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Murphy: Obama will ramp up efforts after ‘Don’t Ask’ report

Pa. lawmaker says repeal can happen this year

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Rep. Patrick Murphy (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The champion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House maintains that President Obama will provide the “full spectrum” of engagement in getting the military’s gay ban repealed once the Pentagon completes its report on the issue.

In an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) said Obama has been engaged in moving Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that this effort will expand once the Pentagon working group report — due Dec. 1 — is complete.

“I think there are different levels of engagement and, I think, once the report comes out, I think we’ll see the full spectrum of that engagement,” Murphy said.

The first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress said he expects this “full spectrum of engagement” to come from not only the White House, but also the president’s “own Department of Defense.”

Murphy said he hasn’t seen a draft copy of the report, but noted media reports indicating that the study will be favorable to open service in the U.S. military. He said the study should have a positive impact on senators who’ve said they wanted to wait for the report before endorsing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The study group came back and said that this will not hurt national security, and the troops, like most Americans, see that it’s the right thing to do,” Murphy said. “And so, now we need the senators over there who’ve been a roadblock to put the political games aside and do what’s right for our country.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of repeal legislation in the Senate, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a letter to the Pentagon on Monday calling for the report to be made available to members of Congress as soon as possible. The Human Rights Campaign issued a similar statement last week.

Asked whether he similarly thinks the report should be available now, Murphy replied, “I think they should release it as soon as it’s completely done.”

Murphy said he’s participated in discussions with Senate leadership and Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) about moving forward with the fiscal year 2011 defense budget bill, which currently contains “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Still, the Pennsylvania lawmaker didn’t offer details on the discussions and characterized them only as “productive.”

Amid reports that talks are taking place to potentially strip the defense authorization bill of its repeal language, Murphy said Republicans have sought a bill without the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision.

“I think that’s what the Republicans would like to see,” Murphy said. “But I think those of us in the House and 78 percent of the American people and those in the military currently serving want to see the Senate do what’s right and repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and put it on the president’s desk, so he can sign it into law.”

With limited time remaining this Congress, it’s possible lawmakers won’t repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year, leaving Obama to come up with another game plan — perhaps non-congressional action such as a stop-loss order — to put an end to the gay ban.

But Murphy was reluctant to call on Obama to issue a stop-loss order to end discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and maintained Congress can still repeal the law this year.

“Let’s cross that bridge when we get there,” he said. “Now it’s still in the Congress’ domain to act and especially, specifically, the Senate’s domain.”

While seeing a path forward this year, Murphy doubts that Republican leadership in the 112th Congress will be willing to consider “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as part of its agenda.

Asked whether he thinks GOP leaders in the next Congress would be willing to address the issue, Murphy replied simply, “N0.”

During his time in Congress, Murphy has been seen as a leader for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because of his work moving a measure that would end the ban through the U.S. House.

Murphy took up sponsorship of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation last year, which at the time had about 150 co-sponsors, and gradually built support for the measure.

In May, the work paid off when Murphy submitted a repeal amendment to the House floor that passed by a vote of 234-194.

The work earned Murphy considerable support among the LGBT community in his bid for re-election. Still, he didn’t survive the Republican tide on Election Day and was defeated by his GOP opponent, Mike Fitzpatrick.

But Murphy said he isn’t going to “second guess” whether his leadership on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal contributed to his loss on Election Day.

“My dad taught me that if you don’t stand for something, you fall for anything,” Murphy said. “And I was proud to stand for equality and for the troops and for national security, and I’ll continue to do so until I turn the keys over to this office on Jan. 3.”

Even with his loss, Murphy said he stands by other tough votes in his district, such his “yes” votes on the $787 billion stimulus package and health care reform.

“We stopped the worst recession from turning into a depression,” Murphy said. “As far as health care, there are millions of Americans that will now be covered, and that’s something that’s positive.”

And what’s on Murphy’s docket once his term is complete at the end of the year?

“I’m going to hug and kiss my kids and hopefully I’ll catch an Eagles game,” Murphy said. “That’s the game plan.”

The transcript of the Murphy interview follows:

ON ELECTION RESULTS

Washington Blade: What’s your take on the election results on Nov. 2? Do you think that your leadership on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal contributed to your loss on Election Day?

Rep. Patrick Murphy: You know, I’m not going to second guess anything. My dad taught me that if you don’t stand for something, you fall for anything. And I was proud to stand for equality and for the troops and for national security, and I’ll continue to do so until I turn the keys over to this office on Jan. 3.

Blade: Why do you think you think you lost on Election Day?

Murphy: I think it was a tough year for Democrats, and I think my opponent ran a great campaign, and I’m proud of the support that we had, but it was an historic wave that we got caught up in, but … we’re going to continue to stand for middle-class families and for our country and do what’s right.

Blade: Is there anything over your past two terms in Congress that you regret? Anything that you think you could have done differently to win re-election?

Murphy: You know, I don’t live my life with regrets. There’s things here and there. I wish I would have played the lottery numbers differently on Saturday night. … We had an incredible time serving the families of my district and our country, and we helped protect 3,000 jobs, we helped end the war in Iraq, we helped move our country in a new direction. …

Blade: So the vote for the stimulus package, the vote for the health care bill — you stand by them today?

Murphy: Absolutely.

We stopped the worst recession since the Great — we stopped the worst recession from turning into a depression. As far as health care, there are millions of Americans that will now be covered, and that’s something that’s positive.

ON ‘DON’T ASK’ REPEAL IN LAME DUCK

Blade: How confident are you that Congress is going to be able to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the lame duck session?

Murphy: Well, we need the Senate to act. It’s in the Senate’s hands. We did our job over here in the House. I was proud to lead that effort and now we’re continuing to put the appropriate pressure on the Senate to do what’s right for national security.

We’re still in Afghanistan and Iraq and we cannot be forcing honorable men and women who are willing to take a bullet to keep our families safe to be thrown out just because they happen to be gay.

Blade: Are there any conditions that you think need to be met — anything that you think needs to happen — to muster enough support for the Senate to move forward?

Murphy: I think we’ll see — we need the senators, especially on the Republican side, to do what’s right for our troops, and I think it couldn’t be more clear. A lot of them said, “Well, let’s see what the study group says.” Well, the study group came back and said that this will not hurt national security, and the troops, like most Americans, see that it’s the right thing to do.

And so, now we need the senators over there who’ve been a roadblock to put the political games aside and do what’s right for our country.

Blade: Have you had conversations with Senate leadership or Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin about moving forward with the defense authorization bill in lame duck?

Murphy: Yes.

Blade: How would you characterize those conversations?

Murphy: Productive.

Blade: What made them so productive?

Murphy: You’ll see.

Blade: How serious do you think this talk is of moving forward with the defense authorization bill with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language stripped? Is that a serious option that’s on the table?

Murphy: I think that’s what the Republicans would like to see. But I think those of us in the House and 78 percent of the American people and those in the military currently serving want to see the Senate do what’s right and repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and put it on the president’s desk, so he can sign it into law.

Blade: You mentioned the media reports on the Pentagon study. Do you see that having an impact right now on influencing some senators who were on the fence in getting them to support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal?

Murphy: I hope so because they looked their constituents and the American public in the eye and said, “As soon as this working group comes back, we’ll do the right thing on what it says.” Well, the report came out, it shows how the American military feels that this is a non-issue and that there is … 26 other countries who allow their members to serve openly, and for the American troops, it’s offensive to them to think that they’re not as professional as 26 other countries.

So, hopefully, our senators recognize that and will do what’s right.

Blade: Have you seen the draft report?

Murphy: No.

Blade: Should the Pentagon release the report immediately — the official report? And, if they do that, what kind of impact do you think that would have on getting the ball rolling?

Murphy: I would like to read it, and I would like to see it, and I look forward to reading it.

Blade: But should they release that report immediately?

Murphy: I think they should release it as soon as it’s completely done.

ON THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Blade: Do you think President Obama has been engaged in getting the Senate to move forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in lame duck?

Murphy: Um, uh, yes.

Blade: What evidence do you see of him doing that?

Murphy:  Well, I think there’s different levels of engagement and, I think, once the report comes out, I think we’ll see the full spectrum of that engagement.

Blade: During a recent press conference, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn’t identify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as among the legislative items the president wants to see in lame duck. Is that of concern to you?

Murphy: I think they were waiting for the report to come out. The report is days away from coming out officially — and not just excerpts of it that we’ve all read.

Blade: Is there anything more right now that the president could be doing to get the Senate to move forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal?

Murphy: I think once the report comes out we’ll see the full spectrum of engagement from — and the appropriate amount of engagement from the White House once that report comes out from his own Department of Defense.

Blade: Do you think Defense Secretary Robert Gates right now is being engaged in getting the Senate to move forward with the defense authorization with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal?

Murphy: I look forward to Gen. [Carter] Ham’s testimony on Thursday.

Blade: But do you think Secretary Gates is engaged?

Murphy: I look forward to Gen. Ham’s testimony on Thursday.

Blade: Do you think that this process — having a year-long study to examine “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — was the appropriate way to address the issue? Do you think it jeopardized legislative efforts for repeal by leaving only a small window open for action in lame duck?

Murphy: Well, I think the premise behind the study was that — how we’re going to implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [repeal], not if we’re going to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” So, I think it’s interesting — to read that report and how we’re going to implement it.

But the reality of this is I think that we have time to act. We all serve until Jan. 3, and we need to get out there.

Blade: There’s also been some action in courts. A California federal court ruled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional, and for eight days, had an injunction in place preventing enforcement of the law. Do you think it was a mistake for the Obama administration to appeal this ruling?

Murphy: Well, you know, it’s interesting. I actually met a soldier who went and enlisted after that injunction came out. And then, … he was going to get his physical and they had to withdraw.

I think that’s why it’s very clear that Congress needs to do its job and that we can’t punt this to the courts or to the White House. We need to get after it and finally repeal the law that Congress put into place 16 years ago. …

Blade: In the event that Congress doesn’t repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in lame duck, do you think the president should issue a stop-loss order to stop the discharges?

Murphy: Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. Now it’s still in the Congress’ domain to act and especially, specifically, the Senate’s domain.

ON THE NEXT CONGRESS

Blade: In the event that Congress can’t do it this year —

Murphy: Congress can do it this year. We all serve until Jan. 3.

Blade: Do you think the 112th Congress will be in an equal position to appeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compared to the 111th Congress?

Murphy: I guess time will tell. We’ll see.

Blade: Do you think Republican leadership in the House will be willing to consider “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal?

Murphy: No.

Blade: If this fight continues, can you recommend someone in the 112th Congress who can take up the mantle of “Don’t Ask, Don’t  Tell” repeal in the U.S. House?

Murphy: Let’s get it done in the 111th Congress now. …

ON HIS PERSONAL FUTURE

Blade: Once your term expires, what do you plan to pursue when you go back to Pennsylvania?

Murphy: I’m going to hug and kiss my kids and hopefully I’ll catch an Eagles game. That’s the game plan.

Blade: Is there an occupation that you intend to pursue?

Murphy: We’ll see.

Blade: Do you plan on continuing to be an advocate for open service in the military?

Murphy: I continue to plan on serving my country in some capacity and fighting for the lives that I believe in to make our country even greater.

Blade: And open service in the military is among them?

Murphy: Yes.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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