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'Don't Ask' repeal supporters predict Senate victory

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Recent announcements from two U.S. senators in support of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal measure has pushed through the threshold necessary for a successful vote in the Senate, according to activists.

On Wednesday, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) announced they would vote in favor of the legislative compromise unveiled by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) earlier in the week. Activists said these announcements give them at least the 15 votes necessary to pass repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee when the measure comes before senators on Thursday.

The compromise unveiled earlier in the week provides for delayed implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, meaning the law would only be repealed after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue, which is due December 1. Further, the president and Pentagon leaders would have to certify the U.S. military is ready for the transition before repeal could happen. The legislation also lacks non-discrimination language and would return authority on discharges to the Pentagon.

In a statement Wednesday, Byrd said he was willing to support the legislative compromise, but only if another provision was included to add another 60 days to the timeline after the president and Pentagon leaders certify repeal.

“This period of time will allow the Congress, along with the American people, to thoroughly review the proposed policy recommendations to ensure that these changes are consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention for our armed forces,” Byrd said.

In an earlier statement Wednesday, Nelson said he’s supporting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise because he doesn’t believe “most Nebraskans want to continue a policy that not only encourages but requires people to be deceptive and to lie.” Further, Nelson said the legislative compromise made public by Lieberman “removes politics from the process.”

“It bases implementation of the repeal on the Pentagon’s review and a determination by our military leaders that repeal is consistent with military readiness and effectiveness, and that the Pentagon has prepared the necessary regulations to make the changes,” Nelson said.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” said they were confident in having the votes for passage in the Senate Armed Services Committee following the Byrd announcement.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the Byrd announcement was more than enough to put support over the edge.

“The Byrd modification last night put repeal advocates over the finish line and of course Sen. Ben Nelson’s announcement late this morning moved Lieberman and Levin to a sweet Senate 16,” Sarvis said.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also said the Byrd announcement means the necessary votes are present and went so far as to call Senate passage “pretty inevitable.”

“We do have 15 confirmed on the record,” he said. “We have 15 confirmed and then we’re expecting a 16th by the vote.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) hasn’t yet formally issued a statement in favor of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” measure. Activists are saying they expect him to vote in favor of the measure when it comes before the committee.

However, Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was more cautious about declaring victory before the vote had taken place.

“This vote will come down to the wire and we are not taking any vote for granted,” Sainz said. “Sen. Byrd is to be thanked and congratulated for his support. It clearly reflects the support this issue has.”

While the 60-day timeline that secured the Byrd vote means more time is necessary before open service is available, repeal supporters are saying the additional time is acceptable.

Sarvis said Byrd’s 60-day concept “incorporates earlier proposals around coordinated and delayed implementation” and gives Congress “time to receive and review submissions and recommendations” from the Pentagon.

Nicholson said having the 60-day time period after the requirements are met for statutory repeal “is not unusual at all.”

“It doesn’t have to go back to Congress now for any sign off after the 60 days or anything like that,” Nicholson said. “It’s just an extra 60-day cushion added into the overall timeline, which is negligible in the grand scheme on things.”

Nicholson said he thinks the official vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee will take place on Thursday and the vote could become public on the same day.

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New York Gender Recognition Act passes heads to Governor Cuomo

“We are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people.”

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New York Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell marching in the 2019 NYC Pride (Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell)

ALBANY, NY. – With a final push shepherded by openly gay New York State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, (D), the New York State Assembly passed New York Senate Bill S4402 and its Assembly companion bill A5465, the Gender Recognition Act. The legislation now heads to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo who is expected to sign the measure.

The legislation allows for an “x” designation on the state’s driver’s licenses. The measure would also help waive an outdated rule requiring people to publish a notification in a newspaper when they change their name in the state. 

“Today is a proud day for New York State, as we secure our standing as a leader in LGBTQ rights and ensure that transgender, non-binary, and intersex New Yorkers have the equality and dignity they deserve,” O’Donnell said. “No one should face overwhelming financial, medical, and bureaucratic barriers simply to have their existence officially recognized. These obstacles only serve to make people’s lives harder and more dangerous, particularly for trans New Yorkers of color who too often have limited resources, face disproportionate rates of violence, and are already marginalized by our legal system. I am deeply honored to carry this important bill and thank all of the trans, non-binary, and intersex advocates who have worked tirelessly to shape and support it.”

On Tuesday, June 8, the State Senate passed S4402, which was co-sponsored by openly gay State Senator Brad Hoylman. In an interview published the same day by The Hill, when asked about the GRA, O’Donnell noted that transgender rights is one of his life pursuits, and that there is still much work to be done. 

“When marriage equality was passed, I knew there would be a backlash. I didn’t know the backlash would be directed at trans people, or involve bathrooms. So, there’s work to be done. Last year, we passed a bill that said if a bathroom only has one toilet, anyone is allowed to use it, to prevent people from being threatened or beaten up for using the wrong bathroom,” he said. “We are supposed to be free, and we’re all living in America where we are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people,” he added.

Gay City News reported that the legislation drew praise from LGBTQ legal advocates who have long fought for reform. Andy Marra, who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), said TLDEF worked to secure key elements of the bill, including waiving the requirement for medical documentation as well as the removal of the publication requirement in newspapers.

“Along with our colleagues at the Empire Justice Center and the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, TLDEF worked closely with state lawmakers to craft some of the most inclusive legislation to date,” Marra said in an email to GCN. “This bill can now serve as a model for other states across the country.”

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Gallup Poll shows 70% approval for same-sex marriage

The issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase

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“I Do.” A mass wedding was held in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 21, 2013. Participants were bussed in from states that banned same-sex marriage to legally wed in D.C., a jurisdiction that enacted marriage equality years before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – New polling released by Gallup Tuesday showed that 70% of those Americans surveyed approved of same-sex marriage, a new milestone in the trend of approval since 1996 when Gallup first polled Americans on recognition of same-sex marriages, which then only registered a 27% approval.

According to the data kept by the firm, the upward trend steadily increased with a majority approval in 2011, followed by a 60% rating at the time of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015.

Gallup noted; “Since then, the issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase. Gallup has recorded other shifts in Americans’ ideas on marriage over time, historically, including expanded support for interracial marriage, which had 87% approval as of Gallup’s 2013 update.”

Republicans, who have consistently been the party group least in favor of same-sex marriage, show majority support in 2021 for the first time (55%). The latest increase in support among all Americans is driven largely by changes in Republicans’ views, Gallup reported.

Democrats have consistently been among the biggest supporters of legal same-sex marriage. The current 83% among Democrats is on par with the level of support Gallup has recorded over the past few years.

This could suggest that support for gay marriage has reached a ceiling for this group, at least for now. Meanwhile, support among political independents, now at 73%, is slightly higher than the 68% to 71% range recorded from 2017 to 2020.

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First gay Black man elected in Texas; Beats anti-LGBTQ incumbent

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people.”

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Jalen McKee-Rodriguez campaign poster

SAN ANTONIO, TX. – Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, a high school math teacher and graduate student who has lived in San Antonio since 2013, beat his former boss and incumbent in the runoff race for the San Antonio City Council. With his victory, McKee-Rodriguez became the first out gay Black man ever elected in the state of Texas.

McKee-Rodriguez once worked for his opponent, incumbent City Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, but left her office in 2019 after facing retaliation for reporting anti-gay discrimination and harassment. Just last week, poll watchers heard two pastors who endorsed Andrews-Sullivan tell congregants voting for McKee-Rodriguez would be a “sin.”

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people and people of color with bigoted policies aimed at rallying their extremist political base,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “We need more people of color, young people and LGBTQ people in state and local government who will ensure politicians look to improve the lives of Texans, not further marginalize them. Jalen’s victory is a rejection of the homophobic and racist politicking so fashionable in Austin and it will inspire more LGBTQ Black leaders to run and win.”

McKee-Rodriguez graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, (UTSA) with a BA in Communication in 2017 and will graduate with a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies this year. McKee-Rodriguez married his husband Nathan, a pharmacy technician, in 2018, and the couple owns a home in the suburban San Antonio Northeast Crossing neighborhood.

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