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‘Don’t Go Home!’ until ‘Don’t Ask’ is done

Demonstrators demand Senators extend session

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

Supporters of open service in the U.S. military rallied on Capitol Hill Friday to urge the Senate to stay in session for as long as needed until lawmakers repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Braving the December cold, around 100 participants gathered near the U.S. Capitol at the Upper Senate Park for the event, which was organized by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Those in attendance shouted the refrain “Don’t Go Home!” as they demanded that lawmakers continue work on Capitol Hill until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.

The rally comes in the wake of a devastating defeat that supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal suffered on Thursday when the Senate failed to move ahead with major defense legislation containing repeal language by a vote of 57-40, three votes short of the 60-vote threshold necessary to end a filibuster.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, told the crowd the vote represented a setback, but said supporters of repeal have “reported back for duty.”

“In this lame duck, we speak everyday for all LGBT service members as they fight for our freedom,” Sarvis said. “In this Congress, we raise our voices as one and say, ‘Senators, kill this law, kill this law before you go home!'”

A number of veterans and current service members — gay and straight — addressed the rally and called for an end to the military’s gay ban.

Mike Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer who was discharged in 2008 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” also called on the Senate to stay in session until work is done on lifting the military’s gay ban.

“The Senate wants … to go home to their families and not do their duties and sit by warm fireplaces comfortably in their homes for Christmas while the work remains unfinished,” Almy said. “If I can serve overseas in harm’s way for four Christmases defending our nation, the Senate can certainly do the same.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has set Dec. 17 as the target date for adjournment for the Senate, although some lawmakers, including Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), have said they’re willing to stay in session through the week before Christmas to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Ret. Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, who’s straight served in the Army for 35 years, said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is needed because the ban compromises the integrity of the U.S. military.

“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ acknowledges that gays and lesbians serve in our military, but pretends they’re not there,” he said. “It destroys the values of that institution and on which it is based.”

Should the Senate not repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Laich predicted what he called a “Spartacus moment” in which the estimated 66,000 gay and lesbian people serving in the military would declare their sexual orientations under the current law.

“How much does it cost to process the discharge of 66,000 service members?” Laich said. “How much does it cost to recruit and train their replacements? How long will it take to recruit and train those replacements? And how vulnerable will America be during this self-imposed national security crisis?”

Speakers at the rally had particularly strong words for senators who were among the “no” votes on Thursday preventing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation from coming to the Senate floor.

Almy, an Ohio native whose family still lives in the state, said he was particularly disappointed in Sen. George Voinovich’s (R-Ohio) decision to vote against the legislation. The senator was considered a swing vote on moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Yesterday, you shamed me with your vote as well as the rest of the Ohio veterans,” Almy said. “This is going to be your legacy. You are on the wrong side of history here Sen. Voinovich. I call on you here specifically to stay here in Washington and not leave.”

Two speakers who hailed from West Virginia also had harsh words for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat who voted against the motion to proceed Thursday on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation.

Sgt. Jared Towner, a straight member of the West Virginia Army National Guard, said the “very, very established progressive youth element” in his state is disappointed in Manchin for his vote and could decline to back him when he’s next up for election in two years.

“We are the people that are going to be there — or we are the people that are not going to be there — in 2012,” Towner said. “You have to be there for us.”

Former Army Sgt. Pepe Johnson, a field artilleryman and Clarksburg, W.Va., native who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2003, said he was “embarassed” because Manchin “decided to be a lone ranger” and vote against repeal.

“He said he’d only been in office for three weeks, so he didn’t have a chance to hear from the people of West Virginia,” Johnson said. “Well, Joe Manchin, if you can’t hear now, you better get a hearing aide!”

Many participants echoed the general tenor of the rally that Congress should stay in session for the time that’s needed to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before going home.

Toby Quaranta, 25 and a gay D.C. resident, said he participated in the rally because he wants “people everywhere to know” that supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal don’t want lawmakers to adjourn until the law is off the books.

“I think the Senate has a responsibility to the service members and to the people who just re-elected a lot of them to make sure that they get their business done before they leave town,” Quaranta said.

Bridget Geraghty, 25 and a lesbian D.C. resident, expressed frustration that the Senate was unable to act on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal when the vote came before the chamber on Thursday.

“I was seriously disappointed, but I guess not really surprised,” she said. “It’s never a surprise when Republicans don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and I think it was ridiculous that they are not letting this happen.”

One group of rally participants held up a banner during reading “In memory of Seaman August Provost, 1979-2009: All LGBT employees of the Department of Defense deserve EQUAL RIGHTS!”

Provost, a gay Navy seaman stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was found dead on base last year and was possibly murdered because of his sexual orientation. He reportedly had complained to family members that was being harassed before he was killed.

Also among the rally participants was Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. Following the rally, she told the Blade she was “extremely disappointed” in the Senate vote on Thursday, but expected repeal advocates to continue toward their goal.

“I’m pleased that there are senators who are going to continue to push in this lame duck, and all of us at this rally and elsewhere around the country are going to push with them,” she said.

Many repeal advocates are pinning their hopes on new stand-alone legislation that Lieberman introduced in the Senate following the defeat on Thursday of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. The new stand-alone measure is identical to the repeal provision in the defense legislation.

Following the rally, Sarvis expressed optimism about the chances of passing the stand-alone repeal legislation in the lame duck and said repeal advocates are working to come up with 60 votes to move forward with the legislation in the Senate.

“The defense authorization bill, as a vehicle, became stale for a number of reasons,” he said. “Some senators talked about process or the procedure. I think our chances may well improve on a clean bill — clean in the sense of new introduction.”

Sarvis said attaching repeal language to the continuing resolution that Congress will soon vote on to extend funding for the U.S. government is another option on the table.

Still, Sarvis said using this measure as a vehicle for repeal would be “one of the last opportunities” for legislatively ending the military’s gay ban this year.

“Normally, the CR sometimes moves sometimes literally in the final hours,” Sarvis said. “So that is clearly an option that is out there. That’s why SLDN has put it on the table.”

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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National

LGBTQ media ‘excited’ about Press Forward national media funds

Coalition of donors pledges $500 million for local news

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Members of News Is Out, a collaborative of six leading LGBTQ media organizations across the country, have expressed support and excitement about the newly announced national Press Forward effort to support local media in the United States. News Is Out members represent more than 200 years of LGBTQ news and culture coverage, with two member papers starting more than 50 years ago.

“This new effort from foundations, including MacArthur Foundation and Knight Foundation, truly will be a game-changer in the local media space,” said Tracy Baim, co-founder of Windy City Times, which is part of a Chicago collaborative that is also advocating for local funding in that city. “Local media are critical to covering issues across the country, from LGBTQ+ and environmental issues to education and criminal justice reform. Philanthropy can provide an important complement to other needed revenues to help local media survive and thrive.”

In the U.S., 7.1 percent of adults, or 18 million people, identify as LGBTQ, according to Gallup. About 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. The media serving this community has been life-saving, resource sharing and an integral part of the movement for LGBTQ equality, News Is Out members said, adding that this media continues to fill a vital information need.

According to the Press Forward announcement, “A coalition of 22 donors announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years.

“Press Forward will enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.”

The Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have been leading the Press Forward effort.

News Is Out is supported in part by a technology grant from the Knight Foundation. The program is called the Queer Media Sustainability Lab

News Is Out is a nearly two-year-old alliance created launched by the Local Media Association, with initial funding from Google News Initiative. The members are Bay Area Reporter, Dallas Voice, Philadelphia Gay News, Washington Blade, Windy City Times and TAGG, a national queer women’s magazine.

News Is Out members have collaborated on editorial, business and fundraising opportunities.

“LGBTQ media have always played a critical role in covering and informing our communities,” said Lynne Brown, publisher of the Washington Blade. “While we have lost dozens of LGBTQ news media outlets in recent years, those of us who have survived are thriving in 2023. We have done so because we have innovated and sought new forms of revenue. The News Is Out Collaborative has assisted with support that propels us forward.”

“LGBTQ+ media is needed now more than ever, as our communities face a backlash across this country,” said Leo Cusimano, publisher of the Dallas Voice. “By working together in News Is Out, we have formed a strong alliance to help our members in technology training, editorial collaborations and much more. New funds into this ecosystem will be vital to strengthening the network of local LGBTQ+ media in this country.”

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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks White House to test questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

Data would be included in annual American Community Survey

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U.S. Census Bureau (Photo credit: GSA)

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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