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‘Don’t Ask’ repeal a tough act to follow

ENDA, marriage up next — but how long will they take?

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Rep. Barney Frank was at the enrollment ceremony for the 'Don't Ask' repeal (Blade photo by Michael Key).

A precursor of more LGBT rights advances to come? Or the last victory that the LGBT community will see for some time as Republicans retake the House in January?

Either way, LGBT rights advocates agree the legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a major victory that will send to the dustbin of history a 17-year-old statute barring open gay and lesbian Americans from the armed forces.

On Tuesday, a number of lawmakers said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents a seismic change in how the United States has come to view LGBT people over the course of the past 17 years. The remarks were made during the enrollment ceremony in which U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signed the legislation to send it to President Obama’s desk. Obama signed the bill into law on Wednesday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recalled that in 1993, as a freshman member of the U.S. Senate, she offered an amendment to major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to strip the bill of the then-proposed gay ban before it was implemented.

“I offered an amendment to take it out 17 years ago, and I got 33 votes,” Boxer said. “Here’s the amazing irony — wonderful irony — is that on the procedural vote … in the Senate this time, only 33 people said, “Let’s keep it in,” and the rest said, ‘Get rid of it.’”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the longest-serving openly gay lawmaker in Congress, said the repeal of the military’s gay ban checks off an important outstanding goal that LGBT advocates had been seeking for some time.

Frank recalled that in 2006, then-Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana urged people in his district not to vote for his Democratic opponent Brad Ellsworth because his election would lead to the advancement of what Hostettler called the “radical homosexual agenda.”

“So let me own up to that agenda: it’s to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry, it’s to be able to get married, it’s to be able to get a job and it’s to be able to fight for our country,” Frank said. “Let me put them on notice! Two down, two to go!”

A number of LGBT advocates are hoping that the win with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will generate momentum for other victories such as relationship recognition for same-sex couples and passage of an employment non-discrimination law.

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said the conversations about gays in the military will lead to further discussions about other LGBT rights.

“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is not just going to be about the military,” Stachelberg said. “It enables conversation about workplace discrimination that we haven’t been able to have. It will have implications for state legislative battles and other issues.”

A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke to the Washington Blade on condition of anonymity, said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal will have a huge “psychological” impact on the Senate in terms of passing pro-LGBT legislation in the future because opponents of ending the gay ban — like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — failed in their efforts to stop repeal despite their best efforts.

“John McCain was absolutely neutered on this,” the aide said. “You saw how angry and vociferous he was on this, and he saw the foundation crack away under him. Republicans are no longer going to be as beholden to the arguments of yesterday that get put forward by people like McCain or [Sen. James] Inhofe.”

Patrick Egan, a gay political science professor at New York University, said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” demonstrates the “maturing” of the LGBT community as a core constituency of the Democratic Party.

“This was no ‘flight by night’ effort by Obama,” Egan said. “It was a carefully considered, determined and well-planned, orchestrated effort by a Democratic administration to follow through on a campaign promise.”

Still, with a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate and Republican control of the House next year, most Capitol Hill observers see LGBT advances in the 112th Congress – such as passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or relationship recognition laws — as difficult if not outright impossible.

The Democratic aide said the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” helps build momentum in the Senate for LGBT issues, but the Republican-controlled House will likely be “a big stumbling block.”

“In the next Congress, we’ll probably see a reversed situation from what we saw in this Congress,” the aide said. “In this Congress, the House was more amenable to the pro-gay rights legislation, and the Senate was less amenable.

With the Republican House next Congress, we’ll see that it’s the Senate that becomes more amenable to pro-gay legislation.”

Egan also expressed pessimism about the passage of pro-LGBT bills in the next Congress because of the ascent of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as House speaker.

“When Republicans control even just one chamber of the legislature — as they’re going to do with the House in 2011 and 2012 — gay people just never win anything,” Egan said. “You really need Democratic control of legislatures — and typically the executive branch — in order for any significant movement on gay rights to occur.”

Still, Egan said affirmative votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal from senators like Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) could be a sign that LGBT bills will be seen as less partisan votes in the future.

“It indicates that legislators are becoming less afraid of voting in favor of gay rights — even on something as sensitive as military policy,” Egan said.

Stachelberg acknowledged that moving pro-gay legislation in the next Congress will be a “daunting task,” but said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will at least enable conversations to take place on issues such as job discrimination.

“I don’t want to suggest things will be easy because of it,” Stachelberg said. “But it’s a useful debate to have had and as implementation moves through the Pentagon, we’ll continue to be talking about workplace discrimination in a helpful way.”

Stachelberg said those working on the passage of ENDA “ought to learn” from the strategy of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal campaign, which made those aggrieved by the status quo the public faces of the repeal effort.

She noted that gay service members outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were visible in the campaign and said it was “terribly important” in the effort.

“From Mike Almy, to [Victor] Fehrenbach, to [Anthony] Woods, to Stacey [Vasquez] to all the members of the military who suffered this discrimination coming forward telling their stories — it’s essential that our community tell the story of LGBT workplace discrimination in an equally powerful way,” she said.

Discussion has already emerged about whether the legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have an impact on the issue of same-sex marriage or lead to greater support for gay nuptials among the public.

Stachelberg said open service in the U.S. military and same-sex marriage are “completely different issues,” but maintained discussion of the military’s gay ban could facilitate greater visibility for marriage.

“We should acknowledge that the path to LGBT equality, first of all, is not linear,” she said. “This ‘Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell’ debate helps because it provides a really great, clear discussion point about what just happened, and I think it will open up about marriage equality.”

Egan said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has already led social conservatives to make a distinction in their rhetoric between an end to the military’s gay ban and same-sex marriage.

“They need to concede that defeat and acknowledge that this is more or less a permanent change that reflects changing attitudes in society about gay people, but at the same time make the case that their argument about marriage is different,” Egan said.

Egan said he’s seen statements from social conservatives saying LGBT advocates through the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” weren’t seeking to change the institution of the military, but are seeking to change the institution of marriage by advancing gay nuptials.

“It’s required a bit of a re-calibration of the arguments put forward by the anti-marriage advocates to portray themselves as not believing in discrimination, not believing in inequality, but instead trying to defend a cherished social institution,” he said.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tim

    December 22, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    I’m glad DADT has finally been repealed, and its a big step toward equality, but I really wish the Democratic leadership had called for a floor vote on the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. Of course they could still do this seeing as how it already passed out of committee in the House & Senate, but at this point the senate isn’t going to pass any more Pro-LGBT legislation. If the house passed the bill it would at least lay the groundwork for future passage. ENDA should also receive a committee vote before Congress adjorns, although it obviously doesn’t have time for a floor vote. I agree with the story angle about the GOP blocking everything in the next Congress, but that’s why its so important for this Congress to take these preliminary actions, so that the Congress that takes office in 2013 will be better positioned for fast action on our issues.

  2. Sloan

    December 24, 2010 at 1:56 am

    If we believe it is impossible to make progress on ENDA in the next Congress, then we guarantee that it will be impossible. On the other hand, since we know that ENDA, like DADT repeal (and even more than DADT repeal), enjoys broad bipartisan support from Americans of all faiths, we need to embrace that knowledge and envision that advancing it IS possible in the new Congress. The only way we are guaranteed to fail is not to try. If we try, and we advocate before the more reasonable members of Congress of BOTH parties, and we truly embrace that this is a non-partisan issue, then equality may prevail — or at least progress. Believe we can’t, and we can’t. Believe we can, and we may.

  3. Peter the saint

    December 26, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Mr. President, marriage IS “a strong civil union”, since we’re talking about civil recognition by civil society and our civil court system, and not about how allah, god, saints, fairies, the earth or any other worshipped being may view my life or have any concern with it. It is about having full and complete access to rights and responsibilities that my peers have.

    As you surely know, creating a hodgepodge structure is a substitute, and it’s a poor substitute. What we have all LEARNED from the civil rights movements in this country is that WE ARE SUPPOSED TO LEARN NEW LESSONS AND UNDERSTANDINGS FROM THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS IN THIS COUNTRY! So, what that means is: you, me, us, everyone already now understands that to deny normal, law-abiding citizens the exact same rights that everyone else has IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. Crooks and liars got away with it for seventeen years with DADT — but they’re NOT gonna get away with doing that any longer. Crimes against my psyche are OVER.

  4. Marlene

    December 26, 2010 at 8:10 am

    First, we need to drop ENDA in favor of amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding gender/gender identity/gender expression and sexual orientation. ENDA is a half-assed bill that only prohibits bias on the job; it doesn’t protect against housing and public access discrimination whatsoever!

  5. SC Guy

    December 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

    It is always so amusingly irritating to read about the liberal groups talking so optimistically about their homosexual agenda. What they conveniently delete, though, is how difficult it was for the queers to get their agenda rammed through under the most ‘favorable’ circumstances, i.e. with a huge Dem majority in both houses of Congress. As a conservative, I felt it was likely that ENDA would pass in this Congress as well as other of the junk legislation and I pleasantly surprised to see the angst amongst even many Dems to move forward on this sort of garbage. Consider that even with a 58-42 Dem Congress, DADT barely made it past the filibuster and it took vote after sleazy vote to get it to pass.
    As usual, the media makes it sound like supporting homosexuality is totally mainstream when it is not. Consider that it is still totally legal to fire a homosexual or openly discriminate against them in employment and many other situations in 29 states.
    Also, it’s amusing to read the ‘optimism’ of making any progress in what is being labeled the most conservative House of Representatives in modern times. Do we honestly believe that they are going to anger their conservative base by voting the liberal line on these issues, especially after the DADT debacle? Please get real, people.

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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held virtually Dec. 2-3

Fauci, Levine, Pelosi to speak at opening session

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Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, is among speakers at this week’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health who became the nation’s highest-ranking transgender public official earlier this year, are among dozens of experts scheduled to participate in the 25th Annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS scheduled to take place virtually Dec. 2-3.

Fauci and Levine were scheduled to join Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as speakers at the conference’s opening plenary session at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2. 

Phillips and Levine were expected to provide information about President Joe Biden’s plans for updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which Biden was scheduled to announce on Dec. 1 at a White House World AIDS Day event.

Members of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus were also expected to discuss the federal policy agenda on HIV/AIDS at the opening plenary session. 

In addition to the opening plenary and three other plenary sessions, one more on Thursday, Dec. 2, and two on Friday, Dec. 3, the conference was scheduled to include 140 workshop sessions on a wide variety of HIV/AIDS related topics.

The annual United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is organized by the D.C.-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC, which was formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council before it changed its name to that of its widely known initials NMAC. 

“NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America,” the organization states on its website. “Health equity with communities of color is everyone’s challenge.”

Several of the workshop sessions cover the topic of expanding the local, state, and national efforts of using pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs known as PrEP as a means of preventing HIV infection. 

Other workshop sessions include: HIV CURE – Hot Topics in HIV Cure Research; A Town Hall on Aging and HIV; COVID, HIV, and Racism – How Providers Can Make a Difference; Expanding the Pleasure and HIV Prevention Toolkit: Kink As Harm Reduction; It’s About Time – HIV Research Just For Transgender Women; and Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Prevention Services Among U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Funded Community Based Organizations.

The conference’s fourth and closing plenary session, Foundation Stones to Building the EHE Effort in Indian County, “will highlight the work of those addressing HIV and COVID in Indian Country, rural states and among Alaska Natives with limited infrastructure,” according to a conference agenda statement. 

“This plenary addresses these challenges and provides innovative solutions by the Indian Country – making the case to support Native HIV care by providing essential building blocks,” the agenda statement says. 

Paul Kawata, NMAC’s executive director, says in a statement in the conference’s agenda booklet that he and his NMAC team are disappointed that the 2021 conference is being held virtually for the second year in a row.

“But we felt the issue of safety was simply too critical to ignore,” Kawata said in his statement. “I’ve been very concerned about our loved ones over 50 living with HIV through the whole COVID pandemic,” he said, noting that people in that category were dealing with isolation as well as a higher risk for COVID.

“I hope this conference, even though it is virtual, will help alleviate some of that isolation,” Kawata said. “We’ve worked very hard to make this conference not just an opportunity for training and education, but a chance to connect with others, reinforce those strands in your support net, and hopefully, establish some new connections.”

More information about the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS and instructions on registering to attend can be obtained at nmac.org.

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N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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