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Congress nears key votes on ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Levin seeks to overturn law as part of Defense budget process

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Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Hall was among an estimated 350 people who visited Capitol Hill this week to lobby for the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As crucial votes loom on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the House and Senate, supporters of repeal are stepping up pressure on lawmakers to act this year.

During the week of May 24, the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to consider major defense budget legislation. Opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are expecting Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to introduce a measure to overturn the law as part of the consideration of the defense authorization bill.

At around the same time, the House version of the defense authorization bill is expected to come to the floor. Those favoring repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are anticipating that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) will offer an amendment that would end the law.

Whether sufficient votes exist in the Senate committee or on the House floor for repeal is unclear. On April 30, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a letter advising Congress to hold off on any repeal vote. Most observers said the letter would have a chilling effect on repeal efforts.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he’s “not very” confident that there will be enough votes for passage because he doesn’t believe those seeking to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are sufficiently lobbying lawmakers.

“If I felt that the community was lobbying the way it should be, I’d feel better, but everybody wants to be the armchair quarterback and not do the more boring work of calling up their representative,” Frank said. “I’m optimistic in general, but the key question is will people make the calls or not?”

To step up the pressure on Congress, a group of about 350 citizen lobbyists swarmed Capitol Hill on Tuesday to encourage lawmakers to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of a veterans lobby day sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United.

The event, which was the most highly attended lobby day in HRC’s history and the largest lobby event on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” followed a White House visit Monday in which LGBT veterans urged administration officials to move on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the lobby day events were “enormously successful” in part because of the sheer numbers.

Nicholson estimated that about 90 percent of those who participated in the event were veterans, a fact he said had an impact on lawmakers sensitive to the concerns of those who have served in the military.

“They were people who actually had credibility talking on the issue and people who could actually engage military legislative assistants eye-to-eye and issue-to-issue,” he said.

As a result of the lobby day and other efforts, Nicholson said he saw potential for Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to move toward supporting repeal after previously being on the fence.

Still, the outcome of the votes in the House and Senate remained unclear. Most repeal supporters said they were more likely to find success in the House than the Senate.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he agreed with an assessment given to him by Murphy in the House that sufficient support exists for passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the floor.

Still, Sarvis said “we’re a couple votes short” of repeal succeeding in the Senate Armed Services Committee, although he noted that it’s still possible to win more support in the time remaining before the committee markup.

Sarvis said a key to winning more support would be finding “a legislative compromise” that addresses the concerns Gates raised about holding off on repeal until the Pentagon completes its study on the issue.

LGBT lobbyists have been pushing for delayed implementation legislation — a bill that Congress would pass now and would take effect in 2011.

On Monday, Levin said he wanted to pursue repeal as part of the defense authorization process — if the votes are present — and that he favors the idea of passing legislation that wouldn’t take effect until later, according to Roll Call.

“What we ought to do is repeal it, but make the effective date after the report,” Levin was quoted as saying.

Additionally, Sarvis said President Obama needs to follow through on his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and convince senators to move forward on the issue.

“The person that we need to hear from the most in these closing days is the president of the United States,” Sarvis said. “The president is in the best position to reconcile the concerns that Secretary Gates expressed with the desire of Chairman Levin and others in the next two weeks.”

Nicholson similarly said he believes repeal would pass in the House and that in the Senate Armed Services Committee a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be close. He also supported forcing a vote among Senate Armed Services Committee members even if the votes are lacking for repeal.

“I think we’re starting to consider the idea that if you called the bluff of those who say they’re leaning ‘no,’ that they may change their mind,” Nicholson said. “We’re talking about one or two votes. Calling their bluff and doing the vote anyway and proceeding to the outcome is potentially a legitimate tactic, now, too.”

It’s possible that the House version of the defense authorization bill would contain repeal language that the Senate bill lacks, meaning a conference committee would resolve the issue. Whatever the conference committee decides would be the final legislation that makes its way to Obama’s desk.

Asked about whether repeal could succeed this year if only the House votes in favor of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Frank said supporters “ought to focus on trying to lobby members.”

“It bothers me that you and your readers and others are worrying about what they can’t affect in lieu of doing things that they can affect by calling members and lobbying,” he said.

Sarvis said “there’s no way of knowing” whether repeal is still possible through the conference committee if the House acts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Senate is unable to pass repeal.

“If the House votes for full repeal and the Senate doesn’t, yes, the issue is alive and will be within the scope of the conference, but it will be far, far more difficult to keep in there,” Sarvis said.

Sarvis said “it’s urgent” that both the House and Senate act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of the defense authorization bills because that would provide repeal supporters the best conditions heading into conference committee.

Nicholson said “it’s not as likely” for repeal to succeed if one chamber of Congress votes in favor of it and another chamber doesn’t, but said such a situation would nonetheless provide a path to overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“People may be disappointed and pessimistic if it comes down to the conference committee and fighting it out there,” he said. “But Congressman Murphy and Sen. Levin are 100 percent committed to seeing action on repeal this year, and are going to fight for it even if it comes down to conference committee.”

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

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

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

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

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

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

The survey includes these additional findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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