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‘Don’t Ask’ could get ‘more humane’ guidelines this week

Service members threatened with potential discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key).

Service members threatened with potential discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may soon be able to breathe easier after Pentagon lawyers complete their assessment on finding a “more humane” way to implement the law.

The assessment, due for completion this week, is taking place because Defense Secretary Robert Gates tasked the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel to review the regulations for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to see if the Department of Defense could implement the law in a fairer manner.

After asking last year for a preliminary assessment for what he called a potentially “more humane” policy, Gates announced before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2 the review would be complete in 45 days. Earlier this month, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, said during congressional testimony the assessment would be finished on or around March 19.

But what these final changes will entail is unknown because information about them isn’t public. The Defense Department didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request to comment on the new regulations.

Also unknown is the timing for when the Pentagon will unveil these changes, as well as how long it would take for Gates to implement them once he receives the recommendations.

Repeal advocates say they’re unsure what Pentagon lawyers will ultimately produce, but have issued recommendations for changing the application of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under the current statute.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization provided the Defense Department in July with a list of possible changes that could be made.

Among these changes are mandating evidence when a possible violation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” comes from a fellow service member and not a civilian; eliminating anonymous tips as the basis for the start of an inquiry; and requiring that alleged homosexual conduct on which any discharge is based occurs after a service member joined the armed forces.

“And actually, Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen referred to all six of those at the Feb. 2 hearing, but we don’t have any concrete intelligence as to what Mr. Johnson may or may not be recommending to the secretary,” Sarvis said.

During that testimony, Gates raised some possibilities on what the changes could entail. He said the Pentagon could raise the level of the officer who initiates or conducts inquiries, as well as what constitutes a credible source to start an investigation.

Gates also told lawmakers the Defense Department can “reduce the instances” in which a service member is outed by a third party under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the actual benefit to gay soldiers of eliminating third-party outings is unknown because reliable information on why service members are expelled isn’t available.

“Anybody can sort of venture to guess based on their experience and anecdotal evidence,” he said. “But it’s really hard to do that with authority or credibility because we don’t have any statistics on how many discharges are the result of self-initiated outings, how many are the results of third-party outings and how many are the result of behavior being discovered.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think-tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said if such changes are enacted, it would eliminate important problems, but still wouldn’t address other issues.

“One is you’re not going to be able to eliminate all discharges,” he said. “Two, as long as the law is on the books, you’ll still have the sword hanging over gay people’s heads, and it’s that sword that makes it difficult for them to do their job.”

Belkin said new regulations also won’t change how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” damages the military “symbolically and reputationally” simply by being on the books.

During the Feb. 2 hearing, Gates said as part of these changes the Pentagon would “devise new rules and procedures” in light of the 2008 Ninth Court of Appeals ruling in Witt v. Air Force, which challenged the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The decision, which was construed to only apply to the plaintiff, determined the Pentagon needed to prove lesbian Maj. Margaret Witt’s sexual orientation was a detriment to unit cohesion in order to discharge her from the Air Force.

Applying the heightened Witt standard on a national basis was one of SLDN’s recommendations for a change under current law. Sarvis said such an application would help the Defense Department “create uniformity” in all “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge cases.

But Belkin said he doesn’t think the Pentagon would apply the Witt standard on a national basis because it would be too big of a change.

“I would doubt that the Defense Department would take a judicial ruling that applies to one circuit and use regulation to expand its scope to the whole military,” he said. “I think that’s too big of a step for a regulatory tweak.”

Whatever changes the Pentagon makes, advocates maintain legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the only way to properly address the law.

If the Pentagon implements the changes SLDN recommended, Sarvis said it would “go a long ways,” but “wouldn’t diminish the need for Congress to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Sarvis said legislative repeal is particularly needed so any conservative administration following President Obama couldn’t reverse the changes made under the existing statute.

“The next secretary and a new administration could come along and make revisions that he or she may feel they have authority for under the current statute,” he said. “That’s why I go back to changes to the regulations are not a substitute for repealing the statute.”

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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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