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GOP senators push back on ‘Don’t Ask’ report

McCain criticizes questions, response rate of survey

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Sens. John McCain and Jim Inhofe were critical of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” report during the hearing (Blade photo by Michael Key).

Republican senators during a hearing on Thursday attempted to undermine a recently released Pentagon report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by questioning the study’s conclusions and methodology.

The GOP senators raised their concerns and criticism during a hearing that marked the first day of two days of scheduled testimony on the Pentagon working group’s report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was made public earlier this week by the Defense Department.

Pentagon leaders — as well as LGBT advocates — in turn rebuked or attempted to alleviate these concerns from Republican senators.

Testimony came from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen as well as both co-chairs of the Pentagon working group report: Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe.

The witnesses endorsed the Pentagon report and its findings pave a way for the Defense Department to institute a end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if Congress repeals the statute. The defense officials urged senators to take action to repeal the law.

In his opening statement, Mullen said the Pentagon report backs his earlier testimony from February in which he said he personally believes gays should serve openly in the U.S. military.

“I am convinced that repeal of the law governing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the right thing to do,” Mullen said. “Back in February, when I testified to this sentiment, I also said that I believed the men and women of the armed forces could accomodate such a change. But I did not know it for a fact. Now, I do.”

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the Senate, attempted to poke holes in the report during the hearing.

One of the Arizona senator’s main concerns was that the surveys sent out to 400,000 service members as part of the report — which were returned by about 115,000 respondents — didn’t ask troops whether they favored a change in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and instead focused on an implementation of repeal.

“What I want to know and what it is that Congress is going to be determining is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed,” McCain said. “Unfortunately, that key issue was not the focus of the study.”

McCain also argued that the limited number of troops who responded to the survey — around 28 percent — brings the results into question.

“That’s almost six percent of the force at large,” McCain said. “I find it hard to view that that is a fully representative sample set.”

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) also expressed concerns about the return rate on the surveys and recalled troops’ reaction in May when Congress had taken the initial steps to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the questionnaire was distributed.

“Halfway through the process when we took certain actions, they felt it was a done deal and as a result they didn’t participate in the survey,” Brown said. “Twenty-eight percent does not seem like a high number of participation.”

But Ham said the 28 percent response rate is well within the norm for previous surveys for military personnel.

“I’m comfortable that the response rate overall is within norms and probably more importantly, senator, that each category that can be analyzed has a statistically significant number of responses,” Ham said.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, later rebuked the McCain’s point that service members should be polled on whether they want to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“That would be a dangerous precedent to set irrespective of how you feel about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Sarvis said. “That has never been done on any major personnel policy initiative that the military has undertaken. Never.”

Sarvis also pushed back on claims that 28 percent response rate on the survey was insufficient as he maintained the number represented “an extraordinary response rate.”

“As a matter of fact, I think … most pollsters would gratified by such a response,” Sarvis said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said during her questioning that although the direct question isn’t directly asked, the survey does have information on whether troops would support a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Given the extensive feedback that the authors of the report and the task force did and that they received from tens of thousands of service members in the forms of survey responses, e-mails, and town hall meetings, the report, in fact, does convey a sense of what service members think about repeal of the law, even if a direct question was not included in the survey,” Collins said.

The Maine senator voted for a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal amendment when it before the committee in May, but angered many LGBT advocates in September when she voted with the Republican caucus to prevent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation from coming to the Senate floor over what she said was a lack of a fair amendment process.

While attacking the methodology of the report, McCain also used information in the study in his effort to derail legislative efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The Arizona senator noted the survey accompanying the report found that between 40 to 60 percent of service members serving in the Marine Corps as well as combat arms specialties predicted a negative impact of repeal.

“I remain concerned as I have in the past — and is demonstrated in this study — that the closer we get to service members in combat, the more we encounter concerns about whether ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ should be repealed and what impact that would have on the ability of these units to perform their mission,” McCain said.

During the hearing, Gates predicted this opposition could be overcome. The defense secretary said with “proper time for preparation, for training” concerns among these groups would be mitigated.

For the example of Marines in combat arms specialties, Gates noted that many of these service members are under 25 years old.

“Most of them have never served with women either, and so they’ve had a very focused, very limited experience in the military … but I think that with time and adequate preparation, we can mitigate their concerns,” Gates said.

McCain also noted that 12.6 percent of survey responders — which he said translates into 264,600 service members — said they’d leave the U.S. military sooner than they had planned if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.

Sen. James  Inhofe (R-Okla.) also expressed concerns about the effect of lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on what he said is historic levels of retention in the U.S. military as he said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Right now, we have probably the best retention and recruitment percentages, over 100 percent, in everywhere except, I think, just the Army guard, and there’s other reasons for that,” Inhofe said. “There is some concern to me about how this would affect that.”

Gates said the experience of foreign militaries who have lifted their gay ban has been that number of people who actually quite the force was “far smaller” than those who threatened to leave.

“As far as the force as a whole, I don’t think any of us expect that the numbers would be anything like what the survey suggests,” Gates said.

Gates also noted the service members couldn’t immediately leave the armed services because they’re contractually obligated to continue to duration of their service.

At the start of the hearing, when Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said each committee member would have five minutes for questioning, McCain objected and said if only that time was allowed, another hearing would be necessary.

Gates said he could extend the time he could testify before the committee for another half-hour, and Levin extended the questioning time for senator to six minutes each.

Notably, after complaining that five minutes wasn’t enough time to question Gates, McCain used some of his time to question Pentagon leaders about the impact of the leaked information regarding U.S. foreign policy on Wikileaks.

Some of the strongest support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the hearing came from conservative Democrats who are known for often riling their party’s base, including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

“To me, the issue seems to be not whether to allow gays to serve in the military, but whether to allow them to serve openly,” Nelson said. “Permitting them to serve, but not openly, undermines the basic values of the military: honesty, integrity and trust. When that’s undermined anywhere, it’s undermined everywhere.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has heretofore opposed repeal efforts, praised the report and disputed assertations from Republicans that the study and survey wasn’t useful as a guide to repeal.

“It’s a 345-page report, 115,000 respondents, and, most importantly, this was done without politicizing men and women in uniform, which is vitally important in our society,” Webb said. “I would like to say that this report is probably the most crucial piece of information that we have in terms of really, objectively moving forward in order to address the law.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. lincy4president

    December 3, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    A survey that returns only 28% of the surveyed sample, and only amounts for 6% of the total population should never be taken seriously. The likelihood of response bias alone should discredit the survey and require an alternative process in order to gain legitimate data. This is made more important because of the fact that the issue at hand is a moral and emotional topic at its core. the low response rate is not likely due to a general apathy about the topic, but a widespread disgust at what the survey implies.

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National

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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U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held virtually Dec. 2-3

Fauci, Levine, Pelosi to speak at opening session

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Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, is among speakers at this week’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health who became the nation’s highest-ranking transgender public official earlier this year, are among dozens of experts scheduled to participate in the 25th Annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place virtually Dec. 2-3.

Fauci and Levine were scheduled to join Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as speakers at the conference’s opening plenary session at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. 

Phillips and Levine were expected to provide information about President Joe Biden’s plans for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which Biden was scheduled to announce on Dec. 1 at a White House World AIDS Day event.

Members of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus were also expected to discuss the federal policy agenda on HIV/AIDS at the opening plenary session. 

In addition to the opening plenary and three other plenary sessions, one more on Thursday, Dec. 2, and two on Friday, Dec. 3, the conference was scheduled to include 140 workshop sessions on a wide variety of HIV/AIDS related topics.

The annual United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is organized by the D.C.-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC, which was formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council before it changed its name to that of its widely known initials NMAC. 

“NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America,” the organization states on its website. “Health equity with communities of color is everyone’s challenge.”

Several of the workshop sessions cover the topic of expanding the local, state, and national efforts of using pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs known as PrEP as a means of preventing HIV infection. 

Other workshop sessions include: HIV CURE – Hot Topics in HIV Cure Research; A Town Hall on Aging and HIV; COVID, HIV, and Racism – How Providers Can Make a Difference; Expanding the Pleasure and HIV Prevention Toolkit: Kink As Harm Reduction; It’s About Time – HIV Research Just For Transgender Women; and Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Prevention Services Among U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Funded Community Based Organizations.

The conference’s fourth and closing plenary session, Foundation Stones to Building the EHE Effort in Indian County, “will highlight the work of those addressing HIV and COVID in Indian Country, rural states and among Alaska Natives with limited infrastructure,” according to a conference agenda statement. 

“This plenary addresses these challenges and provides innovative solutions by the Indian Country – making the case to support Native HIV care by providing essential building blocks,” the agenda statement says. 

Paul Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, says in a statement in the conference’s agenda booklet that he and his NMAC team are disappointed that the 2021 conference is being held virtually for the second year in a row.

“But we felt the issue of safety was simply too critical to ignore,” Kawata said in his statement. “I’ve been very concerned about our loved ones over 50 living with HIV through the whole COVID pandemic,” he said, noting that people in that category were dealing with isolation as well as a higher risk for COVID.

“I hope this conference, even though it is virtual, will help alleviate some of that isolation,” Kawata said. “We’ve worked very hard to make this conference not just an opportunity for training and education, but a chance to connect with others, reinforce those strands in your support net, and hopefully, establish some new connections.”

More information about the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS and instructions on registering to attend can be obtained at nmac.org.

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