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Reid recommits to ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal in lame duck

Senators talk of extending session to vote on gay ban

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reaffirmed on Monday his commitment to bring a vote "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal (Blade photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reaffirmed on Monday his commitment to bring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to vote in the lame duck session of Congress amid fears other legislative priorities will bump the issue from the agenda.

Reid pledged to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by year’s end on the Senate floor as he described a litany of legislative items he wants the chamber to take on during lame duck, including passage of the DREAM Act, renewing tax cuts for middle class families and ratification of the START Treaty.

“We’re also going to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” Reid said. “We’re going to match our policy with our principles and finally say in the United States, everyone who steps up to serve our country can be welcome.”

Legislation to repeal the military gay’s ban is pending before the Senate as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. A previous attempt to bring the legislation to the Senate floor in September failed when a united Republican caucus blocked consideration of the measure.

Many senators — including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) — said they wanted a more fair amendment process with more amendments for the minority as a condition to moving forward with the legislation.

In his remarks, Reid said Republicans are blocking consideration of the defense authorization bill because they don’t believe they have the votes to take out the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision by amendment once the legislation reaches the floor.

Reid said when Republicans refuse to debate the defense authorization bill, they also “hold up a well-deserved raise for our troops, better health care for our troops and their families” as well as other important initiatives for the U.S. military.

A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also affirmed President Obama wants Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

“The White House remains fully committed to passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, including the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ during the lame duck,” the official said. “This is a priority for the president, and are we confident that the Congress will be able to address this issue this year.”

Concern that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal may have fallen from the schedule emerged when Reid offered remarks earlier in the day and didn’t include the defense authorization bill as among the legislative items for which he would file cloture on Monday.

Instead he listed other items, including the DREAM Act and legislation that would provide healthcare benefits and compensation to workers who responded to Ground Zero during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Reid only mentioned the defense authorization bill after Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) reminded him on the floor to say something about the legislation.

The majority leader responded by saying he had bipartisan conversations on Sunday about trying to find a way to move forward with the defense authorization bill.

“The issue on that, Madam President, is what we do with amendments,” Reid said. “And without belaboring the point here, I would be happy to consider doing a number of amendments if we had time agreements on those amendments. But to just have an open process — at this stage, I don’t see how we can do that.”

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said Reid didn’t include “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among the items on which he would file cloture on Monday because the Senate leadership is still in talks to find enough Republican support to move forward with the defense authorization bill.

“Discussion are ongoing that involve Sen. Levin, Sen. [Joseph] Lieberman, Sen. Collins and others about trying to put together a debate that will satisfy folks and both of the aisle,” Manley said.

Manley said he couldn’t make a prediction on when these discussion would conclude, but said Reid remains committed to bringing up the legislation to a vote during lame duck.

Despite the commitment from Reid for a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” concerns that time will run out before lawmakers act persist.

In a brief exchange with the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) expressed concerns about being able to move forward with the defense authorization in the limited time that remains in the session.

“The longer this go on the more difficult it becomes, but I’m obviously … still hopeful,” Levin said.

Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, acknowleged that time is an issue as he said he still sees a path forward for repeal.

“The calendar, in my estimation, has always been a bit more difficult than the vote count, but I do think that there are scenarios where this can be finalized for a signature before Congress adjourns,” Neff said.

Neff cited what he perceived as Obama’s commitment to repeal as a reason for why repeal can still happen and noted a recent call the president made to Levin against stripping the defense authorization bill of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language.

“President Obama has shown strong leadership in reaching out to Sen. Levin and to Sen. Reid to try to move this process forward,” Neff said. “I think the White House has taken a leadership role on this and they want to see it delivered and I think there’s more to be done.”

Talk is emerging about extending the legislative session beyond what was previously planned to accomodate a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

During his earlier remarks, Reid set Dec. 17 as the target date for when he wants the Senate to adjourn for this Congress and said he doesn’t think his colleagues want to stay until Christmas Eve as they did last year.

But Manley said the Dec. 17 target date for adjournment is “not hard and fast” and “we’ll have to wait and see how long we’re going to need.” He added the entire Democratic caucus would agree to extending the session for that to happen.

In a statement, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said the Senate should stay in session for until the remainder of the calendar year if that’s what’s necessary to complete legislative work before the chamber, such as passage of the defense authorization bill.

“It’s time to follow Elvis Presley’s advice — we need ‘a little less conversation, and a little more action,’” Udall said. “I’m willing to stay through Christmas and New Year’s, if that’s what it takes, to fight for middle-class tax relief, the defense authorization bill, public lands legislation — which means jobs for Coloradans — and other important work.”

On Monday, the Huffington Post reported that Lieberman and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) were in favor of extneding the legislative session to pass “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Sen. Lieberman believes that there are at least 60 votes to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year, provided that leadership allows time for sufficient debate and amendments,” Lieberman spokeswoman Erika Masonhall was quoted as saying. “Wanting to go home is not an acceptable excuse for failing to pass a bill that provides essential support for our troops and veterans and failing to take action that the president, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have called for.”

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor, transgender spouse indicted for passing information to Russia

Jamie Lee Henry first active-duty Army officer to come out as trans

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Jamie Lee Henry and their spouse Anna Gabrielian (Photos from social media)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment of a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, with conspiracy and for the disclosure of individually identifiable health information related to their efforts to assist Russia in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in a press release stated Anna Gabrielian, 36, and her spouse, Jamie Lee Henry, 39, both of Rockville, Md., both of whom had secret clearances, were attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government.

Gabrielian and Henry met with an individual they believed to be associated with the Russian government, but who was, in fact, an Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent.

Court documents indicate Gabrielian told the FBI agent posing as a Russian operative that she had previously reached out to the Russian Embassy by email and phone, offering Russia her and her spouses’ assistance.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gabrielian told the FBI agent that, although Henry knew of Gabrielian’s interaction with the Russian Embassy, she never mentioned Henry’s name to the Russian Embassy.

In the narrative released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian met with the FBI at a hotel in Baltimore. During that meeting, Gabrielian told the FBI she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail. 

She proposed potential cover stories for her meeting with the “Russians” and stressed the need for “plausible deniability” in the event she was confronted by American authorities. Gabrielian also told the FBI that, as a military officer, Henry was currently a more important source for Russia than she was, because they had more helpful information, including how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions and information about previous training provided by the U.S. military to Ukrainian military personnel. 

Henry identifies as a “transgender military physician” on their Twitter account.

Henry received public attention in 2015 after becoming the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as trans.

Henry was at one point a member of SPARTA, the nation’s largest nonprofit representing actively-serving trans U.S. servicemembers. A spokesperson for SPARTA, in an emailed statement commenting on the announcement of the arrest and indictment of Henry and their spouse told the Washington Blade:

“Transgender people are as diverse as the societies to which they belong. One’s gender identity neither increases nor decreases a propensity towards alleged criminal activity.”

As stated in the indictment, Gabrielian is an anesthesiologist and worked at Medical Institution 1 in Baltimore.  

Henry, a major in the U.S. Army who held a secret-level security clearance, is Gabrielian’s spouse and a doctor. During the time of the alleged conspiracy, Henry worked as a staff internist stationed at Fort Bragg, the home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Womack Army Medical Center.

Gabrielian was scheduled to have initial appearance at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan A. Hurson. Henry is also expected to have an initial appearance today, although a time has not yet been set.

Full statement from SPARTA:

“SPARTA, a non-profit advocacy organization representing transgender Service members in the United States, is saddened to learn of the arrest and indictment of Jamie Lee Henry, an officer in the U.S. Army and a medical doctor.

SPARTA has long advocated for the inclusion and total equity for transgender persons throughout the United States uniformed services. Today, thousands are serving honorably and authentically at home stations worldwide.

The actions alleged in the indictment do not reflect Henry’s identity as transgender. Their alleged actions are those of an individual and should not be taken as a representation of transgender people broadly or transgender members of the military specifically.

All people in the United States are entitled to the same rights, including due process and the presumption of innocence in this case. SPARTA does not condone any actions alleged in the indictment and expects the process to play out fairly and equitably as it would for anyone accused of a crime.”

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The unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox: health officials

Guidance updated to allow shots in places other than forearm

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U.S. health officials are celebrating data finding the monkeypox contraction is lower among people who are vaccinated.

U.S. health officials are celebrating preliminary data on the vaccine used in the monkeypox outbreak, which has led them to conclude eligible persons who didn’t get a shot were 14 times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated.

The new data, as described by health officials on the White House monkeypox task force during a call with reporters on Wednesday, comes as the overall number of new cases of monkeypox is in sharp decline, although considerable racial disparities persist in the remaining cases as Black and Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said during the conference call the preliminary data — collected from 32 states between July 2022 and September 2022 — provides an early shapshot of the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause for optimism on the path forward.

“These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended,” Walkensky said. “These early findings and similar results from studies and other countries suggest even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection.”

Walensky during the conference call admitted the data is incomplete in numerous ways. For example, the data is based on information on individuals who have obtained only the first shot as opposed to both shots in the two-shot vaccination process. (The data showing positive results from individuals who have only one shot contradicts previous warnings from the same U.S. health officials that one shot of the monkeypox vaccine was insufficient.)

The data also makes no distinction between individuals who have obtained a shot through subcutaneous injection, a more traditional approach to vaccine administration, as opposed to intradermal injection, which is a newer approach adopted in the U.S. guidance amid the early vaccine shortage. Skeptics of the new approach have said data is limited to support the idea the intradermal injection is effective, particularly among immunocompromised people with HIV who have been at higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

Not enumerated as part of the data were underlying numbers leading health officials to conclude the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox as opposed to those with a shot, as well as any limiting principle on the definition of eligible persons. Also unclear from the data is whether individual practices in sexual behavior had any role in the results.

Despite the positive data on the monkeypox vaccine based on one shot, U.S. health officials warned during the conference call the two-shot approach to vaccine administration is consistent with their guidance and more effective.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, made the case that for individuals at risk obtaining a second dose is “really important.”

“So we see some response after the first [shot] in the laboratory, but the really high responses that we want to really get — that you know, level 10 forcefield as opposed to the level five forcefield — doesn’t happen until the second dose,” Daskalakis said. “So the important message is this just tells us to keep on trucking forward because we need that second dose at arms that people haven’t gotten the first should start their series of two vaccines.”

Also during the call, health officials said they would be expanding opportunities for vaccines as pre exposure prophylaxis, as opposed to practices in certain regions granting vaccines in their limited supply to individuals who meet certain criteria or have had risk of exposure.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention, officials said, is also updating its guidance to allow injection of the vaccines in places other than a patient’s arm.

Daskalakis said fear of stigma about getting a noticeable shot in the forearm after obtaining a monkeypox vaccine was a key part of the decision to issue the new guidance on implementation.

“Many jurisdictions and advocates have told us that some people declined vaccine to monkeypox because of the stigma associated with the visible but temporary mark often left on their forearm,” Daskalakis said. “New guidance from CDC allows people who don’t want to risk a visible mark on their forearm to offer a vaccine on their skin by their shoulder or their upper back. Those are areas more frequently covered by clothes.”

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