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Gay advocates assail Obama’s Justice Department

Claim administration misrepresented views in ‘Don’t Ask’ brief

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Experts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are lambasting the Justice Department, claiming the administration misrepresented their views in a legal brief aimed at thwarting a court challenge to the ban on open service.

Nathaniel Frank, a senior fellow at the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the Obama administration mischaracterized his views on the impact that open service would have on privacy issues.

“The way they portrayed me is preposterous and I’m not sure that any person in good faith hearing what I had to say could conclude what the [Department of Justice] concluded in their [request for] summary judgment,” he said. “I specifically said having a concern about privacy is not irrational, but using that privacy concern as an argument for the need to ban gays is irrational.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, similarly claimed the Justice Department misrepresented what he said in depositions about privacy arguments, and even went so far as to say the Obama administration lawyers weren’t being truthful.

“They completely misrepresented my statement in the deposition,” Belkin said. “They were not being truthful about my statement because they said that I claimed that there is a rational basis for the privacy arguments, and I claimed no such thing.”

In a request for summary judgment released earlier this week, the Justice Department names Frank and Belkin as among the experts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who gave depositions in the case of Log Cabin v. United States. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the ban on the basis that it infringes upon the First Amendment rights of LGBT service members.

Both Frank and Belkin were questioned during deposition about whether privacy concerns for service members constituted a rational basis for the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993.

The brief says Frank “acknowledged” during his deposition that “privacy concerns such as those on which Congress relied were not irrational.” But Frank disputed this characterization, pointing to his remarks during deposition.

According to an excerpt of the deposition obtained by DC Agenda, Frank was asked about privacy issues in the context of whether former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell’s statement in 1993 that service members “are required to live in communal settings that force intimacy and provide little privacy” was based on professional military judgment.

Frank replied that Powell — whose position has since evolved to endorse the Pentagon’s process for repealing the law — may have had concerns with privacy as a general matter based on professional judgment, but said Powell’s statement doesn’t “constitute an argument for keeping out open homosexuals.”

“Because what he says here is that service members are required to serve with very little privacy, so it doesn’t make any sense to me to conclude from that that there is a justification to exclude open homosexuals since he’s just acknowledged that part of being in the military means sacrificing privacy,” Frank said in his deposition.

It’s for this reason that Frank is now saying the Justice Department misrepresented his views in the brief against the lawsuit.

“So I really said the opposite of what the DOJ motion claims,” he said. “I made very clear that I would not call those feelings [about privacy] irrational, but nor would I call it rational to use that feeling as a legitimate basis for excluding a whole group of people. And that’s all there in the record.”

Belkin similarly cried foul, claiming the Justice Department mischaracterized his deposition in the brief. The administration says that Belkin testified that “the privacy basis is rational in circumstances such as combat where private accommodations are not possible.”

“Dr. Belkin studied the experience of the Israeli military and found that heterosexual concern about privacy necessitated, in certain instances, separate accommodations or work arrangements for heterosexual service members,” says the brief. “Dr. Belkin also acknowledged similar findings with respect to Congress’ concern regarding sexual tension within the military.”

According to the brief, Belkin also “pointedly admitted” people in the military have sex with each other, and some service members have “sex with other members of the same sex.”

But Belkin said the Justice Department’s account of his deposition and his alleged acknowledgement of a rational basis for privacy concerns was completely off the mark.

“People who defend ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for almost 20 years have been confusing up with down and left with right,” he said. “If the Obama administration lawyers think that my remarks in any way constitute an acknowledgement of the rational basis for the privacy rationale, then they need a new legal team.”

Belkin said the Justice Department neglected to mention major points about his deposition. He said he brought up men having sex with other men because he believes straight men would be having sex with men in the military regardless of the ban.

“Think for a minute about prisons,” he said. “It’s not exactly the same, but the point is not that gays are responsible for gay sex, but a lot of people have same-sex sex in the military and the privacy rationale does not take that into account. The privacy rationale is premised on the assumption that it’s only gays who having sex, so you have to get rid of the gays if you want to get rid of that kind of thing.”

Belkin also said the Justice Department misconstrued his take on there being a rational basis for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because some straight service members are uncomfortable around gay service members.

“It’s absolutely true that some heterosexual service members are uncomfortable in front of gay service members, but that in no way constitutes a rational basis for the privacy rationale because gays and lesbians are already serving with straight service members — and the conditions in the barracks and the showers are not going to change after the repeal of the ban,” he said.

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment on Frank and Belkin’s assertions that they were mischaracterized in the brief.

Frank also took issue with the Justice Department’s repeated references to experts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with the use of quotation marks.

For example, the brief says in a footnote that “LCR’s ‘experts’ ultimately seek to challenge the wisdom of the DADT policy, a challenge that is irrelevant under rational basis review.”

Frank said the repeated reference to experts in quotation marks is “highly unusual” for the Justice Department and “may have gone too far.”

“That’s a favorite tactic of the religious right to polish their anti-intellectual credentials, and make it seem like there’s no such things as a homosexual, so they’ll put homosexual in quotes,” he said.

The Obama administration defense of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute against the challenge from Log Cabin is causing consternation among advocacy groups seeking to repeal the law.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said “we took a step backward” with the Justice Department brief in the move to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that the brief “relies on arguments that were debunked and discredited in 1993, and even more so now.”

Solmonese also called on the administration to “show leadership, move the debate forward, and work with Congress to get repeal done” this year.

“While the Pentagon undertakes its review of how to implement repeal, Congress can and must move forward in repealing DADT in the same bill that put it into law more than 17 years ago — the defense authorization act,” he said. “And the president can and must provide the leadership necessary to get the law passed this year.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, expressed similar disappointment in a statement responding to the brief.

“SLDN understands the Justice Department’s role in defending the constitutionality of federal laws, even ones with which its leaders do not agree,” Sarvis said. “However, there continues to be a big and unnecessary disconnect between what DOJ files in court and what the president says on Capitol Hill and to his top [Department of Defense] leadership team.”

Sarvis said he wants the White House to make clear to Congress that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a priority this year for President Obama and for the president to include repeal language in budget language headed to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.

“The president’s defense budget repeal language should mirror the words in his State of the Union speech to Congress and the American people,” Sarvis said.

In a statement, Tracy Schmaler, spokesperson for the Justice Department, said the administration is defending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as “it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged.”

“The department does not pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one administration’s policy preferences,” she said.

Schmaler said Obama disagrees with the underlying judgments Congress used to pass “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and noted that the president “believes and has repeatedly affirmed that [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] is a bad policy that harms our national security and undermines our military effectiveness.”

“The president and his administration are working with the military leadership and Congress to repeal this discriminatory [law],” she said.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to consider challenge to Tenn. law challenging gender-affirming case for minors

Volunteer State lawmakers approved ban in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a challenge to a Tennessee law that bans health care providers from offering gender-affirming care to transgender minors.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the law in 2023.

A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary injunction against portions of the statute before it was to have taken effect on July 1, 2023. The 6th U.S. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September rejected a request to block the law the Justice Department has also challenged.

“The future of countless transgender youth in this and future generations rests on this court adhering to the facts, the Constitution, and its own modern precedent,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, on Monday in a press release. “These bans represent a dangerous and discriminatory affront to the well-being of transgender youth across the country and their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. They are the result of an openly political effort to wage war on a marginalized group and our most fundamental freedoms.” 

“We want transgender people and their families across the country to know we will spare nothing in our defense of you, your loved ones, and your right to decide whether to get this medical care,” added Strangio.

The Associated Press reported Tennessee is among the more than two dozen states that have enacted laws that either restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans minors.

The ACLU notes the Supreme Court “is not expected to hear arguments” in the case until the fall.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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