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After ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal, what’s next?

‘Our goals have been met’

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Groups that worked to advance “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year aren’t resting on their laurels as they continue to see work ahead in ensuring that open service is implemented and gays in the military are treated fairly.

In the near term, the main priority for those organizations now that President Obama has signed legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is to ensure that certification of open service happens swiftly.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization will pursue open service as required by the law signed by the president.

“Dec. 22 was a great day, but the reality is, we don’t have repeal,” Sarvis said. “The reality is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is still the law. So, our first priority is the first 90, the first 180 days is to get certification.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said his organization will be in “monitoring mode” for possibly the remainder of the year.

“The finishing line is here, but we haven’t crossed it yet, unless and until we get certification and good regulations,” Belkin said. “Our job at this point is to just make sure that the process continues and that if there’s any foot-dragging at the Pentagon, that we call attention to it.”

Belkin said he anticipates the Palm Center will produce another study about three or six months after certification is issued to determine if implementation was successful.

The measure Obama signed would only enact open service after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

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

In the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama committed to certifying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before the year is out. The president said he expects certification to happen in a “matter of months” in an interview last month with The Advocate.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he won’t issue certification for open service until new regulations are drafted and training has been instituted in the armed forces.

Beyond certification, groups working on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” foresee a number of outstanding tasks that will remain, including providing legal services and ensuring that benefits are offered to gay troops.

Sarvis said SLDN will continue to provide legal services to gay service members who are facing discharges or who have questions about coming out while in service.

“I think, as an organization, SLDN will still be here providing legal services, working with Congress on oversight and being a resource to the Pentagon to make open service a reality,” he said.

Sarvis said since the legislation was signed, SLDN has heard from more than 225 service members who’ve called with questions about continuing to serve safely or receiving benefits in the post-repeal military.

Further, Sarvis said ensuring gay service members receive the same benefits afforded to straight service members would be another aim for SLDN.

“The post-repeal focus, in large part, will be parity for LGBT service members — particularly parity with respect to benefits: health benefits, GI benefits across the board,” Sarvis said.

The Pentagon report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — published Nov. 30 — states that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the U.S. military from affording many benefits to same-sex partners of service members, but other benefits, such as death benefits and hospital visitation access, would still be available.

Sarvis said a combination of DOMA and other regulations prohibit gay service members from receiving the same benefits as their straight counterparts, but there is some leeway.

“There are some instances where the [defense] secretary has some authority with respect to definitional changes for dependents … but for most benefits, particularly involving spouses … DOMA is a big barrier,” Sarvis said.

Belkin also acknowledged that a number of tasks will remain even after certification takes place and open service is implemented — although he said he doesn’t know if the Palm Center would be the best organization to address them.

Among the outstanding jobs that Belkin cited are providing employee resources to liaison between gay troops and the Pentagon; promoting public education on transgender people in the U.S. military; and working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create programming for gay service members.

Beyond the upcoming year, Belkin said he isn’t sure what tasks the Palm Center will pursue, but added he suspects consultation with other organizations could be on the agenda.

“We’ll be offering advice or pro-bono consulting to any organization that wants to learn some of the lessons that we learned along the way about public education and how to use social science to inform public policy conversations,” Belkin said.

Pro-LGBT groups that took on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of a portfolio that included other issues plan to continue to use resources for other items on the agenda.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said his organization last year contributed about $3.5 million to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal effort. But he cautioned against asking where that money would go this year.

“It’s not necessarily a fair posit to say, ‘You have these resources, which you dedicated to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” what are you going to do with that pot of money now?'” Sainz said. “Because as you know, the [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] issue changed considerably over the course of the year and we don’t yet know either the opportunities or the vulnerabilities that we have going into this coming year.”

One lingering question: What will anti-gay groups dedicated to keeping “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the books do now that legislative action on repealing the law is complete.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Michigan-based Center for Military Readiness, was among the leading advocates attempting to stop gays from serving openly in the military. The “forced intimacy” of having gay troops serve with straight service members was among her favorite phrases.

The Center for Military Readiness didn’t respond to multiple requests on what the organization will pursue now that legislation has been passed to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Belkin noted that Donnelly pursued keeping gays out of the military as part of a broader effort that includes preventing women from serving in combat.

“Her broad concern is the feminization of the military,” Belkin said. “So, there are a lot of ways in which she has tried to roll the country back to the 20th or the 19th century, so she has plenty of culture wars left to fight.”

Whether groups that have focused on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will have reduced resources now that legislative action is complete also remains in question.

Sarvis said “time will tell” what kind of resources SLDN will have as he acknowledged the organization’s board approved in November — and reaffirmed in December — a slightly smaller budget from what it had last year.

According to Sarvis, SLDN’s board approved a budget for 2011 that was around 12.5 percent smaller than it was in 2010. He said it decreased from $2.4 million to $2.2 million.

Belkin said he doesn’t think the Palm Center will have same budget as it had in previous years and said the organization plans to stop fundraising.

“We have endowments that will keep sustaining us at a lower level capacity, but, I think, for the most part, once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone, then the biggest part of our mission will be over, and we’ll be one of those organizations that’s fortunate enough to say, ‘Our goals have been met,'” Belkin said.

Servicemembers United couldn’t be reached for comment on what the organization intends to pursue now that legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is complete.

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National

Guatemalan LGBTQ activist granted asylum in US

Estuardo Cifuentes fled country in 2019

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Estuardo Cifuentes outside a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, on March 3, 2021, shortly after he entered the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes)

The U.S. has granted asylum to a Guatemalan LGBTQ activist who fled his country in 2019.

Estuardo Cifuentes and his partner ran a digital marketing and advertising business in Guatemala City. 

He previously told the Washington Blade that gang members extorted from them. Cifuentes said they closed their business after they attacked them.

Cifuentes told the Blade that Guatemalan police officers attacked him in front of their home when he tried to kiss his partner. Cifuentes said the officers tried to kidnap him and one of them shot at him. He told the Blade that authorities placed him under surveillance after the incident and private cars drove past his home.

Cifuentes arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, in June 2019. He asked for asylum in the U.S. based on the persecution he suffered in Guatemala because of his sexual orientation.

The Trump administration forced Cifuentes to pursue his asylum case from Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program that became known as the “remain in Mexico” policy.

Cifuentes while in Matamoros ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that the Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create.

The Biden-Harris administration in January 2021 suspended enrollment in MPP. Cifuentes entered the U.S. on March 3, 2021.

“We are profoundly relieved and grateful that my husband and I have been officially recognized as asylees in the United States,” Cifuentes told the Blade on Monday in an email. “This result marks the end of a long and painful fight against the persecution that we faced in Guatemala because of our sexual orientation.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is among those who have said discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation are among the root causes of migration from Guatemala and other countries in Central America.

Cifuentes is now the client services manager for Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazón, a campaign that works “hard to reunite and defend the rights of families impacted by inhumane immigration policies.” He told the Blade he will continue to help LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants.

“In this new chapter of our lives, we pledge to work hard to support others in similar situations and to contribute to the broader fight for the rights and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ migrant community,” said Cifuentes. “We are hopeful that our story will serve as a call to action to confront and end persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court rules Idaho to enforce gender care ban

House Bill 71 signed in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY MIA MALDONADO | The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other trans youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of HB 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for trans Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s HB 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when HB 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to trans people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two trans teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the new year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on trans health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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