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Obama AWOL on ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal?

Activists turn up heat on president to act



Army Lt. Dan Choi and five other LGBT veterans handcuffed themselves to the White House fence Tuesday in protest of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ echoing a similar protest staged one month earlier. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

As activists and lobbyists continue to press for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” some are losing patience with President Obama and moderate Democrats in Congress.

Obama was heckled at a fundraiser on Monday and a group of six former LGBT service members chained themselves to the White House fence this week to protest what they view as slow progress in overturning the law.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign and other advocates are working to push six key senators to support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.

Moderate senators from six states — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia — are the targets of HRC’s grassroots campaign. The renewed push to win their support comes as the Senate Armed Services Committee is poised to tackle the issue May 26 when it takes up the Defense authorization bill.

Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director, said the grassroots effort is being coordinated by about two dozen field workers and includes postcards, phone calls, district office visits, op-ed placements and other media coverage.

“We’re also, where we can, working with some grasstops folks to weigh in with senators, and it’s an ongoing process,” she said.

Marty Rouse, HRC’s national field director, said the campaign builds on the organization’s earlier efforts such as the Voices of Honor tour and involves “identifying and mobilizing veterans” to contact senators and participate in the joint Lobby Day between HRC and Servicemembers United on May 11.

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson said his organization is identifying veterans with HRC’s membership and bringing in new veterans not connected to any organization to advocate for repeal.

“We’re basically setting up a number of events in each of these states with vets to talk about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to get the issue to the local media,” he said.

But even with this campaign underway, senators from these six states aren’t yet committed to voting for repeal. Many are saying they want to hear the results of the Pentagon study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which is due Dec. 1, before taking action. The mandate of the study, as established by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, is to examine how the U.S. armed services would implement open service should Congress repeal the ban.

One such senator waiting for the study results is Jim Webb (D-Va.). Asked by DC Agenda on Tuesday whether he favors repeal, Webb emphasized his support for the review currently underway.

“I think what Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen proposed in terms of the study is very important,” Webb said. “We need to understand that. I support the approach that they’re taking. It’s responsible.”

Pressed on how he would vote on an amendment during the defense authorization markup, Webb reiterated his support for the working group and replied, “I think we need to honor the process that Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen have put in motion.”

Holding a similar position is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). In a statement, Nelson spokesperson Grant Schnell said the senator is interested in the results of the study.

“Sen. Nelson’s inclined to support repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but wants to see the study Secretary Gates announced of how this would impact the military,” Schnell said.

Also refraining from endorsing repeal was Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). In a statement, Bayh said he’s “committed to ensuring that our troops are treated with the respect they have earned through their selfless service” and that his personal belief is “those who are willing to take a bullet for their country ought to be able to serve it openly.”

“However, President Obama is absolutely right to solicit the input and support of his top military commanders about the effects of repealing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” Bayh said. “I will make a final decision after receiving the input of our top commanders.”

The offices of Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment.

Asked about the progress in moving these senators to support repeal, Herwitt said the campaign is “a work in progress” and that many lawmakers typically hold out on announcing support for pro-LGBT legislation until just before it comes to a vote.

“You always have that last handful of House members or senators that you’re really looking to secure support from, and they’re typically the ones that don’t declare early,” she said.

Rouse noted that there’s a “significant presence” of mobilized efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the six states where HRC is working to influence senators.

“If you talk [with] any leaders or politically engaged people in these six states, I think they would acknowledge that there has been significant movement across the states in support of ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Rouse said.

Nicholson also said “it’s really too early” to tell whether the effort will be successful in moving moderate senators to vote for repeal.

“With these swing vote senators, they’re not going to make up their minds until the last minute, and [then only if they] absolutely have to,” he said. “If they’re not forced to take the vote, I don’t think they’re going to take the risk of coming out one way or the other.”

Still, Nicholson said he’s seen evidence of these senators noticing the campaign’s efforts in their states, citing Nebraska as an example where increased media coverage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has come to the attention of Ben Nelson’s staff.

Nicholson said he’s heard members of Ben Nelson’s staff have taken the initiative in conversations with other staff members on Capitol Hill to mention an uptick in newspaper stories coming from Omaha, Neb., and Lincoln, Neb., on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“What we do know right now, what we are able to see, is that it’s being noticed — that’s for sure,” Nicholson said.

‘Within a vote or two’

But with votes from these key senators still in play, it remains to be seen whether there will be sufficient votes in the Senate Armed Services Committee to advance repeal.

During a press event Tuesday, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a strong proponent of repeal in the Senate, was optimistic about having enough support, noting that “we’re very close” and “we’re within a vote or two.”

“There are certainly a number of senators on [the Democratic] side that are on record as wanting to overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and there are some who have not made their intentions clear,” Udall said.

Among Republicans, Udall said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who often supports LGBT civil rights bills, has “expressed an interest in overturning ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Nicholson estimated that a vote now in the Senate Armed Services Committee to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a 25 to 50 percent chance of succeeding without further intervention from the administration.

“I think that Bayh and Bill Nelson are ‘lean yeses,’” Nicholson said. “They’re undecideds, but they’re undecideds leaning towards ‘yes.’”

One factor that would be seen as a tremendous boon — and perhaps even essential — to moving key senators to support repeal is an explicit endorsement from President Obama to attach an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the upcoming Defense authorization bill.

But the White House and the Pentagon have not come forward with an explicit endorsement of repeal this year. In response to a query from DC Agenda during a press briefing last month, Gates said he doesn’t recommend a change in the law until the Defense Department completes its study implementing open service and that he thinks the president is comfortable with this process.

On Monday, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, wrote a letter to Obama urging him to come out for repeal. Sarvis said he’s concerned about “multiple reports” that the president’s congressional liaison team “is urging some members of Congress to avoid a vote on repeal this year.”

Among those noticing a lack of support from the Obama administration to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at this time is Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Asked by DC Agenda on Tuesday what the White House and the Pentagon are saying they want from lawmakers on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Levin replied, “Let them complete the analysis.”

During his press event, Udall called for a stronger voice from Obama. While acknowledging the president made clear in January during his State of the Union address that he wants to work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Udall said he wants to see and hear more from Obama on the issue.

“The White House has, in the State of the Union address, made it clear they want to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Udall said. “The timing they continue to leave up to the Congress. That’s why I think it will be very useful if the president weighed in and said that this year is the year to finish the job.”

Anger with Obama for failing to endorse immediate repeal led protesters to interrupt the president’s speech Monday at a Los Angeles fundraising event for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

In another protest, six LGBT veterans handcuffed themselves to the gates of the White House on Tuesday in protest over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and were subsequently arrested. Among the demonstrators were Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who were arrested last month after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in a similar protest.

In a statement, Choi said he and other LGBT veterans participated in the action out of concern that the president is wavering on his commitment to push for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Choi said. “If the president were serious about keeping his promise to repeal this year, he would put the repeal language in his Defense authorization budget.”

Following the protest in Los Angeles, White House Deputy Press Secretary Dan Burton wouldn’t say in response to a reporter’s question aboard Air Force One whether Obama supports repeal at this time. Instead, Burton emphasized that “a tremendous amount of progress” has been made on the issue.

“This is a policy that’s been in place for quite a long time, and as we’ve seen on other issues, change is hard,” he said. “But that said, what we’ve seen is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense both come out in support of this change, and we’re moving with as much speed as possible to see that it’s done.”

Nicholson said he doesn’t think it’s possible to move senators to vote for an immediate repeal bill without more support from the president. But he noted a bill with delayed implementation, as Servicemembers United previously recommended, is possible.

“I think that’s the best chance we have for getting this because it’s the only thing consistent with what the Pentagon wants and it’s the only … middle ground between what the Pentagon says they want and what we are willing to give up and accept,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said the repeal legislation currently before the Senate isn’t a delayed implementation bill because it calls for an immediate cessation of discharges while allowing the Pentagon working group to complete its study.

Regardless of the positions of the White House and Pentagon, Herwitt said HRC and other advocates are working to make repeal happen this year in the hopes of moving moderate senators to vote for repeal.

“I think that we are going to continue to push and advocate for these senators’ votes,” she said. “The president said in the State of the Union address that he will work with Congress this year and we are continuing to push forward.”

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  1. Scott L

    April 23, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Jim Messina is the Deputy Chief of Staff for President Obama. He is gay and is charged with being the liaison to the GLBT community. He’s turned out to be just another political hack, more interested in preserving his own job than working on matters that count. He has shut SLDN out of all discussions on repealing DADT because they are too vocal. It seems that President Obama would be better served with someone that actually supports the gay community than Messina who seems to be doing nothing to advance our issues.

  2. Charles Etheridge / Atlanta, GA

    April 24, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I think that further delay would not accomplish anything favorable. I’ve been waiting for this ever since the early seventies when I served, uneventfully, in the air Force for three years. In the dorm that I lived in were personnel from the highest scoring occupations in administration, medicine, dentistry, as well as weather and flight manipulations, a very great many of us were gay and knew that the others were. At that time we kept a relatively low profile, but it was well known throughout the base that we were gay. It should be back to that way now.

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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



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



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



(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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