Connect with us


Despite compromise, advocates celebrate votes to repeal ‘Don’t Ask’

McCain pledges to derail ‘Don’t Ask’ momentum



U.S. Sen. John McCain (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay veterans are celebrating congressional action last week to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 17 years after Congress passed a law banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. military.

The House and Senate took separate actions that would lead to an end of the statute. Both chambers approved amendments repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of major defense budget legislation known as the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

On May 27, the House voted 234-194 on the floor in favor of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.). The next day, the chamber voted 229-186 in favor of passing the entire defense bill.

Five Republicans voted in the affirmative on the amendment: Reps. Judy Biggert (Ill.), Joseph Cao (La.), Charles Djou (Hawaii), Ron Paul (Texas) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.). Joining other Republicans to vote against the measure were 26 Democrats.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 in favor of an identical repeal measure sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

In that chamber, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of repeal. The sole Democrat who voted against the amendment was Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). He had earlier told media outlets that he sees no need to preempt the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study by voting in favor of repeal at this time.

The legislative compromise adopted by both chambers of Congress would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” only after the Defense Department completes its study on the issue, due Dec. 1.

Additionally, President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen would have to certify that repeal won’t undermine military readiness — and 60 days would have to pass after this certification before repeal would take effect.

The measure also notably lacks the non-discrimination language for gay, lesbian and bisexual service members that standalone repeal bills contained.

Even with the compromise, though, many gay former service members were delighted with Congress for taking action.

Mike Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2006 and recently testified before the Senate on the issue, witnessed the vote in the House chamber.

“The whole floor and the gallery erupted with a cheer,” he said. “There were quite a few tears of joy and disbelief, including myself. I still get choked up when I think about it.”

Following the vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Almy said repeal supporters visited the office of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to thank him for his vote in favor of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Nelson told the Blade last month that he wouldn’t vote in favor of a measure repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But after Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) unveiled his compromise legislation, Nelson signaled he would vote in favor of the measure.

Almy said Nelson’s staffers told repeal supporters that they received 40,000 phone calls in Nebraska for repeal and 1,100 against.

“I was speechless,” Almy said. “I was completely dumbfounded there was that much support in Nebraska for repeal. It was just an incredible week overall.”

Retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a lesbian who retired from service in 2002 because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” also said she was pleased with Congress, calling the votes “a tremendous effort and a great result.”

But Darrah, who lives in Alexandria, Va., said she’s “distressed” about Webb’s vote against repeal.

“I’ve met and corresponded with Sen. Webb many times and I’m disappointed,” she said.

Darrah said she’s willing to live with the compromise, though, and didn’t think Mullen would delay certification of repeal once the Pentagon study is complete.

“This approach that they’ve come up with allows the study to conclude — and the study is supposed to be how to implement it, not if we should,” she said. “I think that this is an excellent compromise. We need the Senate to vote on it and then get on with getting rid of this, frankly, un-American and discriminatory law.”

Also expressing excitement about the congressional votes was a gay man from Chesapeake, Va. The active duty Navy sailor, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity to avoid to being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

He called the action from Congress “long overdue” and said “it’s been a rough hell” serving in the military for seven of the 17 years since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted.

He said he’s willing to accept the compromise advanced by Congress because “we’re standing on the right side of history” and didn’t think Obama, Gates or Mullen would delay certification of repeal.

“Adm. Mullen said it best — men and women are serving in an institution where integrity is key, but we’re asking them — asking us — to hide who we are,” said the man. “I don’t think we’ll have any problem at all.”

Following the vote, Obama issued a statement on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” action. The White House previously said it would support the compromise legislation because it allows the Pentagon to complete its study on the issue.

Obama said he was “pleased” with the outcome while stressing the importance of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study due at year’s end.

“I have long advocated that we repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight,” Obama said.

The president said the Pentagon’s review was “key to successful repeal” and that he was grateful the amendments approved by Congress “will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process.”

Hurdles remain in repeal process

Even with Congress taking action to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the legislation approved by the House and the Senate committee still has to make its way to the president’s desk and win his signature before it’s enacted.

And a number of obstacles could prevent the bill from reaching the White House or being signed into law. However, supporters of repeal are saying these roadblocks are less numerous than obstacles before the congressional votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the legislation didn’t “have a lot” of possible roadblocks preventing it from being signed by the president.

Still, one problem that supporters of repeal could face is a filibuster of the defense authorization bill when it reaches the Senate floor.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and chief opponent of repeal in the Senate, had pledged to find the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to block the bill from moving forward.

Roll Call newspaper reported May 27 that McCain said he’ll “without a doubt” support a filibuster if the bill goes to the floor with repeal language.

“I’ll do everything in my power,” McCain was quoted as saying. “I’m going to do everything I can to support the men and women of the military and to fight what is clearly a political agenda.”

But mustering 60 votes to filibuster the defense bill could prove a challenge for McCain.

Two senators who voted against the inclusion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the defense bill — Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) — later voted in favor of reporting out of committee the defense bill as a whole. Their votes could be seen as signs they wouldn’t support filibustering the legislation on the floor.

Nicholson said he believes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the votes to shut down McCain’s filibuster threat on the bill, but added it’s “never a guaranteed thing.”

“I personally think Jim Webb and Scott Brown’s votes are still a little volatile,” Nicholson said. “While they voted to report the bill out of committee, I don’t know that they’re solid allies on this. If McCain figures out a way to try to block this with a filibuster, I wouldn’t count Brown and Webb in our camp 100 percent.”

During a press conference last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), hailed as a champion of repeal in the Senate, dismissed the chances of a successful filibuster on the defense authorization bill.

“I think it’s hard to filibuster a defense bill,” Levin said. “There’s so much in here for our troops. The fact that there’s one provision in here that some people don’t like — it seems to me [that] would not be [a] sufficient deal for 41 senators to filibuster a defense bill.”

Levin said he wants to bring the legislation before the full Senate sometime before the August recess.

Nicholson said another threat on the Senate floor could be a strike-and-replace amendment modifying the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, such as one that changes the scope of the Pentagon study on the issue.

Conservatives have called for legislation that reconfigures the study so that it would focus on whether repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a significant impact on improving military readiness.

“Something like that could be very appealing, especially if it’s rather moderate in nature,” Nicholson said.

Making the language different in both bills would mean the differences would have to be hashed out by conference committee, which could jeopardize any repeal provision being in the final bill.

An unrelated issue that could preclude Obama from signing the defense bill is funding for an alternate engine program for a next generation military aircraft known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

The House version of the legislation authorizes $485 million in funds for the second engine for the aircraft. Last week, an amendment failed in the House that would have stripped the funding from the legislation. The Senate committee’s version of the legislation authorizes no funding for the program.

In a statement, Obama spoke out against the funds for the alternate engine program in a Statement of Administration Policy on the defense bill as a whole. He subsequently warned Congress he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk with such funding.

“As the Statement of Administration Policy made clear, our military does not want or need these programs being pushed by the Congress, and should Congress ignore this fact, I will veto any such legislation so that it can be returned to me without those provisions,” Obama said.

The issue of funding for the alternate engine program has perennially been a point of contention between Congress and the White House. According to Reuters, 2010 marks the fourth consecutive year in which the Pentagon has voiced concern about the program.

Nicholson said he didn’t know if the veto threat was “too serious of a problem,” but noted it’s something supporters of repeal should monitor.

He said repeal supporters could either push Congress to take out funding for the alternate engine program or lobby Obama not to veto the bill over the funding.

“In the end, I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem,” Nicholson said. “Even if he did veto it and it went back, I feel certain with the majorities by which we won the House and the way it’s aligned in the Senate, I don’t really fear that the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ language will be threatened or in play.”

Levin, a supporter of funding for the alternate engine program, also said during the press conference last week that Congress and the administration would find a way to work through the disagreement on the issue.

“There’s all kinds of items in this bill,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to believe the president would veto an entire bill over just one provision.”



Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1



Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”


The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Quality journalism doesn’t come free

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.

Donation Link Here

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1



(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

Continue Reading


LGBTQ literature advocacy org to host celebrity panel

Discussion to be moderated by writer Sa’iyda Shabazz, ‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer



‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by Pride and Less Prejudice on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Kathclick/Bigstock)

Affectionately known by fans of the show as the “fashionable soprano,” Chris Colfer’s character in “Glee” came out as gay to his father in the fourth episode of the Golden Globe-winning musical drama series. Colfer paused in between fragments of sentences to catch his breath as his pupils, set atop his recognizable rosy cheeks, dilated.

“Being a part of…the glee club and football has really shown me that I can be anything,” he said. “And what I am is…I’m gay.”

Colfer, who is also author of young adult fiction series “The Land of Stories,” will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by LGBTQ organization Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) on Saturday, June 3. At the event, panelists will discuss queer visibility in authorship and the importance of queer people telling queer stories. 

“We selected [them] because we’re trying to look at the intersection between TV, film, podcasts, [and] books because it’s all media and it’s all really great avenues for queer people telling their own story,” said Rebecca Damante, co-founder and outreach coordinator of the organization.

PLP began in 2019 when Damante had conversations with her mother about her experiences as a queer person and how she came to terms with her sexuality in high school. Although she watched shows such as “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” that had great queer representation, she knew that “it would’ve made a huge difference” if she had seen this as a kid.

“I was a huge reader as a kid and my mom had a lot of great books in our library about interfaith families and adoption,” said Damante. “I come from an interfaith family and have family members who are adopted, so she had diverse books in that way but never really had LGBTQ inclusive books.”

This motivated the mother-daughter duo to start an organization that donates LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K to third grade.

They posted a Google form to social media that was reposted by GLAAD, where Damante had interned, and amplified by LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo. Teachers would put in requests for books and this allowed PLP to start an email chain that they could also use to solicit donations. 

It wasn’t until Damante posted to Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters during her 2016 presidential run, that PLP garnered interest from hundreds of teachers. This led to a celebrity campaign video where actors Nicole Maines, Theo Germaine, and Darryl Stephens, among others, emphasized the importance of LGBTQ literature in classrooms. 

Since 2019, the organization has raised more than $140,000 in grants and donations and donated over 8,000 books. 

Dylan Moss, a kindergarten teacher in Albany, N.Y., is among those who have benefitted from PLP’s efforts. 

During a quest for more diverse and inclusive books for his classroom, he stumbled upon PLP’s website between 2020 and 2021 and reached out to the organization. Since then, he has been actively involved in PLP’s efforts and is now a member of the advisory committee that helps to create lesson plans that accompany the books.

“Biases start to get formed [in kindergarten], so I like to help [my students] create better narratives,” said Moss in a Zoom interview. “It’s easier to learn it now than to take away all the negative biases they have from everyday society, family, and just being around other humans.”

Moss also added, over email, that when discussing diverse topics in the classroom, conversations are aligned with social studies standards. 

“I’d rather [my students] understand that people are different and that there’s a reason we’re different and that we should love that we’re different,” he said on Zoom. “You don’t have to go deep into the ideas necessarily. You can just give them the basis of what you’re saying and kind of let them take it from there.” 

For Lisa Forman, Damante’s mom and co-founder and executive director of PLP, approaching education this way is not only a form of allyship and advocacy, it’s “standing up for what’s right.”

The first half of the 2022-2023 school year saw 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, 26% of which had LGBTQ characters or themes, according to data from Pen America, an organization that advances human rights and literature causes in the United States and worldwide. 

In 2022, the Washington Blade reported that a Loudoun County, Va., school board voted to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that Kobabe uses to tell the story of the journey and struggle in discovering the author’s gender identity.

“As much as these books are for the queer kids in the classroom, they’re for every kid,” said Forman. “We’re doing this not just for the queer kids…we want to normalize the idea of being queer in the classroom.”

Looking to the upcoming celebrity panel, Damante wants to leave attendees feeling inspired enough to own their narratives, whether they identify as queer or not. 

“If teachers are able to see the impact of these queer stories then they’ll understand why it’s important for them to share the books,” she said. 

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade