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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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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated

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(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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