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Pentagon maps out way ahead for open service

Officials pledge to move forward with ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal swiftly

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Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright (Blade photo by Michael Key).

Top Pentagon officials on Friday gave assurances that the U.S. armed forces would implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal swiftly and that training need not be instituted throughout the entirety of the military before an end to the gay ban is certified.

During a news conference, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright briefed reporters on Pentagon plans for moving ahead with open service.

Cartwright noted that ending the gay ban doesn’t require “100 percent of the people to be trained” and said troops in the Reserves and National Guard may not receive the new education before going forward.

“We’re going to try to get as a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can — and that will be our focus initially — because that’s the way we manage deployments,” Cartwright said. “But it doesn’t require 100 percent of the people, and we’re going to have some challenges with Guard and Reserve that are not on active duty right now, finding them, getting to them, etc.”

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he concurs with Cartwright’s assessment that training need not be instituted throughout the entire military before going ahead.

“I agree with General Cartwright that all of the troops, from top to bottom, do not need to undergo a comprehensive training and educational program before there is certification,” Sarvis said. “The training and education plan need only be in place. The fact is education and training around open service can be accomplished in the first and second quarter of this year.”

During the news conference Stanley echoed comments made earlier this month by Gates and said he envisions the implementation of repeal being a three-step process. The first step would be changing policies and regulations; the second, issuing new training; and the third, educating the actual force.

“As we do that, and we’re doing it expeditiously,” Stanley said. “We’re doing it quickly in terms of the first parts of that.”

Stanley said the military services will start the training in February, but noted each service is going to approach training differently.

Cartwright similarly said the military service chiefs feel the best way to move forward with repeal is move as quickly as possible — even as he acknowledged that process of educating 2.2 million in the U.S. military means “we’re probably going to have some discovery as we go.”

“The service chiefs — the one key activity that has probably common to all of the meetings has been feeling that moving along expeditiously is better than dragging it out,” Cartwright said. “We’ve learned that from other services, other nations that have moved down this path.”

Cartwright said the Pentagon has instituted a “feedback mechanism” in which the service chiefs would meet every two weeks to discuss changes and concerns as the implementation process moves forward.

In a statement, Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the speed with which the Pentagon is moving with implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is “promising.”

“We will continue to monitor this process and communicate any concerns that arise to the military leadership as the process unfolds, but overall we are pleased with the Pentagon’s good faith effort to move with deliberate speed to end this chapter in our history,” Nicholson said.

In a memo issued Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tasked Stanley with producing for implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal no later than Feb. 4. Also on Friday, Stanley issued policy guidance to the military services directing them to identify regulations that would be affected by repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to draft changes to conform to an end to the law.

“We expect to see essentially not a lot of changes in the policy, but there definitely needs to be policy clarification,” Stanley said.

President Obama signed legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal on Dec. 22, but the gay ban won’t be off the books until he, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the military is prepared. After certification takes place, an additional 60-day waiting period must pass before gays can serve openly.

In his State of the Union address, Obama committed to implementing open service in the military this year. Gates has said he wants to implement new training before moving forward.

Asked whether there’s a target date for when certification will take place, Stanley declined offer a specific time and said the conditions on the ground will “dictate how fast we go.”

“To even imply that we have a target to do it by this date would be a misnomer,” Stanley said. “In essence, we’re going to move responsibly, quickly, but deliberately as we go through the process.”

Despite Obama’s commitment to make repeal happen by the year’s end, Cartwright said the military reserves the right to withhold certification for longer if a service chief hasan objection or if an unforeseen issue arises.

“If there’s an outstanding issue that we just didn’t anticipate, we certainly would reserve the right for that service chief, one, to have a voice in it, and two, to potentially … delaying activity,” Cartwright said.

Until certification takes place, Stanley said gay service members could still be discharged under current law. He added he’s heard “nothing about” a moratorium from within the Pentagon that would prevent discharges until that time, despite calls from lawmakers and activists to issue such an order.

In October, the Pentagon issued new regulations raising the discharge authority under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which seem to have brought expulsions to a halt.

One lingering concern is whether the benefits that gay service members will receive will be on par with the benefits afforded to their straight counterparts.

Stanley’s guidance 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, would still be available.

During the news conference, Stanley said the Pentagon plans no policy changes for benefits, but added leadership still may look at “emerging things” that may come forward as open service is implemented.

“There could be some things we aren’t anticipating,” Stanley said. “That’s why this is not so locked in and concrete. We’re saying, ‘Right now, no policy changes dealing with benefits.” But there could be something we don’t know about and that’s what aperture kind of remains slightly open.”

In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Stanley’s memo was too limited in proposing new benefits and protections for gay troops.

“While this implementation plan is a step in the right direction, it is critical that the Department address benefits issues and non-discrimination protections so that all service members are treated equally,” Solmonese said.

The HRC statement says that greater parity in benefits could be accomplished by revising regulations to add same-sex partners to the definitions of “dependent,” “family member,” or other similar terms in military regulations.

Further, HRC asserts that the Military Equal Opportunity program could be amended so gay servicemembers have a way to address discrimination complaints.

“Equalizing benefits and non-discrimination programs will ensure that gay, lesbian and bisexual service not be seen as different from their colleagues but rather on an level playing field,” Solmonese said.

Richard Socarides, president of the watchdog group Equality Matters, said he was disappointed non-discrimination protections by way of executive order or regulatory change weren’t mentioned during the news conference as a way to move forward.

“For implementation to succeed, the President must set a clear non-discrimination rule as President Truman did in 1948 when he desegregated the armed forces,” Socarides said. “That is the kind of leadership we need today.

Asked during the news conference what legal recourse gay service members would have if they faced discrimination, Stanley said the military code or principles already troops from being treated unfairly.

“The remedies you have are the remedies that already exist,” Stanley said. “There’s no need to create new remedies for that.”

Cartwright added service members have the right to speak to a superior officer if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

“We make sure that an individual has a way to remedy, even if they’re not sure that this was a law or a policy that was broken,” Cartwright said.

Pressed on whether a service members could assert discrimination based on sexual orientation to a superior officer, Cartwright said he would defer comment to a lawyer on the “exact right language” in addressing the issue.

Download Stanley’s guidance here.

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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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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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