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Gates unveils new ‘Don’t Ask’ regulations

Changes intended to reflect ‘common sense and common decency’

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen are changing how the Pentagon will implement "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (DC Agenda photo by Chris Johnson)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday that the Pentagon is changing how it will implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including limiting third-party outings and raising the rank of the officers handling inquiries.

Joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, Gates unveiled the changes to enforcing the ban on gays serving openly during a Pentagon press conference.

“I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice, above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved,” Gates said.

Gates said Mullen, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright and the service chiefs are unanimous in their support for these new regulations.

While unveiling the changes, Gates said in response to a DC Agenda question that he doesn’t recommend legislative action to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law until the Pentagon working group completes its review of the law.

Gates established the working group in February to examine the implications of repealing the 1993 ban on open service. The group’s study is set for completion by Dec. 1.

“I do not recommend a change in the law before we have completed our study,” he said. “There is a great deal we don’t know about this in terms of the views of our service members and trying to get the views of our families.”

Gates said the working group also is necessary to examine changing regulations for benefits and look at other implementation issues.

“I think we need to do this thoroughly and professionally,” he said. “I think we need to do this right, if you will, and I think doing it hastily is very risky and I think does not address some of the concerns that have been expressed by the chiefs of staff of the services and a number of the questions that have been raised associated with this.”

Mullen, who testified in favor of open service for gays, lesbians and bisexuals last month, said he would “echo” Gates’s remarks with regard to legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the working group completes its study.

“It’s very important for us to go through this process — and doing it with haste could easily generate a very bad outcome,” he said. “So understanding where we are — having that information from those it will affect most — is a very important part of this process.”

Asked whether the White House shares this view on the timing of repeal, Gates replied, “You would have to ask them, but I would tell you that my impression is the president is very comfortable with the process that we’ve laid out, and certainly with the changes that I have announced today.”

A senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, later clarified for DC Agenda that the Pentagon isn’t taking a position on legislation related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the working group’s review is complete.

“It’s been very consistent out of here that the issue is not whether, it is how,” said the official. “In doing this, because this is the military, they wanted to do this in a way that is professionally thorough. So they are not going to be taking any position on any legislation at all. They’re not going to be supporting any legislation; they’re just not taking any position on legislation.”

The official said that Gates’ remarks during the press conference were consistent with his congressional testimony and other statements.

“This is not taking sides,” said the official. “There is no position on legislation. The position is follow through with this process, and he basically stated that they’d like to see this process be done to inform legislation.”

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said Congress should undertake repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the Pentagon continues work on its study.

“Two branches of government can and should work concurrently toward repeal,” he said. “There is no reason for Congress to wait for the details on implementation when Secretary Gates and the president have made it clear that this law should be repealed.”

Also during the press conference, Gates noted that the goal of the working group’s study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is to determine how to implement repeal.

“The study is about how you implement it — if the law changes, how we deal with it,” Gates said. “This study is not about should we do it; this study is about how we do it.”

Gates added the working group will take into consideration the feelings of service members and their families.

“We need to identify where [there] might be problems and issues — or just issues to be addressed — whether it’s a change in regulations or benefits or something like that, so then when the time comes we have some idea of what we have to do in order to carry forward with the change,” Gates said.

But the new regulations issued Thursday will change implementation of the law until legislative action is taken. Specifically, the new changes will:

• raise the rank of the officer who can start fact-finding inquiries or separation proceedings to a general or admiral;

• raise the rank of the person who can conduct fact-finding inquiries to lieutenant colonel or Navy commander or above;

• raise the level of the officer who can separate an enlisted service member to general or admiral;

• raise the bar for what constitutes credible information to start an inquiry or separation proceeding, by mandating, for example, that information from third parties be given under oath and that use of overheard statements and hearsay are discouraged;

• raise the bar on what constitutes a reliable person upon whose word an inquiry can begin, with special scrutiny of third parties who may want to harm a service member;

• and specify that certain confidential information cannot be used for discharge proceedings, such as information provided to lawyers, clergy or psychotherapists; information provided to medical professionals for medical treatment; information provided in seeking assistance for domestic or physical abuse; or information about sexual orientation discovered during security clearance investigations.

Gates said the new regulations will take effect immediately and would apply to all open and future discharge cases. He noted that the services have 30 days to conform their own regulations to these changes.

Following the briefing by Gates, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel who helped draft the new regulations, offered additional details.

In response to one question regarding what would happen in pending cases if a service member was outed by what is now considered unreliable information, and, following the start of an investigation, the service member acknowledged they were gay, Johnson said he didn’t know what would happen in such a situation.

“That’s a good question — and we’ll have to work that through,” he said.

In a statement, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the sponsor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the U.S. House, praised the Pentagon for implementing the changes, but said full repeal is still necessary.

“Today’s announcement from Defense Secretary Gates is another step forward in the fight to repeal the discriminatory policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and a signal that momentum for change continues to build,” he said.  “While I am encouraged by the Pentagon’s announcement, I remain committed to working toward full legislative repeal of this law, which hurts our national security and military readiness.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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