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Obama administration requests stay of ‘Don’t Ask’ injunction

Request made with California district court

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The Obama administration on Thursday requested a stay with a California federal court against a recently issued injunction prohibiting enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to documents obtained by the Blade.

In the notices, the U.S. Justice Department seeks a stay from U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, who issued the injunction on Tuesday, under the presumption that the Obama administration will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Defendants request that the Court issue an order to stay pending appeal of its  Order, dated October 12, 2010 (Doc. 252), permanently enjoining enforcement of  the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) statute, 10 U.S.C. § 654, and implementing regulations,” one notice states.

The Justice Department asks that the district court issue a stay before Monday. If a stay is not yet entered by that time, the administration says it will seek such action from the Ninth Circuit.

On Tuesday, Phillips issued an injunction prohibiting the U.S. government from enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the wake of her court decision last month striking down the law. The Justice Department had 60 days from the time the injunction was issued to make an appeal to a higher court.

In a statement, Christian Berle, deputy executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he isn’t surprised the Obama administration is seeking a stay against the injunction. In 2004, his organization filed the lawsuit that led to the order.

“After years of fighting this lawsuit, Log Cabin Republicans expected that the Obama administration would continue to pull out all the stops to defend ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Berle said. “Log Cabin Republicans will continue to advocate on behalf of the American servicemembers who everyday sacrifice in defense of our nation and our Constitution. If this stay is granted, justice will be delayed, but it will not be denied.”

Dan Woods, an attorney with White & Case LLP, which represented Log Cabin in court, swore to fight against the stay to ensure open service in the U.S. military.

“Now that the government has filed a request for a stay, we will oppose it vigorously because brave, patriotic homosexuals are serving in our Armed Forces to fight for all of our constitutional rights while the government is denying them theirs,” Woods said.

One of the notices offers a litany of reasons why the injunction against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be stayed. Some arguments are the injunction will “irreparably harm the public interest in a strong and effective military” and will require “a precipitous change in policy that threatens the public interest in a strong military.”

“The injunction forces the executive to immediately cease enforcing a statute enacted by Congress regarding military affairs, which alone creates harm justifying a stay,” the notice states. “The injunction also requires an immediate and dramatic change in policy without allowing time to do so in an orderly and comprehensive way.”

A footnote in the notice states that although President Obama opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the administration feels compelled to defend the 1993 statute because it’s federal law.

“As the President has stated previously, the Administration does not support the [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] statute as a matter of policy and strongly supports its repeal,” the notices states. “However, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Administration disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.”

In a press conference Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated Obama’s opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but said Congress should be responsible for ending the statute.

“The president believes that this is a policy that undermines our national security, discriminates against those who would sacrifice their lives for their country, and is unjust; that the policy needs to be changed and should be changed,” Gibbs said. “His hope is that the Senate will take up the legislation pending before them to do just that, as the House of Representatives has already done.”

Officials in the Obama administration publicly expressed concern about the injunction against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this week.

According to the Associated Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Wednesday that abruptly ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have “enormous consequences” for U.S. service members. A Pentagon working group is examining the way to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and is expected to deliver a report to Gates by Dec. 1.

A co-founder of OutServe, a network for active duty LGBT service members, called Gates’ remarks”a direct attack against gay and lesbian military personnel” and denied there would be “enormous consequences” after lifting the ban on open service.

“The reality is unit cohesion is destroyed by directly making military members lie about themselves and that is a proven fact,” said the co-founder, who goes by the alias J.D. Smith because he currently serves in the U.S. military.

“By saying we would create ‘enormous consequences’ he [is] attacking us,” Smith continued. “No other group of currently serving military personnel would be attacked like this.”

In response to Gates’ comments, the Palm Center, a think tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, issued a statement calling on Gates to identify the “enormous consequences” of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enforcement.

“Secretary Gates’ suggestion that ‘enormous consequences’ await any immediate implementation of openly gay service stands in stark contrast to the evidence from other foreign militaries,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center. “Swift change and strong leadership were identified as the two key elements to this process. America is unique but we will not be the first nation to allow openly gay service, we will be the twenty-sixth.”

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The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Federal Government

FDA plans to lift ban on gay, bisexual sperm donors

Ban has been in place since 2005

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street JournalThe report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bisexual men.

The Wall Street Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed 20 years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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State Department

Russian activist meets with US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy

Aleksander Voronov visited the State Department last week

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Aleksandr Voronov from Coming Out, a Russian LGBTQ rights group based in St. Petersburg, met with Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, at the State Department last week. (Photo courtesy of Stern's X account)

A Russian activist last week met with the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights at the State Department.

Jessica Stern on March 29 posted to her X account a picture of Aleksandr Voronov of Coming Out, an LGBTQ advocacy group that was previously based in St. Petersburg.

“I was honored to host Coming Out activist Aleksandr Voronov at the State Department,” said Stern. “Russia’s transgender ban and designation of the so-called ‘LGBT movement’ as extremist undermines the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Russians. We stand with all LGBTQI+ persons.”

Voronov told the Washington Blade he “gave her an update on the situation with LGBTQ rights in Russia.” Voronov said Stern “was very supportive and unbelievably kind.”

The Kremlin over the last decade has cracked down on LGBTQ rights.

The Russian Supreme Court last November ruled the “international LGBT movement” is an extremist organization and banned it. The Moscow Times on March 31 reported authorities in Orenburg, a city near the country’s border with Kazakhstan that is roughly 900 miles south-southeast of Moscow, arrested a gay bar’s owner and charged him with “extremism.”

Voronov fled Russia and now lives in Lithuania. 

“Most of the organizations and public activists, such as me and the organization I lead, were forced to leave the country, but continue working ‘in exile,'” Voronov told the Blade. “Most openly queer-places were closed during last months; but there are still lots of activists, organizations and of course ordinary LGBTQ individuals in Russia who are still there, and will be staying there. And we try to support them as much as we can.”

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