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BREAKING: Reid commits to ‘Don’t Ask’ vote in lame duck

Legislation to come to floor after Thanksgiving

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Sen. Harry Reid (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday announced his commitment to bring legislation to the Senate floor containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

“During the work period following the Thanksgiving holidays, I will bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, including a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Reid said in a statement. “Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces.  We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”

In another statement on Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he welcomes the news from Reid.

“I will work hard to overcome the filibuster so that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is repealed and the [defense authorization bill]  — which is critical to our national security and the well-being of our troops — is adopted,” Levin said.

Levin added he has asked Reid to hold off on the motion to proceed with the bill until December after the Pentagon working group has a chance to complete its study on implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I have asked Senator Reid to make his motion to bring up the matter after my committee and the public have received the defense department’s report and following the hearings that I plan to hold on the matter, which should take place during the first few days of December,” Levin said.

Earlier in the evening, advocacy groups working on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Center for American Progress — issued a joint statement saying they had met with Obama administration officials and Reid staffers on Wednesday evening and received the same commitment about the vote.

“The officials told the groups that Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama are committed to moving forward on repeal by bringing the National Defense Authorization Act — the bill to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is attached — to the floor in the lame duck session after the Thanksgiving recess,” the statement said.

Additionally, the statement says Reid and Obama are opposed to moving forward with the defense authorization bill without the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision. Media reports have circulated that Levin has been in conversations with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about stripping the defense authorization bill of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language.

According to statements from both the advocacy groups and the White House, among those present at the meeting were Jim Messina, deputy White House chief of staff; Phil Schiliro; Brian Bond, the LGBT liaison for the White House; and David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in the statement that the president had previously conveyed the importance of moving forward with the defense authorization bill in a message to Reid.

Details about the procedural conditions for the vote and when it would be scheduled limited on Wednesday evening. The statement from the advocacy groups said Reid’s office would announce these details later.

Unlike in September, when the Senate earlier tried to move forward with the defense authorization bill but failed to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, Senate leadership isn’t planning to amend the legislation the next time around with the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill.

Reid has said the legislation will come up as a standalone bill before the Senate at another time during the lame duck session.

The news about the vote comes after the White House issued a statement earlier in the day saying Obama restated his commitment to keeping “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the defense authorization bill in a phone call Wednesday with Levin.

“Today, President Obama called Chairman Levin to reiterate his commitment on keeping the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the National Defense Authorization Act, and the need for the Senate to pass this legislation during the lame duck,” Inouye said in the statement.

In the statement, Inouye added that this conversation with Levin follows “outreach” the president in which the president has engaged with both Democratic and Republican senators on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“The President’s call follows the outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of Senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue,” Inouye said.

In a follow-up statement to the Blade, Inouye said he couldn’t characterize this outreach any further.

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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Oklahoma

Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight

Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8

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Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on Feb. 7, 2024. (Family photo)

Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death. 

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth. 

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.

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