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DOJ appeals lesbian Air Force officer’s reinstatement

But Witt able to resume service in U.S. military

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The Obama administration is appealing a federal district court’s decision to reinstate back into the U.S. Air Force a lesbian nurse who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal notice with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asking the appellate body to reconsider a decision by a Washington State district court to allow Maj. Margaret Witt back into the Air Force.

The three-page notice gives no explanation for why the Obama administration is appealing Witt v. Air Force and simply states that “notice is hereby given” that the Justice Department has made the filing.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that Witt, who was discharged in 2006 after serving in the Air Force for 19 years as a flight nurse, should be allowed back into the military.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement the administration filed the appeal as it “traditionally does when acts of Congress have been held unconstitutional,” but said this filing “in no way diminishes” President Obama’s commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislatively this year.

“Indeed, it clearly shows why Congress must act to end this misguided policy,” Gibbs added.

Gibbs said the president and administration officials “have been working with the Senate” to move forward during the lame duck session with passage of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.

But Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, blasted the Obama adminstration for appealing to a higher court the decision to reinstate Witt.

“Notwithstanding President Obama’s concession that the military’s current anti-gay policies are hurting national security, his administration is continuing to pursue the discharge of a decorated officer who did not ‘tell,’ who would not have even been investigated under the military’s current guidelines, and whose discharge has been found not to promote unit cohesion or morale,” Davidson said.

Davidson called the decision to appeal the district court’s ruling — in addition to not suspending discharges pending review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — a “significant failure on the part of our nation’s Commander in Chief.”

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, said he thinks the decision to appeal the Witt ruling is consistent with the Obama administration’s decision to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillip’s recent ruling that struck down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“So just as the government is appealing the substance of Judge Philip’s decision …, the government is appealing the substantive decision here as well,” NeJaime said.  “While disappointing, it is in some ways consistent with the appeal in Log Cabin Republicans.”

In a statement, Witt said she’s “thrilled” to be able to resume her service in the Air Force and said the people in her unit “are like family members.”

“Thousands of men and women who are gay and lesbian honorably serve this country in our military,” she said. “Many people forget that the U.S. military is the most diverse workforce in the world — we are extremely versed in adaptation.”

According to the ACLU of Washington, which represented Witt in the litigation, Witt will be the first openly gay person to serve in the military due to a court order.

NeJaime said he thinks the Obama administration’s decision not to seek a stay on Witt’s reinstatement as it appeals the case is the result of pressure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Given all the pressure on the administration in light of the failed attempts to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’], it seems appropriate that the government would not seek to prevent Major Witt’s service pending appeal,” NeJaime said.

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Virginia

Va. Senate committee kills six anti-transgender bills

Democrats control chamber by 22-18 margin

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed six anti-transgender bills.

The committee rejected state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. All three measures would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

The committee also killed state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, Reeves’ Senate Bill 1186 and Peake’s Senate Bill 962. The measures would have banned transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Equality Virginia in a tweet said committee members received more than 3,000 emails “in opposition” to the bills. The statewide advocacy group further noted 10 out of 12 anti-trans bills introduced during this year’s legislative session have been defeated.

“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up against these bills,” said Equality Virginia. “Virginia is remaining a better, more inclusive state because of your efforts.”

“The fight isn’t over,” added the advocacy group. “But we know Virginians will show up for trans youth, day after day.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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