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Service members torn over coming out

In wake of repeal, some ready to talk, others staying in closet

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For one gay Air Force pilot, it remains business as usual as he keeps his sexual orientation a secret despite passage of legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The Charleston, S.C., resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he considers himself a private individual and sees no need to make public to his Air Force comrades his gay identity.

“It’s just not my style,” he said. “So, no, I’m probably not going to say anything. If somebody asks me, I might say, ‘Well, if you’re asking the question, then you probably already know the answer to it, so I’ll leave it at that.'”

The pilot said he sees no need to take a date to squadron picnic as straight airmen might bring their spouses.

“As far I can tell, nobody suspects that I’m gay at work, other than I’m single,” the pilot said. “We’re a bunch a pilots, so sometimes it’s not easy for relationships, so a lot of guys that are even older than I am have never been married, so it’s not uncommon. I don’t stand out being in my early 30s and single.”

The pilot’s decision to keep his sexual orientation a secret represents one option for gay service members now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way out the door.

On Dec. 22, President Obama signed into law legislation allowing for repeal of the military’s gay ban, bringing to a close a long struggle to repeal the 17-year-old law.

Following the signing of the legislation, some service members say they intend to make no changes in how they interact with their military colleagues, others plan to make their sexual orientation public, while others say they’re already out to others in their unit.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he thinks the service members will respond to the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the variety of ways that civilian gays and lesbians handle their sexual orientation.

“I largely think it’ll reflect civilian society,” Nicholson said. “Some people will make that personal judgment to not come out, some people will decide to come out for the first time.”

But for the most part, Nicholson said he thinks the end of the military’s gay ban will “in all likelihood be a boring event” that won’t change things for gay service members.

“Some people are already out, and that will continue,” Nicholson said. “Others are not out, and it’s not necessarily because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ that they’re not out because of personal choice or environmental judgments.”

Nicholson predicted that a “small minority” of gay service members will come out to make a statement about their sexual orientation.

“In the rest of the gay community, you see some people who subscribe to the philosophy it’s important to be out to get people more accustomed with gays and lesbians,” Nicholson said. “And I think you’ll see that reflected in a certain group of the military as well.”

One Navy corpsman who spoke to the Blade said he expects no changes after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he’s already out to the majority of his colleagues in his unit.

“I’ve also never straight-up told people, but a lot of people have met people that I’ve dated or people have come out to a bar with me or just with my friends,” he said.

The corpsman, a D.C. resident, said he hasn’t been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” even though he’s out to many of his colleagues because “it was never an issue.”

“You’re carrying yourself in a certain way wearing the uniform and whatever you do outside of work has nothing to do with your job performance,” he said. “I feel like I performed to where anything I did in my off time shouldn’t bother anybody.”

Meanwhile, in Southern Maryland, a Marine Corps sergeant who’s not out to his unit said he intends to make his sexual orientation public after repeal has been in effect for a while.

“In the military life, I don’t see right now as the time to jump out of the closet until after everything goes through and they do all the sensitivity training,” he said. “Probably within a couple years, I’ll probably slowly start just coming out.”

But delaying his coming out process doesn’t mean the sergeant is indifferent to passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation. When Obama signed repeal, he said his reaction was to “have a couple bottles of Champagne.”

“I was ecstatic about it,” he said. “It came a lot faster than I thought it was going to come because I didn’t see it coming before Congress let out.”

The sergeant said he wants to wait before making any declarations about his sexual orientation because he wants senior military leadership that may be uncomfortable with gays to retire first.

“I want to see a lot of more them retire and get out of the picture and a lot more of my peers and my generation move up into their spots,” the sergeant said. “The others from my age range, from what I see, are a lot more accepting of it.”

The sergeant said younger Marines went to school “with five, six, seven, 10 people in their graduating class who were openly gay” — an experience not shared by senior leadership.

Among the strongest opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal prior to Obama’s signing of the legislation was Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who said an end to the military’s gay ban could be a distraction that could “cost Marines’ lives.”

Still, after the law was signed, the commandant issued guidance stating that the Marine Corps will lead the way in implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The sergeant said he doesn’t share Amos’ earlier concerns that open service in the military would be a problem and predicted that Marines would still be able to work as a team.

“That person still wants to survive just as much as I want to survive and go home to mom’s home cooking with apple pie,” he said.

As others make plans to come out at a future time, some service members who were previously closeted are reportedly already making headway in the coming out process in the short time since Obama signed repeal.

The co-director of OutServe, a global network of LGBT service members, who goes by the alias J.D. Smith to avoid being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said he’s already seeing an “interesting trend” of gay service members starting to come out to their families and others with whom they’re close.

“I think the process is people are coming out to people in their units,” Smith said. “People are coming out to their close friends that they trust because they know that it’s about to happen, so I think the coming out process in general has begun even with the law still in effect.”

Smith said he knows gay service members who for the first time brought home their significant others over the holidays to introduce them to their families as a result of Obama signing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Even though the president has signed the legislation, repeal has yet to take effect and gay service members could still be ousted under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for some time.

Open service will only happen after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that that U.S. military is ready for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The law provides no timeline for when this certification must take place, but Obama said in a recent interview that he foresees it happening in the course of “months, not years.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he wants to implement training for service members before going forward with allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Gates hasn’t given a specific timeline for how long the process would take, but has told reporters he wants to move in a “matter of weeks” through the early stages of the process.

Further, after certification takes place, a 60-day waiting period for congressional review must pass before gays can serve openly in the military without fear of discharge.

Although an implementation date remains uncertain, gay service members are expressing confidence that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will soon be off the books.

The naval corpsman said he’s confident that repeal of the military’s gay ban will become final, but said he still anticipates that the end may take between six months and a year.

“You can’t expect for something like night to day,” he said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time for all these things to go through and for people to be accepting of it.”

The Air Force pilot said he thinks repeal will be implemented this year because he believes Gates and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen want open service to happen on their watches.

“They don’t want to drag it out forever,” the pilot said. “I’m thinking that probably by the end of September, it’ll be all said and done. That’s my personal opinion just based on what I heard about how it’s going to take to do the different training at different levels.”

Nicholson said the perception that open service will come to the military soon is widely shared among gay troops and that the people who are “raising the alarm bells” tend to come from outside the military.

“The tone is celebratory and one of relief,” Nicholson said. “I think a lot of people that I’ve talked to and that have proactively talked to me about it seem to think it’s inevitable, it’s just a matter of time.”

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Texas

Anti-trans Texas Democrat loses primary to queer woman

Lauren Ashley Simmons defeated state Rep. Shawn Thierry

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Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry, picture from a public feed, and Lauren Ashley Simmons, picture courtesy of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund.

BY ERIN REED | Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: She resoundingly won by a 65-35 percent margin.

On May 12, Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for trans youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling trans girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause trans youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate by a 87-13 percent margin, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union. Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-trans politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 percent in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the U.K., for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on trans rights.

In the U.S., however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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National

National LGBTQ blood donation drive underway

‘Summer of Giving’ campaign to promote awareness of new donor guidelines

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Gay men are eligible to donate blood after decades of being banned. (Photo by Belish/Bigstock)

GLAAD, which describes itself as the world’s leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization, and America’s Blood Centers, a national organization of community-based independent blood donation centers, announced on May 22 they have launched an LGBTQ supportive “Summer of Giving” national blood donation drive campaign.

The announcement says the campaign is aimed at encouraging “businesses to host blood drives and all eligible individuals to donate blood in support of the recent FDA eligibility changes that promote fairness and inclusivity in the donation process while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.”

The joint announcement was referring to the final revised blood donation rules issued in May 2023 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that replaced a previous policy requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for three months before they would be eligible to donate blood.

The previous policy was among the gradual changes made by the FDA from its original policy in the 1980s of automatically banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood due to their perceived risk of HIV infection. LGBTQ activists called that policy discriminatory because it banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood even if they were not as individuals at risk for HIV infection.

The new policy, adopted in May 2023, according to a statement released by the FDA, put in place a screening process that asks all prospective donors regardless of their sexual orientation to answer a series of individual, risk-based questions to determine their eligibility for donating blood.

The FDA statement said implementation of the new policy “will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community” as stated by Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“The ‘Summer of Giving’ is a celebration of the LGBTQ community and decades of work to remove the stigma too many potential donors have to endure,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in the joint statement. “Removing discriminatory barriers and following facts and science will ease the critical national blood shortage,” Ellis said, adding, “This campaign sends a long-needed message that LGBTQ people are welcome and can generously contribute to their communities to help save lives.”

Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, said in the statement that her organization is proud to join GLAAD to promote the facts surrounding the FDA’s change in blood donor policy, which she said, “prioritizes the safety of the blood supply while bringing more equality to the donation process.”

Fry added, “The Summer of Giving campaign is a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to donate blood and host blood drives in support of a new era of blood donor eligibility. Together we can help save lives during a time of critical need for the blood community.”

 The joint statement announcing the LGBTQ supportive blood drive says it would take place from May 28, 2024, through National Blood Donation Day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, “in recognition of the critical need for blood donations during the summer months.” According to the statement, “Despite the ongoing demand for blood products, donations typically decline during this period due to travel and the lack of school-based blood drives.”

Under the revised FDA blood donation policy, as was the case with the previous policy, anyone who tests positive for HIV is not eligible to donate blood. The new policy includes these restrictions, which apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender:

• Any individual who has had a new sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex in the same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact from donating blood.

 • Any individual who has had more than one sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex during that same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact.

• Any individual who has taken any oral antiviral medication to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for three months from the most recent dose. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has taken any long-lasting antiviral medication by injection to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for two years from the time from the most recent injection. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has ever taken any mediation (i.e., ART) to treat an HIV infection is permanently deferred.

GLAAD and America’s Blood Centers say further details about the new FDA blood donation policy and to find the nearest community blood center, interested persons should access glaad.org/tag/summer-of-giving

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California

Effort behind Calif. ballot measure to limit transgender youth’s rights fails

Protect Kids California failed to collect enough signatures

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Protect Kids California CEO Jonathan Zachreson, right, with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and an unnamed delegate at the California GOP convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Zachreson’s Facebook page)

The effort by the anti-LGBTQ conservative group Protect Kids California, headed by Roseville school board member Jonathan Zachreson, to collect some 550,000 valid signatures to place a transphobic transgender youth proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot has failed.

In a press release on Tuesday, the deadline set by the California secretary of state, the group claimed it had gathered more than 400,000 signatures, falling short of the requisite threshold number for inclusion on the ballot.

Protect Kids California submitted the proposed ballot initiative — presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024,” last September. The proposed ballot initiative would have:

  • Forced outing of transgender youth to their parents, ensuring that trans kids cannot have safety or privacy in schools if they are not ready to come out to family. Often these policies also include violations of privacy for the student when they discuss their gender identity with school counselors.
  • Banning of transgender youth from sports that match their gender identity, stigmatizing them and often forcing them out of sports altogether. Notably, these provisions typically fail to differentiate between high-stakes elite competitions and casual middle school teams. They also generally don’t provide for pathways to participation like hormone therapy, a method that has been researched and employed to address concerns of potential “unfair advantages” in competitions. California, which allows youth to access gender affirming care, will have youth who never underwent the puberty of their assigned sex at birth who would also be banned under this provision.
  • Banning gender affirming care for trans youth shown to be lifesaving. Gender affirming care is associated with a 73 percent reduction in suicidality and over 50 studies assembled by Cornell University show its benefits. California is one of several states that has recently moved to protect transgender youth and their medical care, and such a restriction would impact a large number of transgender kids in the state.

“We are relieved that anti-LGBTQ+ extremists have failed to reach the required signature threshold to qualify their anti-transgender ballot initiatives to the November 2024 ballot. Equality California will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ youth everywhere, and push back against any and all efforts by extremist groups who seek to discriminate against them,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “To every LGBTQ+ youth in California: Know that you are loved and valued.”

The anti-LGBTQ group placed partial blame for the failure on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who the group had sued over the title and summary he assigned to its ballot measure that would strip rights from trans minors.

The Bay Area Reporter noted the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit on Feb. 13 in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Protect Kids California that alleged Bonta’s personal beliefs led to a biased title and summary. Therefore, the center contended the ballot measure proponents should be given 180 additional days for signature gathering without discounting signatures already collected.

“Respondent [Bonta] has demonstrated that he personally, and in his official capacity, is opposed to any kind of notification by a public school to a parent or guardian that his or her child is exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria when the child asks the school to publicly treat him or her as the opposite sex with a new name or pronouns, and to allow the child to use the sex-segregated facilities of the opposite sex,” claimed the groups in their lawsuit.

But a Sacramento Superior Court judge sided with Bonta in a ruling that was first issued tentatively on April 19 and was made final on April 22. Judge Stephen Acquisto ruled that Bonta’s title and summary are accurate.

“Under current law, minor students have express statutory rights with respect to their gender identity,” Acquisto stated. “A substantial portion of the proposed measure is dedicated to eliminating or restricting these statutory rights … The proposed measure would eliminate express statutory rights and place a condition of parental consent on accommodations that are currently available without such condition.”

“The proposed measure objectively ‘restricts rights’ of transgender youth by preventing the exercise of their existing rights. ‘Restricts rights of transgender youth’ is an accurate and impartial description of the proposed measure,” Acquisto added.

The attorney general’s office has some leeway when it comes to determining ballot titles, the judge noted.

In a statement provided to the Bay Area Reporter on April 24, after news that the decision had been made permanent, Protect Kids California attorney Nicole Pearson stated, “The mental gymnastics used to justify this prejudicial title and summary are not only an egregious abuse of discretion that entitles our clients to an appeal, but a chilling interpretation of law that jeopardizes the very foundation of our constitutional republic. We are reviewing our options for an appeal of these clear errors and will announce a decision shortly.”

Additional reporting by the Bay Area Reporter.

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