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Obama to sign ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal Wednesday

Gibbs says implementation process underway

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered limited details on Monday for implementing "Don't Ask" repeal (Blade photo by Michael Key).

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered limited details on Monday about the implementation process for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as he announced President Obama would sign the repeal measure into law on Wednesday.

“My sense, without having a specific time at this point, is that … the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will be signed by the president likely on Wednesday morning,” Gibbs said during a news conference.

But “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books immediately after Obama’s signature. A provision in the measure requires that the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for repeal before open service is implemented.

Asked by the Washington Blade how long he anticipates before certification takes place, Gibbs didn’t offer a timeline, but said an implementation process will soon be underway. He said the recent Pentagon study predicts that implementing repeal “won’t be overly burdensome.”

“Again, I think that is part of what groups of people are going to working on,” Gibbs said. “But I would say this, we learned that — because of the attitudinal studies that the Pentagon conducted — we know that the vast majority of those serving in our military don’t believe this in any way will be disruptive. I think that points to an implementation process that won’t be overly burdensome.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wouldn’t certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal until training is instituted in the armed forces to handle open service and until he felt the military service chiefs were comfortable in moving forward. During testimony before the Senate, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said that repeal shouldn’t be implemented until 2012.

Additionally, after the president and Pentagon leaders certify, repeal still won’t take place until an additional 60-day waiting period has passed.

At the news conference, Gibbs maintained Obama administration attorneys are working on legal issues related to repeal as well as the path toward implementing open service in the U.S. military.

“There are a series of implementation and legal issues that lawyers in this building as well in the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice are working through — and, obviously, working though a longer and larger implementation policy process once the president signs the repeal into law,” Gibbs said.

Looking ahead to this implementation period, a number of lawmakers and LGBT groups — most recently the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network — have been calling on Obama and Gates to issue some kind of executive order to stop the discharges of gay service members before repeal takes effect.

Asked by the Blade whether the administration would be open to such an order during this interim period, Gibbs referred to the implementation process that he said is underway.

“Again, I said earlier in this session, there are a host of implementation and legal issues that are being studied throughout the government,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs restated the administration’s work on implementing the law when asked by the Blade what he would say to a service member who is discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” between the time Congress has acted to repeal the law and the time that repeal takes effect.

“I would say to that person right now that there are a host of lawyers looking at all of these legal issues,” he said. “But I would also say to that person that the president will ask him to — the president will sign into the law the repeal of that policy on Wednesday.”

Gibbs referred to the implementation process again when National Public Radio asked how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would impact members of the military with same-sex spouses.

“Again, I think there a series of implementation issues that we’ll tackle as a result of this,” Gibbs said.

The signing of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation on Wednesday would be Obama’s first appearance before a TV camera speaking about repeal since the Senate voted to end the law.

Gibbs said Obama didn’t make a public appearance immediately after the vote because he was busy building support for the START treaty, a nuclear arms reduction agreement.

“I think he was busy probably in the  Oval Office working on calls on START,” Gibbs said.

Speculation is also emerging over whether the win over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would lead to greater gains for the LGBT community and possibly Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but during an interview with bloggers in October, he suggested that viewpoint could change. Asked by Americablog’s Joe Sudbay at the time about his position, Obama said “attitudes evolve, including mine.”

During the news conference on Monday, when asked whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would be “laying the groundwork” for the president’s support for same-sex marriage, Gibbs referred to earlier comments he made in October and called repeal of the military a “significant accomplishment.”

“I think the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a significant accomplishment for many that have sought for more than a decade to repeal a policy that they, like the president, believed was unjust,” Gibbs said.

Pressed on whether the president thinks the vote for repeal means the country is more ready for same-sex marriage, Gibbs said he hasn’t talked to Obama about the issue and noted the broad public support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll published last week found 77 percent of Americans support allowing openly gay people to serve in the armed forces. Support for same-sex marriage is not as strong, although some polls are beginning to find majority support for gay nuptials.

“I have not talked to him about how the vote on Saturday impacts that,” Gibbs said. “I think, clearly, if you look at the issue of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there is clearly a shift in voter attitude. There was broad bipartisan support and public support for the repeal of a policy that didn’t make any sense, and on Wednesday, will no longer be the law.”

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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Oklahoma

Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight

Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8

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Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on Feb. 7, 2024. (Family photo)

Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death. 

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth. 

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.

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