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Pentagon official: No ‘Don’t Ask’ report before Dec. 1

Senate panel questions Gen. Ham on study

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A co-chair of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” working group has said he doesn’t think an upcoming report on implementing repeal will be complete before the Dec. 1 deadline — despite requests from lawmakers and LGBT advocates to make the study available earlier.

Army Gen. Carter Ham, one of two co-chairs leading the Defense Department working group, made the remarks during his confirmation hearing on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The four-star general has been nominated to become commander of U.S. Africa Command.

During the hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted Ham said prior to his testimony he wasn’t authorized to discuss the content of the report at this time. The committee chair reiterated his commitment to hold hearings and hear testimony from Ham shortly after the working group provides the report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Still, Levin said he had questions about the timing of the report and asked whether the Pentagon working group, which Ham co-chairs along with Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, would be finished with its study before the Dec. 1 deadline.

Ham replied that he thinks “it will take until the first of December” for the Pentagon working group to complete its work because those crafting the report are still awaiting input from the military service secretaries and service chiefs.

“The key factor remaining for us in the review group is to receive the review and comment by the service chiefs and service secretaries, which is ongoing,” Ham said. “We anticipate their comments soon, Mr. Johnson and I will review those comments, make final adjustments to the report, which is currently in draft form and then deliver to the secretary of defense on 1 December.”

Asked by Levin whether the group could make “every effort” to make the report available before Dec. 1, Ham replied, “Yes sir, in consultation with the secretary’s office.”

On Monday, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a letter to the Pentagon asking for the release of the report “as soon as possible.” The Human Rights Campaign issued a similar statement on the report last week and argued that an early release of the report could influence fence-sitting senators who have yet to endorse “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Also during the hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and critic of the Pentagon report, asked questions suggesting the survey that was conducted as part of the working group’s efforts was biased in favor of repeal.

Over the summer, the Pentagon sent out 400,000 surveys to active duty service members to solicit their views on serving alongside openly gay troops in the U.S. military. According to a recent media report in the Washington Post, the survey found that more than 70 percent of respondents think the effect of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be positive, mixed or nonexistent.

McCain asked whether 400,000 surveys were indeed sent out, which Ham confirmed, and then asked how many responses were received. Ham said the Pentagon group received a little more than 115,000 responses.

“Like 25 percent?” McCain continued, suggesting that the response rate was too low to consider the data valid.

But Ham corrected the Arizona senator and said the received responses made up 28 percent of the surveys sent out.

McCain also asked questions about the wording of the survey and suggested bias in favor of repeal was present here as well.

“Isn’t it true that the survey said in a preamble — said DOD is considering changes to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that quote ‘would allow gay and lesbian service members to serve in the military without risk of separation because of their sexual orientation,'” McCain said. “Is that true?”

Ham confirmed that this wording was indeed part of the preamble for the survey.

The content of recent media reports about the upcoming report was also discussed during the hearing. Lieberman asked whether the information revealed by the leaks was “just one part” of what the Pentagon group intended to do and inquired about other information that would emerge.

Ham responded by outlining the terms of reference for the report and said there were “two tasks.” One was to assess the impact of repeal on concerns such as battle effectiveness and recruitment, and the other was to develop a plan to implement an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The general noted the working group obtained information from service members through surveys, focus groups, an online inbox and town hall meetings. To obtain to views of gay service memebers currently in the armed forces without outing them under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ham said the working group established a “confidential conversation mechanism” through a third-party company.

“All in all, senator, we believe this is probably, as far as I could tell, the most comprehensive assessment of a personnel policy matter that the Department of Defense has conducted,” Ham concluded.

Lieberman said he agrees that the report is “very comprehensive” and “should inform the decision that Congress makes in voting.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who in May opposed a repeal amendment in committee, also praised the report during the hearing and emphasized it should guide congressional action on the issue.

“I think it’s important, if I may, to quote from what Sen. Lieberman just said,” Webb said. “He said this study ‘should inform the decision that the Congress makes in voting.’ We tend to forget that in our political haste here. This is a very important study for us, not simply to receive, but to examine and to discuss.”

A former Navy secretary, Webb noted he spent five years at the Pentagon and said he “can’t remember a study on this type of issue that has been done with this sort of care.”

“Not even having seen it or knowing the results, but I know the preparation that went into it,” Webb said. “So it’s going to be a very important study for us to look at and examine.”

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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