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Supporters bullish about repealing ‘Don’t Ask’

But GOP aide warns ‘minefields’ await



Capitol Hill observers are optimistic that sufficient support now exists to pass standalone “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation amid questions about when the Senate will take on the legislation.

A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said the chances of passing the new standalone repeal legislation are “looking better and better each day.”

“Based on what I’m hearing, I think there is a very keen interest by Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House to make a standalone bill a big priority,” the aide said. “I think that they are taking steps to ensure that chances are good for passage.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, also said she believes there’s a chance the bill will pass before Congress is out of session.

“Having a chance is all that you need,” she said. “And you need the pieces to fall into place and the commitment of those on the Hill and the White House to get it done. People really need to lean into this to get it done.”

But a Senate Republican aide, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, was more cautious and said passage depends “on so many variables.”

“I think if the omnibus, the continuing resolution, all that stuff stretches past Thursday night, Friday, then it gets real difficult,” the aide said. “Those things are already set in motion. It could happen, but there’s just a lot of minefields.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced the new repeal legislation last week after the Senate on Thursday failed to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to move major defense budget legislation to the floor containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Lieberman’s legislation is identical to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Even if the standalone is signed into law, repeal wouldn’t take effect until the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready to implement open service.

Support for the legislation in the Senate has grown rapidly as Lieberman — and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an original co-sponsor for the bill — have worked to gather co-sponsors for the legislation. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the measure as of Monday had 40 co-sponsors.

Joe Solmonese, president of HRC, said the growing number of co-sponsors for the legislation “adds momentum” to the effort to legislatively repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.

“Now the question is whether the Senate and House will take up this measure quickly and get it to the president’s desk,” Solmonese said. “There should be no excuses for inaction.”

When the bill comes to the floor, eyes will be on senators who say they support repeal, but didn’t vote in favor of bringing the defense legislation to the floor last week, such as Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska).

Last week, many Republicans said they were voting “no” because they didn’t believe the amendment process was fair enough for Republicans. The defense authorization bill typically takes several days of debate and both parties offer amendments to the legislation.

This year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had proposed 10 Republican amendments and 5 Democratic amendments as part of the agreement to proceed to the legislation.

But the Republican aide noted that passing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as standalone legislation as opposed as passing it as part of the defense authorization bill eliminates arguments to vote “no” on procedural grounds.

“You take away everything that people had problems with — procedure, tax cuts and everything else,” the aide said. “It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, but could it work? Yes.”

Stachelberg also said the standalone bill would have a better chance because Republicans wouldn’t be able to say they were being offered an unfair deal for amendments on the larger defense bill.

“We can argue they got that or not with the deal that was offered, but they didn’t feel like they got that,” Stachelberg said. “The process arguments with respect to repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ fall away when you strip out the context of the defense authorization bill.”

As attention remains focused on whether sufficient support exists in the Senate to pass the bill, action is underway in the House to act first to make repeal efforts less complicated in the upper chamber.

On Tuesday, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House. Drew Hammill, spokesperson for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said a vote on the bill will take place on Wednesday.

The plan was to have a vote in the House and to send the legislation to the Senate as a “privileged” bill, which would allow the Senate to take up the measure without having a cloture vote on the motion to proceed.

The maneuver would skip the 60 votes needed for the motion to proceed with the legislation and shave off the 30 hours of time that is normally needed after cloture is filed to vote on whether to end debate.

Still, even with this plan, the Senate would need 60 votes to proceed to final passage of the legislation.

But the timing for when the Senate would bring up the vote after the House acts remains in question.

Asked if he could offer an estimate for when the Senate would take up repeal legislation, Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, replied, “No, my friend, nobody knows that.”

Sources have said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring the legislation to the floor before year’s end, but when the bill would come up amid other priorities — such as the START Treaty, a nuclear arms reduction agreement — remains in question.

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said Monday there’s “nothing to announce yet” on when the bill would come to the floor and said Senate leadership is “still working on next steps for everything we have left to do.”

Some sources say the new repeal legislation could come to the floor as early as this week after the Senate resolves the extension the Bush-era tax cuts, but others say “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would come next week to the floor after additional measures are addressed.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he believes the START Treaty would come up “soon after” the Senate has finished work on the tax extension plan.

“Obviously it’s unclear yet the number of hours of debate after the procedural vote today before the Senate takes up for final passage of the tax agreement,” he said. “But I think fairly soon after, the Senate will move to the debate on START ratification.”

Still, Gibbs said he thinks “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is part of the “basket of issues” that the Senate will take up before adjourning for the year.

“I think there’s no doubt that based on the votes last week, it’s clear that a majority of the Senate supports the President’s position of doing away with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — repealing that,” Gibbs said. “Certainly our hope is that the Senate will take this up again and it will see this done by the time the year ends.”

The Senate Democratic aide said another attempt to bring up the defense authorization bill — this time with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language and other provisions stripped — could come up first for a vote before the standalone repeal bill.

“My strong guess is that the defense bill will have ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and some other sensitive provisions stricken out so that the defense bill could pass fairly easily, and then we could move on to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which I think has 60 votes,” the aide said.



Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business



Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’



VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’



Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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