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General says open service would be problematic

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A retired general who supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” raised eyebrows last week when he said open service in a foreign military led to a horrific massacre and suggested lifting the U.S. ban would lead to sexual assault.

During a hearing March 18 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John Sheehan, a former commander for U.S. Atlantic Command, said lifting the ban on open service in the Netherlands contributed to the country’s inability to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

The event, in which the Serbian military executed more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, occurred after a United Nations protection force of around 400 Dutch peacekeepers failed to stop the massacre.

Sheehan, who retired from the U.S. military 13 years ago, identified this event as a product of the how the Dutch — as well as other militaries throughout Europe — dropped their bans to include “open homosexuality” as part of the liberalization of these armed forces following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military,” he said. “They did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back. That led to force that was ill-equipped to go to war.”

Sheehan said he heard from a former Dutch military leader that the Srebrenica killings were the result of the liberalization of the armed forces, which he called an effect of “social engineering.”

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) rebuked the notion that the massacre was the result of allowing gays to serve openly in the Dutch military.

“Any effort to connect that failure on the part of the Dutch to the fact that they have homosexuals or did allow homosexuals, I think, is totally off target,” he said. “I’ve seen no suggestion of that.”

Levin said the failures of Srebrenica were the result of Dutch troops being trained as peacekeepers and not what was required to conduct the mission.

In a statement provided by Levin, Dutch Ambassador to the United States Renée Jones-Bos said he “couldn’t disagree more” with Sheehan’s comments and that he takes pride in how lesbians and gays are allowed to serve openly in the Dutch military.

“The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally,” he said. “There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims.”

Sheehan also expressed concern that open service would lead to sexual assault in the military, as well as other problems should gay service members engage in inappropriate contact with other troops.

Recalling his days in the Vietnam War, Sheehan said there was incident in which a young Marine was being molested by his sergeant in a foxhole. Sheehan noted that the two fought, and a machine gun section near the foxhole opened up and almost killed a combat patrol.

When the young Marine reported this incident, Sheehan said there was a disruption in unit cohesion because the sergeant denied molesting the young Marine and many didn’t believe the allegations.

“For about three days, that unit divided down the middle,” Sheehan said. “Those that supported the popular squad leader, [and] those that kind of thought the new kid might be believable.”

An end to divisiveness came, Sheehan said, when the sergeant committed the same offense three days later.

“But the real tragedy of this story is the young [private] continually insisted for a long period of time that nobody in his organization believed that it happened,” he said. “He lost faith in his chain of command.”

To further his case about concerns on sexual assault, Sheehan also cited a report from the Defense Department last year noting a net increase of 3,200 sexual assaults in the military. He said 7 percent of these incidents — or about 226 — were male-on-male assaults.

“I would stipulate that from my days in Vietnam in the early 60s, when I had this sergeant that almost got a combat patrol killed, to the 226 male soldiers and Marines who were molested, that there’s something wrong with our sexual behavior policy,” he said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the Senate, said he didn’t share the view that open service would lead to sexual assaults in the military.

“The episode you gave of the sexual assault, Gen. Sheehan, with one man assaulting another man, could, of course, easily and unfortunately does happen more with a man assaulting a women in uniform,” he said.

Lieberman noted statistics Sheehan gave of 7 percent of assaults being male-on-male means 93 percent are heterosexual assault.

“I know there may be fears that if we repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there’ll be behavior inconsistent with good order and discipline, including sexual assault,” Lieberman said. “But if that happens, they’ll be held to the same account and discipline.”

Two witnesses who testified in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were Michael Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer, and Jenny Kopfstein, a lesbian former Navy surface warfare officer. Almy was discharged from service under the ban in 2006 and Kopfstein was discharged in 2002.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) asked both Almy and Kopfstein whether they favored a “thorough, complete” review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as is currently underway in the Pentagon.

Kopfstein said she didn’t have a problem with the review, but that it’s clear the law should be changed.

Almy, however, said he doesn’t favor the study because other changes have taken place in the military without such work.

“We have not done this on any other issues with regard to change to the military — as far as, most recently, putting women in submarines, women in the service academies,” he said. “We did not survey the forces then on those issues. The military is not a democracy. I don’t see this issue as any different, senator.”

McCain said he was “confused about” the opposition to conducting the Pentagon study as means to find out whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed.

“I will continue to argue and fight for whatever I can to make sure that we have a thorough, objective review of the impact on the military of the change of this law,” McCain said. “I think the men and women who serving in the military deserve no less.”


A number of committee members during the hearing expressed their personal viewpoints on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who’s seen as a swing vote on repeal this year, emphasized the importance of waiting for the completion of the Pentagon review before taking action.

“I don’t want to predict at all where this is going to go,” he said. “I just think that it is vital that we can say to the people in the military and the American people that we’ve been responsible in terms of how a decision has been made.”

But Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) said that in response to the stories of people who are being expelled under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a moratorium should be placed on the law’s enforcement to prevent further discharges.

“I think that we need to put a moratorium on this situation right now — don’t let anyone be discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation until we can change this law,” he said.

Following the hearing, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said the hearing showed “a stark, realistic division” between young service members and retired members of the military from Sheehan’s generation.

“By and large, today’s warriors are fine with gays and lesbian serving openly,” he said. “Obviously, Gen. Sheehan, like some of the joint chiefs, are expressing resistance, dragging their feet.”

But Sarvis said the process that’s underway is examining how to bring about open service in the military “in a smooth, orderly way.”

“That’s what this debate should be about — it should be how,” he said. “It’s not if, it’s not whether, it’s about how we bring about this change.”

Last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing occurred alongside other events that brought attention to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s lobby day on Capitol Hill; the Human Rights Campaign’s rally on Freedom Plaza; and an act of civil disobedience by gay U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi, who handcuffed himself to the White House gates in protest of the law.

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Federal Government

Rachel Levine tackles bad information on COVID, gender-affirming care

Assistant health secretary is highest ranking transgender person in Biden administration

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Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a visit to one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, Adm. Rachel Levine answered questions and offered insight about two of the most controversial healthcare issues of this decade, long COVID-19 and gender-affirming care.

Long COVID is the mysterious phenomenon in which patients endure debilitating, long-term effects from being infected by the coronavirus and gender-affirming care, treatments for transgender youth that are being targeted by lawmakers nationwide.

“Long COVID is real,” said Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the highest-ranking transgender official in the Biden administration. “We heard from patients who have suffered heart issues, lung issues, issues of fatigue and brain fog, after their COVID-19 infection. And we heard from providers at Yale who are forming a multidisciplinary clinic in order to evaluate and treat these patients.” 

In a public session held Monday at the Yale Law School, four of these “long haulers” shared their challenges with the admiral: Shortness of breath, pulmonary disorders, lifestyle and work limitations and disabilities that are hidden to most observers.

“Hearing the patients tell their stories is so meaningful,” she said, calling it a privilege to better understand the challenges they face.

“That helps us drive policy as well as research,” Levine said. 

“I was very active,” said Hannah Hurtenbach of Wethersfield, Conn., a 30-year-old registered nurse who was diagnosed with post-COVID cardiomyopathy, cognitive brain fog and pulmonary issues. “I loved hiking and being outside. I was constantly on the move and now I barely leave my couch. I barely leave my house and I can’t really handle even a part time job now when I used to work full time. So that has been really difficult at age 30 to be facing those sorts of issues that I never really anticipated feeling.”

Hurtenbach told the Washington Blade she appreciated Levine’s visit.

“Sharing my experience today with the admiral was probably one of the more highlight moments of this experience,” she said. “Knowing that the federal government is taking action, is paying attention, and listening to these stories means more to me than anything else, and especially knowing that what I’ve gone through over the last couple of years can be led and used into the future research and help others just like myself.”

A woman named Christine told the Blade that even though she is so impacted by long COVID that she needs assistance to walk and has to pause as she speaks because of her shortness of breath, she felt attending this event was worth all the struggle to get there.

“I’m so glad I came. I learned a lot from hearing from the others,” she said, who like her are trying to recover from long COVID.

Levine told the Blade that so far, she herself has not contracted COVID, and that she is double-vaccinated and double-boosted. With the president announcing the end of emergency COVID declarations on May 11, she said the administration is pushing Congress to approve extra funding for long COVID and other related needs. But how can she expect to get that through a House of Representatives full of anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and COVID-deniers, including in GOP leadership?

“Long COVID is real and we hear you,” she said. “We plan to engage Congress to talk about the funding that we need. And we’ll continue to work. We do have to get past misinformation in this country, but we are here to give the correct information about COVID-19 and long COVID, and we’ll continue to engage Congress on that.”

Hurtenbach expressed disappointment in those colleagues in healthcare who came out publicly in opposing vaccines and mask mandates.

“I just wish they had paid better attention in school and learned more of the science,” the nurse said. “I wish they would trust the science that they are supposed to be promoting for their patients as well.” 

Following Monday morning’s public meeting, Levine held a private session with long COVID patients and Yale doctors, researchers, counselors, physical therapists and other providers. Then in the afternoon, the admiral spoke at another event, held at Yale Medical School: “A Conversation on LGBTQI+ Health and Gender-Affirming Care.” Although it was closed to press, Yale Asstistant Professor of Medicine Diane Bruessow attended the event and shared with the Blade what Levine told those gathered, which is that she remains positive and optimistic. 

“I think over time, things will change, and things will get better,” said Levine, adding the caveats, “I don’t know if they will get better everywhere in the United States. I also don’t know if it’s going to be quick. I think the next two years will be really, really hard.” Especially with more than 270 anti-trans pieces of legislation moving their way through state legislatures.

“But I am going to stay positive. I’m going to think that over time, things will improve,” Levine said, pledging that both she and the Biden administration would do everything they can to help families with trans kids. “I think the tide will turn.”

Levine: Long COVID is real

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National

Patrons of The Eagle NYC robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to patrons at NYC gay bar:

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State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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