Connect with us


Tension mounts as Senate prepares ‘Don’t Ask’ debate

Reid intends to file cloture petition for Tuesday vote



Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced plans to proceed with major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language as questions linger about whether sufficient votes are present to move forward.

Reid officially announced plans to proceed with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Tuesday during his press conference in the U.S. Capitol.

The majority leader said the defense authorization bill is “especially important” this year because the legislation will be a vehicle to address issues that he called “long overdue,” including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I think we should choose common sense over discrimination,” Reid said. “We’re going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in our country, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcome.”

Still, Reid acknowledged opposition in moving forward with the legislation and said he thinks he would have to file cloture to proceed with the bill.

“I would hope we can move to it without having to file cloture on a motion to proceed, but the way things have been going, having had to file cloture on filibuster to more than 100 different pieces of legislation, I probably will have to file cloture on that,” Reid said.

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, told the Blade the senator intends to file cloture on the defense authorization bill this week for a vote on Tuesday.

Reid would file cloture after a senator objects to moving forward with the defense authorization bill with unanimous consent. After 30 hours of discussion, votes will be cast to determine whether 60 senators approve of ending the filibuster and officially moving to debate and amendments.

Asked at the conference whether he has 60 votes to proceed with the legislation, Reid replied, “We’ll sure find out.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he’s “reasonably confident” that “60 firm votes” are in the Senate to end a filibuster.

“I think we’ll actually probably end up with a couple more if needed,” Sarvis said. “I don’t think there are 40 senators who want to go on record as [being] opposed to calling up the defense authorization bill.”

Still, key Republicans in the Senate have expressed concern about the defense authorization bill and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language as well as other provisions in the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the repeal language a “controversial item” in response to an Blade inquiry on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his press conference.

“The provision in the bill involves eliminating ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ without the study, and that has also made it pretty controversial,” McConnell said.

The language in the defense authorization bill provides for repeal only after the Pentagon working group developing a plan for implemention an end to law finishes its work on Dec. 1.

An objction to proceeding would most likely come from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been the most vocal opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the Senate. He has previoiusly objected to unanimous consent on bringing the defense authorization bill to the Senate floor.

Brooke Buchanan, a McCain spokesperson, said in a statement the senator “strongly believes” that Pentagon review should be complete before taking legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“As all four service chiefs have stated, we should not short circuit the ongoing Pentagon review and thereby deny our men and women in uniform a chance to have their voices heard on an important issue that affects them and their service,” she said.

Buchanan was referring to a letter from the four service chiefs made public this spring expressing their discontent with moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before the Pentagon review is complete.

But Sarvis called the notion that Congress must wait for the Pentagon working group to finish its work a “tired talking point from the ‘no’ crowd.”

“Ironically, Congress, in all likelihood, will have that report before the vote is taken on the conference report in the lame duck session,” Sarvis said.

Reid said opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal can have a vote when the legislation comes to the Senate floor on whether to strip out the language from the bill.

“They want a vote on it; they can have a vote on it,” Reid said.

Sarvis said repeal proponents have been anticipating this amendment to come to the Senate floor and are prepared to beat back such a measure.

“I think if Sen. McCain or another senator moves to strike the repeal provisions, we will prevail by a comfortable margin,” Sarvis said.

But finishing the bill before the lawmakers before lawmaker break before Election Day is seen as a major concern by repeal proponents.

Sarvis identified “time” as his biggest concern heading into Senate debate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while emphasizing the importance of a Senate vote on the defense authorization bill in September before lawmakers adjourn for the break.

“As long as there are strong opponents in the Senate, they will try to tie this up and ensure that we don’t finish in September or early October,” Sarvis said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Sarvis said the lame duck session after Election Day is limited and bills that haven’t already made it through both chambers of Congress are less likely to meet approval.

DREAM Act comes into play

Also during the conference, Reid said he wants to amend the defense authorization bill so that it would include the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill.

The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants pursuing a college education or position in the U.S. armed forces.

“Kids who grew up as Americans should be able to get their green card if they go to college or serve in the military,” Reid said.

The majority leader noted a number of U.S. service members are Hispanic and said “it’s really important that we move forward on this legislation that we tried to work on.”

Reid said moving forward on the DREAM Act as part of the defense authorization bill is partially in response what he called his inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this Congress.

“I know we can’t do comprehensive immigration reform,” Reid said. “I’ve tried so very, very hard. I’ve tried different iterations of this, but those Republicans we had in the last Congress have left us.”

McConnell cited the inclusion of the DREAM Act as a potentially “extraneous” amendment to the defense authorization bill.

The minority leader also was critical of Reid said he wants to address the issue of “secret holds” on presidential nominees as part of the defense authorization bill.

“It’s made it needlessly controversial,” McConnell said. “I can’t tell you right now how easy it will be to go forward with that bill, but it’s certainly created an element of controversy that would not have been otherwise there.”

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, an LGBT immigration group, said his organzation was not part of discussion of including the DREAM Act as part of the defense authorization bill, but supports its passage.

“I can’t predict what the impact is going to be, but we certainly support the DREAM Act and I would say that we believe that the Senate majority leader is the right person to make the decision on how best to move forward,” Ralls said.

Sarvis said he doesn’t know whether this measure would complicate efforts for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I don’t think it has to,” Sarvis said. “I think they are two separate issues and, at the end of the day, I think each one of these amendments are going to have to stand or fall on their own.”


The White House

Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim



Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

Continue Reading


Climate change threatens LGBTQ resort communities

Provincetown, Cape Cod, other destinations face ‘existential’ challenge



The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on New York's Fire Island has been the scene of extreme erosion in recent years. (Photo courtesy Actum Vice President Savannah Farrell)

As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more. 

Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.

Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”

Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall. 

“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr. 

All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations. 

Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind. 

Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.  

“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”

Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.

“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”

Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger. 

“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said. 

In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community. 

Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities. 

“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.

Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.

“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.

Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.

The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.

McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community. 

“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon. 

Stronger storms threaten Fire Island

Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.

Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”

“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin. 

Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines. 

Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines. 

Continue Reading

The White House

US announces additional sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade