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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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. [email protected]

    January 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Friday’s briefing was a multiple vehicle car wreck, some driven by Pentagon representatives who knew too little about what they are in charge of implementing, and some driven by members of the media who were either too ignorant of the facts or too afraid to challenge Stanley, et al., on their ignorance and illogic—all adding up to the likelihood that the destination of open service is far off. Unknown territory???? One would have thought it was a presentation by NASA on the first space shuttle rather than actualizing a change that really comes down to nothing more than “yesterday we kicked gays out, tomorrow we won’t.”

    When Cartwright said that “the certification required by the DADT Repeal Act ‘does not require 100 percent’ of the servicemembers to be trained, why did no one point out to him that the Act does not require ANY training of ANY kind BEFORE certification?

    Why did no one challenge them with the Palm Center’s December 19th report that found that:

    “Any claim that [implementation cannot happen] until after the completion of exhaustive training is inconsistent with DoD history and not based on military necessity. Whatever preparations are ultimately deemed necessary, the Pentagon ought to be able to pull them off faster than it did the implementation of DADT in 1994, which took approximately 40 days. [Case studies demonstrate that training can take place quickly, even in combat zones, and that policies are generally implemented BEFORE OR CONCURRENT WITH training. The Pentagon’s request for up to a year to train the troops prior to the repeal of DADT is unprecedented. Training is not a prerequisite…to claim otherwise is a vote of no confidence in members of the armed forces, is not supported empirically, and is suspiciously dilatory. Training, like the formal publication of instructions, can occur (and has occurred) ex post facto.” Emphasis mine.

    Or with DADT expert and Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin’s recent statement as reported in the Blade, January 6th:

    “It shouldn’t be a long process because the Pentagon ALREADY ESTABLISHED A POLICY TO ALLOW GAYS TO SERVE OPENLY in the military when [in the LCR case] a California federal court in October issued an injunction that temporarily enjoined enforcement of the law. Although they haven’t acknowledged this in public, THE REPLACEMENT REGULATIONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN, and so the Pentagon could easily repeal the ban TODAY if there was the political will. [Army Chief of Staff] Casey in particular is leaving soon and doesn’t want to be known as the Army chief of staff who let gays in on his watch. The foot-dragging is not about some sincere or legitimate sense that the troops need to be trained on how to deal with gays; it’s because they don’t want to be around when the policy happens.” Emphasis mine.

    As for the substance of that training, in addition to the military scenario vignettes already created by the Working Group, why did no one ask why the modules applying to gays that the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute has been using for decades to train managers of 700,000 civilian DoD employees couldn’t be used rather than wasting further time trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel?

    Stanley and Cartwright’s responses about already existing legal remedies for gays who are discriminated against post repeal, for instance, in promotions was so much bull. In 2004, SLDN said:

    “There is no available avenue for service members who would typically report discrimination [based on sexual orientation] through an equal opportunity office. … In reality when a service member does report it through the chain of command it is rarely taken seriously. There’s no consequence for commanders who ignore anti-gay harassment. The environment has created second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian service members and it permeates all military.”

    And I was surprised that no one pointed out that the recent scandal of videos starring no less than the XO of the 6000 troop aircraft carrier Enterprise was glaring proof of an absence of understanding and enforcement of respect for everyone among military leaders Stanley seemed so proud of.

    Maybe if, rather than first class equality for gays in the military, overdue by several decades, the news was that it might be the end of the 3rd year, or into the 4th year, of Obama’s presidency before the Pentagon stops killing baby seals, more would give a damn & demand an end NOW. HELLO OUT THERE???!!!

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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