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Pentagon study leaks are aiding repeal effort

Media reports influencing fence-sitting senators: advocates

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Capitol Hill observers say recently leaked details about the upcoming Pentagon study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are having a positive influence on the effort to repeal the military’s gay ban.

Meanwhile, some repeal advocates anticipate that congressional hearings will be held on the study before action on repeal is wrapped up.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said “it’s undeniable” that the leaked findings were “extremely helpful” to repeal advocates.

“Whether or not it’ll take us across the tipping point, I don’t know,” he added. “That’s anybody’s guess. It’s undeniable that it moves us more in that direction, but people disagree on where that tipping point is.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said media reports on the Pentagon working group study are still too recent to properly assess their impact on convincing Republicans to vote in favor of repeal. Still, he said he’s confident the findings will “bring in additional votes.”

“It’s certainly a bolster to the case we’ve been making with Republican lawmakers and their staff that the study is beneficial, it’s very thorough and the terms that Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out are very clear,” Cooper said.

Repeal advocates said they hope the leaks, which were published in the Washington Post, will bolsters efforts in the Senate to pass the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains language to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A previous vote to move forward with the legislation in September didn’t meet the 60-vote threshold to make it to the Senate floor.

On Wednesday evening, the Washington Post reported that the results of a survey sent to 400,000 U.S. service members over the summer as part of the Pentagon working group’s efforts will reveal that more than 70 percent of respondents think the effect of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. A similar report was published Thursday in The New York Times.

These survey results reportedly led study authors to conclude that objections to gays serving openly in the U.S. military would drop after the implementation of open service. The deadline for completing the study and delivering it to Defense Secretary Robert Gates is Dec. 1.

According to the Washington Post, the working group report is about 370 pages long and is divided into two sections. The first section examines whether ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will harm unit readiness or morale. The second part offers a plan for ending enforcement of the law. This second section is not meant to serve as the military’s official instruction manual on the issue, but could be used as such if military leaders agreed.

A Democratic aide, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said reporting on the Pentagon working group study is infusing pro-repeal efforts “with a newfound energy.”

“Some pro-repeal senators are already touting the findings in discussions with their colleagues, in hopes of galvanizing sufficient support for repeal,” the aide said. “The repeal effort was being hampered by the lack of a completed Pentagon study, but with the study complete — and showing that repeal can be implemented — the anti-repeal effort suddenly seems disingenuous.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on the Pentagon to make the working group report public.

“With the Senate soon turning its attention again to military policy, the results of the Pentagon review should be made available as soon as possible so undecided Senators are well informed,” Solmonese said.

But the leaked findings have already riled social conservatives seeking to keep the ban on open service in place. On Thursday, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, noted he’s previously taken exception to the Pentagon working group report because he said the scope of the study isn’t appropriate.

“We have criticized this study from the outset because the [Pentagon working group] was forbidden to explore the central question before the country — not how to implement a repeal of the current law, but whether doing so is in the best interest of the armed forces,” Perkins said. “The surveys of service members and their spouses, which were conducted as part of this process shared the same flaw, since they never asked, ‘Do you believe the current law should be overturned?’”

Perkins called on Gates to direct the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate the source of the leaks and said the leaks to media outlets have “seriously damaged the credibility” of the Pentagon’s review process.

Reporting on the Pentagon study could influence a number of key U.S. senators who have said they want to see the results of the survey before acting on legislation.

A Republican aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the media reports on the Pentagon’s study are having a “positive” impact on influencing those lawmakers to support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Members who have said let’s wait for the report don’t have much to turn to when the report comes out supportive,” the aide said.

Nicholson said senators who’ve “hinged their vote on the outcome of this review” could vote for a motion to proceed on the defense authorization bill, then use the report to guide their decision on a potential amendment related to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language after the bill comes to the floor.

“Given the fact that the way it’s set up is that they can take a vote on cloture before Thanksgiving or before the report comes out … then that, in theory, doesn’t conflict with their stance because they’ll get to take a vote on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ after the report comes out,” Nicholson said.

The Center for American Progress has identified 10 senators and senators-elect who’ve said they want the Pentagon to complete the study before Congress acts on the military’s gay ban.

Among them are Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Jim Webb (D-Va.). The newly elected senators who, because of state election laws, are expected to take their seats during the lame duck session — Mark Kirk of Illinois and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have also made statements along those lines.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said there have been “no concrete changes yet” on the positions of the senators and senators-elect since the publication of the media reports on the Pentagon’s findings.

“Overall, I think it’s a positive to have the stories out there and now we need to see the report itself,” Sarvis said.

The Blade contacted all of those senators and senators-elect for comment. Only Webb’s office immediately responded. The Virginia senator has previously withheld support for repeal and said he wants to wait for the Pentagon survey results.

According to Webb’s office, the senator’s position hasn’t yet changed. Will Jenkins, a Webb spokesperson, said the senator “is awaiting the release of the final report so he can review the official survey result.”

But Nicholson said Webb’s support for repeal is of limited importance because the Virginia Democrat already voted in favor of cloture on the defense authorization when Senate leadership tried to move it to the floor in September.

“Webb voted for cloture, so it really doesn’t even matter,” Nicholson said. “If we can just get past that hurdle, we don’t need everybody on board for the motion to strike vote. So in theory, we don’t really need Webb.”

One open question is whether the results of the Pentagon working group report would prompt hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee and whether those hearings will prevent the Senate from moving forward with the defense authorization bill and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The Democratic aide said it’s “unknown” whether the report would prompt hearings in the committee, although such a scenario is possible.

“But McCain, for example, could try to force hearings … and [Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl] Levin could relent to McCain’s request,” the aide said.

Nicholson said he believes there will “definitely be a call for hearings” as a result of the Pentagon working group’s findings.

Lawmakers like McCain, Nicholson said, will want hearings to “tear the review apart” and “discredit everything they’ve done and just try to find ways to poke holes in the eventuality that’s coming.” Still, he said moderate senators would want hearings for different reasons.

“I would expect that they would also support hearings, but I think it remains to be seen whether or not they would let their desire for hearings obstruct moving forward on this right now,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson noted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language provides for a 60-day review period that is “supposed to be exactly for” congressional review, such as hearing testimony. The review period begins after President Obama, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for repeal.

Sarvis said the decision about whether to hold hearings is up to Levin and said he “may schedule hearings this year and next year.” Still, Sarvis said the hearings wouldn’t necessarily delay congressional action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I don’t know that the hearings would necessarily get in the way of floor consideration because committee hearings are usually held in the mornings, and the mornings in the Senate is not a time when the Senate usually is voting,” Sarvis said.

UPDATE: In a statement Friday, Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Gates is “very concerned and extremely disappointed” that Pentagon sources have leaked information about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” report and said he’s launching an investigation into the matter.

“The Secretary strongly condemns the unauthorized release of information related to this report and has directed an investigation to establish who communicated with the Washington Post or any other news organization without authorization and in violation of Department policy and his specific instruction,” Morrell said.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sketer Sanders

    November 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

    It appears to me that the only servicemenbers who would have problems with gay and lesbian servicemembers no longer having to hide their being gay are those die-hard religious fundamentalists whose anti-gay religious views trump their legal commitment to uphold the Constitution.

    In such cases, those fundamentalists would have to make a decision on whether or not to stay in the military. If their religious views trump their constitutional duty, then they must resign.

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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held virtually Dec. 2-3

Fauci, Levine, Pelosi to speak at opening session

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Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, is among speakers at this week’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health who became the nation’s highest-ranking transgender public official earlier this year, are among dozens of experts scheduled to participate in the 25th Annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place virtually Dec. 2-3.

Fauci and Levine were scheduled to join Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as speakers at the conference’s opening plenary session at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. 

Phillips and Levine were expected to provide information about President Joe Biden’s plans for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which Biden was scheduled to announce on Dec. 1 at a White House World AIDS Day event.

Members of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus were also expected to discuss the federal policy agenda on HIV/AIDS at the opening plenary session. 

In addition to the opening plenary and three other plenary sessions, one more on Thursday, Dec. 2, and two on Friday, Dec. 3, the conference was scheduled to include 140 workshop sessions on a wide variety of HIV/AIDS related topics.

The annual United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is organized by the D.C.-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC, which was formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council before it changed its name to that of its widely known initials NMAC. 

“NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America,” the organization states on its website. “Health equity with communities of color is everyone’s challenge.”

Several of the workshop sessions cover the topic of expanding the local, state, and national efforts of using pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs known as PrEP as a means of preventing HIV infection. 

Other workshop sessions include: HIV CURE – Hot Topics in HIV Cure Research; A Town Hall on Aging and HIV; COVID, HIV, and Racism – How Providers Can Make a Difference; Expanding the Pleasure and HIV Prevention Toolkit: Kink As Harm Reduction; It’s About Time – HIV Research Just For Transgender Women; and Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Prevention Services Among U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Funded Community Based Organizations.

The conference’s fourth and closing plenary session, Foundation Stones to Building the EHE Effort in Indian County, “will highlight the work of those addressing HIV and COVID in Indian Country, rural states and among Alaska Natives with limited infrastructure,” according to a conference agenda statement. 

“This plenary addresses these challenges and provides innovative solutions by the Indian Country – making the case to support Native HIV care by providing essential building blocks,” the agenda statement says. 

Paul Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, says in a statement in the conference’s agenda booklet that he and his NMAC team are disappointed that the 2021 conference is being held virtually for the second year in a row.

“But we felt the issue of safety was simply too critical to ignore,” Kawata said in his statement. “I’ve been very concerned about our loved ones over 50 living with HIV through the whole COVID pandemic,” he said, noting that people in that category were dealing with isolation as well as a higher risk for COVID.

“I hope this conference, even though it is virtual, will help alleviate some of that isolation,” Kawata said. “We’ve worked very hard to make this conference not just an opportunity for training and education, but a chance to connect with others, reinforce those strands in your support net, and hopefully, establish some new connections.”

More information about the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS and instructions on registering to attend can be obtained at nmac.org.

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N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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