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Repeal groups disagree on 'Don't Ask' strategy



The recently published letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates advising Congress to wait on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote has led to dispute among repeal advocates on the best way to move forward with legislation.

While most organizations are now saying the best way to proceed is a delayed implementation bill — or legislation that Congress would pass now and would take effect only after the Pentagon completes its study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — one advocate is proposing a different strategy that was recently shot down by other groups.

In the weekend following the publication of the Gates letter, Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think-tank on gays in the military, circulated a proposed statement calling for legislation that would repeal the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, 10 USC § 654, and provide no mandate to the Pentagon on whether to discharge openly LGBT service members.

The draft statement recalls a 2008 Palm Center report in which a commission of retired generals and admirals recommended a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute and to “return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.” The report leaves the decision on whether or not to discharge LGBT service members to the Pentagon.

Adopting the views of this commission, the proposal Belkin circulated says legislation returning authority to DOD is the best way to go because “optimal policy sometimes collides with political reality.”

“Consistent with the 2008 General and Flag Officer’s Report, we believe that by repealing 10 USC § 654 and returning authority for personnel policy to the Department of Defense at this time, Congress would enhance national security,” the statement reads. “Repeal would not require the military to take action, but would enable it to implement forthcoming recommendations from the Pentagon study group.”

The statement calls on congressional leadership and the LGBT community “to consider this option seriously.”

Belkin said he circulated this statement because he believes repeal with no mandate for non-discrimination is “the best the community can get” after the publication of Gates’ letter. He added passage of legislation returning authority to the Pentagon would be “a huge victory” and “basically 90 percent of what we need.”

According to Belkin, most of the major repeal organizations signed this statement in support, but removed their names before the statement could be formally published. Belkin declined to identify which advocates initially signed their name or say why they ultimately decided to remove their signatures.

Belkin also said he was the target of hostility among repeal advocates for circulating this proposal.

“Emotions are running pretty high and I’ve already been yelled at and accused of abandoning the troops, seeking publicity for its own sake, and other bad stuff,” he said.

Belkin said he’s hopeful his “political logic is wrong” on this issue and repeal advocates “will be able to secure passage of repeal along with a non-discrimination mandate at some point in the next two or three years.”

With support for his proposal withdrawn, Belkin said he’s “not sure” whether he’ll solicit additional support at a later time to ask repeal advocates to come on board with his idea.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he was solicited for approval of the proposal, but never signed in support.

“I don’t think right now — with the way things are currently aligned and the way things are currently set up strategically — I don’t think that that is best the route to go,” Nicholson said.

Still, Nicholson said the option of legislation that would repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute and return authority to the Pentagon has been discussed among repeal advocates. Nicholson said some repeal supporters said they won’t endorse any legislation that lacks non-discrimination language in any event, but he said his position is more nuanced.

“It’s an option that I’ve said under certain circumstances could be merited, but I don’t it’s the right thing right now — because things are happening real fast — and things are changing several times a day sometimes,” he said.

Repeal supporters in Congress like Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) or Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Nicholson said, may “decide it’s in our best interest to go that route” if the votes are lacking for an alternative. But Nicholson said he thinks “we’re not there yet.”

Nicholson said he was told Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was being consulted on the proposal, and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, had already signed on to the proposal.

“People were sort of trusting Aaron, and I think when people read it, they decided, OK, this isn’t something that I want to support,” Nicholson said.

David Smith, HRC’s vice president of programs, denied Solmonese signed his name to the statement and later removed it. He said he wouldn’t discuss behind-the-scenes policy discussions among repeal advocates and maintained HRC isn’t on board with Belkin’s proposal.

Sarvis also said he didn’t sign on to the proposal and said SLDN has “made clear” it will continue to fight for legislation for “full repeal this year.”

In lieu of legislation to return authority to the Pentagon, most repeal advocates are pressing for a delayed implementation bill as the best chance for legislation that would pass this year.

Such a measure would technically meet standard set forth in a White House statement on Friday following the publication of Gates letter, which said “the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed.”

Smith went so far as to call delayed implementation an “essential” component of any bill that would achieve legislative success this year.

“I believe that the work of the working group likely needs to be completed before repeal can be implemented, but it still can be executed this year and implemented over a period of time based on the working group recommendations,” Smith said.

Sarvis said SLDN has supported the approach of delayed implementation before in what he called a “60, 60, 60” plan for repeal.

“We delay repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] for 180 days after the president signs the defense bill to insure a timely transition to open service and an orderly implementation,” he said.

Under the plan, Gates would retain authority for discharges immediately upon the legislation’s passage. An estimated 60 days later, the Pentagon working group would make its recommendations on December 1. Once an additional 60 days passes, the Defense Department can issue guidelines on implementing open service to the services, and 60 days later, the services can issue their own regulations.

Nicholson said the delayed implementation bill is “already a concession itself” from the outright repeal that advocates had previously been pursuing.

“We’re trying to get to a starting point, so we’ve started talking about delayed implementation,” he said. “That seems to be more acceptable to some of those who are not supportive of immediate repeal or an immediate stoppage of discharges.”

Even Belkin called delayed implementation legislation the “best alternative for protecting for our national security” at this point if a bill for outright repeal isn’t possible.

However, Belkin said the situation is different when considering “political reality,” and predicted votes will be lacking in Congress this year for passing a delayed implementation bill.

“The bottom line is that there weren’t enough votes in the Senate for the delayed implementation — or for any bill with an implementation mandate – before Gates’ letter,” Belkin said. “There’s certainly not enough votes after the letter, and so it’s not a policy objection to the bill, it’s a question of political reality.”

The entirety of the Palm Center draft proposal as provided by Belkin follows:


As is widely known, the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” consists of two related but distinct parts: a law known as 10 USC § 654 and a series of Pentagon implementing regulations which spell out how the military is to carry out Congressional law. Two years ago, a bipartisan commission of retired General and Flag Officers from every service released a report in which they recommended that Congress repeal 10 USC § 654 in order to “return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.” The commission said little about the implementing regulations.

Members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community have said that when Congress repeals 10 USC § 654, it should simultaneously require the military to establish a standard of non-discrimination with respect to sexual-orientation. The community is correct in noting that without that statutory mandate from Congress, the Pentagon might leave current implementing regulations in place, or might revise them in such a way as to perpetuate discrimination. If the goal is to improve national security while treating gay service members just like everybody else, then Congress should repeal 10 USC § 654 and mandate non-discrimination.

As is the case in so many different issue areas, however, optimal policy sometimes collides with political reality. Consistent with the 2008 General and Flag Officer’s Report, we believe that by repealing 10 USC § 654 and returning authority for personnel policy to the Department of Defense at this time, Congress would enhance national security. Repeal would not require the military to take action, but would enable it to implement forthcoming recommendations from the Pentagon study group. We have confidence that with the repeal of 10 USC § 654, the process will come to a successful completion.  We urge Congressional leadership as well as members of our own community to consider this option seriously.


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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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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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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