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Reid files cloture on 'Don't Ask' legislation

Vote set to take place on Tuesday at 2:15

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate took the initial steps of moving forward with the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on major defense budget legislation that includes repeal language.

Reid’s motion to proceed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill was met with objection by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), prompting Reid to move to end debate by filing cloture.

This manuever means a vote to start official consideration of the defense bill and amendments will take place Tuesday at 2:15 pm. Moving forward will require 60 votes from members for the U.S. Senate.

On the Senate floor, Reid said after a successful vote for cloture on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have an opportunity to strip the bill of this language as well as address other matters senators may find controversial.

“I understand there are issues that I’ve talked about the last couple of days and many other important matters that colleagues on both sides of the aisle wish to address,” Reid said.

Reid also said he expects the time before lawmakers break again for recess after the first week of October will be spent on debating and voting on amendments on the defense authorization bill.

The majority leader predicted a final vote on the legislation as a whole won’t take place until the lame duck session in November.

“I’m willing to work with Senate Republicans … to complete this bill as soon as possible, which likely will be after the recess,” Reid said.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Commitee, objected to consideration of the defense authorization bill because he said the Democratic leadership is planning amendments unrelated to the U.S. military.

The Arizona senator said Reid’s plans to attach to the legislation the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, and a measure addressing the “secret holds” U.S. senators can place on presidential nominations aren’t appropriate for defense legislation.

McCain also lamented how a hate crimes protections measure was attached last year to Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Act.

“Under this majority leader, we have witnessed the unfortunate and growing politicization of the national defense authorization act,” McCain said. “Time to offer and debate important, defense-related amendments to this bill on the floor is being limited or cut off, so that the majority leader can push through highly political legislation that has little or nothing to do with national defense — legislation that would never be referred to the [Senate] Armed Services Committee if it were introduced independently.”

McCain also expressed discontent with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the bill, but had a notable change in rhetoric from what he’s said previously on the provision.

The senator acknowledged the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision has relevance to the U.S. armed forces. McCain also said he has no position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time, but wants to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on the issue on Dec. 1.

“I want to make one thing very clear: I do not oppose or support the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ at this time, but I do oppose taking legislative action prior to the completion of a real and thorough review of the law,” McCain said. “A complete survey to evaluate the impact of repeal on the men and women serving in our military should be concluded before moving forward.”

Many speculated McCain previously had stronger objection to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal earlier this year because he was facing a challenge from conservative J.D. Hayworth in a Republican primary.

But the primary has since taken place and McCain has emerged as the victor. The Arizona senator now faces a general election against a Democrat.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) responded to McCain’s objection to proceeding by noting the Senate has taken up amendments on a variety of issues to defense authorization legislation in previous years.

“The Senate as a body has right to offer amendments which are not germane or relevant,” Levin said.

Levin said the Senate has previously considered amendments to defense authorization bills on indecency standards, minimum wage, welfare reform and the death penalty for drug-related killings.

“I didn’t hear anybody make the charge at that the time that somehow or another the Senate rules were being utilized to bring to the floor of the Senate an amendment which wasn’t directly related to the bill in front of us,” Levin said.

Activists target McCain

Earlier on Thursday, activists affiliated with GetEQUAL interrupted a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to persuade McCain to drop his objection to moving forward with the legislation., according to a statement from the organization.

Working in conjunction with HERO, an Arizona-based grassroots group, activists interrupted the hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building while holding up images of those who obstructed civil rights in the past, such as former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Additionally, they held up signs saying, “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ do you want to be the next George Wallace?” and “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ it’s not too late to change your legacy.”

Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, said in a statement the protest was necessary because McCain is “more interested in placating the McCain-Palin wing of the Republican Party.”

“When 80 percent of the American people, the Joints Chiefs of Staff, military leaders, and active-duty  servicemembers all agree that it is past time we stop the firing of critical military personnel, you can be assured that you’re standing on the wrong side of history,” she said.

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Politics

HRC invests $15 million in six battleground states ahead of November elections

Group made announcement on Monday

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign will target a record-high 75 million pro-LGBTQ voters nationwide with a public education and mobilization campaign ahead of the 2024 elections, which includes a $15 million investment in six key battleground states, the group announced on Monday.

The initiative will focus on voters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada with “hired staff, field efforts, events, paid advertising, mobilization, and grassroots engagement,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing the campaign, which is titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins.”

HRC defines Equality Voters as constituents who are “united by the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality, and are younger, more racially diverse, and more female than the general electorate.”

Among those who would vote for third-party candidates if the election were held today — 22 percent, or 16.5 million people — survey results show half would support President Joe Biden if they reach the understanding that their third-party vote would support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Along with re-electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HRC’s campaign will work “to defeat escalating anti-trans attacks” and “electing historic LGBTQ+ and pro-equality candidates down-the-ballot,” the group wrote.

HRC will support LGBTQ candidates in California, Texas, New York, and Delaware with the aim of helping to elect a pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

“Trump and his MAGA allies are promising a hate-filled agenda that hurts everyone who doesn’t look and live like them,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “They think they can bully and scare us and take away our fundamental freedoms. But the LGBTQ+ community has won these hard fights before — and we refuse to go back.”

HRC noted “Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law, further dismantle access to health care for transgender people, and dictate curriculum for school children.” 

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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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Politics

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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