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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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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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National

Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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