Sen. Ben Nelson, right, talks with U.S. Army General David Petraeus. Nelson this week said he would vote against a legislative effort to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Photo courtesy of Nelson’s office)
A key U.S. senator has told the Blade that he opposes repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at this time.
In a brief exchange on Capitol Hill, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Tuesday he would vote against an effort next week to overturn the law. He said he wants to adhere to guidance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen on holding off on repeal.
Asked whether he would vote in favor of a repeal measure, Nelson replied, “No, I want to follow with the advice and the suggestions of Secretary of Defense Gates to have the study that is underway right now before we make that final decision — because it’s not a question of ‘whether,’ it’s a question of ‘how.’”
A vote on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of major defense budget legislation could take place next week during the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Markup proceedings are scheduled to begin May 26 and are closed to the public.
It remains unclear whether there are enough votes on the committee to make repeal part of the legislation. Mustering enough votes to repeal the statute could be a challenge for opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” following Nelson’s comments.
Repeal efforts were complicated last month after Gates released a letter to Congress saying he would “strongly oppose” repeal before the Pentagon completes at year’s end its study on the issue. Since then, supporters of repeal — including Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) — have advocated for a compromise in which Congress would vote now to repeal the law but delay implementation of repeal until 2011.
Asked whether he would be open to such a measure, Nelson appeared to be unaware that such an approach to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been under consideration, but was reluctant to support the idea.
“I don’t know,” Nelson said. “I haven’t seen that legislation. I know there’s probably some support for that, but I think it’s been made pretty clear by Secretary Gates that we shouldn’t take any action until the study is completed, and that’s my position. That’s where I’m going to stay.”
Nelson’s statements came as a disappointment to people who had identified him as an uncommitted vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that could be moved in favor of repeal this year.
He was among six senators that LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, had lobbied through a grassroots campaign to vote in favor of repeal. The other five are Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Jim Webb (D-Va.).
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said Ben Nelson is only one of the six key senators and estimated that only two or three votes from those six are needed to advance repeal.
“If Sen. Nelson is entrenching himself that hard on that side of the vote, then I think he risks putting himself down on the wrong side of history,” Nicholson said. “That’s something he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his career, and that’s going to be part of his legacy.”
Nicholson said Nelson’s apparent unfamiliarity with delayed implementation legislation could mean that high-level discussions with him on moving forward with that plan hadn’t yet occurred.
‘Don’t Ask’ opponents push on
Even with Nelson representing a “no” vote on repeal during the committee vote, supporters of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are moving forward with plans for a vote next week during the committee markup.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of standalone repeal legislation in the Senate, told the Blade that supporters of repeal are “working hard” to find a way forward for passage in the committee.
“Obviously, we were set back somewhat from the letter by Secretary Gates, but we’re talking to every member of the committee,” he said. “We have some, I think, creative ideas about how to deal with … concerns that Secretary Gates expressed.”
Lieberman said he’s uncertain if the votes are there for passage, but noted that “it’s important to get this done this year.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a strong proponent of repeal, said he doesn’t think anyone knows whether the votes are there in the committee for repeal, but he’s “feeling guardedly optimistic” about the prospects.
“It’s crucial that we take this opportunity to lift it,” he said. “There’s different ideas about how to best work with the Pentagon on this approach, but I still think you could study and repeal.”
Nicholson said he thinks supporters “have a really good shot” at getting the two or three votes necessary to win repeal during Senate markup next week.
“It’s really going to come down to some of the one-on-one conversations that Levin and Lieberman are having this week with their colleagues on the committee,” he said.
In the wake of the Gates letter, many repeal supporters see pushing forward with delayed implementation legislation as the optimal path for a successful vote on ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.
Lieberman said supporters are looking at alternatives, including a bill “to enact repeal, but have it not be this year, to have it not be effective until either sometime next year” or until the Pentagon working group issues a certification of its study.
“I think Secretary Gates was really talking about he doesn’t want us to do this until the rank-and-file military has had a chance to be heard,” Lieberman said. “So we’re trying to find a way to take legislative action this year, but still respect the opinions of the military and maybe delay the implementation until sometime next year.”
Lieberman said a number of different ideas are being discussed among committee members, but delayed implementation legislation “seems to be the one that commands the most support.”
Also noting that delayed implementation could have traction is Udall, who said such a bill is “one of the ideas” being discussed.
“That still remains my preferred course,” he said. “In other words, you would make it very clear the law is repealed, and then you put in place the timeframe by which you implement the changes that are necessary.”
Despite this push and work toward a compromise, the six targeted members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been reluctant to endorse repeal publicly, although none of these six have been as explicit as Ben Nelson in their opposition.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has maintained on several occasions the importance of the Pentagon study as a means to inform Congress on how to approach repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Asked this week whether he’s made a decision on how he’ll vote should an amendment come before him, Webb replied, “I think we need to respect the process that Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen put in place.”
Webb had a similar response when asked whether his position would be any different for delayed implementation legislation.
“I think we should honor the process that they’ve put in place,” Webb said. “I think people should understand that it’s a pretty significant historical event in terms of what Adm. Mullen said during that hearing in February.”
The offices of Bill Nelson and Bayh sent statements to the Blade that were similarly non-committal in how the senators would vote. The statements were virtually identical to those the offices sent to the Blade last month.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesperson for Bill Nelson, said the senator is “inclined” to support repeal, but “wants to see Secretary Gates’ study on how it would impact the military.”
In a statement, Bayh said his “personal belief” is that people serving their country in the armed forces “ought to be able to serve it openly,” but noted that he wants military leaders to be able to speak up on this issue.
“President Obama is absolutely right to solicit the input and support of his top military commanders about the effects of repealing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” he said. “I will make a final decision after receiving the input of our top commanders.”
Some of the targeted senators were staying mum this week on how they’d vote should an amendment come before them. Byrd’s office declined to comment in response to a Blade inquiry on the issue. Brown’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Obama MIA in repeal effort?
As supporters of repeal work to gather support, one notable absence among those lending a hand is President Barack Obama.
Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was one of Obama’s campaign promises, but a number of senators say the White House hasn’t contacted them to move them one way or the other on the issue.
In public statements on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue, the White House has consistently refrained from saying Obama supports attaching repeal as part of the defense authorization bill.
Asked whether the White House is being helpful in building support, Lieberman suggested the president could be playing a greater role.
“I mean, they’re obviously for this, so we need their help,” he said.
Nicholson said he didn’t know if the White House had been helpful in moving senators in favor of repeal, but noted that he hasn’t “seen any evidence of that, certainly.”
Each of the targeted senators to whom the Blade spoke said they had not heard from the White House or the Pentagon on the issue.
Asked whether the White House or the Pentagon had contacted him to influence his vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ben Nelson replied, “No, no.”
Jessica Smith, a Webb spokesperson, echoed those remarks in response to a Blade inquiry.
“As for the White House or the Pentagon contacting our office?” she said. “I don’t believe so.”
Similarly, McLaughlin said he doesn’t believe the White House or the Pentagon has contacted Bill Nelson to inform his vote on the issue.
“To my knowledge, neither the White House nor the Pentagon has recently contacted Bill about this issue,” McLaughlin said.
A White House spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on why Obama hasn’t reached out to the senators.
Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland
‘They nearly killed me’
It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.
But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said.
“They nearly killed me,” they said.
Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies.
There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot.
Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.”
“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said.
The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said.
“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said.
Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace.
Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said.
Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos.
“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said.
Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody.
Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit.
A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said.
Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.
In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism.
Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”
“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.
The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said.
The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well.
Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.
The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said.
“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”
Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said.
“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.”
The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well.
“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said.
Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said.
“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”
Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.
“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”
Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.
Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis, even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said.
“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added.
“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”
With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process.
“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said.
$2 million grant program to help LGBTQ restaurants, bars
Grubhub, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to support small businesses
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the global online food delivery company Grubhub announced on Sept. 22 that they have launched a $2 million grant program to provide financial support to struggling “LGBTQ+ owned and ally restaurants” adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic.
“America’s vulnerable LGBTQ+ owned restaurants and bars serving food will find a vital lifeline this fall stemming from the partnership formed by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and Grubhub,” according to a joint statement they released.
“These small business owners have been among the hardest hit by COVID impact with loss of jobs and income over the past two years,” the statement says.
It says the newly launched Community Impact Grant Program is inviting restaurants and bars that qualify for the program to submit applications for grants up until Oct. 12, 2021, the closing date for the applications. The grants are expected to range from $5,000 to $100,000, the statement says, with NGLCC and its more than 50 affiliated LGBT chambers across the country playing the lead role in selecting which restaurants or bars are awarded the grants.
In a separate statement in response to a question from the Washington Blade, NGLCC said an LGBTQ-owned establishment such as a gay bar would be eligible to apply for a grant under the program if they offer a menu for serving food.
“They do not need to be licensed as a restaurant specifically to be eligible for consideration,” NGLCC said.
Among the D.C. gay bars that would fall into that eligibility category are Pitchers and its attached lesbian bar A League of Her Own, Uproar, and Nellie’s Sports Bar. Freddie’s Beach Bar in Arlington, Va. would also be eligible.
In the same follow-up statement to the Blade, NGLCC said it will determine whether an applicant qualifies for a grant as an LGBTQ ally by evaluating “the restaurant’s clientele, reach, track record of support, and public benefit.”
The statement adds, “In our application online, we ask allies to share evidence of their LGBTQ+ community support such as nonprofit sponsorships or advertising in local LGBTQ+ media, among others. We know that our allies are an important foundation standing by their LGBTQ+ patrons, neighbors, and friends.”
The statement announcing the launching of the LGBTQ grant program says the funds for the grants will come from a charitable program Grubhub started in 2018 called Grubhub’s Donate the Change program. It says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub to “round out their order total and donate the difference,” with Grubhub matching eligible donations from its Grubhub+ members.
It says NGLCC has set a goal to allocate 30 percent of the funds for the Community Impact Grant Program for LGBTQ-owned and ally-owned restaurants and bars to businesses owned by people of color and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
“We’re proud to partner with Grubhub offering these grants to support these businesses,” said Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the NGLCC, who noted that LGBTQ-owned and allied restaurants were among those who “kept our communities and first responders fed throughout the pandemic.”
Added Nelson, “America’s 1.4 million LGBTQ+-owned business owners have shown incredible resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, in turn, we can help them recover stronger than ever.”
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce describes itself as the business voice of the community and “the largest global advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people.”
Roundup of cities hosting Pride events next month — and those that cancelled
Annapolis, Richmond among postponements in mid-Atlantic
Although organizers are closely watching COVID-19 related developments in their states, at least 15 outdoor, in-person LGBTQ Pride events were scheduled to take place across the U.S. in the fall of 2021, according to the international LGBTQ group InterPride and online announcements by organizers of the Pride events.
Cities in which the fall Pride events are scheduled to take place include D.C.; Fort Lauderdale; Palm Springs, Calif.; Las Vegas; Dover, Del.; and three small cities in Maryland.
The decision to move ahead with those events came shortly after Pride organizers in at least five cities announced they were cancelling their events for this fall due to concern over the COVID pandemic. Among them are Richmond, Va.; Annapolis, Md.; Atlanta; Louisville, Ky.; and San Francisco.
Organizers of a fall Pride event in Philadelphia also cancelled that event, originally set for Sept. 4. But the Philadelphia Gay News reports that the cancellation was not due to COVID but instead was due to objections by members of the community to the policies of the event’s organizers and a controversial public statement by one of the organizers considered by some to be derogatory to transgender people.
A statement announcing the cancellation of a San Francisco LGBTQ Pride Freedom Day Fest scheduled for Oct. 20 by its organizers appears to capture the sentiment of organizers of the other fall Pride events that were also cancelled.
“[W]e’ve determined that to produce a street fair with the safety and health of our communities at top priority, at the quality expected of SF Pride, is just not feasible this fall,” the statement says. “We are not cancelling – we’re merely postponing. Over the coming months, in addition to some new and returning fundraising events, we’re going to focus our energy on Pride 2022,” the statement continues.
“We remain as excited as we ever were to capture that spirit of wonder and look forward to bringing Freedom Day Fest to all of you in October 2022,” it says.
San Francisco Pride organizers noted that the fall Freedom Day Fest event was to be an addition to the city’s regularly scheduled Pride parade and festival that has taken place in June prior to the COVID outbreak but that were cancelled this year and last year.
The Richmond Pride event, known as Virginia Pridefest, was scheduled to take place Sept. 25. The event, which was also cancelled last year due to COVID, has attracted tens of thousands of participants in previous years.
“After consulting with our many corporate sponsors, organizational partners and volunteers we have decided it is in the best interest of the health and safety off our community to postpone VA Pridefest 2021,” organizers said in an Aug. 27 statement. “Our preparation puts us on solid footing as we postpone the festival to 2022 when we hope to hold it in June as part of the national observation of LGBTQ Pride Month,” the statement says. “This has long been a goal of ours, and this just may give us that opportunity,” it says.
Although organizers of Annapolis Pride cited COVID concerns as their reason for cancelling that event, which was scheduled for Oct. 30, activists in three smaller Maryland cities have chosen not to cancel their Pride events.
They include the Howard County Pride Festival scheduled for Oct. 9 in Columbia, Md.; the Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride Festival, also set for Oct. 9 in Havre De Grace, Md.; and Southern Maryland Pride scheduled for Oct. 16 in Solomons, Md.
Like D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance, Pride organizers in Baltimore cancelled their traditional June Pride parade and festival for the second year in a row and instead held more than a dozen smaller events in June of this year, both in-person and virtual.
In Los Angeles, Christopher Street West, the group that organizes that city’s Pride events, including its annual Pride Parade which in pre-COVID years has attracted hundreds of thousands of participants, also cancelled this year’s parade for the second year in a row. Like other cities, the group held several virtual Pride events in June.
Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters organized a Pride Walk in June that attracted a few hundred participants in an effort, Masters said, to hold at least one in-person event to celebrate Pride during the traditional Pride Month in June.
A larger outdoor Pride event did take place in LA Aug. 27-29, called the DTLA Proud Festival, with “DT” referring to downtown LA.
Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual Pride parade and street festival that have attracted over 200,000 participants in pre-COVID times, held a scaled back Pride Walk and Pride celebration at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza in June. The group has scheduled an Oct. 17 Pride Street Fair and Block Party on 15th Street, N.W. between P and Q Streets that it’s calling Colorful Fest.
On its website, Capital Pride says those entering the block party, which will be in a fenced in area where alcohol will be served, will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination.
“The Capital Pride Alliance is committed to finding opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to gather together safely, especially as the fall and winter seasons will soon make it more difficult to hold outdoor events and pandemic guidelines will make indoor events challenging,” Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Blade. “To that end, we are working closely with the DC Government and following all current COVID-19 guidelines to have a safe outdoor event,” Bos said.
The Louisville, Ky., Pride, which had been scheduled for Sept. 18, is among the Pride events cancelled this fall due to COVID concerns, according to its organizers. But a second Pride event held in Louisville each year called Kentuckiana Pride, will take place as planned on Oct. 8-9 with a parade and festival.
Chad Eddings, the Kentuckiana Pride co-director, told the Blade the event would take place in an enclosed outdoor area and participants must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test as a requirement for admission. He said the event usually draws about 15,000 people.
Cities in which fall Pride events are still scheduled to take place or have already taken place include Burlington, Vt. (Sept. 5); Miami Beach, Fla. (Sept. 18-19); Columbus, Ind. (Sept. 18); North Texas Pride Festival in Plano, Tex. (Sept. 25); Delaware Pride in Dover (Oct. 2); South Florida Afro Pride Parade & Music Festival in Ft. Lauderdale (Oct. 7-11); Las Vegas Pride Parade & Festival (Oct. 8-9); D.C Pride Street Fair & Block Party (Oct. 17) Pacific Northwest Black Pride in Seattle, Wash. (Oct. 29-31); Phoenix Pride Festival & Parade in Phoenix, Ariz. (Nov. 6-7); Palm Springs, Calif., Pride (Nov. 1-7); and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Pride Parade & Festival (Nov. 20).
InterPride, the LGBTQ organization that keeps track of Pride events “all over the world,” released the results of a survey it conducted of 201 worldwide Pride organizations to find out the type of Pride events they were planning for this year. The findings show that the largest number – 40.8 percent – reported they would be holding both in-person and virtual Pride events.
The findings show that 35.3 percent of the Pride organizations planned just in-person events this year; 19.9 percent planned only online or virtual events; and 4 percent either were not planning any events this year or had canceled their events.
The survey results released by InterPride did not breakdown the findings by specific countries.
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