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Lieberman says ‘Don’t Ask’ to return after election

Conn. senator says he received assurances from leadership about future repeal effort

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U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will come back if it's unsuccessful today. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he’s received assurances from Democratic leadership that major defense legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would come again after Election Day if cloture isn’t invoked Tuesday.

“If for some reason, we don’t get the 60 votes to proceed, this ain’t over,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to come back into session in November or December. I spoke to Sen. Reid today. He’s very clear and strong that he’s going to bring this bill to the floor in November or December.”

Lieberman said he’s “not optimistic” about the upcoming cloture vote. Still, he urged other senators to come on board today and said the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill is a “critical piece of legislation.”

“The fact that our colleagues would be having on the Senate floor this debate about to vote to proceed to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, to me, is unbelievable,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said moving forward with the defense legislation should be a “no-brainer” because of the funding provided in the bill for U.S. service members.

He also defended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in the bill and said he doesn’t think opponents of repeal have the votes to strip it out if the legislation comes to the floor.

“I don’t believe that the opponents of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have enough votes to take that repeal out of this legislation,” he said. “Maybe that’s why they’re fighting so hard to stop this legislation from coming up.”

Provided all 59 Democrats vote in favor of moving forward with the defense legislation, at least one Republican vote is necessary to reach the 60-vote threshold to end the filibuster on the legislation.

However, GOP leaders are reportedly telling its caucus to vote against cloture because of limitations on amendments that Democratic leadership will allow on the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed on the defense authorization bill: a measure stripping the legislation of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language; a measure attaching the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the legislation; and a measure addressing the “secret holds” senators can place on presidential nominees.

During a news conference, Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) also said the Republicans would be at fault if cloture isn’t invoked on the defense authorization bill on Tuesday.

“What would be unprecedented is if Republicans block the Senate from passing the defense authorization bill for the first time since 1952,” Durbin said.

Asked by the Blade about what Democratic leadership is doing to negotiate with Republicans over the cloture vote, Durbin replied, “We’re trying.”

Durbin said the initial three amendments would come up on the defense authorization bill first, which would be followed by a “discussion as to what further amendments would be considered.”

“I don’t think Sen. Reid has ruled that out,” Durbin said. “What he has said is that the first three amendments are the first amendments. … Beyond that, Sen. Reid would be open for negotiation for a unanimous consent request.”

Pressed on whether he thinks any GOP senators would vote for cloture on Tuesday as a result of negotiations with Republicans, Durbin replied, “I don’t know at this point.”

Lieberman expressed confidence in Reid’s negotiations on the legislation. Asked by the Blade whether he thinks Reid is doing everything he can to bring Republicans on board for the cloture vote, the senator replied, “I do.”

The Connecticut senator said finishing work on the defense authorization bill would require another cloture vote and Republicans would have the opportunity to offer amendments before that motion to proceed.

“If, for some reason, Sen. Reid decides to bring the defense bill to a final vote before any other amendments are put in, our Republican colleagues — and I would guess, some Democrats — would not vote for cloture at that point,” Lieberman said. “So, they have the final say.”

During a news conference, Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign president, praised Reid for leading the way on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I can think of no elected official who has the tenacity, and, quite frankly, the quiet determination of Sen. Reid,” Solmonese said. “His tremendous leadership is the reason that we are here today going to this historic vote. And it is his resolve and his persistence that will be the reason that I am confident that we ultimately succeed in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Chances for a successful vote for cloture seemed to fade when Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) issued a statement that he was reluctant to support a vote for cloture on the defense authorization bill.

“If the Democrats are serious about getting this bill passed, Leader Reid should sit down with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and work out the amendment process,” Voinovich said. “Unless that is done, I will not support cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill.”

Regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Voinovich said it would be “logical” to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on implementing repeal, which is due Dec. 1.

“At this point there is no reason to rush to judgment for political expediency until we hear from our military leaders as to whether they think it is a good idea to change this policy,” he said. “I will carefully study this determination when it is completed.”

Also present at the news conference to promote “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was Eric Alva, who’s gay and the first U.S. service member wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mike Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was also at the conference and said he was representing the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

In a related development, the White House today issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate version of the bill approving of provisions in the legislation and calling for its passage.

The statements are intended to provide guidance to members of Congress on how to vote and how to handle major pieces of legislation.

According to a copy of the statement obtained in advance by the Blade, the Obama administration “supports Senate passage of S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011.”

“The Administration appreciates the Senate Armed Services Committee’s continued support of our national defense, including, among other things, its support for the Department’s topline budget requests for both the base budget requests for both the base budget and for overseas contingency operations,” the statement reads.

The statement makes special note of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the legislation under the heading, “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces.”

“The Administration supports section 591 as it would allow for completion of the Comprehensive Review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the repeal is consistent with the standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” the statements reads.

The White House adds the repeal provision “recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions.”

The statement also makes note that the Senate version of the defense authorization doesn’t have funding for the alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation military aircraft.

The House version of the defense authorization bill provides for $485 million in funds for the second engine for the aircraft. The White House has issued a veto threat over the defense authorization bill as a result of this provision.

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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