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Gibbs unsure if ‘Don’t Ask’ report will influence military chiefs

White House spokesperson: Legislative action best way to end law

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he doesn't "want to presume" how the Pentagon "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" report will influence service chiefs.. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday said he’s unsure whether the results of the Pentagon study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will move the four service chiefs to support an end to the law as he suggested that unanimous support among the military leaders won’t be necessary for moving forward.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether President Obama anticipates that the service chiefs will favor repeal following the completion of the Pentagon report, Gibbs said he doesn’t “want to presume” where they would stand after the study is finished, noting the president hasn’t yet seen it.

“I think the service chiefs as I understand it are meeting with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary as we get closer to this report coming out in order to discuss where they are based on that survey,” Gibbs said. “The president has not yet seen that survey, so I don’t want to presume whether based on those results that would change their opinions on it.”

Pressed to clarify whether the intent of the year-long study was to bring the military leaders such as the service chiefs on board with repeal, Gibbs hinted that “whether you have unanimous agreement or not” among the military leaders isn’t necessary to move forward.

“The president has known where people have stood on this policy for as long as he’s supported changing that policy,” Gibbs said. “So, I think it will be important to again view the attitudes and to use those attitudes to craft a pathway to implementing a changed legislative policy.”

Gibbs also implied that the president hasn’t recently spoken to the service chiefs about getting them to support repeal during the lame duck session of Congress as he noted Obama had previously spoken to them on this issue.

“I know the president has spoken previously with the service chiefs on this subject and expect that as this report is finalized and released that he’ll have an opportunity to speak directly with the chair, the vice-chair and the service chiefs as the process moves forward,” Gibbs said.

Obama has said — notably in January during the State of the Union address — that part of his effort in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is working with the military to make it happen. The Pentagon working group, established by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in February, was seen as part of this process.

The service chiefs have heretofore been against the legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In May, the service chiefs of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps sent a joint letter to Congress urging lawmakers to wait for the Pentagon report — now set for release on Nov. 30 — before taking action.

But in an interview Saturday with the National Journal, Navy Chief of Staff. Adm. Gary Roughead reportedly praised the Pentagon report — and the surveys sent to 400,000 service members that were a component of that study — and said he’s “just trying to put it all in context.”

“I think the survey, without question, was the most expansive survey of the American military that’s ever been undertaken,” Roughead was quoted as saying. “I think the work that has been done is extraordinary.”

The Navy chief reportedly added that he’s “eager to see” where repeal “goes on the Hill.”

The last public statements of the Army and Air Force chiefs have them on the record as wanting to Congress to hold off before pursuing legislative action. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos last month took on the mantle as head of his service, and he has spoken out against repeal.

A number of U.S. senators have said they’re awaiting testimony from military service chiefs before making a decision on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In his defense of the law, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has emphasized that the service chiefs — in particular Amos — have asked Congress to hold off on legislative action. A spokesperson for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has recently said the senator is awaiting testimony from the service chiefs before making a decision on the issue.

Also during the news conference, Gibbs counted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal among the legislative items that Obama wants to see happen during the lame duck session of Congress and argued that legislative action is better than having the courts overturn the law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has committed to a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the year’s end.

“There are issues around ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ that the president and, I think, many people believe are best dealt with through the legislative process and not through a legal system,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs maintained that overturning the gay ban through court order is “not likely to provide the Pentagon and others with a pathway” for implementing repeal and said “doing this legislatively” is the best way to end the law.

—————————-

A partial transcript of Gibbs’ remarks on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” follows:

Robert Gibbs [on the legislative agenda for lame duck]: … There are issues around “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that the president and, I think, many people believe are best dealt with through the legislative process and not through a legal system. …

National Public Radio: Has the president asked the Pentagon has the Pentagon to hurry up to Nov. 30 the report — it’s internal report —

Gibbs: I think the original date was Dec. 1. Obviously, the report is being released a day or so early in order to have some informed hearings on the survey and its results. I think those, hearings, if I’m not mistaken, start on the 1st.

But I think it’s important if you look at what others have said particularly — take for instance Secretary Gates — we know we can do this legislatively. The House has done this; the Senate can do this — do this legislatively, which provides an avenue to implement the policy. The court doing this is not likely to provide the Pentagon and others with a pathway for doing this, and I think in order to do this in a way that the president want to see that doing this legislatively is the best way to do this. …

Washington Blade: Robert, back on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the service chief of the Navy recently praised the Pentagon report and said he’s eager to see what happens with the Hill with regard to repeal. But the remaining three service chiefs — they’re all on the record as saying they want to wait for the report to come out before Congress takes action. Does the president that once the report comes out, the service chiefs will be on board in favor of repeal?

Robert Gibbs: I don’t — I think the service chiefs as I understand it are meeting with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary as we get closer to this report coming out in order to discuss where they are based on that survey. The president has not yet seen that survey, so I don’t want to presume whether based on those results that would change their opinions on it. I think it’s best not to get too far down the road on commenting on that until we chance to personally see the substance.

Blade: But wasn’t that the purpose of the study, though? You’ve said the president has supported repeal since you’ve known him, and the president has said he wants to work with military leaders — in the State of the Union address — he said he wants to work with military leaders to get them on board with repeal. So, what the point of this report if not to get those service chiefs on [board]?

Gibbs: I’m not saying they won’t. I’m just saying — I think the original question you asked me is would that report change their mind. I haven’t seen the report, and the president hasn’t seen that report and neither of us have had an opportunity to talk with the chiefs. That’s not to say that it won’t; that’s not to say that — and quite frankly, that’s not to say whether or not — whether you have unanimous agreement or not that the policy — look, the president is going where people have stood on this policy for as long as he supported changing that policy. So, I think it will be important to again view the attitudes and to use those attitudes to craft a pathway to implementing a changed legislative policy.

That’s what the president has advocated through this process. Again, I can’t — we may have a better sense of that when we get an opportunity to talk to those who have seen the report and get a chance to look at that report ourselves.

Blade: Has the president had conversations directly with the service chiefs to get them in favor of legislative repeal during the lame duck session of Congress?

Gibbs: I know the president has spoken previously with the service chiefs on this subject and expect that as this report is finalized and released that he’ll have an opportunity to speak directly with the chair, the vice-chair and the service chiefs as the process moves forward.

Watch a video of the exchange here (via Think Progress):

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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