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McCain: More hearings before ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Senator says study should assess repeal’s impact on battle effectiveness

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U.S. Sen. John McCain (Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen John McCain (R-Ariz) on Sunday said congressional hearings are necessary on an upcoming Pentagon report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before Congress moves forward to lift the military’s gay ban.

The Arizona senator also blasted the study — which reportedly will be favorable to open service — for focusing on how to implement an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as opposed to the impact repeal will have on battle effectiveness.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McCain said he doesn’t think lawmakers should repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before adjourning for the year and maintained hearings should come first.

Asked by host David Gregory whether it’s fair to stay to ban won’t be lifted in lame duck, McCain replied, “I don’t think it should be because I think once the study comes out in the beginning of December, we should at least have a chance to review it and maybe have hearings on it.”

With the 2010 election bringing a Republican takeover of the U.S. House and a reduced Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, waiting for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until next year is expected to make the task significantly more difficult — if not unattainable.

The Arizona senator reiterated that the scope of the Pentagon working group — developing a plan to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — isn’t what’s necessary to examine the issue properly.

“I wanted a study to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale,” McCain said. “What this study is designed to do is to find out how the repeal could be implemented. Those are two very different aspects of this issue.”

McCain emphasized that the four military service chiefs have expressed reservations about lifting the military’s gay ban before a comprehensive study is complete. Last week, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said now isn’t the time for Congress to enact repeal.

“I respect and admire these four service chiefs who have expressed either outright opposition or deep reservation about the repeal,” McCain said. “They’re the ones who are in charge.”

During a recent trip to Afghanistan, McCain said an Army master sergeant expressed concerns to him about lifting the military’s gay ban.

“I was in an outpost in Kandahar,” McCain said. “An Army master sergeant — 19 years in, fifth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan — says to me, ‘Sen. McCain we live eat, sleep and fight together in close proximity. I’m concerned about the repeal. I’d like to know more about it.’ That’s the view that I’ve got from chief petty officers and sergeants all over Afghanistan.”

Media reports have said the Pentagon report will reveal that more than 70 percent of U.S. service members don’t care if gays serve openly in the armed forces, but McCain dismissed this reporting.

“I have not seen that study, and this study was directed at how to implement the repeal, not whether the repeal should take place or not,” McCain said.

In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, lambasted McCain for the senator’s positions “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Pentagon study.

“Obviously the senator doesn’t like the preliminary findings of the Pentagon’s [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] survey, which found a clear majority of U.S. service members are okay serving with their gay and lesbian comrades,” Solmonese said. “The senator has known all along the study developed by the Pentagon Working Group was looking at how to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] — not whether to do so.”

Solmonese noted that McCain previously said he wanted to hear from military leadership on the issue, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said he favors open service.

Then the senator said he wanted to hear from rank-and-file troops, and, according to media reports on the Pentagon report, they say they’re OK with gays serving openly as well.

“The truth is McCain is increasingly alone in his irrational opposition to open service,” Solmonese said. “Sixty-four percent of Republicans disagree with McCain and favor lifting the ban. No matter the evidence, McCain will use whatever tactics at his disposal to not only stop repeal from moving forward, but will hold hostage the most critical military defense bill to do so.”

Also during McCain’s “Meet the Press” appearance, the positions on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among members of the senator’s own family also came up.

Last week, Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, appeared in a NOH8 campaign ad and denounced how current laws mean gays “can’t serve our country openly.” In a later Twitter posting, she clarified she supports the NOH8 campaign but also stands by her husband’s position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In response, McCain maintained his position that a study on the effects of repeal on battle effectiveness and repeal is necessary before moving forward.

“By the way, I respect the First Amendment rights of every member of my family,” McCain added.

Watch a video of McCain’s remarks here:

The transcript of the exchange between Gregory and McCain follows:

Gregory: Are you going to stand in the way — you personally — in the way of this ban being lifted?

McCain: I will stand that I want a thorough and complete study of the effect on morale and battle effectiveness of the United States military. I will listen — as I’ve said for years — to our military leaders and not a study that is leaked as we know…

Gregory: …that said seven in ten members of the military think it would be just fine to have it lifted.

McCain: I have not seen that study, and this study was directed at how to implement the repeal, not whether the repeal should take place or not.

But very importantly, we have people like the commandant of the Marine Corps, the three other — all four service chiefs are saying  we need a thorough and complete study of the effects — not how to implement a repeal — but the effects on morale and battle effectiveness. That’s what I want, and once we get this study, we need to have hearings and we need to examine it, and we need to look at whether it’s the kind of study that we wanted.

It isn’t in my view because I wanted a study to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale. What this study is designed to do is to find out how the repeal could be implemented. Those are two very different aspects of this issue.

Gregory: In a lot of households, this is a subject of debate, including your own apparently. Your wife, Cindy McCain, has put up an ad, a public service announcement with NOH8, a group that promotes lesbian, gay and transgender rights, and this is portion of it.

[Plays clip with Cindy McCain saying gays “can’t serve our country openly.”]

Gregory: …referring to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She did clarify this on her Twitter page. You’re both so active on Twitter. She said this. She said, “I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

McCain: …which is, a complete and thorough study and review of the effect on battle readiness and morale, and by the way, I respect the First Amendment rights of every member of my family.

Gregory: But, you know, what’s interesting about this, I mean, a debate in family, is there is kind of — you talk about waiting for the study — there is an appeal to honor, I mean, to your honor. You have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, ‘Look, it’s just not right to have people lying about who they are just to be able to protect fellow citizens.”

McCain: You have the commandant of the Marine Corps who says — whose people he’s directly responsible for — is saying this could hurt our ability to win.

Gregory: Do you believe that?

McCain: I’m paying attention to the commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m paying attention to the chief of staff of the Air Force.

Gregory: You’re so close to the military, senator. You know these people. You know the issue. Do you have a sense of it in your gut about what should happen?

McCain: I have a sense that I respect and admire these four service chiefs who have expressed either outright opposition or deep reservation about the repeal. They’re the ones who are in charge. Now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I agree, the president and the secretary of defense, have all come out for repeal.

But I really would — I was in an outpost in Kandahar. An Army master sergeant — 19 years in, fifth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan — says to me, “Sen. McCain we live eat, sleep and fight together in close proximity. I’m concerned about the repeal. I’d like to know more about it.”

That’s the view that I’ve got from chief petty officers and sergeants all over Afghanistan.

Gregory: The ban’s not going to be lifted in the lame duck session. Is that fair to say?

McCain: I think that we should at least — I don’t think it should be because I think once the study comes out in the beginning of December, we should at least have a chance to review it and maybe have hearings on it.

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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