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New report undermines officers’ letter supporting ‘Don’t Ask’

Some signers involved in career-ending scandals

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U.S. Sen. John McCain (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A number of high-ranking military officers whose names appear on a well-publicized letter supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were involved in career-ending scandals or have said the letter doesn’t represent their views, according to Servicemembers United.

The organization’s preliminary investigation of 200 names on the letter, which more than 1,100 flag and general officers signed, reveals new information that could undermine the document supporting the 1993 law barring gays from serving openly in the military.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said his organization’s report “speaks to an overall lack of expertise” the signers have on the views of service members of the 21st century military.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center of Military Readiness, gathered the names for the letter, which was first published last year. She didn’t respond to multiple requests from DC Agenda to comment on Servicemembers United’s report.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have often cited the letter as evidence of military support for keeping the law on the books. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of repeal, held up the letter during a Senate hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last month.

“I hope you’ll pay attention to the views of over 1,000 retired flag and general officers,” McCain told Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the time regarding the study of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that’s underway at the Pentagon.

But Servicemembers United’s report — titled, “Flag and General Officers for the Military: A Closer Look” — sheds new light on the letter. Nicholson said one of the most striking discoveries was the age of many signers.

“Only a small fraction of these officers have even served in the military during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period, much less in the 21st century military,” Nicholson said. “How can these flag officers honestly claim to know how accepting and tolerant 18- and 21-year-olds are today when most of them haven’t been that age themselves since the 1940s and 1950s?”

The report found the average age among is the officers is 74, the oldest living signer is 98, and several signers died in the time since the document was published.

At least one signer, Gen. Louis Menetrey, was deceased when the letter was published and didn’t sign the document himself. According to a footnote on the letter, his wife signed the document for him after his death using power of attorney — six years after Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of the ability to communicate.

Servicemembers United findings also indicate the letter doesn’t represent the viewpoints of some officers who purportedly signed it. One signer said they no longer want to be a part of the letter, writing to the organization, “I do not wish to be on any list regarding this issue.”

Others said they never agreed to sign in the first place. One general wrote, “I never agreed. To represent either side of this issue.” Another wrote, “I do not remember being asked about this issue.”

DC Agenda independently found one general who acknowledged signing the letter, but said he now believes gays should be allowed to serve in the armed forces so long as they adhere to the code of conduct.

“I do not believe there should be any limitations based on sexual orientation,” said the general, who asked not to be identified.

In addition to signers who say the letter doesn’t represent their views, others were involved in scandals tarnishing their careers. Nicholson said the number of scandals in which signers have been involved “jumps out” as a major component of the report, adding some officers made “heinous failures of judgment and leadership.”

The report identifies seven officers that were involved in such incidents:

• Brig. Gen. Eddie Cain was in the early 1990s director of the Pentagon agency in charge of the anthrax vaccine administered to troops and testified before Congress the vaccine was safe and tested. Later reports showed it was neither. Cain was revealed to have known his testimony was inaccurate, and wrote in personal e-mails that if Congress found out, he’d be “in big-time trouble.”

• Brig. Gen. David Boland in 1994 was executive director of a “boot camp” for at-risk children at Camp Wiecker, Conn., that was mired in problems and later discontinued. According to the New York Times, gang recruitment, sexual relations between students and faculty, drug use, gambling rings and widespread violence and fighting — including one fight that resulted in 14 arrests — took place at Camp Wiecker under Boland’s supervision. Boland later stepped down to “pursue other interests.”

• Rear Adm. Riley Mixson in 1993 received a career-ending letter of censure from then-Navy Secretary John Dalton for involvement in the 1991 Tailhook scandal, during which he failed to take action against allegations of sexual misconduct. According to the New York Times, “Mixson was cited for failing to take action when he saw a woman drink from a dispenser made to look like a rhinoceros’ penis and men shaving women’s legs.”

• Gen. Carl Mundy made several statements in 1993 on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that racial minority soldiers “don’t swim as well” or perform other duties as well as white troops. He also once unilaterally banned married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, a move Defense Secretary Les Aspin rescinded the following week.

• Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle was head of Marine Corps Aviation in the late 1990s, during the design and test phase of the V-22 Osprey. He oversaw cost overruns and allegedly falsified records — all while praising the aircraft. McCorkle now works for and sits on the boards of several companies that manufacture Osprey components.

• Brig. Gen. Gary Pendleton was named in a lawsuit in 2008 for unlawfully discriminating on the basis of race against an employee in awarding her a lower annual bonus than her co-workers. Pendleton was also said to have fired the employee in retaliation for her complaints.

• Brig. Gen. Darryl Powell oversaw in 1985 a spike in malpractice lawsuits as commander of Madigan Army Medical Center. In one case, a woman was injected with formaldehyde instead of medication, killing her and her unborn child.

Nicholson said even with these scandals, the majority of the officers on the letter served with distinction. Still, he questioned whether the more than 1,100 officers who signed the letter understand the attitudes and beliefs of the young people in service today.

“It is simply unreasonable to think that any of them can be experts on the new generation [of] youth that make up the vast majority of the military today — the generation of iPhones, Facebook, and acceptance of those who are different,” he said.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. John Desselle

    March 3, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Wow, good reporting.

  2. Peter Rosenstein

    March 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Great reporting. It now makes sense why John McCain would use the letter or know the names on it. They are all his contemporaries.

    John McCain should be embarrased about how he is conducting himself on this issue contradicting himself when he said who he would listen to for advice on the issue.

    It is time to end DADT and for John McCain to retire to one of the numberous homes his wife owns whose number he can’t even remember.

  3. Tim

    March 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I guess Old Man McCain can stop waving around that anti-gay propaganda sheet he likes to make use of, because its obviously tainted with lies and mistatements. Of course that probably won’t stop him and the other bigots on the committee from continuing to support DADT, but it will take away some cover from the so-called moderate Democrats like Virginia’s Senator Webb, who likewise supports the continued discrimination of DADT and plans to join a Republican filibuster to keep it from being repealed. In Webb’s Case, he also refuses to support the passage of ENDA or the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act; ditto for Virginia’s other Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Its time for the LGBT Community to field candidates against Republicans and sell-out Dems like Webb and Warner who refuse to support equality as they claim to be moderates.

  4. AxelDC

    March 3, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    This is excellent investigative journalism, something that bigger papers have long since given up on.

    The important thing for the military is not to appeal to tired old men like McCain and Hatch. These guys are not going to be fighting the next war for the US.

    The target audience for the military are 18-22 year old men and women fresh out of high school or college to fill the ranks of new enlisted men and officers. Since the military has a constant need to replace soldiers leaving the military, they have to remain fresh and relevant to young people.

    A military that bashes gays is not one that will appeal to the current and future youth of America. As such, it will fail in its primary mission to fill its rank with fit, intelligent men and women. These septuagenarians are yesterday’s US military, not tomorrow’s.

  5. Peter the Saint

    March 3, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I just have to giggle every time I picture Elaine Donnelly “wagging her finger” accusingly at Michael Mullen about ANYTHING military. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… the highest ranking officer in the United States armed forces… previously Chief of Naval Operations… was the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples.

    But she’s a-gonna give him a piece-‘o-her-mind! haha

  6. Mike Smith

    March 4, 2010 at 8:03 am

    General McCorkle — that sounds familiar…didn’t he hand-pick Rich Merrit (Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star) to be his personal aide-de-camp or something? That’s a little hypocritical…

    • Peter the Saint

      March 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      That sounds like a good story! Either kinda spicy and delicious… or the kind of story that really demonstrates just how much sexuality has no bearing on how well someone does their job or not. Depending on the “job” of course LOL.

  7. CriticalThinker

    March 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    It seems that the return address of the mail that they (the retired officers) sent to Obama and congressional leaders had
    the return address of Jefferson Government Relations in DC.
    That lobbying firm is co-owned by Thomas R. Donnelly, Jr.

    I have no idea if he is related to our friend Elaine.

  8. Carlos

    March 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Great reporting. When will McCain retire? The sooner the better.

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National

N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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LGBTQ elder care facilities open nationwide, but discrimination persists

Advocates say seniors face challenges despite groundbreaking advances

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The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing facility opened this week in Los Angeles. (Blade file photo)

Marsha Wetzel, an out lesbian, shared her life with her partner of 30 years, Judith Kahn, at the couple’s home in Illinois until Kahn died in 2013 of colon cancer.

As is the case with some same-sex couples who never married, Kahn’s family took legal possession of the couple’s home several years later, forcing Wetzel, who suffered from severe arthritis, to move into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a retirement and assisted living facility in Niles, Ill.

According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2016 by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, when word got out that Wetzel was a lesbian after she disclosed her sexual orientation to a fellow resident, she was called homophobic slurs, spat on, and assaulted on several occasions by other residents of the facility. The lawsuit, which later resulted in a court ruling in Wetzel’s favor, charged that officials at the Glen St. Andrew facility illegally failed to take action to prevent Wetzel from being subjected to abuse and threats by fellow residents and retaliated against her when she complained.

Lambda Legal announced one year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, that Wetzel passed away at the age of 73 of natural causes after a landmark 2018 appeals court ruling in her favor affirmed that residential facilities such as the one in which she lived are legally responsible for the safety of tenant residents.

“Marsha spent the rest of her days in a senior living community where she was out and affirmed,” said Lambda Legal attorney Karen Loewy, who represented Wetzel in the lawsuit.

Advocates for LGBTQ seniors were hopeful that the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in the Wetzel case would speed up the gradual but steady advances in the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and in society in general.

A short time later, the New York City-based national LGBTQ elder advocacy group SAGE expanded its programs providing cultural competency training for the nation’s long-term care residential facilities. And in some cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, LGBTQ specific retirement and long-term care facilities began to open to provide LGBTQ elders with a wide range of “wrap around” services in addition to a safe place to live.

But LGBTQ elder advocates were taken aback in October of this year when news surfaced that transgender U.S. Army veteran Lisa Oakley, 68, was denied placement in more than two-dozen long-term care facilities in Colorado in 2020 and earlier this year.

“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of the facilities didn’t want me,” Oakley told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing,” she said. “We’re humans, just like everybody else.” 

Oakley told other media outlets her ordeal in trying to gain admission to a residential care facility began in October 2020, when she became unable to care for herself due to complications from diabetes. Her first choice was a facility in her hometown in rural Craig, Colo., where she had lived for the previous 25 years. She believes that facility turned her down because of her gender identity.

A social worker who assisted in Oakley’s applications for long-term care facilities said the facility in Craig said Oakley would have to be placed in a private room, which was at the time unavailable, “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman” in a shared room. 

Many other Colorado facilities to which Oakley applied for admission, according to social worker Cori Martin-Crawford, cited the COVID pandemic as the reason for not accepting new residents. But as COVID related restrictions began to subside, other facilities continued to deny Oakley admission.

With Martin-Crawford’s help, Oakley finally found a facility that is LGBTQ supportive in Grand Junction, Colo., which is nearly three hours away from her hometown of Craig, where she had hoped to remain.

LGBTQ activists expressed concern that the discrimination that Oakley faced took place in the state of Colorado, which has a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts familiar with long-term care facilities for older adults have said many private elder care facilities can get around state LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by claiming other reasons for turning down an LGBTQ person.

Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, told the Blade that the wide range of programs and initiatives put in place by SAGE and other groups advocating for LGBTQ elders in recent years have resulted in significant changes in support of LGBTQ seniors.

“It is the case now that in almost all states there are one or more elder care facilities that have been trained through our SAGECare program,” Adams said. “But it’s nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be that there are welcoming elder care facilities in every single community in this country” for LGBTQ elders.

Adams was referring to the SAGE program started recently called SAGECare that arranges for employees and other officials at elder care facilities throughout the country to receive LGBTQ competency training. The facilities that participate in the program are designated “SAGECare credentialed,” and are included in SAGE database lists available to LGBTQ elders looking for a safe facility in which to reside.

SAGE spokesperson Christina Da Costa provided the Blade with data showing there have been 136,975 professionals trained at a total of 617 SAGECare credentialed organizations nationwide. Out of 617 organizations, 172 are residential communities. Also, out of the total of 617 are 167 Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Centers, and senior Ombudsman offices.

Da Costa said 278 of the credentialed entities that have received the SAGECare training throughout the country are “other aging focused nonprofit and for-profit businesses.”

According to SAGE, there are 12 SAGECare credentialed elder care facilities or service providers operating in the D.C. metropolitan area, with two located in D.C. One of the D.C. facilities is Ingleside at Rock Creek, located in Northwest D.C., which is a residential facility. The other is Options for Senior America, a company that provides in-home care services for seniors, including seniors living in D.C.

A SAGE list of the D.C.-area SAGECare credentialed facilities shows that three are in Rockville, Md.; two are in Gaithersburg, Md.; and one each are in Bethesda, Md.; Arlington, Va.; and Alexandria, Va. The list shows that one of them that provides services to elders in the D.C. area is based in North Carolina.

SAGE has a separate list of the 15 elder care residential facilities in the U.S. created specifically to serve LGBTQ residents. 

None are in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. However, SAGE says it has been working in cooperation with Mary’s House for Older Adults, a D.C.-based LGBTQ organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors and is in the process of opening LGBTQ elder residential facilities in D.C. and others in the surrounding suburbs.

Mary’s House founder and CEO Dr. Imani Woody couldn’t immediately be reached to determine when the organization expects to open its first residential facility. 

While a residential LGBTQ elder facility has yet to open in the D.C. area, activists note that in addition to Mary’s House, services and amenities for LGBTQ elders in the area are currently being provided by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, which also has a legal services branch.

Adams of SAGE said the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center opened the nation’s first LGBTQ elder residential facility over eight years ago called Triangle Square. He said the L.A. Center opened a second LGBTQ elder residential facility a short time later. And this week, the L.A. Center announced it has opened a third LGBTQ elder residential facility in Hollywood that is part of a larger “intergenerational campus” that will bring together LGBTQ seniors and LGBTQ youth. 

SAGE, meanwhile, operates two LGBTQ elder long-term care residential facilities in New York City, one in Brooklyn called the Stonewall House and one in the Bronx called Pride House. 

The other U.S. cities with LGBTQ elder residential facilities include: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco (which has two such facilities), San Diego, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Islip, N.Y.

Adams said the LGBTQ elder residential facilities range in size, with the largest – New York’s Stonewall House – having 143 apartments that can accommodate 200 residents. He said others vary from 40 or 50 residential units to 120.

Advocates for LGBTQ elders point to what they consider another important breakthrough for LGBTQ elders this year in the release of a joint SAGE-Human Rights Campaign Long-Term Care Equality Index report for 2021. Adams said the report is the first of what could become an annual report and rating and scorecard for long-term care elder residential facilities and other elder facilities. 

The 2021 report includes a self-reporting assessment of elder care facilities that the facilities themselves completed through a questionnaire in which many disclosed they have LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies for elders around admission to the facility and for practices by staff for those residing in their facilities.

The report includes a chart showing that 158 elder care facilities in 31 states responded positively to the outreach to them by organizers of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.

“We are thrilled to be working with SAGE and to be working with the Human Rights Campaign who are developing the Long-Term Care Equality Index,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, who serves as senior adviser and LGBTQ liaison for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP.

“There is a great deal of work that we’re doing in the area of LGBTQ older adults nationwide,” Quartey told the Blade. “And AARP has been engaged with the LGBTQ community nationwide for many years now,” he said.

“In recent years, we’ve turned up the volume in working more closely with organizations like SAGE and Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund Institute, the Center for Black Equity, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and the Hispanic Federation.”

According to Quartey, a recent AARP study of LGBTQ elders called Maintaining Dignity shows that longstanding concerns of discrimination remain despite the many advances in support for LGBTQ seniors in recent years.

He said a survey that was part of the study found that 67 percent of the LGBTQ elders who responded, “were concerned about neglect in a long-term care setting.” Over 60 percent feared verbal or physical harassment in a long-term care setting and over half “felt forced to hide or deny their identity” as an LGBTQ person, Quartey said.

Another recent survey of LGBTQ elders conducted by SAGE asking them how they feel about the use of the word “queer” in descriptions of LGBTQ people yielded findings that came as a surprise to some, according to Adams. A large majority of those surveyed from across the country said they are “comfortable at this point using that word and reclaiming that word, which is different from what we had heard historically,” Adams said.

He said in response to those findings SAGE will now as an organization gradually shift to using the term LGBTQ instead of its past practice of using LGBT.

Although Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, last year under the Trump Administration, Congress acted in a rare bipartisan way to approve the required five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Older Americans Act with new language supportive of LGBTQ older adults. President Trump signed the legislation.

The language includes a mandate for outreach to and reporting about services provided to LGBTQ older adults in federally funded programs. It also opens the way for LGBTQ older adults to be designated in a category of “greatest social need.” Under that category, older adults receive a higher priority in the allocation of resources by the federal government.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to go to get over the finish line,” said the AARP’s Quartey. “And aside from passing legislation federally and on the state and local level, we absolutely need to continue the hard work of changing hearts and minds,” he said.

Longtime gay activist and writer Brian McNaught, whose latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray – Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives,” was just released, says his own very informal survey of LGBTQ elders found there is a need for intimacy that may be too controversial for the establishment LGBTQ elder groups.

“I’m a SAGE volunteer and the 81-year-old man with whom I was working after his husband of 47 years died, said after his grieving process, ‘I want to be hugged and kissed. Does that make me a bad person?’”

McNaught told the Blade he assured the man those feelings do not make him a bad person. McNaught said the man’s comment prompted him to conduct further research, in which he found that some gay male elders in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area who often need assisted living support would like to patronize gay bathhouses or seek the services of an escort agency. He said he determined that any LGBTQ elder group providing such services would trigger “a huge uproar of protests” and most likely a loss of funding.

“We don’t want to talk about sexuality and aging,” McNaught said.

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Former VOA director nominated to head U.S. Agency for Global Media

Previous CEO’s actions threatened LGBTQ internet freedom

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(Public domain photo)

President Biden on Monday nominated Amanda Bennett, the former head of Voice of America and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor, to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

“I am honored by this nomination,” Bennett told Voice of America. “If confirmed, I will be so proud to work with all the dedicated journalists at USAGM who are doing the critical and difficult work around the world of upholding and demonstrating the value of a free press.”

The agency operates independently from the U.S. government and oversees five different entities that include Voice of America, broadcasting platforms and the Open Technology Fund. The fund is an independent non-profit organization that focuses on advancing global internet freedom by providing internet access, digital privacy tutorials, privacy enhancement and security tools like encryption.

These tools have been integral in preserving internet freedom for LGBTQ people abroad, especially in places where it’s unsafe or illegal to be LGBTQ.

Bennett, 69, was named VOA director in 2016 and resigned from her post in June 2020 after conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack was confirmed as the agency’s CEO during the Trump administration.

Under Pack’s tenure, several technology freedom experts said the former CEO thwarted the Open Technology Fund’s efforts abroad by freezing funds. Pack also ignored a House subpoena for an oversight hearing that was meant for him to address mass firings, withholding congressionally approved funds and other questionable activities.

Pack stepped down at Biden’s request in January, and the president named Kelu Chao, a VOA veteran journalist, as Pack’s replacement and interim CEO.

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