Connect with us

National

Choi, others begin to re-enlist

Court denies stay of injunction; Pentagon halts enforcement of ‘Don’t Ask’

Published

on

The struggle to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” received renewed national attention this week as the Pentagon announced it would halt enforcement of the policy and a California federal court rejected the Obama administration’s request for a stay of the injunction against the law.

The Pentagon announced that it would discontinue enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips last week issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the law that confirmed her September ruling striking down the statute.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department sought an emergency stay with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision from the court wasn’t handed down by Blade deadline. Check the Blade’s website for updates on the injunction.

Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokesperson, said the Pentagon would adhere to the court injunction and stop discharges of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.

“The Department of Defense will of course obey the law,” she said. “The Department will abide by the terms of the court’s order, effective as of the time and date of the injunction, unless and until the injunction is stayed or vacated.”

Smith said on Oct. 15, the Pentagon issued guidance to military recruiters saying they could no longer dismiss openly gay people who are interested in joining the U.S. armed forces.

“Recruiters are reminded to set the applicants’ expectations by informing them that a reversal in the court’s decision of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law/policy may occur,” she said.

News that the Pentagon is no longer enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prompted Dan Choi, a discharged former Army officer who gained notoriety by chaining himself to the White House gates in protest over the policy, to seek re-enlistment in the U.S. armed forces.

On Tuesday, Choi reportedly re-enlisted in the Army at a recruiting station in Times Square in New York City. He reportedly said Tuesday recruiters were processing his request and that he initially sought to re-enlist as a Marine, but was told he was too old to enter the service.

Other out gays had sought to re-enlist this week in other places throughout the country. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the San Diego chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, reportedly tried to re-enlist with the Marines, but was told that prior-service quotas were full right now.

Even with the injunction in place, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is warning gay, lesbian and bisexual troops to maintain keeping their sexual orientation a secret if they serve in the U.S. armed forces.

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, urged caution among service members because he said the injunction could be reversed “very soon.”

“During this interim period of uncertainty, service members must not come out and recruits should use caution if choosing to sign up,” Sarvis said. “A higher court is likely to issue a hold on the injunction by Judge Phillips very soon. The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon.”

As the Pentagon has discontinued enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the Obama administration has sought to reverse the injunction. The Justice Department last week sought a stay in Phillips’ decision to bar enforcement of the law while appealing her ruling to the Ninth Circuit.

But Phillips denied the request in a notice issued Tuesday. The judge explains that she denied a stay of the injunction because the U.S. government has provided inadequate reasons for her to take such action.

“Having considered the papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Application, as well as the arguments advanced by counsel at the hearing, the Court DENIES the Application for the following reasons as well as those set forth on the record at the hearing,” she writes.

Many legal experts had expected that Phillips would deny the stay. On Monday, she tentatively denied the stay as she heard arguments from attorneys.

In the Tuesday notice, Phillips said she denied the stay because, among other reasons, the injunction wouldn’t impede the U.S. military’s stated goals of having to amend policies and develop education and training programs to adjust to an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley issued a memo last week outlining this concern.

“Though the Stanley Declaration identifies some general categories of regulations – housing, benefits, re-accession, military equal opportunity, anti-harassment, standards of conduct, and rights and obligations of the chaplain corps – it fails to identify the specific policies and regulations or why they must be changed in light of the Court’s injunction,” Phillips writes.

Phillips also denies that a stay on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” injunction would serve the public interest because she says evidence at trial demonstrated the law “harms military readiness and unit cohesion, and irreparably injures service members by violating their fundamental rights.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the lawsuit in 2004, said Phillips is “right to stand with service members by rejecting President Obama’s request to continue this discriminatory policy.”

“It is vital that as a nation we uphold the fundamental constitutional rights of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen,” Cooper said. ”With recruiters accepting gay and lesbian applicants and a week having passed without incident, it is clear that our military is well-equipped to adapt to open service, and eager to get on with the work of defending our freedom.”

Cooper criticized Obama for previously saying at a town hall that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would end on his watch while defending the statute in court.

“As commander in chief, the president should drop his defense of a policy which he knows undermines military readiness and threatens national security,” Cooper said.

During a news conference on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs emphasized the president’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through legislative means while saying the Justice Department is monitoring what’s happening in the courts.

“The president believes that the policy will end under his watch precisely because in the defense authorization bill pending in the Senate is a provision that would repeal what the president believes is unjust, what the president believes is discriminatory,” Gibbs said. ”It’s passed the House. The president will push for defense authorization to be passed containing that provision when the Senate comes back for the lame duck.”

But whether the Senate would be able to push through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after Election Day is questionable at best — especially considering Democrats are poised take huge losses and will likely lose control of the U.S. House.

Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said in a statement that Republican support would be needed to move forward with major defense budget legislation to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language is attached.

“In light of the recent court decision, Republicans will hopefully drop their opposition to [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and allow us to pass the [defense] authorization in the lame duck,” Manley said.

The Republican who successfully led a filibuster that derailed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the Senate last month pledged on Sunday to continue his opposition after Election Day.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during a TV interview with the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Ariz., that he would attempt to block the legislation if a motion to bring the measure to the Senate floor came up during the lame duck.

“I will filibuster or stop it from being brought up until we have a thorough and complete study on the effect of morale and battle effectiveness,” he said.

A Pentagon working group is set to deliver a report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the way forward with implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by Dec. 1, although McCain has previously suggested the scope of the study is too limited.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

National

North Dakota lawmakers okay regulation banning Conversion Therapy

This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy

Published

on

Capitol Building of North Dakota in Bismarck (Photo Credit: State of North Dakota)

BISMARCK, ND. – The North Dakota House Administrative Rules Committee voted 8-7 on Tuesday, June 8, to authorize the rule proposed by the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, implementing new regulations prohibiting licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, which oversees licensing for social workers in the state, created the new rule which states that “it is an ethical violation for a social worker licensed by the board to engage in any practices or treatments that attempt to change or repair the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.”

The West Hollywood based Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, had worked with Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Josh Boschee, the National Association of Social Workers ND Chapter, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and local advocates like Elizabeth Loos to advance these critical protections for LGBTQ youth.

 “This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This practice is not therapy at all— it’s abusive and fraudulent,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “There is still more work to be done in North Dakota, but this bold action will help save young lives. The Trevor Project is committed to an every state strategy to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and North Dakota has proven that progress is possible anywhere.”

“Thank you to the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners for restricting licensed social workers in North Dakota from being able to practice conversion therapy! LGBT North Dakotans, especially youth, are safer now as you hold licensees responsible to the NASW Code of Ethics,” said Minority Leader Boschee. 

The proposed ban on therapist-administered conversion therapy in North Dakota was met with opposition by several of the committee’s most socially conservative members, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told the paper that he worries the new prohibition is limiting because it would prevent people seeking “some kind of treatment” from getting help. Bell said the rule is written so clients who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not inhibited from seeking care.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, said he’s concerned the rule would interfere with religious counseling, adding “there are some cases where people want to change.”

“There are licensed counselors that are also Christians, and basically my concern in all of this is that we’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,'” Satrom said.

Satrom and West Fargo Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman said approving the social workers’ ban on conversion therapy is outside of the committee’s scope and ought to be scrutinized by the full Legislature.

Boschee, the North Dakota Legislature’s only openly gay member, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was disappointed in some of his colleagues for standing behind the “harmful” practice of conversion therapy and trying to muddy the conversation over what is a simple self-imposed rule for social workers. The Fargo Democrat said he was ultimately pleased that seven lawmakers joined him in upholding the proposed ban.

Research: 

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
Continue Reading

National

‘We’re still very much in the healing phase’

Saturday marks five years since Pulse nightclub massacre

Published

on

The interim memorial at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on May 31, 2020 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Saturday marks five years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

A remembrance ceremony will take place at the site, which is now an interim memorial. A number of other events to honor the victims will take place in Orlando and throughout Central Florida over the coming days.

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Nearly half of the victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The massacre also sparked renewed calls for gun control.

Poma told the Blade that she expects construction will begin on a “Survivor’s Walk” at the site by the end of the year. A museum — which she described as an “education center” that will “talk about the history of the LGBT community and its struggles and stripes for the last century or so … about why safe spaces were important to this community” and what happened at Pulse and the global response to it — will be built a third of a mile away.

“We really feel it is important to never forget what happened at Pulse and to tell the story of that,” said Poma.

Poma noted the onePULSE Foundation of which she is the executive director met with representatives of the 9/11 Tribute Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to discuss the memorial. Poma when she spoke with the Blade acknowledged the plans have been criticized.

“This kind of opposition is not unique to these kind of projects,” she said.

“It’s just important to know that really what we’re trying to do is make sure what happened is never forgotten and those lives were never forgotten,” added Poma.

Poma on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuits that have been filed against her, her husband and the onePULSE Foundation in the wake of the massacre.

DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies overshadow anniversary

The Blade this week spoke with Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and other activists and elected officials in Florida and Puerto Rico who were part of the immediate response to the massacre.

Equality Florida raised millions of dollars for survivors and victims’ families. CEO Nadine Smith on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Equality Florida in the massacre’s immediate aftermath pledged to honor the victims “with action by uprooting hatred at its source and from that time we have invested deeply in safe and healthy schools.”

“Schools are a shared cultural experience where the attitudes of ignorance and fear and animosity and violence towards others either get challenged or encouraged,” said Smith. “Five years later I look at how far this work has come and at the same time, I’m very aware of the backlash that we are facing, particularly in our schools with laws targeting trans youth specifically.”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 1 signed a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The governor the following day vetoed funding that activists say would have funded programs for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay man who represents portions of Orlando, on Tuesday described DeSantis as “callous.”

“The governor’s actions are a reminder that five years after the attack at Pulse nightclub, we have a lot of work to do to push back against homophobia and transphobia,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith. “The Orlando community is very supporting and accepting of the LGBTQ community, but when you see what’s happening at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, you realize that there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, associate director of Waves Ahead, an LGBTQ service organization in Puerto Rico, described the massacre’s impact in the U.S. commonwealth as “permanent in our collective memory.” Serrano also noted violence against trans Puerto Ricans remains rampant.

“We are now the epicenter of anti-trans violence in the U.S. and its territories,” said Serrano. “After five years, we still confront this hatred that doesn’t seem to stop. We will continue to fight until all of us are safe.”

the Pulse nightclub massacre, gay news, Washington Blade
A plaque in Third Millennium Park in San Juan, Puerto Rico, pays tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Tony Lima, a long-time Florida-based activist who is currently CEO of Arianna’s Center, an organization that serves trans women of color in Florida, the South and Puerto Rico, helped organize vigils and blood drives in the days after the massacre.

“We knew how important it was to aid our family in Orlando in this immediate crisis,” Lima told the Blade on Monday. “Orlando and South Florida are intrinsically connected. We often share resources in nightlife, events, advocacy and a lot of the same people … so I think there was a natural synergy there.”

Lima, like Nadine Smith and Carlos Guillermo Smith, sharply criticized DeSantis for signing the anti-trans bill and for vetoing funds for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth. Lima also lamented the lack of progress on gun control.

A gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Lima told the Blade there have been two deadly mass shootings in South Florida in recent days.

“We have a huge problem when it comes to gun control in this country, and sadly five years later we haven’t made a whole lot of progress,” he said.

The Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., on July 31, 2020. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced sharp criticism from activists over his anti-LGBTQ policies. State lawmakers have also been criticized over their inaction on gun control. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Orlando’s support of LGBTQ rights part of ‘bigger call to action’

Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet is the senior specialist for inclusion, diversity and equity for the city of Orlando’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. He is also Mayor Buddy Dyer’s LGBTQ liaison.

Orlando City Hall on June 1 raised the Pride flag in commemoration of Pride month.

Sousa-Lazaballet noted the fountain in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando was the colors of the trans Pride flag in commemoration of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Orlando in 2019 became the first city in Florida to include National LGBT Chamber of Commerce-certified businesses in its municipal contracting and procurement programs.

“All of that is part of that bigger call to action, which is we want to honor the 49,” said Sousa-Lazaballet. “But we also want to with action by making the city an even more welcoming place for all.”

Sousa-Lazaballet, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Nadine Smith all told the Blade the way that Orlando, Central Florida, the country and the world responded to the massacre remains a source of pride.

“I think about how many messages there were in the aftermath that called on the worst instincts in people to be fearful of each other, to hate people as a group, to cower and to hide and I will never forget and have been changed by the Orlando community, how the nation and in fact globally people responded to the absolute opposite,” said Nadine Smith. “That is a light that I hold on to.”

Poma echoed Nadine Smith.

“We hope that our goal is to create that beacon of light that can come out of such darkness,” said Poma. “Darkness is a really dangerous place to get stuck in and so while we all wish what happened on June 12 never happened, it did and it’s now our moral and social responsibility to do something with that and that for me is creating light and change from what we all endured.”

A mural in Orlando, Fla., in the months after the Pulse nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Continue Reading

National

Senate passes bill designating Pulse as a national memorial

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry.”

Published

on

Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers

WASHINGTON – In a rare bipartisan move, a bill that designates the former Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida a national memorial was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.

Florida’s two U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced Senate Resolution 265 recognizing the fifth anniversary and honoring the 49 victims of the mass shooting attack on the Pulse Nightclub June 12, 2016.

Companion legislation authored by California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), and also Congressman Darren Soto’s (D-FL) House Resolution 49 that passed by voice vote on May 13 was also passed by the Senate.

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry. We’re proud of the bipartisan coalition of Florida Congressional leaders for leading the effort to recognize this hallowed ground as a national memorial site.,” Brandon J. Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and a Pulse survivor told the Blade. “Our visibility matters. May the 49 lives stolen never be forgotten. And may we always honor them with action.”

Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. ” Wolf added.

Florida’s Senator’s both released statements:

“The terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was a heinous act of violence and hatred against members of the LGBTQ community,” Marco Rubio said. “Forty-nine innocent lives were lost on that horrific day. As the fifth anniversary approaches, we must continue to honor the memory of those who were taken far too soon. And while work still remains to root out evil, I am inspired by Orlando’s continued resiliency, pride, and strength.”

Rick Scott, who was Florida’s governor at the time of the mass shooting said, “Nearly five years ago today, our state, nation, the City of Orlando, and Hispanic and LGBTQ communities were attacked, and 49 innocent and beautiful lives were lost. It was an unspeakable tragedy,” he said. 

“An evil act of terrorism designed to divide us as a nation and strike fear in our hearts and minds. But instead, we came together, and supported each other through heartbreak and darkness, to preserve and rebuild. Today, we still stand strong, together, to remember the 49 young lives lost that tragic day and honor their memory with passage of our resolution and our bill to establish the ‘National Pulse Memorial.’ It is my hope that this memorial will forever serve as a tribute to the victims and a reminder for us all to always stand for love and kindness over hate and evil in this world.”

Although the United States Senate marked the upcoming fifth anniversary by honoring the victims and shooting survivors with passage of the legislation which now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature, in Florida, Repuiblican Governor Ron De Santis has taken a different tack.

Last week, DeSantis vetoed funding for LGBTQ programs from the state budget including money earmarked for mental health programming to support survivors of the Pulse Massacre, to house homeless LGBTQ children, and for Orlando’s LGBTQ Community Center. 

Brandon Wolf (L) speaking with Florida Governor DeSantis (R) at PULSE Memorial 2019 (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

These actions following his signing a bill on June 1, the start of LGBTQ Pride month- an education bill amended to include a previous stand alone bill, specifically targeting transgender girls and young women, banning them from playing on female sports teams.

“Let’s be clear about what this is: Governor DeSantis has declared war on Florida’s LGBTQ community.” said Wolf. “Before the 2019 Remembrance Ceremony, Governor DeSantis stood on hallowed ground, steps from where I escaped the building in 2016, and promised me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting. Today, almost two years later to date, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular