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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House maintains that President Obama will provide the “full spectrum” of engagement in getting the military’s gay ban repealed once the Pentagon completes its report on the issue.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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Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

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(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “The same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

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The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Federal Government

FDA plans to lift ban on gay, bisexual sperm donors

Ban has been in place since 2005

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street JournalThe report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bisexual men.

The Wall Street Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed 20 years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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