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Gays applaud Lieberman upon retirement announcement

Conn. senator credited with leading ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal effort

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Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn) announced his plans to retire in 2012 on Wednesday (Blade photo by Michael Key).

Gay advocates are commending Sen. Joseph Lieberman for the work he’s done during his career on LGBT issues — particularly repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — in the wake of the lawmaker’s announcement that he’ll retire from the U.S. Senate next year.

Lieberman, who ran as a vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket in 2000, announced he would not seek a fifth term as a U.S. senator on Wednesday during a speech at the Mariott hotel in Stanford, Conn.

“At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in the U.S. Senate and 40 years in elective office,” Lieberman said. “By my count, I’ve run at least 15 full-fledged campaigns — and that’s just in Connecticut, not counting the national campaigns I was involved in. So for me, it is time for another season, another purpose under Heaven.”

Lieberman said he’ll continue to work as a public servant for the remainder of his term and said his planned retirement enables to devote his “full measure of [his] energy and attention to getting things done for Connecticut and our country.”

“I will keep doing everything in my power to keep building strong bridges across party lines, to keep our country safe to win the wars we are in and to make sure America’s leadership on the world stage is principled and strong,” Lieberman said.

While credited as an LGBT advocate, Lieberman is unpopular among voters in Connecticut, according to one poll, which possibly prompted his decision to retire.

A Public Policy Poll published in October found that he had a 57 percent disapproval rating and 66 percent of voters said they would vote against him in the 2012 election.

Lieberman invoked the ire of many in the liberal base for supporting Republican John McCain over now President Obama in the 2008 election and for opposing the public option and Medicare expansion as part of health care reform.

Despite the disappointment he inspired in many Democrats, the Connecticut senator leaves a legacy of being the champion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal after his long fight to push a measure overturning the law through the Senate.

An opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since its passage in 1993, Lieberman in March introduced standalone legislation that would have repealed the military’s gay ban.

In May, Lieberman succeeded in attaching a repeal amendment in Senate Armed Services Committee to a major defense spending bill. After opposition successfully blocked the legislation from coming to the floor, Lieberman introduced new standalone repeal that found its way to the President Obama’s desk.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the importance of Lieberman’s contribution to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal effort is difficult to describe in words.

“There are few people that I can say ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ simply would not have happened if it weren’t for them, and he’s one of them,” Nicholson said. “So his contribution has been immeasurable, literally.”

Nicholson said Lieberman’s ability to “put a lot of personal, moderate capital” into the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal effort was responsible for bringing Republican support to the legislation.

“His staff really did work on this issue for hours and hours a day at senior levels on his staff,” Nicholson said. “I felt a huge commitment there that hasn’t been matched in any other office that I’ve seen.”

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy, the Democratic lawmaker who led “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House, called Lieberman “a champion of equality” and said repeal of the military’s gay ban “would not have happened in the Senate without his effort.”

“His argument of why this policy was so wrong and the real need to do this now was instrumental in making repeal a reality,” Murphy said.

Lieberman’s role on LGBT issues wasn’t limited to LGBT issues. He was a co-sponsor of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and in 1996 was among the 49 senators to vote in favor of the legislation.

The Connecticut senator also championed legislation known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, which would provide health and pension benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. In 2009, the legislation was reported out of Senate committee, but never saw a vote on the Senate floor.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, called Lieberman “a longtime ally and advocate for the LGBT community,” particularly for his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“He was an amazing ally in pushing everyday to make sure that we got over the finish line,” Lieberman said. “His hard work was certainly critical to that success.”

But Lieberman isn’t entirely supportive of the advancements sought by many in the LGBT community. Like President Obama, Lieberman doesn’t support marriage rights for gay couples and in 1996 voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Still, Cole-Schwartz said Lieberman has been “consistently there” for LGBT activists in recent years.

“I think there is a long way for a number of our leaders to go in terms of recognizing our right to full and equal marriage, but his record aside from that has been stellar,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Despite Lieberman’s lack of support for same-sex marriage, Lieberman voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have made a ban on same-sex marriage part of the U.S. Constitution.

According to the Huffington Post, Democrats who could replace Lieberman include Susan Bysiewicz, a former Connecticut secretary of state, as well as Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Linda McMahon, a former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and 2010 candidate for U.S. Senate, is widely expected to run again as a Republican contender.

But what’s next for Lieberman? Speculation has already emerged that he could replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he retires from his position sometime this year.

According to Politico, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — a longtime friend of Lieberman, even though he opposed him on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal effort — said he would support Lieberman’s nomination as defense chief should Obama name him to the post.

“I really hope that the president would consider him,” McCain was quoted as saying. “I hadn’t thought about it but I sure hope, whatever happens, he will play a major role on national security issues.”
 
Nicholson said taking on the position as defense secretary would “certainly be fitting” for Lieberman because of his experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee.
 
“He has enormous experience being … a congressional diplomat of sorts — going on trips overseas for foreign policy reasons,” Nicholson said. “His defense credentials are just undisputed.”
 
Should Gates not issue certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before he exits as defense secretary — as law the signed by Obama requires to implement open service — Nicholson said Lieberman would be a shoe-in for issuing certification.
 
“He was willing to introduce an immediate repeal bill,” Nicholson said. “So even before the certification option was a part of the legislation, he was willing to move forward with it.”
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How a pro-transgender memo sneaked through the Trump administration

2020 memo an outlier amid otherwise hostile policy

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By the time the Trump administration ended, it had solidified a reputation for being hostile to transgender people — barring them from military service and reversing regulations aimed at ensuring non-discrimination protections regardless of gender identity — but one minor policy decision managed to sneak through affirming the acceptance of employees going through gender transition.

Top officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, a company support agency for the U.S. government, outlined in a memo dated June 15, 2020 the process for employees and supervisors to “navigate transitioning while employed at the DIA.” The document, which was not previously made available to the public, was obtained earlier this month by the Washington Blade through an appeal of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Transitioning in the workplace is a personal decision,” the memo says. “DIA encourages transitioning employees to openly communicate during the transitioning process; discuss plans for workplace transition with their supervisor or manager; and, as appropriate, include any steps that will prompt workplace changes (e.g., transitioning employees may begin using a different name or pronoun).”

Because the fundamental nature of a memo outlining steps to help employees in the workplace transition is contrary to the overwhelming anti-transgender outlook of the Trump administration, the DIA memo appears to have been an internal effort shielded from the White House at the time as opposed to a government-wide initiative.

The DIA guidance for transgender employees runs contrary to other sweeping Trump administration policies that sought to enable discrimination against transgender people, including the military policy former President Trump issued via Twitter in 2017 outright banning them from service “in any capacity.”

Other anti-trans actions include the Department of Health & Human Services rescinding an Obama-era regulation that barred health care providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients, including the denial of transition-related care, which was orchestrated by then-director of Office of Civil Rights Roger Severino and came just days before the DIA memo.

Both the military ban and the health care rollback have since been reversed under the Biden administration.

Another Trump-era policy at a comparable scope to the DIA memo to employees, however, was the U.S. Office of Personal Management deleting on a page on its website outlining the guidance for accommodating federal workers going through the transition process. The DIA memo, which facilitates those transitions within that one agency, contradicts the message sent by the deletion of the OPM resource.

Although two sources familiar with the document told the Washington Blade it was timed for Pride month (which would be consistent with the June publication date), it would also be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination. After all, the Bostock decision came out on the same day as the date on the DIA memo.

A defense insider familiar with the DIA memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was among those who said the memo went out in recognition of Pride month and said it was intended to ensure there was guidance for transition at the agency.

“We had a number of different individuals who were going through the transition process and management needed to understand what the policy as they dealt with the individuals who were going through transition,” the insider said.

The insider said production of the memo “wasn’t part of any government wide effort” and completely within DIA. The memo, the insider said, wasn’t creating any new policy for the agency, but “looking at existing policy, and then providing our manager and our workforce clear guidance.”

Asked whether there was any backlash to the memo, the insider said, “No, I would say absolutely not.” Once the guidance went out, the insider said, he “didn’t hear anything from outside the organization” about it.

In response to a follow-up question on whether the White House or Pentagon under Trump expressed any objections to the guidance, the insider denied that was the case: “No one said anything to me about it.”

Other highlights of the memo include options for diversity training to better understand transition-related issues; instructions to refer to employees by the name and pronoun of their choice; a reminder the Defense Intelligence Agency has no dress code, therefore employees are allowed to wear attire in the manner they choose; and a guarantee employees shall have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Employees may transition without prior coordination, the memo says, or may do so while creating a transition plan that includes the date the transition will begin, whether time off is needed and how to discuss the situation with colleagues.

“Employees can use the restroom and other facilities that best align with their gender identity and are not restricted to use of a single-user restroom,” the memo says. “Employees are not required to undergo or provide proof of any medical procedures to use restroom facilities designed for use by a specific gender.”

Additionally, the document outlines the process for administrative record updates, including making a request for a gender marker changer through human resources, updating personnel files, and changing DIA and intelligence community badges and identification cards.

A DIA spokesperson, in response to email inquiries from the Washington Blade on the document, confirmed the memo was issued to coincide with Pride month and remains in effect to this day.

“Released jointly to the DIA civilian workforce by the DIA Chief of Staff, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, and Office of Human Resources, the memo titled ‘Gender Transition in the Workplace for Civilian Employees’ serves to notify DIA civilian employees of the Agency’s position on supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) employees, including those taking steps to align themselves more fully with their gender identities,” the DIA spokesperson said. “The memo was released in June 2020 to coincide with Pride Month and serves as active guidance.”

In many cases, regulations and guidance would have to go through the White House Office of Management & Budget or Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, but not necessarily, especially an internal memo to supervisors and employees to reinforce policy that purportedly was already in place.

A Trump White House official said he was unaware of the document until the Blade brought it to his attention and said it would not have come to the White House because it was never published in the Federal Register. The Office of Management & Budget didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it ever was brought to the attention of the White House at the time of its publication in 2020.

While regulations within U.S. agencies go to the White House for review and consultations, government agencies as well as businesses often consult transgender groups for assistance in developing guidance for transitioning in the workforce, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, a transgender advocate who served as executive director of the advocacy group during the Trump administration, said she was completely unaware of the memo until the Blade brought it to her attention, although DIA would have been “required by law” to have such a policy for transgender workers after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.

“We would have been happy to see it, but this was not the Trump administration doing something good,” Keisling said. “This was HR bureaucrats, I don’t mean bureaucrat in a bad way at all. This is HR bureaucrats following the law, and it clearly didn’t rise to the level of the White House.”

Keisling said she was unaware of any similar guidance for gender transition coming from a U.S. agency during the Trump administration. However, she disclosed her organization was able to work with federal workers to get “a couple of sneaky things done the White House didn’t know about” consistent with the DIA memo, although she didn’t elaborate.

“And super importantly, it’s the intelligence community and defense and intelligence, which Defense Intelligence Agency obviously is both,” Keisling said. “They have a little more autonomy than others anyway, so … if you told me there was something surprising from somewhere on a personnel issue, I would have guessed that it was somewhere in the intelligence report or Foreign Service community.”

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Texas to resume abuse investigations into families with trans children

“To be clear the Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters & DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse”

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In a statement issued Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) agency announced that it will resume abuse investigations into families with transgender kids.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the DFPS statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse, the Dallas Morning News noted.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that DFPS can continue to investigate families in the state who provide medically necessary care for their Trans children, excluding the parties in the litigation that brought the matter forward in a lawsuit filed in March.

In its decision, the court emphasized that neither Attorney General Paxton nor Governor Abbott has the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of medically necessary lifesaving health care for transgender youth as child abuse. But the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

Trans activist Landon Richie who has been deeply involved in the efforts to mitigate the anti-trans actions by Texas lawmakers and has led protests against the transphobic actions by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Blade:

“To be clear, the Texas Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters and DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse. While the decision means now only the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have protection, it reiterates that Attorney General Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter are not binding and not enforceable, meaning DFPS’s actions moving forward are at the discretion of Commissioner Masters only and not the state leadership’s directives. The Texas Supreme Court allowing for the district court to provide a temporary injunction is a good sign for people’s protection. 

It bears reminding families in Texas and around the country that today’s decision (and yesterday’s regarding gender-affirming care at UT Southwestern and Texas Children’s) reaffirms what we already know: opinions are only opinions and the people in power cannot abuse that power to abuse trans people. We know decisions can change at a moment’s notice and that this fight will take years, but to our families and communities under attack, please remain strong and take a moment to breathe. We’re in this together. “

An employee of DFPS who was a litigant in the lawsuit is represented by the ACLU of Texas.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing that unnamed employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

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“Don’t Say Gay” student leader says school stopping run for student leadership

Jack Petocz organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill & annoyed administrators suspended him

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Jack Petocz (Center) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government earlier this Spring (Courtesy of Jack Petocz/Facebook)

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.

On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.

“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”

The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on Change.org to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Later on during the day Driggers posted to the Change.org petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.

“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.

Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.

On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.

In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:

“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”

On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.

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