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SLDN advises LGBT troops against taking part in DOD survey

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Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement on Thursday warning LGBT service members about a potential risk if they participate in a Pentagon survey over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said his organization received numerous requests from LGBT service members seeking guidance on whether they should participate in the survey.

“At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors,” Sarvis said. 

Sarvis said the surveys are designed to protect privacy, but said there isn’t a sufficient guarantee of avoiding a discharge if someone is inadvertently outed in the process. He said LGBT service members who participate should do so in a way that doesn’t identify their sexual orientation. 

The statement says SLDN asked the Pentagon working group for information about the survey, including the survey texts, possible certificates of confidentiality, and whether the Pentagon could guarentee immunity for those inadvertently outed by the surveys. According to SLDN, the Pentagon was unable to satisfy this request.

The survey went out on Wednesday to around 400,000 service members. The results are intended to help inform the Pentagon working group that’s developing a plan for implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. The group’s work is due Dec. 1.

The Blade will have a more complete story on the Pentagon survey shortly. Download a copy of the survey here.

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Congress

House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

Rep. Carol Miller’s chief of staff defended his actions

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Trump vows to reverse transgender student protections ‘on day one’

Former president spoke with right-wing conservative talk radio hosts

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

During a call-in interview Friday on a Philadelphia-based right-wing conservative talk radio show, former President Donald Trump said he would roll back transgender student protections enacted last month by the U.S. Department of Education “on day one” if he’s reelected.

Reacting to a question by hosts Nick Kayal and Dawn Stensland, Trump said: “We’re gonna end it on day one. Don’t forget, that was done as an order from the president. That came down as an executive order. And we’re gonna change it — on day one it’s gonna be changed.”

“Tell your people not to worry about it,” Trump he added referring to the new Title IX rule. “It’ll be signed on day one. It’ll be terminated.”

In a campaign video released on his Truth Social account in February 2023, in a nearly four minute long, straight-to-camera video the former president vowed “protect children from left-wing gender insanity,” some policies he outlined included a federal law that recognizes only two genders and bars trans women from competing on women’s sports teams. He also promised that he would punish doctors who provide gender-affirming health care to minors.

Trump also falsely claimed that being trans is a concept that the “radical left” manufactured “just a few years ago.” He also said “no serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender. Under my leadership, this madness will end,” he added.

At least 22 Republican-led states are suing the Biden-Harris administration over its new rules to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in federally funded schools, NBC News Out reported this week.

The lawsuits follow the U.S. Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX federal civil rights rules last month, which will now include anti-discrimination protections for students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Among other provisions, the new rules would prohibit schools from barring trans students from using bathrooms, changing facilities and pronouns that correspond with their gender identities.

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After Biden signs TikTok ban its CEO vows federal court battle

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” CEO said

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TikTok mobile phone app. (Screenshot/YouTube)

President Joe Biden signed an appropriations bill into law on Wednesday that provides multi-billion dollar funding and military aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan after months of delay and Congressional infighting.

A separate bill Biden signed within the aid package contained a bipartisan provision that will ban the popular social media app TikTok from the United States if its Chinese parent company ByteDance does not sell off the American subsidiary.

Reacting, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said Wednesday that the Culver City, Calif.-based company would go to court to try to remain online in the U.S.

In a video posted on the company’s social media accounts, Chew denounced the potential ban: “Make no mistake, this is a ban, a ban of TikTok and a ban on you and your voice,” Chew said. “Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere. We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts. The facts and the constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail,” he added.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre adamantly denied during a press briefing on Wednesday that the bill constitutes a ban, reiterating the administration’s hope that TikTok will be purchased by a third-party buyer and referencing media reports about the many firms that are interested.

Chew has repeatedly testified in both the House and Senate regarding ByteDance’s ability to mine personal data of its 170 million plus American subscribers, maintaining that user data is secure and not shared with either ByteDance nor agencies of the Chinese government. The testimony failed to assuage lawmakers’ doubts.

In an email, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who doesn’t support a blanket ban of the app, told the Washington Blade:

“As the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I have long worked to safeguard Americans’ freedoms and security both at home and abroad. The Chinese Communist Party’s ability to exploit private user data and to manipulate public opinion through TikTok present serious national security concerns. For that reason, I believe that divestiture presents the best option to preserve access to the platform, while ameliorating these risks. I do not support a ban on TikTok while there are other less restrictive means available, and this legislation will give the administration the leverage and authority to require divestiture.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told the Blade: “Senator Padilla believes we can support speech and creativity while also protecting data privacy and security. TikTok’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party poses significant data privacy concerns. He will continue working with the Biden-Harris administration and his colleagues in Congress to safeguard Americans’ data privacy and foster continued innovation.”

The law, which gives ByteDance 270 days to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets, expires with a January 19, 2025 deadline for a sale. The date is one day before Biden’s term is set to expire, although he could extend the deadline by three months if he determines ByteDance is making progress or the transaction faces uncertainty in a federal court.

Former President Donald Trump’s executive order in 2020, which sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Beijing-based Tencent, in the U.S., was blocked by federal courts.

TikTok has previously fought efforts to ban its widely popular app by the state of Montana last year, in a case that saw a federal judge in Helena block that state ban, citing free-speech grounds.

The South China Morning Post reported this week that the four-year battle over TikTok is a significant front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said China had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms’s WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

A spokesperson for the ACLU told the Blade in a statement that “banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms.”

LGBTQ TikToker users are alarmed, fearing that a ban will represent the disruption of networks of support and activism. However, queer social media influencers who operate on multiple platforms expressed some doubts as to long term impact.

Los Angeles Blade contributor Chris Stanley told the Blade:

“It might affect us slightly, because TikTok is so easy to go viral on. Which obviously means more brand deals, etc. However they also suppress and shadow ban LGBTQ creators frequently. But we will definitely be focusing our energy more on other platforms with this uncertainty going forward. Lucky for us, we aren’t one trick ponies and have multiple other platforms built.”

Brooklyn, N.Y.,-based gay social media creator and influencer Artem Bezrukavenko told the Blade:

“For smart creators it won’t because they have multiple platforms. For people who put all their livelihood yes. Like people who do livestreams,” he said adding: “Personally I’m happy it gets banned or American company will own it so they will be less homophobic to us.”

TikTok’s LGBTQ following has generally positive experiences although there have been widely reported instances of users, notably transgender users, seemingly targeted by the platform’s algorithms and having their accounts banned or repeatedly suspended.

Of greater concern is the staggering rise in anti-LGBTQ violence and threats on the platform prompting LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, in its annual Social Media Safety Index, to give TikTok a failing score on LGBTQ safety.

Additional reporting by Christopher Kane

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