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Service chiefs hold mixed views on ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Military leaders each express concerns, but confidence in ability to implement



The military service chiefs offered mixed views on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during Senate testimony on Thursday as they said they had concerns about ending the law, but could implement a change if ordered.

Two the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Vice Chair Gen. James Cartwright and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead — testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Congress should act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” 

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp — not a member of the Joint Chiefs but a witness at the hearing — also endorsed open service.

In comparison to the other service chiefs, Cartwright offered a particularly strong statement encouraging Congress to take action to lift “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“My faith in our leadership, from top to bottom, the fair-minded temperament of the American public, and the reputational benefit derived from being a force identified by honesty and inclusivity, rather than concealment causes me to favor repeal of 10 USC 654 and the associated policy known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Cartwright said.

But Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Marine Corps Gen. Commandant James Amos spoke out against legislative efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said he wanted full implementation of repeal deferred until 2012. 

Amos, who has previously spoken out against repeal, said he had concern over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because of several reasons, including combat operations abroad.

“Based on what I know about the very tough fight on the ground in Afghanistan, the almost singular focus of our combat forces as they train up and deploy into theater, the necessary tightly woven culture of those combat forces that we are asking so much of at this time, and finally the direct feedback from the survey, my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time,” Amos said.

The hearing marked the second day in a two-day series of hearings on the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” report, which was made public earlier this week. During the previous hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his belief that gays should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Repeal advocates had been awaiting statements from the service chiefs on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” following the release of the Pentagon report. In May, the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers not to take action until the study was complete.

While the service chiefs had differing views on whether Congress should act to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they each expressed concerns to some degree on the implementation of open service.

Roughead expressed unease about how the Pentagon report showed that sailors in irregular warfare specialties, such as the Navy SEALS, expressed greater negativity over the prospects of repeal and a lower propensity to reenlist than other sailors.

“While these effects may not be fully realized, these specialties must be monitored closely to ensure we are positioned and resourced to respond to changes over the long-term,” Roughead said. “We cannot assume these projected retention losses away and we must take into account the past, current and future combat employment of these combat specialties.”

But even the service chiefs who said they opposed repeal expressed confidence in their branch’s ability to implement a change if ordered by Congress.

Casey said if open service in the U.S. military is properly implemented, he doesn’t envision it would prevent the Army from accomplishing its worldwide missions.

“We have a disciplined force and seasoned leaders, who, with appropriate guidance and direction, can oversee the implementation of the repeal with moderate risk to our military effectiveness in the short-term, and moderate risk to our ability to recruit and retain our all-volunteer force over time,” Casey said.

Members of the committee had different interpretations for what the testimony of the service chiefs means for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the lame duck session of Congress.

McCain said the differing opinions of the service chiefs demonstrates the need to hold off on legislative action on ending the military’s gay ban.

“I think it’s pretty obvious from the comments made by certainly the chiefs of staff — the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps today that there is significantly divided opinion on this issue,” McCain said. “It’s very obvious to me that there is a lot more scrutiny and work involved before passing this legislation.”

McCain said he wants to hear from the senior enlisted personnel who would be training service members on the implementation of open service as well as combatant commanders before Congress takes action.

But Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of repeal legislation in the Senate, noted the chiefs each expressed confidence that they could faithfully execute a new policy if given time to implement a change.

“My conclusion is that really, in the end, all six of you favor repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Lieberman said.

Observing the service chiefs concerns about implementation, Lieberman noted that repeal legislation pending before the Senate requires the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify that the military is ready for open service before repeal is fully implemented.

The senator noted Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wouldn’t certify open service until he felt the service chiefs were comfortable with moving forward. Asked by Lieberman whether they were assuaged by this statement, each of the service chiefs said they comfortable with Gates’ decision on when open service could be implemented.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a strong proponent of repeal, similarly brought out favorable responses for repeal from the service chiefs when he asked each of them if they were comfortable with the certification process and with their ability to implement repeal.

Each of the chiefs said they had confidence in Gates’ decision and their service’s ability to execute the change in law.

“I believe we can implement the policy and will implement the policy with moderate risk to our short-term effectiveness and long-term health of the force,” Casey said.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he thought the testimony from the service chiefs “actually went better” than what he had expected.

“I think what it really brought out was the point that although the service chiefs and many people may have differing opinions on what they want to happen and varying ways in which they would like to see it go about happening,” Nicholson said. “In the end, they seem to all agree that it’s possible to make it happen and make it happen in a safe and smooth way.”


Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1



U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass



Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office



Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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