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Senate could take up ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal this month

Lugar says he won’t support efforts to derail vote

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U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (center) said he isn’t concerned about the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal language in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and wouldn’t support an effort to rid the legislation of the provision. (Photo by Pete Pouza, photo courtesy White House)

As opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are pushing for the Senate to take up repeal legislation this month, one key senator says he won’t support an attempt to remove the language from a larger defense bill.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told the Blade last week that he isn’t concerned about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and wouldn’t support an effort to rid the legislation of the provision.

Asked whether he would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike, Lugar replied, “No. I would just leave it as it is.”

Lugar said he would “presume” that he would vote against any filibuster of the defense bill as a whole, but expressed concern about the legislation being used as a vehicle for other costly programs unrelated to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“The defense bill, as it stands, seems to me to be a good piece of legislation, but I think the issue was the additions that were not paid for in various other ways,” Lugar said.

Often regarded on Capitol Hill as a centrist Republican, Lugar voted in favor of hate crimes protections legislation after twice backing the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Lugar’s comments on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are “good news.”

“That is consistent with what we have been hearing from his staff,” Sarvis said. “My view is that Sen. Lugar’s response is very encouraging.”

Lugar’s support for allowing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language to stay in the defense bill could be a sign the provision would survive the legislative process once it reaches the Senate floor.

On May 27, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to attach language leading to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the defense bill. But while the repeal language has been attached to the defense bill, a number of obstacles remain that could prevent the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from passing in the Senate.

One such obstacle is a filibuster of the defense bill as whole. Additionally, a substitute amendment or a motion to strike could strip the legislation of repeal language.

Mounting a filibuster of the defense bill would take 41 votes in the Senate. Such an effort would be politically challenging because pay for troops and defense programs are included in the larger bill.

A substitute amendment or motion to strike with regard to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language would require 51 votes.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a proponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, cited a filibuster and a motion to strike as potential dangers for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in a brief interview.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a motion to strike,” he said. “There’s even a threat of a filibuster against the bill.”

Levin said a filibuster of the defense bill is possible based on a number of factors, including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well as a provision for funding for legal abortions on military bases.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the lead opponent of repeal in the Senate, has threatened to spearhead a filibuster and “do everything” he can to stop repeal language from reaching the president’s desk.

His office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he’s still pursuing a filibuster or planning a legislative maneuver to strip the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from the bill.

Another issue for the defense bill is when the legislation would come up for Senate consideration. Levin said he didn’t know when the bill would reach the floor.

Still, Levin said he wants the Senate to take up the legislation this month. Asked about his predictions for when the defense bill would reach the Senate floor, Levin replied, “Hopefully, we’ll do it in July.”

Sarvis also said the most “immediate challenge” advocates face with the defense authorization bill is finding time for floor discussion. Like Levin, Sarvis noted that he’s hopeful the bill will come up for discussion this month.

“But the floor calendar is very crowded, so I’m not sure we’re going to get on in July,” Sarvis said.

Sarvis said he’s been told the defense bill will need several days for consideration on the floor and the scheduling wouldn’t be “a matter of getting this bill on and off the floor in a day or two.”

A knowledgeable Hill source said Senate consideration of the defense authorization bill could take two weeks before a final vote is cast.

Other senators on Capitol Hill recognized as politically moderate lawmakers have expressed varying degrees of support regarding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language.

One is Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), the lone Democrat to vote in committee against attaching repeal to the defense bill. He said he didn’t yet know whether he would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike regarding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language.

“I don’t know,” Webb said. “We’ll see what it says.”

Webb noted that his May vote in committee against ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was “to delay repeal until we received this report” from the Pentagon, which is due Dec. 1.

“I’ve been very involved in it,” he said. “In terms of putting together the study, I think it’s going to be a great piece of work that’s going out to between three and four hundred thousand people in the military.”

Webb emphasized the importance of the having the study completed before taking action as “a measure of respect” for those in the U.S. military who would implement the repeal process.

Sarvis said he’s heard reports that Webb wouldn’t support a filibuster of the defense authorization bill based on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language.

Although Webb voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in committee, the senator also voted to report out the legislation as a whole to the Senate floor.

“He’s a member of the committee,” Sarvis said. “Historically, he’s been an advocate for the Defense Department. It would be extraordinary if he objected to Sen. Levin proceeding to a debate on the defense authorization bill.”

Still, Sarvis said his understanding is that Webb would vote to strike the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from the defense bill based on his earlier vote against the amendment in committee.

Many repeal advocates also are watching Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the junior senator from the state, to see if he’ll follow suit with Webb on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the defense bill reaches the Senate floor.

Kevin Hall, a Warner spokesperson, said via e-mail the senator is watching the process for how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed.

“Sen. Warner supports repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in an orderly way, working with members of the uniformed services and our military leadership,” Hall said.

Hall said Warner wouldn’t support a filibuster of the defense authorization bill. Regarding whether the senator would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, Hall said he’d “let our previous statement speak for itself.”

Another moderate senator who’s reportedly opposed to filibuster is Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). He voted against attaching repeal to the larger defense bill, but voted in favor of reporting the legislation as a whole to the floor.

“Filibuster’s never — it’s not my style. I want to make sure that we have a full and fair debate on it,” Brown was quoted as saying in May in a Boston Globe article.

Other senators that activists have discussed as being in question on whether they would support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). Their offices didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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