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‘Don’t Ask’ repeal could be certified mid-summer

Pentagon officials testify on ending military’s gay ban

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Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Top Pentagon officials said Friday that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal training could sufficiently be complete by mid-summer to allow for certification to end to the law at that time during a congressional hearing in which GOP lawmakers expressed discontent with moving toward open service.

In a hearing before the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley and Director of the Joint Staff Vice Adm. William Gourtney said implementation for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is proceeding on track and troops are being trained to handle open service.

Stanley told the Republican-controlled panel that training could be sufficiently finished by mid-summer to allow for certification for repeal.

“We’re looking at mid-summer” to move towards certification, Stanley said, adding that this target time could be delayed if something disruptive emerges that Pentagon leaders don’t anticipate.

According to Stanley, the U.S. military has trained more than 200,000 members of the armed forces on handling open service, or about nine percent of the armed forces.

Gourtney concurred that mid-summer is the time for when certification for repeal is expected to happen.

“It’s really the magnitude of the challenge that’s out there and making sure that as we get our arms around the magnitude of the challenge, we don’t miss anything,” Gourtney said. “So we’re grateful for the deliberate process that has been laid out and we’re [looking at] mid-summer for the recommendation. Followed by 60 days after that, repeal is achievable.”

In December, President Obama signed legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but the anti-gay law will only be off the books after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary, and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gay service members are still in danger of discharge from the armed services until the certification process is complete.

The military services are progressing with three tiers of training to prepare troops for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Pentagon previously established in its repeal implementation plan that the completion of Tier 2 training — or the training of leadership of troops within a service — could be the time when certification could happen.

According to Stanley’s written testimony before the committee, Tier 2 training for the Navy is set to end on April 30, for the Air Force on May 1 and for the Coast Guard on May 15. For the Army, Tier 2 training is set for completion for its active component on July 15 and its reserve component on August 15. The Tier 2 training for the Marine Corps was already set for completion on March 15.

Goutney said the time for issuing repeal certification is dependent on when the Army completes its training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The admiral said instruction for the Army is expected to be complete at a later time because the service is larger than others.

Following the hearing, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, told the Washington Blade he believed training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could be accelerated and should be concluded by May 1.

“There’s no reason why it should take the better part of this year to get to open service,” Sarvis said. “So, if we don’t have certification until mid-July or August, then we’re talking about October or November before we get there. I don’t think that’s what the majority of members of voted for repeal had in mind.”

The subcommittee testimony from Stanley and Gourtney was expected to precede a hearing the full House Armed Services Committee on April 7. Josh Holly, a committee spokesperson, told the Blade each of the military service chiefs are slated to testify on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal on that date.

As Stanley and Gourtney provided an update on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation efforts, they fielded questions from Republican subcommittee members who were hostile to moving torward open service.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chair of the subcommittee, expressed displeasure with the pace at which the Democratic-controlled Congress last year moved forward with repeal legislation during the lame duck session of Congress.

“I felt the repeal was rushed through without adequate review and consideration of the extent of the full implications of repeal,” Wilson said. “I believe the lame duck session was undemocratic and that dozens of defeated congress members adopted a law with significant consequences, but it failed to even pass a budget. It was a violation of the principles of representative democracy.”

In response, Sarvis blasted Wilson for suggesting that Congress improperly moved forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year.

“Mr. Wilson knows better,” Sarvis said. “There was nothing undemocratic about last year’s vote to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The measure passed both houses of Congress on a strong bi-partisan vote.”

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a veteran of the Army and Marine Corps, was particularly critical of the Pentagon report favoring open service that came out before Congress repealed the law and said he had “no confidence in the process” for implementing open service.

“I think that this survey and study was a conclusion looking for a study,” he said. “This is a political decision made by the executive branch and the military will follow it under whatever circumstances or ramifications it has to the combat effectiveness of our forces.”

Some of the more pointed criticism of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came from freshmen GOP lawmakers who were elected to office in 2010 during the Republican wave and weren’t present for the vote last year on ending the military’s gay ban.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), an Army veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, said allowing open gays to serve in the armed forces is, in effect, forming “the military to a behavior.”

“I remember going through the military, we took behaviors and we formed it to the military,” West said. “Using a term that they have over in the Middle East, I’m just very wary of the fact that this could be the camel getting his nose under the tent.”

West also invoked the 2009 Foot Hood shootings in which Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army major serving as a psychiatrist, was charged with killing people 13 with a firearm and wounding 29 others. Hasan is an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, and questions have emerged over whether pressures over his religion prompted the incident.

“We had commanders up here at Walter Reed that saw some very disturbing behaviors there with Maj. Nidal Hasan, but for whatever reasons — I think one of the main reasons is the retribution of an atmosphere of political correctness — they did not speak out about that,” West said. “Of course, we know what happened when he was transferred down to Foot Hood, Texas.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s offended West would suggest “political correctness would trump military order and discipline” in addition to the lawmaker’s comparison of the service of gay troops to the Fort Hood assault.

“Congressman West’s remarks were an unnecessary and unfortunate distraction from the valuable report by the repeal implementation team,” Cooper said.

Rep. Austin Scott (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Questioning backfired on one freshman Republican who apparently was attempting to demonstrate that gay troops have been discharged not for identifying as gay, but for violating the military’s code of conduct.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) asked Gourtney whether as a Navy officer he had discharged anyone from service because of sexual orientation. Gourtney admitted that he had in either 1994 to 1995.

“We had an incident shortly after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ passed that a young sailor came forward through his chaplain, through our chaplain, that he was gay, and we discharged him from the service,” Gourtney said.

When Scott pressed on whether this sailor was discharged because he was gay or because he violated a standard of conduct, Gourtney replied that it was because of the sailor’s gay identity and not for any other violation, much to the surprise of Scott.

“That’s not the answer I thought you would give,” Scott said, eliciting laughter from those who were in attendance at the hearing.

Gourtney added that there are cases in which standards of conduct have been violated as part of separations under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but said these incidences are few in number.

Additionally, Scott asked about the cost of implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Stanley replied the cost of training material has been about $10,000 — considerably a low number for government spending.

But Scott expressed skepticism about the estimate and requested further information.

“If something was done at the [Defense Department] for $10,000, I’d like to know what it was,” Scott said. “I haven’t seen anything out of there with a price-tag that low.”

Rep. Vicky Hartlzer (R-Mo.), another freshman Republican, noted that men and women aren’t permitted to bunk or shower to together in the armed forces and questioned why the military would ask straight troops to shower with gay service members.

In response, Gourtney said the rationale is based on the difference between gender and sexual orientation.

“Gender is very public and sexual preference is very private,” Gourtney said. “We’re not asking about their sexual preference.”

But Gourtney’s answer apparently didn’t allay Hartlzer, who said the military isn’t “being consistent” with its policy.

“I’m very concerned that in a time of war in our country — we have men and women in harm’s way — that we are making such a radical, major shift in our policy,” she said.

Hartlzer isn’t a stranger to taking anti-gay positions. Last month, she introduced a House resolution condemning President Obama for dropping defense of the Defense of Marriage Act against litigation in court.

Democrats who voted in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal defended the decision of Congress to end the statute last year and said the focus of the 112th Congress should be moving toward that goal.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said discussion should move away from whether open service should be implemented and Congress should instead focus on proper oversight of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I think the debate is no longer really on whether or not to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual American from serving in uniform,” Davis said. “The issue that we are here to focus on today is how the services and the department are preparing — and informing leadership — on how the policies and regulations that are being considered have an impact on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention of the armed forces.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was a change that Congress needed last year to enact because the anti-gay law is “morally reprehensible policy.”

“I just think that it violated the fundamental value of fairness and equal treatment that we cherish in this country, and I’m just so pleased that we’re here to talk about the end to it and the transition out of it, which, I think, is great,” she said.

Following Scott’s question on the cost of implementing repeal, Pingree said the $10,000 number is infinitesimal compared to the $193.3 million estimate offered by the Government Accountability Office in January on the cost of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from fiscal years 2004 to 2009.

“It’s not only unconscionable that these people were willing to serve their country and came forward, or were asked to leave, but the costs are horrendous,” she said.

Despite the qualms of Republican subcommittee members, LGBT advocates dismissed the possibility that Congress could at this point delay or derail the end to the military’s gay ban. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would expand the certification requirement to include input from each of the service chiefs, which, if enacted into law, could disrupt the repeal process.

Davis told the Blade she doesn’t think Congress has a chance of interfering with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” now that legislation has already passed a measure that would repeal the statute.

“I think there are people that would love to slow down the process, but actually I think it’s proceeding fairly well and I don’t know that that would be necessary,” she said.

Sarvis said the ability of the opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in Congress to thwart open service at this time is “highly unlikely.”

“Obviously, there are a few members who would like to delay or derail, but I don’t think that’s where a majority are,” Sarvis said.

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Massachusetts

Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by violent anti-LGBTQ threats

‘We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms’

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(Screenshot/YouTube WBZ)

Anti-LGBTQ far right extremists are targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation spread online recently about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Boston Children’s Hospital wrote: “In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

The statement notes that the false information, with special attention being cast on the lies that Boston Children’s Hospital was performing hysterectomies (transgender care related) on minors. The age of consent for that gender-affirming procedure is 18.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” the hospital continued. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

The social media account Libs of TikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation included the lie about Boston Children’s Hospital offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital have said they would consider performing other procedures, including phalloplasty, or penis construction, on 17-year-old male trans patients. But hospital staff say that hasn’t happened because no 17-year-old has met the required legal and other criteria.

Conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo, who has helped incite white Christian nationalist right-wing uproar over the critical race theory being taught in the nations’ secondary schools and also fabricated a story that queer theory was also being to taught kindergarteners up through high school, took aim at Boston Children’s Hospital in a tweet Wednesday.

Then adding to the far-right extremist pile-on, Media Matters for America reported Wednesday that anti-trans pundit Matt Walsh also attacked the hospital.

Christina Buttons, a Nashville-based radical anti-LGBTQ far-right journalist for the Canadian anti-LGBTQ conservative publication, the Post Millennial, which features other transphobic writers, attacked NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny on Twitter over her reporting on Boston Children’s Hospital.

A spokesperson for Twitter told the Washington Blade Wednesday afternoon that the company support team was looking into the reports of harassment.

Zadrozny reported: Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.

This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.

Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment on medical facilities.

“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department said the department is aware of the threats and is working with hospital staff.

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Dance parties: End-of-summer fun or monkeypox super-spreaders?

Health officials urge precautions as cases reach 12,689

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Health officials are urging precautions on monkeypox amid end of the summer gay dance parties. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

This is the time of year when gay men say farewell to summer with trips to the beach and resort towns for festivities, parties, and other revelry consisting of shirtless dancing and various forms of intimate contact — now a potential health risk as super-spreader events amid a monkeypox outbreak that continues to spread among men who have sex with men.

With the number of reported cases of monkeypox in the United States reaching 12,689 and demand for vaccines failing to keep up with supply, questions remain about taking precautions like those seen during the coronavirus epidemic as health experts and event organizers point to existing guidance to ensure a reasonable degree of safety.

Wes Combs, president of the CAMP Rehoboth board of directors, said his organization from the beginning of the monkeypox outbreak has been engaging with health officials at the state level in Delaware about what people should be looking for in terms of symptoms, as well as information about how people in high-risk categories can sign up to get vaccinations.

“As is everywhere in the country right now, where LGBTQ communities have big populations people are concerned, so we have received a number of calls about more information about monkeypox, about whether or not people can get vaccinated at CAMP Rehoboth,” Combs said.

A monkeypox town hall hosted by CAMP Rehoboth in conjunction with Delaware state health officials took place Tuesday, providing an opportunity to offer the latest information and answer questions about the monkeypox outbreak. CAMP Rehoboth announced it has been identified as one of two additional sites for vaccinations in addition to what the Department of Health provides from its health centers.

Rehoboth is among the many places in the United States where gay men are expected to flock to celebrate, along with Fire Island and Provincetown on the East Coast, making vaccinations against monkeypox in high demand at a time when the Biden administration is facing criticism for not making them more widely accessible. (Gay cruises for the summer, however, may not be among these events. A Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson said the charters team has no LGBTQ cruises coming up.)

Brad Perkins, chief medical officer at Karius, Inc., when asked about appropriate guidance for these end-of-summer events advised “trying to encourage community awareness and responsibility to isolate yourself and not infect others if you believe that you’ve been exposed or know that you’re infected.”

“But the longer game here is that we don’t want this disease to become endemic in the United States,” Perkins added. “And I think there’s a short-term threat, there’s a long term threat, both of them are really important [and] I think should weigh on decisions like the one you’re suggesting people need to make.”

Perkins said Karius, which works on advanced molecular technology for diagnosis of infectious diseases, is seeking to apply microbial cell-free DNA technology to create monkeypox tests earlier than options currently available, which require a sample from already developed skin lesions. The proposed testing has detected the virus in hospital patients, Perkins said, and following research over the course of the next few months may be available on an outpatient basis.

In Rehoboth, Combs said CAMP Rehoboth as a result of work with state officials is set to obtain 200 doses of JYNNEOS vaccine and, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, plans to distribute them in a two-dose regimen, with the first dose set for Aug. 23 and second one on Sept. 28. As of Tuesday, Combs said CAMP Rehoboth has already scheduled appointments for 135 shots in the two-doze regimen, which is more than two-thirds of the total available shots.

“We are in talks with the state to [see] if they are able to get additional doses to create a larger vaccination site that’s capable of having more people vaccinated,” Combs added. “Right now, it’s one person every five minutes — over the span of from nine o’clock to three — and that’s the rate based on the number of doses. But if we can get more, we will do more, and we tell that to the state.”

Many of these end-of-summer events consist of gay men engaging in shirtless dancing in close proximity with each other as well as other intimate contact, creating ideal opportunities for a disease transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.

Be honest: While participants aren’t engaging in sexual activity as part of these events per se, they can lead to sexual encounters in the aftermath with a causal partner (or causal partners should these participants elect to have group sex to close out the night).

The CDC has guidance on its website for safer sex and social gatherings amid the monkeypox outbreak, which suggests festivals, events, and concerts where attendees are fully clothed and unlikely to share skin-to-skin contact are safer, as well as being mindful of activities (even kissing) that might spread monkeypox. Enclosed spaces, such as private and public sex parties where intimate and often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs, the CDC says, may have a higher likelihood of spreading monkeypox.

During the COVID epidemic, many group events required proof of vaccination and were even cancelled in an effort to mitigate the spread of the dangerous and potentially fatal disease. The same, however, cannot be said about events during the monkeypox outbreak, where the disease can be painful, but not fatal, and the availability of vaccines has not kept up with demand.

Combs said he’s unaware of any event being cancelled in Rehoboth due to monkeypox and, in fact, its biggest fundraiser of the year, the annual Sundance dance party is on track to happen over Labor Day weekend. Additionally, Combs said he cannot foresee a proof of vaccination requirement “largely because the availability of vaccines is so difficult to get right now, and there’s…high demand and low supply.”

“Certainly we understand what worked well with COVID, and that was getting information education out to the public about how this virus is transmitted and providing as much access to vaccines as possible,” Combs said. “So the one thing that is different is the number of vaccines available seems to be much lower, so I know that there’s lots of pressure being placed on the government at all levels to ensure that they get more supply to meet the demand that appears to be there.”

Perkins, asked whether precautions taken during COVID would be appropriate for monkeypox, drew a distinction between the two diseases, pointing out “the sort of positive take on monkeypox is that we’re somewhat prepared for this threat, mostly through efforts to prepare for smallpox.”

“Certainly, the most relevant one I think the community at this point is if you think you have been exposed, or, particularly if you’ve been exposed and you’re ill, getting vaccine, accessing the vaccine that’s available, or at least discussing being vaccinated as prophylaxis or at least, if not prophylaxis, prevention of infection, at least decreasing the severity of illness if it does occur,” Perkins said. “I think as is you know, it’s one of the good news stories of the efforts that have been taken to date.”

Although to date the transmission of monkeypox has been overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men, Perkins predicted that could change.

“In fact, we’re starting to see more cases outside that circle,” Perkins said. “I would expect that that will increase unless we control this epidemic. I think that will be a certainty moving forward that we’ll see a broader distribution of cases, because certainly the transmission of this infection, unlike HIV…includes routes of transmission that are non-sexual.”

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Court rules transgender people have legal protections under ADA

Judge writes gender dysphoria not excluded under law

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A federal appeals court has become the first to rule transgender people have protections under ADA.

Transgender people have additional protections from discrimination under federal law for having a disability if they experience gender dysphoria, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a consequential decision that marks a first for a federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, determined the Americans with Disability Act prohibits discrimination against people with gender dysphoria — despite explicit language in the law excluding “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder” as protected classes.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, an appointee of Bill Clinton, wrote in a 56-page decision gender dysphoria doesn’t fall under the those two categories in the law because “gender dysphoria is not a gender identity disorder.”

“[T]he ADA excludes from its protection anything falling within the plain meaning of ‘gender identity disorders,’ as that term was understood ‘at the time of its enactment,'” Motz writes. “But nothing in the ADA, then or now, compels the conclusion that gender dysphoria constitutes a ‘gender identity disorder’ excluded from ADA protection.”

As a result, the appeals court remanded the case for additional review to the lower trial court, which had come to the opposite conclusion and determined transgender people aren’t covered under ADA.

The case was filed by Kesha Williams, a transgender woman with gender dysphoria who spent six months incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Although she was initially housed in a women’s prison, she was transferred to a man’s prison when officials learned she was transgender and was faced with delays in getting transition-related care as well as harassment from fellow inmates and prison officials.

Among the group advocating in the case for additional protections under ADA were LGBTQ groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Fourth Circuit.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s transgender rights project director, said in a statement the decision is a “huge win” for transgender advocates because “there is no principled reason to exclude transgender people from our federal civil rights laws.”

“It’s incredibly significant for a federal appeals court to affirm that the protections in our federal disability rights laws extend to transgender people,” Levi said. “It would turn disability law upside down to exclude someone from its protection because of having a stigmatized medical condition. This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive.”

The idea transgender people are covered under ADA has been controversial even among transgender people. On one hand, reading the law to include transgender people gives them added legal protections. On the other hand, transgender advocates have been fighting for years to make the case that being transgender isn’t a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” as a type of mental disorder with the publication of DSM–5 in 2013, replacing it with “gender dysphoria.”

Although the Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule transgender people have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, other courts have come to the same determination. In 2017, a federal trial judge in Pennsylvania ruled transgender people are able to sue in cases of discrimination under ADA despite the exclusions under the law.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misattributed and mischaracterized the change to DSM-5. The Washington Blade regrets the error.

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