium on discharges,” Nix said. “Congress should get [“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”] repeal done in this year’s defense authorization budget bill.”

Also during Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) asked how gays currently serving in the armed forces would be able to give their input for the Pentagon’s study without being outed and discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said people behind the working group would have “mechanisms for anonymous input” so gays in the military wouldn’t be in jeopardy of of violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by simply responding to a survey.

Snyder also asked how the military was handling the recent decision rendered in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for Witt v. Air Force. The ruling, which was construed only to apply to the plaintiff’s case, concluded the military had to prove lesbian Maj. Margaret Witt’s presence in the Air Force was a detriment to the military before discharging her.

Mabus said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the case. Snyder noted that having certain rules in some areas and others for the rest of the country is creating confusion, even without a moratorium.

“There is already legal confusion that you all didn’t bring on yourselves,” Snyder said. “It’s being laid on you, but I think you’re going to need to figure that out fairly quickly because it is currently the law in the Ninth Circuit.”

Nix said SLDN agrees that the standard in the Witt case is “not being followed by the Navy and the other services.”

“Indeed, in the case of Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, the Witt standard was not considered or followed at his board hearing,” Nix said. “The Defense Department has yet provided the services with any guidance whatsoever on Witt. This shortcoming further underscores that repeal needs to take place this year.”

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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