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White House endorses delayed ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Changes would take hold after Pentagon completes its study

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President Barack Obama's administration endorsed Monday a path to repeal the law that prohibits gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. (Photo courtesy of DNC)

The White House has endorsed an approach to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” whereby legislation Congress passes to repeal the law would not become effective until after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue.

In a letter Monday, Director of the Office of Management & Budget Peter Orzag writes that an amendment proposed by supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal adheres to the Pentagon’s request to finish its study on the issue at the end of the year and therefore is supported by the Obama administration.

Orzag says that the Pentagon review would be “ideally” completed before Congress takes action on the issue, but notes the administration “understands that Congress has chosen to move forward with the legislation now and seeks the administration’s views on the proposed amendment.”

“Accordingly, the administration is of the view that the proposed amendment meets the concerns raised by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Orzag says.

Orzag also says in the letter that he understands the amendment would ensure implementation of repeal is consistent with “standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.”

Additionally, the amendment would “guarantee” the Pentagon has in place necessary policies and procedures to implement an end to the law. The measure would allow for the “critical need” to allow members of the U.S. armed forces to share their “concerns, insights and suggestions” about implementing the repeal process, according to the letter.

“The administration therefore supports the proposed amendment,” Orzag writes.

Notably, the proposed amendment lacks non-discrimination language and would return authority on discharging LGBT service members to the Pentagon.

The OMB letter came in response to another letter earlier in the day from repeal supporters in Congress — Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) — who asked the administration to support their proposed amendment.

The lawmakers’ letter says that they have created a proposal that “puts a process in place to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ once the working group has completed its review” and the president and Pentagon leaders “certify the repeal can be achieved consistent” with the standards of the military.

“We appreciate the input that you and the Pentagon have provided throughout this process and request the administration’s official views on our legislative proposal,” the lawmakers write.

In the House, supporters of repeal were anticipating Murphy to introduce an amendment to the floor this week that would attach repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

Later this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to markup the legislation and expected to consider a similar amendment.

Supporters of repeal previously said they were a few votes shy of passing repeal out of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the OMB letter would move additional committee members to favor repeal, but the letter could serve to bolster these efforts.

Advocacy groups hailed the OMB letter for outlining an administration-backed path to passing repeal this year.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said Monday the new support from the administration means people rallying against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are “on the brink of historic action to both strengthen our military and respect the service of lesbian and gay troops.”

“Today’s announcement paves the path to fulfill the president’s call to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation,” Solmonese said.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the agreement a “dramatic breakthrough.”

“The path forward crafted by the president, Department of Defense officials, and repeal leaders on Capitol Hill respects the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service and allows for a vote this week,” Sarvis said.

While Sarvis said support from the administration would help ensure a winning vote, he said “we are not there yet” and “votes still need to be worked and counted.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said Monday’s letter was “long awaited, much needed, and immensely helpful.”

“We have been making the case to White House staff for more than a year now that delayed implementation is realistic, politically viable, and the only way to get the defense community on board with repeal, and we are glad to see the community and now the administration and defense leadership finally rally around this option,” he said.

The endorsement from the administration prompted at least one social conservative group to take action. On Tuesday, the Family Research Council planned to hold a conference call with media to “release new national polling on homosexuals in the military” and discuss a new ad campaign “to protect the military.”

An announcement from Family Research Council says Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, would also discuss “grassroots outreach in the lead up to this week’s expected debate and votes in Congress.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows Biden administration to end MPP

Trump-era policy placed LGBTQ asylum seekers at increased risk

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling said the Biden administration can end a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019.

The Biden administration suspended MPP enrollment shortly after it took office in January 2021. The program was to have ended six months later, but a federal judge in Texas ordered MPP’s reinstatement after the state and Missouri filed suit against the Biden administration.

Thursday’s ruling sends the Texas and Missouri case back to lower courts.

“As Secretary Mayorkas concluded in October 2021 after a thorough review, the prior administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” said the Department of Homeland Security in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision affirming that the Secretary has the discretionary authority to terminate the program, and we will continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible.” 

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.”

Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo on Thursday told the Washington Blade the Supreme Court ruling “will certainly impact our community in a positive way.”

“We know that people who have to remain in Mexico to wait continue to be victims of violence,” said Salcedo. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and we’re grateful that this happened in this way.”

Emilio Vicente, communications and policy director of Familia: TQLM, an organization that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants, echoed Salcedo.

“We’re glad to finally have some good news from the Supreme Court after horrible rulings on abortions, climate change, Native American rights,” said Vicente. “Ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ will allow LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who face increased discrimination and abuse during the journey to the U.S., to be able to seek asylum here.” 

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán is a South Texas-based immigration attorney and human rights law and policy expert who the LGBTQ+ Bar in 2021 recognized as one of its 40 best LGBTQ lawyers who are under 40.

He told the Blade on Thursday the Supreme Court ruling is “a victory we must celebrate.” Echevarría-Cabán also said MPP placed LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers at increased risk. 

“Refugees in general, but especially LGBT refugees, are extremely vulnerable to other type of harms such as kidnappings by cartel members, extortion, physical and psychological abuses from Mexican law enforcement authorities and third parties given the high levels of discrimination for LGBT refugees in Mexico,” said Echevarría-Cabán.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling a day after the Justice Department filed charges against four people in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in the back of a tractor trailer truck in San Antonio.

The Biden administration in April announced its plans to terminate Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Title 42 was to have ended on May 23, but a federal judge ruled against the White House.

“This decision isn’t the end of the fight for ensuring that people seeking asylum get asylum but it’s an important step in protecting vulnerable people,” Vicente told the Blade after Thursday’s ruling. “President Biden must follow through on his commitment to end MPP and protect all asylum seekers.”

Salcedo noted to the Blade the “system, as it is, particularly when it comes to trans women, needs to be completely changed so that we can be at a better place as a community.” Padilla in his statement urged the Biden administration “to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all.”

“Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system,” he said. “We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

The Department of Homeland Security in its statement notes Title 42 remains in place.

“The department also continues to enforce our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully, and will continue the court-mandated enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order,” it reads.

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Politics

Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black woman Supreme Court justice

Roe v. Wade struck down last Friday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a welcome change on the bench for progressives who are still outraged after the decision last week overturning the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade.

Jackson, who’s now the first Black woman to serve on the high court, has replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is retiring upon the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Breyer announced his forthcoming departure months ago as progressives urged him to stop to ensure a replacement appointed a Democratic president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.

The briefing swearing-in was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office for Brown before a small gathering of Jackson’s family, including her two daughters, according to a report in the New York Times.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement the beginning of Jackson’s tenure on the Supreme Court “will bring long-needed representation to the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, and after the court’s disastrous term dismantling personal liberty.”

“It bears repeating the obvious that women, people of color and LGBTQ people are Americans deserving of equal protection under law,” Ellis said. “Justice Jackson will be a visible and inspiring presence on a court currently dominated by extremists, reminding all that America should always be moving forward to expand freedom.”

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