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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

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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.”

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Tennessee

6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to police who identifies as transgender

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Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of the Nashville Metro Police Department)

In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun,” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Chief Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at The Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to the chief, who identifies as transgender.

According to Drake three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm 3 children and 2 adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (The 2 adults) and (The 3 children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All 5 patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

Chief Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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The White House

Vice president to visit three African countries that criminalize homosexuality

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week

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Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Accra, Ghana, on March 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Harris' Twitter page)

Vice President Kamala Harris this week will visit three countries in Africa that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Ghana on Sunday. They will travel to Tanzania and Zambia before returning to the U.S. on April 2.

Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Washington Blade last week reported LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that, would among other things, further criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and make advocacy on their behalf and allyship illegal. A Ghanaian representative who spoke during a March 20 meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work said the body is not an appropriate venue to discuss them.

“You know that a great deal of work in my career has been to address human rights issues, equality issues across the board, including as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Harris on Monday during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting and fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally. This is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change.”

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu, with whom Harris is scheduled to meet on Thursday, last month described LGBTQ rights as “imported cultures.” The Tanzanian government has also banned children’s books from schools because of their LGBTQ-specific content. 

The State Department in 2019 recalled then-U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the Zambian government sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple who had been convicted of violating the country’s colonial-era sodomy law and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Then-Zambian President Edgar Lungu later pardoned the couple. Current Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, which whom Harris will meet on March 31, last September reiteated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Harris arrived in Africa less than a week after Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ and intersex people. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the measure if signed “would impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

“The bill is one of the most extreme anti LGBTQI+ laws in the world,” she said on March 22 during her daily press briefing. “Human rights are universal — no one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or who they love.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call that previewed Harris’ trip that she “is very much focused on opportunities in Africa and a positive message and the great things we can do in partnership with African countries. And you’re going to really see that as the theme of the trip, given Africa’s role in the world and what we think can be done with Africans, for the sake of Africans in the United States and the rest of the world.” 
 
“But that doesn’t mean that she would shy away from discussing difficult issues, and you know her track record on the LGBTQ issue,” added the official. “She spent her whole career fighting for rights of overlooked and marginalized people, including LGBTQ people.” 

The official further stressed the Biden-Harris administration “is very clear about the right for all people to live free of harm and discrimination and to realize their full potential and to fully participate in society.”  

“The vice president has been clear about that throughout her engagements in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it won’t be any different when she is in Africa,” added the official. “We have said, you know, including in recent days — expressed the concerns we have about certain developments that we’ve seen on the African continent, whether it’s laws or practices that are anti-LGBTQ. And that’s not consistent with what this administration stands for.” 

The official also said they “don’t think that is a choice between taking a firm stand on that set of really important issues and the big positive opportunity that the vice president sees in Africa and she’s going to emphasize on this trip.”

The Blade will provide further updates of Harris’ trip as they become available.

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New Mexico

LGBTQ protections added to N.M. Human Rights Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 on Friday

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs House Bill 7 on March 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For transgender residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that HB 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said in a statement.

State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), the sponsor of HB 31, noted that the measure will benefit trans New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure.

“Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights.

On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Grisham as she signed HB 7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said Ortez, who co-sponsored HB 7. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and nonbinary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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