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Rep. Hunter attempts to block ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Measure would expand certification requirement

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An opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House intends to introduce legislation that would effectively block implementation of an end to the military’s gay ban.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and two-term House member, plans to introduce legislation that would expand the certification requirement for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Under current law, which President Obama signed on Dec. 22, repeal would take effect 60 days after the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service.

Hunter’s proposed legislation would expand this certification responsibility to the military service chiefs: the chief of naval operations, the Marine Corps commandant, the Army chief of staff and the Air Force chief of staff.

Joe Kasper, a Hunter spokesperson, said the expansion of certification is important because the service chiefs have an intimate knowledge of the military.

“It’s necessary that the service chiefs, who understand more than anyone else the unique challenges within their respective branches, are part of this process,” Kasper said.

Passage of the legislation would likely block repeal from happening because many service chiefs have testifed before Congress that they oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time.

Most prominent among them is Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who in December told reporters that an end to the military’s gay ban would cause a distraction that could “cost Marines’ lives.”

Hunter has been among the most vocal opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House. In December, he vehemently spoke out against ending the military’s gay ban as the chamber debated a repeal measure.

“It sounds good to make that comparison, that this is like the civil rights movement,” Hunter said. “The problem is the United States military is not the YMCA . It’s something special. And the reason that we have the greatest military in the world is because of the way that it is right now.”

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in December, some service chiefs — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — testified that they didn’t feel the need to have the responsibility of issuing certification for repeal because Defense Secretary Robert Gates would adequately represent their voice going forward.

“I am very comfortable with my ability to provide input to Secretary Gates and to the Chairman that will be listened to and considered,” Casey said. “So you could put it in there, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Casey added that he thinks an expansion of the certification requirement would undercut the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which set up the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the principal military adviser to the president.

Kasper said the legislation is currently in draft form and Hunter hasn’t yet made final plans on when it would be introduced.

The Hill newspaper, which first reported the news, quoted a congressional aide as saying the bill could be introduced as soon as Tuesday and that 15 to 20 Republicans have already signed on in support.

Whether House Republican leadership would bring the legislation up to a vote on the floor is unknown. A spokesperson for U.S. House John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t respond on short notice to a request to comment.

In the Senate, where Democrats have retained control, it’s unlikely the legislation would come up for a floor vote as a standalone bill. Still, the situation could be different if the House passed the measure as part of a larger moving vehicle — such as an upcoming defense authorization bill.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the announced plans to introduce the legislation aren’t surprising, but are disappointing.

“Let there be no doubt this is an attempted [plan] to placate a vocal minority and stir up discord before certification happens,” he said. “Mr. Hunter’s intent is to derail [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal if he possibly can.”

Sarvis said he doesn’t think the majority of members of the House want to disrupt repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at this stage, and he knows that isn’t the view of a majority of members of the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“Congress, the most senior leadership in the Pentagon, and the American people have spoken on this issue,” Sarvis said. “Mr. Hunter, like a few of his colleagues, is stuck in another era.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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