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Gay troops seek reinstatement through ‘Don’t Ask’ lawsuit

Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of gay ban

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Mike Almy, a former Air Force officer, is among the plaintiffs seeking reinstatement in the military through a new 'Don't Ask' lawsuit. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Three service members who are seeking a return to the U.S. armed forces after being discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are the focus of a new lawsuit filed in a California federal court challenging the constitutionality of the military’s gay ban.

The lawsuit was filed Monday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, among the groups leading the fight to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Morrison & Foerster LLP, a legal firm based in San Diego, Calif.

The three plaintiffs are gay former service members who were expelled from the U.S. armed forces under the military’s gay ban: Mike Almy, an Air Force communications officer who was discharged in 2006; Anthony Loverde, an Air Force technician who was discharged in 2008; and Jason Knight, a Navy translator who was discharged in 2007.

In a Blade interview, Almy said he’s seeking reinstatement into the Air Force because he loves the armed forces and “spent his whole career serving the military” before being discharged after 13 years.

“I obviously don’t miss ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but that aspect aside, I greatly love and miss the military and just can’t wait to go back in as an officer and a leader,” he said.

The litigation asks the court to employ the Witt standard established by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as the basis for reinstating the three discharged service members.

The Witt standard came into being in 2008 after the Ninth Circuit ruled in the case of Witt v. Air Force that the U.S. government must show the presence of a gay service member in the armed forces is detrimental to unit cohesion before discharging him or her.

Additionally, the lawsuit asks the California federal court to strike down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the grounds that the 1993 law violates gay service members’ freedom of speech and due process rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In this respect, the litigation is similar to another lawsuit currently pending before the Ninth Circuit challenging “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Log Cabin Republicans v. United States.

Now that the litigation has been filed, the U.S. Justice Department has 60 days to respond to the complaint. The Obama administration has previously defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the courts and is expected to continue defending the statute against this lawsuit.

M. Andrew Woodmansee, a partner at Morrison & Foerster, said a case management conference for the litigation before a district court judge should take place in March. He said he’s not expecting a trial for this lawsuit, but instead, a ruling by summary judgment in summer 2011.

Woodmansee said it’s “virtually impossible” to predict whether the legislation would succeed at the district court level — or even the appellate court or U.S. Supreme Court level — but said he believes the lawsuit has a “very strong” chance of succeeding based on the strong military records of the plaintiffs seeking reinstatement.

“There are a lot of factors to consider, but I think this case is very strong because it’s also very simple in that sense we are looking at three individual service members who want nothing more than to go back and serve their country,” he said.

Repeal advocates have filed the lawsuit as legislation remains pending before the U.S. Senate that would lead to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), as of Monday had 40 co-sponsors, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and is expected to come up for a vote during the lame duck session of Congress.

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said the lawsuit is part of “an aggressive, far-reaching litigation strategy” that his organization is planning if Congress fails to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this month.

“This dispute can be resolved by Congress or by the courts.” Sarvis said. “With this filing we put Congress on notice that a cadre of service members and our national legal team stand ready to litigate strategically around the country.”

If Congress doesn’t repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Sarvis said SLDN plans to file another lawsuit early next year on behalf of young people who want to enter military service, but can’t because of the military’s gay ban, and a lawsuit for discharged service members who want to serve in the National Guard or the reserves.

While repeal advocates pursue both litigation and legislation as avenues to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Obama administration has emphasized that congressional action and not action from the courts is the preferred way to the end the law. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said a legislative end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would provide adequate training time to implement open service in the U.S. armed forces.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated the point that the legislative route is the preferred way to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in response to a question from the Washington Blade on the new lawsuit.

“One of the two entities — either Congress or the courts — is going to repeal or do away with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Gibbs said. “The best way to do it would be to do it through Congress. The House has passed that legislation, and it is clear that well more than a majority of U.S. senators believe that that’s the case as well.”

Woodmansee said he thinks legislative action should be taken on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but added litigation remains an option should Congress be unable to finish the job.

“Throughout this country’s history, the courts stand ready to act when Congress doesn’t, and that’s what we’ve done here,” Woodmansee said. “We’ve been trying to effect a deal through the legislature, and if they won’t act, then we have no choice … but to go the courts and ask them to do their job, and that is provide a check as the third branch of government.”

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The White House

VP 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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