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Donnelly continues crusade against ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

CPAC speaker wants more hearings before ban is lifted

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Elaine Donnelly (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A leading opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is continuing her effort to prevent gays from serving openly in the U.S. military and is calling for extended discussion before the military’s gay ban is lifted.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, on Thursday called for more congressional hearings on allowing gays to serve openly in the military and time to question Pentagon officials before repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” takes effect.

“Our position is Congress should tell the Pentagon, ‘Not so fast!'” she said. “They need to ask questions, they need to have hearings. We need to keep in mind what is the most important thing. … Certainly, the military is too important to be used for social engineering, political payoffs. Diversity is important, yes, but not as a primary goal.”

Donnelly urged for greater deliberation before enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during a panel titled “How Political Correctness Is Harming America’s Military” at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C.

In 20o8, Donnelly gained notoriety as an opponent of gays in the military when she testified during a House hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” After her testimony, when she decried the possible spread of “HIV positivity” in the military and the “forced intimacy” of straight troops serving with gays, Donnelly was widely criticized and lampooned by the media.

During her CPAC panel appearance, Donnelly denounced the law allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that President Obama signed in December, which she said was “rushed through recklessly” in the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.

“It’s supposed to be a non-discrimination policy,” she said. “But instead of calling it ‘Not “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”‘ … let’s give it a name. We call it the ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Law for the Military’ — ‘LGBT Law’ for short. We have to start thinking about it in terms of what it would do.”

The repeal provides for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” only after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for repeal. But Donnelly said this language was a “meaningless” provision in the law.

“There’s going to be a lot of problems,” she said. “The Congress has yet to have hearings on the House side on this, so our position is this: don’t you think we should ask some questions first?”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the debate over ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has gone on for 17 years and noted House and Senate committees had several hearings in the last Congress.

“No more discussion is needed on this issue,” Sainz said. “And I think Republicans and Democrats, not just Democrats, but Republicans and Democrats, concluded that that was the case when they voted to go ahead and pass this legislation last year. At some point, you just have to call the question, and that’s exactly what happened.”

During the panel, Donnelly said she and other opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal assembled a 25-page list of questions that “not should be asked, but must be asked” to evaluate the mesaure passed last year.

Among the questions, Donnelly said, is which of the findings in the 1993 law are not valid — how will the armed forces “train people to be less senstive to sexual privacy and modesty.”

Donnelly also raised concerns about “zero tolerance” for service members who object to serving alongside openly gay people.

“What about when you have a problem and say, “This needs to changed,'” Donnelly said. “And someone says, ‘What’s the matter with you? Is there something wrong with your attitude? Are you prejudiced? We’ll get you more training — more LGBT training.'”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said what Donnelly referred to as “zero tolerance” is actually unprofessional behavior in the U.S. military.

“You see a lot, in my experience, from people who oppose this policy change and others, the desire to express their beliefs in an inappropriate and unprofessional manner, and then they get upset when they’re not permitted to engage in that type of behavior,” Nicholson said.

Donnelly also said the controversies found in teaching about same-sex couples in civilian schools would mean the military would likewise have similar problems and would need to implement a “school of choice” system.

“We know how controversial it is to have LGBT training in civilian schools,” Donnelly said. “Just imagine what that’s going to be in the Department of Defense schools where there really is no choice. Will we not need ‘school of choice’ in the Department of Defense? Yes, we will.”

Nicholson said Donnelly’s assertion is a example of someone “talking about the military who has never spent one single day in uniform.”

“There aren’t multiple ideologically based training schools for anything in the military, whether that be for occupations or the leadership academies and things like that,” he said.

Also, Donnelly said military chaplains would have to “endorse homosexuality” if they had to be ministers for openly gay people in the military.

“It was said during hearings in the Senate, ‘Well, we’re going to lose a lot of chaplains,’ so one of the questions is ‘How many chaplains are we going to lose?'” she said.

Sainz identified Donnelly’s assertion about chaplains as among “the half-truths or complete falsehoods” that she’s been repeating in her opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“No one’s being asked to endorse homosexuality,” Sainz said. “It’s kind of a bizarro statement. They are not being asked to put their religious beliefs aside.”

In addition to denouncing the repeal law, Donnelly also took issue with the Pentagon’s report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Taking a line from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of repeal in the Senate, Donnelly said the survey that went out to service members as part of the report didn’t ask the right question.

“The survey that was done, the RAND Corp. had a lot to do with it, and a company called Westat or something,” Donnelly said. “They had all these questions and they never once asked the question: ‘Do you favor retention or repeal of the law?'”

One of the questions on the survey asks service members if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed and they are working with someone who says he or she is gay, how would it affect their unit’s ability to work together to get the job done. About 70 percent of responders said it would have a positive, mixed or no effect.

Nicholson said Donnelly didn’t like the questions that were part of the survey because they didn’t result in responses that would have worked in her favor.

“I think she’s just upset that the purpose was not to conduct a referendum on military policy among members of the force because she thinks she would have won that referendum,” he said.

Joining Donnelly during the panel discussion was Ilario Pantano, a Marine sniper who served in the Iraq war, who used his discussion time to argue that the United States is a Christian nation and that China is building up its defenses “because they fear Jesus Christ.”

Pantano also said he concurred with Donnelly’s sentiments and noted that former Rep. Patrick Murphy, who championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House, received what he said was $90,000 from the liberal MoveOn.org and $40,000 from the Human Rights Campaign in the 2010 election.

“If people talk ultimately about issues of fairness, why are they needing to spend tens of millions of dollars to lobby the Democratic Party if it’s truly about efficacy and the good of the people who’ve been in the armed forces,” Pantano said.

In response, Sainz said HRC’s contributions to Murphy’s campaign are “hardly remarkable” because the Pennsylvania lawmaker was a friend and deserved re-election. Sainz added right-wing groups are donating money to anti-gay lawmakers who oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Sainz also said Pantano was being “wildly inaccurate” on the money he says HRC spent on the Murphy campaign. According to the Federal Election Commission website, HRC contributed slightly more than $9,000 to Murphy’s campaign in the 2010 election.

Donnelly also attempted to raise fears about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal law by saying it could open the door to allow openly transgender people in the military. Currently, transgender people aren’t allowed to serve in the armed forces because of regulations.

“Right now, they’re saying no transgenders,” Donnelly said. “They’ve thrown the ‘T’s’ under the bus. But the president has celebrated ‘LGBT Equality Month’ twice in the month of June. So why not? Why not? What is the rationale for excluding them?”

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Transgender Center for Equality, said Donnelly was raising the issue of transgender people in the U.S. military to draw attention to “her last shrill efforts to try to stop “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” but added she’s right that trans people shouldn’t be excluded.

“There is no more reason to exclude trans people from service than there is to exclude women, or anybody, African Americans or gay people,” Keisling said. “It’s just all based on old stereotypes that people like Elaine Donnelly use to advance their own causes.”

Keisling noted that the national study on trans people made public last week found that 20 percent of them were veterans, which she said was double the national average.

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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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