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‘Don’t Ask’ repeal faces delay, uncertainty

Gates warns Congress not to act; protesters arrested for third time at White House

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Supporters of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have turned up the heat on President Obama in recent weeks. Sunday’s White House protest marked the third time in two months that activists were arrested while demanding action on repeal. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the wake of Defense Secretary Robert Gates advising Congress to delay taking action to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” LGBT advocates remain committed to pushing for repeal this year, but have expressed differing opinions on the best way forward.

In an April 30 letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Gates says “in the strongest possible terms” that the Department of Defense must be allowed to conduct its review of lifting the ban on open service before Congress takes “any legislative action.” The report is due to be completed Dec. 1.

Gates says “a critical element” of the review is engaging the armed forces and military families and noted that those in service “must be afforded” the opportunity to share “concerns, insights and suggestions” about the proposed change.

“Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital engagement process,” Gates says. “Further, I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families.”

In a statement responding to the letter, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said President Obama’s commitment to repealing the ban on service “is unequivocal,” but noted the White House is on board with delaying implementation of repeal.

“That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed,” he said.

The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to clarify whether this statement rules out an endorsement from Obama on including repeal as part of the upcoming Defense authorization bill or whether the president supports a vote in Congress now to repeal the gay ban, as long as implementation is delayed until 2011.

The impact of the two statements on the effort to achieve legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year remains unclear. Some experts previously said repeal was only one or two votes short on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but that may change following Gates’ request for a delay.

David Smith, vice president of programs for the Human Rights Campaign, said repeal remains possible this year.

“We think it should and can happen this year, and that is what we are fighting for,” Smith said. “We continue to work with both the House and the Senate.”

Smith said HRC continues to lobby the White House for support in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

He added the grassroots work and lobbying that HRC is pursuing in six states — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia — would be an important part of the path toward winning the votes necessary for repeal.

In anticipation of the defense authorization bill markup in the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 24, the work is intended to influence key senators on the panel who are uncommitted on repeal: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

“The key is the votes and we think we’re close and we think that, at the end of the day, we’ll have those votes, and that’s what we continue to work for,” Smith said.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the best way to make repeal happen following the publication of the Gates letter is working with repeal advocates on Capitol Hill.

“We strongly believe repeal can happen, but this will require the president to lead the way at this critical hour,” Sarvis said. “To put it bluntly, we need his voice and help now.”

Some Hill supporters of repeal are staying mum following publication of the Gates letter and the White House statement. The office of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) declined to comment on the letter, and the office of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the sponsor of repeal legislation in the House, was quoted in an interview with The Advocate this week as saying he was “blindsided” by the Gates letter, but still plans to pursue repeal this year.

“That’s my job — to make sure that we repeal this policy,” he said. “After my three years in Washington, I think when folks tell you to walk away, that’s usually a sign that you’re getting close.”

In the letter, Gates said he was responding to an April 28 inquiry from Skelton, who opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time. Skelton’s inquiry and Gates’ letter come on the heels of an announcement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she plans to hold a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year in her chamber.

“It is the speaker’s intention that a vote will be taken this year on [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] in the House,” Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, told the Blade last week.

In response to a subsequent Blade inquiry about Gates’ letter, Hammill said April 30 that Pelosi’s position was unchanged, although he used slightly different language.

“The speaker maintains her hope to repeal this discriminatory policy this year,” Hammill said.

Separately, Pelosi issued a statement calling for a moratorium on discharges of gay service members.

“We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department,” she said. “In the meantime, the administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted.”

Disappointment with President Obama’s lack of support for a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year led around 300 protesters to rally at the White House on Sunday.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean made a surprise appearance at the rally as six protesters were arrested after they handcuffed themselves to the White House gates.

The rally, a collaborative effort of GetEqual and Queer Rising, was aimed to move President Obama to call on Congress to include repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces as part of upcoming Defense Department budget legislation.

People at the rally carried signs reading, “Study: Navy has some bigots — Duh!” and “Mr. Obama, What’s the hold up?”

At one point, demonstrators chanted, “What do we want? Full equality! When do we want it? Now!” They also shouted, “Shame on Obama! Shame on your silence!”

Speaking before attendees, Dean said an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary because it robs the U.S. military of crucial personnel, such as Arabic translators.

“We can’t afford to lose any talented people, and to kick talented people out of the military because they happen to be gay or lesbian makes no sense at all,” he said.

The six protesters who handcuffed themselves to the White House gates Sunday were Anne Tischer of Rochester, N.Y.; Mark Reed of Dallas; and Alan Bounville, Nora Camp, Iana DiBona and Natasha Dillon, all of New York City.

As they handcuffed themselves, protesters chanted, “I am somebody, and I deserve full equality.”

Led by Lt. Dan Choi, who was previously arrested twice for handcuffing himself to the White House fence, the crowd shouted out the Pledge of Allegiance to the six people handcuffed to the fence. After reciting the last line of “With liberty and justice for all,” attendees repeated the refrain, “For all! For all!”

After the six demonstrators were arrested, Paul Yandura, an organizer with GetEqual, said they were charged with misdemeanor failure to obey a lawful order. He noted that each paid a fine of $100 and their cases are now closed.

Those attending the rally said they joined the event to show their frustration with Obama and his approach toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Erika Knepp of Annapolis, Md., said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that Obama hasn’t called for repeal this year.

“He was voted on making promises, and that’s all it’s come to,” she said. “We had the National Equality March to make him promise to keep his promises, and there’s been nothing so far, and it makes me very angry.”

Also expressing anger at the rally over Obama’s handling of the issue was a gay Army Reserve Office Training Corps student at Georgetown University, who spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity to avoid being expelled under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The student said he felt Obama “betrayed” him because the president has not fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“When he said that, I was really relieved, knowing that I might be able to come out without having to lie all the time to my peers,” said the student. “But after learning that the White House is not following through on that, it’s actually disappointing.”

Many repeal advocates now see a delayed implementation bill as the best chance for overturning the law this year.

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

HRC’s Smith called delayed implementation an “essential” component of any bill that would pass 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,” he 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 ensure 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 Dec. 1. After an additional 60 days passes, the Defense Department could issue guidelines on implementing open service, and 60 days later, the services can issue their own regulations.

The issue of whether the White House would support delayed implementation legislation came up during a panel discussion on May 1 at the Equality Forum, an annual LGBT summit in Philadelphia.

Brian Bond, LGBT liaison for the White House, sidestepped a question about whether the Obama administration would support passing delayed implementation legislation.

When the letter came up during a panel discussion highlighting LGBT officials in the White House, Bond read a prepared White House statement saying Obama’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “unequivocal,” but that 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 said. “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, Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff, who was on the panel with Bond, asked whether repeal supporters could infer that the president supports a congressional vote for repeal “as long as the implementation is delayed until after December.”

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

“I think that’s an ongoing discussion right now,” Bond said. “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 said the president is committed to his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that Obama 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.”

But Bond’s comments didn’t appease some on the panel, who expressed disappointment with Obama’s work on LGBT issues in the nearly 18 months that he’s been in the White House.

Panel moderator Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, noted a growing impatience in the LGBT community with Obama.

“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.”

In a subsequent panel, Choi had stern words for the president on the issue and gave him a D-minus for his handling of LGBT issues.

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

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Duane S

    May 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    I urge all veterans and supporters to contact their senators and representatives to support the repeal of DADT by this Tuesday. This Tuesday is a lobby day in DC. If you can’t make it in person, call or email your members of Congress. This is a policy that must be overturned.

  2. Tim

    May 8, 2010 at 3:02 am

    It’s time we made Obama and the Dems in Congress put up or shut up. I for one am sick of being promised change, only to be betrayed and then thrown under the bus. We don’t need friends who take our money, support, and votes and then stand by and do nothing. They may not be attacking us like the Republicans, but they are throwing us under the bus yet again, on ENDA, DADT, DPBO, UAFA, and the promise to repeal DOMA. I am already sorry I voted for the Obama, and the Senate Dems like Warner and other sellout “Blue Dogs” are just as worthless!

  3. libhomo

    May 9, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Gates is a terrible Secretary of Defense, and he should be fired for a number of reasons.

  4. Jerry

    May 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    The military knows it has had gay troops serving, some openly and without incident for years since DADT was put in place. A vast majority of the public favors repeal. Most troops are comfortable having gay comrades in their barracks, and they serve along side gay soldiers from other nations without incident. The Navy didn’t need a year long study to make the decision to allow women to serve aboard submarines, and I doubt that a single enlisted man in the submarine service was asked for his opinion on the subject. A one paragraph announcement in the press took care of the business.

    This one year study is nothing more than a delaying tactic to figure out how to continue the ban and I’d bet dollars to donuts that the major foot draggers are the military chaplains corps.

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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

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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

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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

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(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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