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'Don't Ask' repeal votes in Senate committee in question

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Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are still working to obtain the necessary support — which possibly could be only one more vote — for passage of an amendment during upcoming Senate committee consideration of major defense budget legislation.

Those seeking an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are hoping the compromise measure unveiled earlier this week would enable more support for repealing the law. The issue is expected to come before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday or Thursday during its markup of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

The compromise measure unveiled on Monday by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) would repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, but only after the Defense Department completes its study on the issue at the end of the year and the president and Pentagon leaders certify that the change wouldn’t undermine military readiness. Additionally, the measure has no non-discrimination language and would return authority on discharges to the Pentagon.

A vote is also expected to take place later this week in the House when the defense budget legislation reaches the floor. Supporters of repeal have said they feel they’re in a good position in this chamber, so the remaining question is whether passage can occur in the Senate committee.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he doesn’t know whether he’ll have the votes for repeal even with the compromise measure.

“I haven’t talked to anybody other than Joe Lieberman about this in the last few days, so I haven’t talked to the people who will be the ones that we need to get it over the top,” he said. “I just haven’t talked to them. I will this afternoon as soon as I leave this press conference.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Tuesday that he thinks the vote in the Senate Armed Services Commitee is “very tight.”

“We’re not there,” he said. “It’s going to turn on one or two votes, so we’ll just have to see. But it’s the time for everybody to be weighing in, including the administration, to be asking senators for the votes.”

But even with the new proposal, Sarvis said he “hasn’t seen” any new votes yet in the Senate committee as a result of the compromise.

“Some senators thought that it would help, and I don’t know that that’s turned out to be the case, but time will tell,” he said. “It may well help far more in the House, but in terms of the Senate Armed Services Commitee so far, we haven’t seen a huge difference.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he thinks supporters of repeal are “closer than ever” in finding votes necessary in the Senate committee for an end to the law.

He said opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been able in recent days to solidify “at least one or two” more votes that they had been leaning toward voting in favor of repeal, but had not previously expressed an explicit commitment.

“There are a lot of implications that go along with a modifier like ‘soft’ or ‘leaning,'” he said. “Another bombshell like the Gates letter could have torpedoed those votes in that category, and now we got them locked. I don’t think there’s anything that could torpedo those votes and change them back to a ‘no.'”

With 15 votes necessary for a successful vote in the Senate committee, Nicholson said he thinks there are 13 or 14 committed votes in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I really feel like we’re down to one vote and everyone is trying to go after Ben Nelson and Robert Byrd,” he said. “I am very confident that we will secure the last couple of votes to get this. It appears very likely.”

LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, had lobbied six senators through a grassroots campaign to vote in favor of repeal: Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.).

Two of those votes recently became committed. On Tuesday, Dan McLaughlin, a Bill Nelson spokesperson, told the Blade the Florida senator would vote in favor of repeal. On the same day, Brown said he would vote against the amendment as proposed by Lieberman, according to the Boston Globe.

Ben Nelson has told the Blade he opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time, although it’s unclear whether his position has changed following the announcement of the compromise measure. He told reporters on Tuesday that he’d issue a statement on Wednesday to clarify his position on the matter.

Webb made comments to reporters on Tuesday suggesting he would vote ‘no’ if repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came before him in the Senate, although he didn’t explictly say how he’d vote.

“If you look at what the White House said and if you look at what Secretary Gates said — they both said they would go through the process that Adm. Mullen and Secretary Gates announced in February,” Webb said. “I don’t see any reason to preempt that process.”

Asked to clarify whether his statement means he’ll be voting “no,” Webb said nothing and walked away.

Bayh’s office didn’t response to the Blade’s request to comment on how he’d vote on the issue. Nicholson said he believes Bayh is leaning “yes” and said he thinks he’ll vote in favor of repeal.

Staying mum on the issue is Byrd. In a statement, Jesse Jacobs, a Byrd spokesperson, said the senator “has not taken a position for or against” the compromise measure.

Nicholson said it’s possible that Byrd — the oldest senator on Capitol Hill who often doesn’t appear to vote unless needed — would abstain from voting on the issue.

“I just can’t imagine that Sen. Byrd will go out of his way to vote the wrong way,” Nicholson said. “It’s very likely he’s not going to be there. In order to vote the wrong way, he would have to give a proxy for a ‘no’ vote, and I just can’t imagine him putting himself down the wrong side of history like that and going out of his way to do that.”

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Politics

Trump’s CPAC speech did not target trans community

The former president has led an anti-trans campaign

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at CPAC on Feb. 24 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — When he took the stage before a packed ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, it seemed inevitable that former President Donald Trump would target the transgender community with insults, ridicule and hostile policy pronouncements.

After all, this kind of rhetoric had become a through-line at this year’s convening of Republican lawmakers, pundits, media personalities, electoral candidates, attorneys, activists and government officials — a feature of virtually every speech and panel discussion from Wednesday to Saturday.

And for his part, Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by pledging, in February 2023, to weaponize the federal government against the trans community if he returns to the White House. This came after he unveiled a “Plan to Protect Children from Left-Wing Gender Insanity” and was followed by similar pronouncements from Trump in the months since, as documented by GLAAD.

On Saturday, though, the former president’s speech included scant mention of LGBTQ issues, apart, perhaps, from some oblique references to “woke” public education and attacks on Christianity.

Trump instead addressed a variety of topics over an hour and a half, from attacks on President Joe Biden and the prosecutors who have targeted him with 91 felony counts to diatribes on overseas conflicts and immigration.

The Independent noted several instances in which Trump made untrue or misleading claims onstage, which concerned the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan during his presidency and a supposed electoral fraud scheme in which Californians are being sent multiple ballots.

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Politics

Harris, other political leaders issue statements on Nex Benedict’s death

Nonbinary Okla. teenager died earlier this month

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among the political leaders who have issued statements in recent days about the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a school bathroom after enduring months of bullying.

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation, which had occurred the previous day. LGBTQ leaders who include Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson have called for federal investigations by the Justice and Education Departments.

Advocates pointed to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies, particularly targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, that have escalated in Oklahoma over the past few years, noting that they tend to increase the incidence of bias-motivated hate violence.

In their statements on X, which offered condolences to those mourning Benedict’s death, the vice president and White House press secretary also pledged solidarity with the LGBTQ community, while Pelosi took aim at “the anti-trans fervor fueled by extreme Republicans” and Pocan — who is gay and chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus — promised to keep fighting for “the dignity that nonbinary and trans Americans deserve. ”

Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Politics

Michael Knowles targets trans people and LGBTQ families in CPAC address

Pundit defended his infamous anti-trans remarks at last year’s event

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on Feb. 22, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles began his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday by briefly addressing the “kerfuffle” over his proclamation during last year’s event that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

Widely interpreted as a call for violence against transgender people or the trans community, the remarks were denounced at the time by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who called them “shameful, hateful and dangerous.”

Looking back at the incident, Knowles told the crowd “I stand by the observation that men can’t become women.” The controversy, he said, is evidence that the country “is having an identity crisis” — primarily as a consequence of the “decline of religion in America.”

While “true freedom is a national policy based on what we know in our hearts as morally right,” as ordained by God, Knowles said a worldview that makes space for the recognition of LGBTQ people and their families is based on a “false” notion of freedom that privileges, instead, “liberation from all limits.”

He pointed to same-sex marriage as an example, arguing that marriage does not and cannot include unions between “a couple of men, or a couple of women, or three men and a billy goat, for that matter.”

Additionally, Knowles said, one may not claim the “right” to have a child, because “children are people and no one has a right to another person.” He then veered into criticizing the practice of purchasing “designer babies” on the “open market of the surrogacy industry.”

Medically assisted family planning is a symptom of America’s moral decline that is akin to abortion, Knowles said. “If we have the right to kill babies, surely we have the right to buy and sell them too.”

Knowles argued there are “trade-offs” to understanding freedom as a permission structure to identify oneself outside the cisgender male-female binary, or to build relationships and families that are not centered around heterosexual, procreative unions.

Allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms — or, as he put it, giving “men” the “freedom to use the women’s bathroom,” means that “women lose the freedom to have their own bathrooms.”

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