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Panelists hammer White House on ‘Don’t Ask’ position

Bond leaves door open for endorsing delayed implementation



PHILADELPHIA — A White House official sidestepped a question in public discussion — but left the door open — on whether the Obama administration would support passing a delayed implementation bill for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the Pentagon completes its study of the law.

The question, raised by Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff, came up during a panel discussion Saturday at the Equality Forum — an annual LGBT summit in Philadelphia — where discontent with the Obama administration’s opposition to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year dominated much of the talk among panelists.

Brian Bond, LGBT liaison for the White House, fielded questions on the White House’s lack of support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which recently came to fore with the publication of a letter Friday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking Congress to hold off on ending the law.

When the letter came up during a panel discussion highlighting LGBT officials in the White House, Bond read the prepared White House statement on how Obama’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “unequivocal,” but the president wants to wait on implementing repeal until the Pentagon completes its study of the law.

“If change were easy, we wouldn’t be having to have this fight right now,” Bond added. “I think that letter is a good example of how this is going to be a fight and a challenge.”

In response to the statement, Naff noted the White House seems to rules out full repeal at this time but leaves the door open for legislation with delayed implementation, and asked whether repeal advocates can infer that the president supports repeal “as long as the implementation is delayed until after December.”

Bond didn’t say whether the White House supports such a move but said an endorsement of such a proposal is part of an “ongoing discussion.”

“I think that’s an ongoing discussion right now,” Bond replied. “Again, there are several camps here trying to figure out — don’t forget, at the end of the day, it is Congress that will repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ not us.”

Bond maintained the president is committed to his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and said the president has made clear “on any number of times that we are working on this.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Bond said. “It’s going to messy. It was about this same time last year that my phone was blowing up and my e-mails were blowing up that we’re not going to get hate crimes done. So, I guess what I would say to you is the president has not changed his position.”

Bond said there are many stakeholders involved in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including Congress, which he called “a key part of this process.”

“I think you need to keep pushing us, quite frankly,” Bond said. “I think you need to keep working with your members of Congress and I think you need to keep your voices being heard, but I got to tell you, the president is on our side on this.”

Bond’s assurances didn’t assuage many advocates on the panel, who expressed disappointment with the work Obama accomplished on LGBT issues in the nearly one-and-a-half years that he’s been in office.

Panel moderator Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said his organization isn’t a political lobbying group, but noted a growing impatience in the LGBT community for Obama to enact his campaign promises from 2008.

“We are impatient and, I think, a lot of the folks out there are impatient,” he said. “Whether it was the ‘fierce advocate’ speech, or whether it was the campaign, we heard a little bit more zeal than we feel right now.”

Bond said Obama is working to live up to his “fierce advocate” pledge by taking some steps toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“If you’re going to talk about the president being a ‘fierce advocate,’ I think you have to give the president credit for getting this ball rolling,” Bond said. “It was in the State of the Union address in front of millions of Americans where he started this ball rolling.”

Bond also noted the Obama administration came up with regulations to limit third-party outings under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to raise the rank of officers conducting inquiries and discharges.

“I think you can put many layers on what you want to call a ‘fierce advocate,’ but I think you have a president that’s thinking very smart, very strategically — and he’s out there on this issue — where he stands and where we want to go,” Bond said.

Still, Naff expressed particular displeasure with the Obama’s refusal to call for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year.

“I find it deeply troubling that the administration will not say that it supports Congress taking a vote this year on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Naff said. “That is deeply disappointing.”

In a subsequent panel, Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Army infantry soldier who twice chained himself this year to the White House gates in protest over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” also had stern words for the president on this issue and gave the president a “D-“ for his handling of LGBT issues in general.

“I’m absolutely dissatisfied by the thinking of the entire administration that hundreds of soldiers to lose their jobs this year is not as important as a handful of Democrats who might lose their jobs,” Choi said.

Noting some LGBT groups have been calling to put pressure on certain lawmakers to advance repeal, Choi said the only way lawmakers would agree to pass such a measure as part of defense budget legislation would be if Obama transmitted language to end the law as activists have been pressing him to do.

“That vote will pass and all of those lobbying groups that are saying only put your attention to those senators — and don’t you dare criticize the president — I think we’re going to look back on this time and see our strategic blunder,” Choi said.

If Congress doesn’t pass repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year, Choi predicted it could be another 10 or 20 years before another opportunity comes around for repeal.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, said he thinks Obama set up the Pentagon study to avoid a vote on a politically charged issue.

“Likely it’s an overriding political consideration that they don’t want this issue to be coming up before the mid-terms elections,” he said. “They don’t want to energize the right or influence the middle, so I think this is likely a political decision.”

Lazin said he thinks the study is seen also as the way of integrating LGBT people in the military, which is known for being a conservative institution, with limited political blowback, but he added “obviously as an activist, that’s not what I want to hear.”

But Choi called the study inot only “an insult” to the LGBT community, but an affront to “Americans’ abilities to make logical decisions” as they observe allied nations and U.S. agencies have LGBT people serving openly with no problems.

Other issues related to the White House’s position on repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” emerged during the panel discussion.

Choi offered limited details about his planned participation in a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protest on Sunday. He said a court order following his second arrest prohibits him from entering the sidewalk around the White House unless invited by an official, but the order doesn’t prevent him from entering Lafayette Park where the protest is planned.

“There’s always a risk,” Choi said. “In fact, there’s a risk for me being here rignt now. The fact that I’m here — I believe some would construe it as undignified and perhaps radical on my part as an Army officer.”

Even though his discharge is pending under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and he’s been arrested in two separate acts of civil disobedience, Choi said he’s still serving in the Army National Guard and had participated in Army training work last weekend.

Taking a question from someone writing an e-mail to panel, Barrios questioned Bond about reports on how Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has been disinvited to White House meetings for raising too much opposition to Obama on his plan for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Aubrey Sarvis, the group’s executive director, has said he wasn’t invited to a February 1 meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.

“It’s obviously a little chilling if one could lead a conversation and then be excluded,” Barrios added.

Bond said he wouldn’t go into details, but added SLDN has been involved “in some very key, very small meetings with senior officials from the administration as well as other broad meetings.”

“I’m not going to go into the specifics on any one particular meeting,” Bond said. “I don’t think it’s fair to SLDN or to the administration to do that, but I can assure you, as late as last night, I was in a dialogue with Aubrey, and Aubrey has been in meetings, and we do consider him a partner — and SLDN a partner — in this process of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Discussing a topic unrelated to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Bond alluded to future news about an action from Obama that would build off his memorandum last year mandating some benefits — excluding health and pension benefits — for LGBT federal workers with same-sex partners.

Bond noted a component of the memorandum was offering opportunities for LGBT Foreign Service officers in the State Department so they can bring their same-sex partners with them to post while abroad.

“I think you may remember the president’s memorandum which offers what benefits we could around [the Defense of Marriage Act,]’ quite frankly — mostly health care related — and then there’s a follow up coming out very soon on that as well affecting the other agencies, or several other agencies,” he said.

Bond didn’t offer any other details on this future move from the president and didn’t take press inquiries following the panel discussion.


Blade Blog

Cruising into Pride

Celebrity holds firm as a proud corporate supporter of LGBTQ community



Celebrity APEX (Photo by Peter Rosenstein)

As you know if you have read my columns and blog posts, I love cruising. The kind where you are on a river or the ocean. Today in both the United States and around the world the LGBTQ community is facing difficult times. Attacks are coming fast and furious. There are few places where members of our community can feel totally safe these days. 

One of those places is on a cruise ship that values the community. That is what I have found whenever I travel on a Celebrity ship. Today, they are going even further in letting the world know about their respect for the community. They happily advertise Pride at Sea. Of course, they are doing it to attract LGBTQ passengers and their dollars, but that’s great in this day and age, when a company is willing to step up proudly, wants our business, and will do everything they can to make us feel both wanted and safe. That is what Celebrity Cruise Lines is doing. 

I want Pride to be celebrated not just in June, but every month. But I am excited about the June celebrations whether hosted in D.C. by Capital Pride, or on the high seas. While many of us will be at the D.C. Wharf, on June 10 to help the Washington Blade celebrate Pride on the Pier with spectacular fireworks, those who miss that and are on a Celebrity ship will be part of a Pride celebration as well. Their ships will all celebrate the month in various ways including flying a LGBTQ Pride flag. 

Celebrity has invited my friend, entertainer extraordinaire, Andrew Derbyshire, to lead the celebration on the Edge on June 13, in Ibiza. He recently quoted Celebrity, “In honor of Pride month and our continuing commitment toward fostering positive and authentic partnerships within the LGBTQIA+ community, Celebrity Cruises is raising the Pride flag to celebrate acceptance, unity, and support for the community. Each June, Celebrity Cruises hosts our annual Pride Party at Sea. Every ship takes part in the celebration that brings our crew and guests together to honor and celebrate Pride.” Andrew added, “I am happy to announce I will be flying to Ibiza on the 13th of June for a few nights, to host Pride on the Celebrity Edge, with my friend and captain, Captain Tasos, and the amazing team on board.” Andrew, like many of the entertainers I have seen and met on Celebrity ships, is encouraged to be who he is, ‘out’ and proud. 

The Edge will kick off Celebrity’s fifth annual Pride Party at Sea during its June 10, 2023, sailing. “The party will take place in tandem across the award-winning Celebrity fleet, with each ship ‘handing off the party baton’ to the next, to keep the festivities running across hemispheres and time zones. A variety of multi-generational LGBTQ+ focused programming will take place throughout the month of June. Together, officers, staff and crew around the world will participate in Celebrity’s signature Pride programming.”

You should know one of the things straight couples could always do on a Celebrity cruise is have the captain marry them. Now, since same-sex marriage became legal in Malta, where most Celebrity ships are registered, their captains can legally marry same-sex couples. After this happened the first legal same-sex marriage at sea, on a major cruise line, occurred on board Celebrity Equinox in January 2018 when the captain married Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray.  

Celebrity is a Florida-based company, and along with Disney, they are standing up for the LGBTQ community. They have been a Presenting Sponsor of Miami Beach Gay Pride for four years in a row. They continue to advertise their collaborations with gay cruise companies like VACAYA, which has charted the Celebrity Apex for a cruise of the Caribbean in 2024. The ship will be sailing with a lot of happy LGBTQ cruisers on Feb 17-24, 2024 for seven nights from Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Antigua. For anyone who hasn’t been on the Apex, it is an amazing ship. While not during an official Pride month I will show my Pride along with many other LGBTQ travelers on Celebrity Beyond this October out of Rome, and on Celebrity Ascent in October 2024 out of Barcelona. The Ascent hasn’t even set sail yet. 

Let’s hope other companies will follow Celebrity’s lead and value the LGBTQ community. We are entitled to live our lives safely and to the fullest, as who we were born to be. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Blade Blog

Shawna Hachey of Celebrity APEX on what makes a good cruise director

A love of people is a must



Shawna Hachey (Photo courtesy Hachey)

The position of cruise director on any ship is one of the most important, especially on a transatlantic voyage, like the recent one I took on the Celebrity APEX. So much of what people remember is the entertainment. Shawna Hachey is a great Cruise Director and I had the opportunity to sit and chat with her during the cruise. The job keeps her jumping and she is one of the busiest people on the ship. Shawna has a great bubbly personality. She likes people, which is a requirement for that position. 

Shawna shared she is from New Brunswick, Canada, and has come a long way from there. She has now been with Celebrity for nearly thirteen years. I kidded her that meant she must have begun when she was ten. She is actually a very young looking thirty-five. She graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a degree in fashion design, a passion of hers. Shawna told me when she graduated, she had the options of a job in the fashion industry, or working on a cruise ship.  Her dad was the one who suggested she go see the world and she ended up falling in love with cruise ships.

It is not an easy job. Her schedule is four months on and four off. The recent pandemic had her off the ship for a year and a half, during which time she worked in a government job back in Canada until Celebrity called her back. Her first contract after the pandemic, because of staff shortages, was eight months on and two off. But she loves the job. 

Shawna did the usual for someone in her position and worked her way up the ranks from activity host, to activity manager, to cruise director.  At one point she did something different and had a stint as a school teacher in London for a year, teaching kindergarten, but came back to cruising. I can just see her with those kids and am sure she was great. 

As Cruise Director she is responsible for organizing all the entertainment on the ship. That includes lectures, Zumba, game shows, silent disco’s, evening parties, resort deck parties and other games, as well as the back of house and theater tours. She works to ensure every traveler has something to keep them busy and having fun. As Shawna told me, that is always a little harder on a transatlantic cruise with so many sea days. But judging by the comments on the ship by so many of the people I met, she was doing a great job. 

The Cruise Director doesn’t get to choose all the talent, as Celebrity does the booking, but Shawna can and did request some approved acts. She loves working with those like the incredibly talented, Andrew Derbyshire. Many of us were excited he was going to be on our cruise. I first met Andrew, and wrote about him, last year when I was on APEX. He is an amazing entertainer. Shawna explained to me with the big shows like Crystalize and Tree of Life, Celebrity now produces those themselves and interviews talent for them around the world. One of the cast members in those shows, Nate Promkul, I predict will end up a star on Broadway. With the individual artists, their agents submit them to Celebrity, who then hires them for all their different ships. 

Before working on APEX Shawna has worked on a number of other Celebrity ships including Solstice, Reflection, Equinox and Silhouette. Shawna shared a story with me about Celebrity. They have always had a lot of crew from the Ukraine. Apparently, after the war began any crew members from Ukraine still working, were able to bring their families who could get out of Ukraine on board to live with them. This is a wonderful humanitarian thing to do. 

I enjoyed talking to Shawna and urge any cruiser on the APEX to say hello when you are onboard. She will always have a big smile for you. 

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Blade Blog

Meet Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis of the Celebrity APEX

Reflecting on life aboard a ship during COVID



Peter Rosenstein and Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis (Photo courtesy of Rosenstein)

It really was a pleasure to chat with Celebrity APEX Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis who invited me to the bridge for a conversation. I learned he is quite an amazing man.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me Celebrity is the only cruise company he has ever been with and joined them twenty-eight years ago in 1994. While still a young man of 47 he has already been a captain for 12 years. In one of the many interesting lectures during the cruise, we were given a talk on how one can become a captain. How one moves up the ranks at Celebrity. We were told about all the education and testing required. The speaker, who was not yet a captain, kidded he would reach that goal by 2080. He then told us jokingly about the exception for those of Greek extraction. He said they received their captain’s certificate along with their birth certificate. When I mentioned this to the captain during our conversation he laughed and assured me he did have all the needed education and tests.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me proudly he is from the Island of Crete, and still lives there with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. A captain with Celebrity is on a schedule of three months on, and three months off. He said he loves those three months off when he can be with his wife and daughter, and the rest of his family, back on Crete. I told him I had been to Crete many years ago and thought it was beautiful and asked him if he had ever walked down the famous Samariá Gorge and he said he hadn’t.

Over his years with Celebrity, he worked on many ships, including Horizon and Century among others. His most recent ship was the Reflection, which he captained during the COVID pandemic. That was not an easy time for the cruise line. He was with Reflection for three years and during the pandemic spent part of the time with the ship sitting in the Bahamas, with a crew of less than 100. Just enough to keep the ship ready to sail again when he could welcome passengers back. I told him I was on the APEX last year on a transatlantic cruise out of Barcelona with only had 1250 passengers and a crew of about 1,000. He told me on this cruise there were 2340 passengers and a crew of close to 1200. The APEX can accommodate up to 3,400 passengers with a crew of 1,250. The captain agreed staffing back up has been difficult and complimented the Celebrity HR department who he said has been working overtime recruiting crew. 

I asked him about protections for the crew during the pandemic and continuing today. He said Celebrity has been really good about that and all crew on the APEX have been vaccinated and boosted against Covid and during this transatlantic cruise they were all getting flu shots. On this trip the crew was required to wear masks for their safety. During the sea days they were allowed to take them off when outdoors, so we could see their smiles.

I then asked him what he wants to do next after he stops being a Captain. He told me he loves being a Captain and really can’t see another career. He did tell me once he retires, years from now, maybe when his daughter is in college, he wants to get an RV, and drive across Europe with his wife, seeing all the sites at a slow and leisurely pace. Then would like to do the same going across the United States stopping at all the national parks. Sounds like a great retirement.  I asked if he often leaves the ship in the ports where it stops. He says he does if his wife and daughter are on board visiting, and anticipates them joining him for the upcoming holidays. When they aren’t with him, he gets off if he can get to a beach, or a place to swim and dive, which he loves.

I then mentioned there was a party that afternoon my friends and travel agents, Scott and Dustin, with My Lux Cruise, were hosting in the Iconic suite. He said he would enjoy coming to that. I thanked him for taking the time to chat, said I hope to see him at the party, and left the bridge.

I didn’t say anything to Scott or Dustin about inviting him. Not only did he come but brought the Hotel Director, Christophe, with him. They were incredibly open and gracious, taking selfies. Christophe told us he would be on the BEYOND when we do our next transatlantic cruise in October 2023. 

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