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Service chiefs: ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal proceeding smoothly

Military leaders testify before House committee Thursday

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Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, at Thursday's hearing. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

The military service chiefs testified on Thursday that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation was proceeding smoothly and that they don’t anticipate major problems with moving toward open service in the long term.

In a hearing before the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee, uniform leaders of the military services said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation was proceeding in a way that they felt was favorable.

The chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz — spoke on behalf of their services while Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli represented his service.

Many of the service chiefs — especially Amos, who said he feared open service could be a distraction that could cost Marines’ lives on the battlefield — voiced opposition to legislative action to end the anti-gay before law last year before Congress took action to pass allowing for repeal.

However, following the passage of repeal legislation, each of the chiefs committed to working toward repeal and issued guidance on implementing open service to their subordinates — a sentiment they voiced in testimony before the committee.

Roughead, who was among the chiefs to favor “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year, said he doesn’t think repeal would have a measurable impact on the Navy.

“The United States Navy can successfully implement a repeal of the law,” Roughead said. “Combat effectiveness is what we provide the nation and repeal will not change who we are or what we do.”

Roughead said he’s established July 1 as time for when the Navy will be complete training for open service and said the service is on track to achieve that goal.

Amos noted that despite his earlier opposition to repeal, he issued guidance to the Marine Corps on the path toward open service and created a video to prepare Marines for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I’m looking for issues that might arise specifically coming out of the … training, and to be honest with you, chairman, we’ve not seen it,” Amos said. “There’s questions about billeting for Marines — I mean, the kinds of questions you would expect — but there hasn’t been the recalcitrant pushback, there’s not been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field.”

Amos said the Marine Corps has completed 100 percent of Tier 1 and Tier 2 training — which includes training of service leadership — and said Tier 3 training, training of the total force, is 41 percent finished and would be complete June 1.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Echoing the notion that repeal implementation is proceeding smoothly, Chiarelli, who’s superior Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey opposed repeal in testimony last year,  said the training to prepare soldiers for open service is effective.

Chiarelli maintaining training “is not disruptive” to the Army, but said the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation process for the service “will take time.”

“The chain teaching program facilitates thoughtful, constructive dialogue between leaders and subordinates,” Chiarelli said. “This dialogue is hugely important, especially at the lowest levels, where ownership and consensus are most critical.”

Chiarelli said he participated in the first session along with Casey and other four-star generals” and “can attest the process works.”

Schwartz, who testified last year that he didn’t want “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” implementation until 2012, said the Air Force is also moving toward open service in a deliberate but expeditious manner.

“We will rely on steady leadership at all levels to implement this change in a manner that is consistent with standards of military readiness and effectiveness, with minimal adverse effect on unit cohesion, recruiting and retention in the Air Force,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz added his service has trained about 15 percent of all airmen — some 117,000 of the force — is on track “to train the remainder within the project training window.”

Despite their generally favorable view of moving toward open service, both Chiarelli and Schwartz identified “moderate risk” with implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, although they said they were mitigating the risk through educating service members.

LGBT advocates following the hearing that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal said the testimony demonstrates training is on track and further congressional hearings are unnecessary.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the testimony demonstrates the service chiefs are “comfortable with this policy change.”

“This should be the last waste of their time and taxpayers’ resources to try to undo the inevitable,” Nicholson said. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is going away, and we will have a stronger military and a stronger nation as a result.”

No committee hearings specifically devoted to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are planned in the Senate. Tara Andringa, a spokesperson for Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said his committee has asked the chiefs to inform panel members about the progress of repeal as part of the hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget.

Despite the confidence that chiefs expressed in moving toward open service, Republicans on the committee voiced concerns about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or griped about the process that led to passage of legislation allowing for repeal of the anti-gay law.

House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he disapproved of the way the Democratic-controlled House last year proceeded with repeal legislation after the Pentagon published its study in November on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“As a result of the rush to judgment that bypassed this committee, Congress was denied the opportunity to ask questions and identify weaknesses in the repeal implementation plan,” McKeon said. “Now, we’re confronted by an implementation process that is moving quickly to completion of the education and training phase.”

McKeon maintained that the “one outcome that must be avoided” is a path for the U.S. armed forces that would “put the combat readiness of our military forces at risk.”

Following the hearing, McKeon told the Washington Blade that the chiefs’ testimony didn’t allay his concerns — but insisted they were based on the congressional repeal process as opposed to open service itself.

“My views of established from the way it was handled in the first place to get to this point,” McKeon said. “They’re just doing their job.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, chided for McKeon for holding the hearings and for asserting that insufficient discussion led to repeal.

“It’s particularly unfortunate that the full committee chairman, Mr. McKeon, has decided to become a party to this ugly cabal to play politics with our men and women in uniform,” Sarvis said. “This has traditionally been a bi-partisan committee, but under the current leadership of McKeon and [House Armed Services Subcommitee Chair Joe] Wilson, that sane and sensible approach is at risk.”

While Republicans voiced concern about the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation or implementing open service in the U.S. military, Democrats on the panel indicated support for the repeal legislation Congress passed last year.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been “hotly debated” since its inception in 1993 and disputed the argument that Congress didn’t undertake sufficient discussion before acting — adding lawmakers “made the only logical choice” last year by enacting repeal.

“I believe we have analyzed this at enormous length over an enormous period of time, and at some point you have to make a decision about what the best way to go forward is,” Smith said.

Smith added the longtime service of gays in the military is well known — although they’ve been serving in secret because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and said he’s “yet to meet a service member who wasn’t abundantly aware of somebody that they were serving with [who] was gay or lesbian, and yet we have the finest military in the world.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said when Congress was going through the process of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal she had no doubts the U.S. military could handle open service.

“I did not believe that our military units were so fragile that finding out having somebody next to you that was openly gay would be disruptive to the mission of our units,” she said. “I am very proud so far, as you’ve discussed today, of all men and women in uniform, who not only go out and fight for us everyday but who are also working through this new policy that you’re trying to implement.”

Sanchez asked whether service members discharged would be able to re-enter the military if there was no other reason for their separation.

Schwartz replied that discharged service members would be able to re-enlist based on the needs of the services to which they apply and there is no guarantee for returning at the same grade.

Pressed by Sanchez on what options are available to gay service members if they feel they’re harassed upon seeking re-entry, Schwartz replied an appeal process is available both through an inspector general and the Board of Corrections.

Could legislation disrupt certification?

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. Defense officials have said certification is anticipated mid-summer.

But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation in the House that could complicate or delay certification by expanding the certification requirement to include direct input from each the chiefs.

Following the hearing, Hunter told the Blade he still thinks legislation to expand the certification requirement is necessary despite the chiefs’ testimony because of “the same reason [he] put it up in the first place.”

Hunter said he’s been talking with McKeon’s staff about having a vote on his legislation in committee and is expecting a vote during the panel markup for the FY2012 budget.

McKeon seemed unaware of any plans to hold a vote on Hunter’s legislation or didn’t want to disclose his plans. Asked by the Blade whether he was expecting a vote, McKeon replied, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look at it and see.”

Nicholson said Hunter was probably referring to the FY-2012 defense authorization bill — legislation over which the House Armed Services Committee has jurisdiction.

Additionally, Nicholson said Hunter may have enough votes to attach the measure as part of the House version of the defense legislation, but won’t have a shot of passing it through the Senate or having Obama sign the legislation.

“Of course, the reason we’re not worried about it is because it’ll never pass the Senate,” Nicholson said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised and I wouldn’t necessarily be alarmed even if it passed as part of the House defense budget.”

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Real Estate

How much home can I afford with rising interest rates?

Put your best foot forward when making an offer

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In today’s hot market, there are often stories of bidding wars and multiple offers.

For many, purchasing a home is a significant, exciting expenditure. It’s one of the biggest financial decisions many people make, and it’s one that is worth considering carefully. Often, in a market as competitive and fast-moving as the current one, homebuyers find themselves looking at potential homes and realizing that a highly competitive offer may be necessary. There are often stories of bidding wars and multiple offers being made on available homes in a matter of days. 

While that may not be the case forever, what will remain true is that most homebuyers want to put their best foot forward when making an offer. Most buyers want to find a home they love, that they can bid on competitively, and that they can afford if they end up being the chosen buyer. This begs the question – what type of offer is reasonable to make given your financial circumstances? How much home can you afford? These are important questions to ask.

A closer look at the calculations

Determining how much you can comfortably spend on the mortgage for a new home while still meeting all of your other existing financial obligations is an important calculation to make ahead of time. After all, purchasing a home is a decision that can significantly impact your financial situation, so you want to be sure that you’re fully informed and that you feel confident in the choice you make. 

Often, the rule of thumb where mortgages are concerned is that you can “afford” a mortgage that is around 2 to 2.5 times your income. A mortgage payment is typically made up of four primary components – principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. It is important to consider each of these components when determining the total amount of the mortgage, and what percentage of your annual gross income will go toward that payment. Often called the front-end ratio, or mortgage-to-income ratio, you’ll want to consider that percentage and usually seek to secure a mortgage payment that does not exceed roughly 28 to 30% of your annual gross income. Considering the numbers is only a part of the picture, however.

Looking beyond the numbers

Making this decision is not always strictly a matter of numbers and calculations. It also involves carefully considering your priorities and preferences and truly making a decision that you feel will give you the freedom to live in a home that you love and enjoy, while also continuing to maintain the lifestyle that you love. Determining how much house you can afford will depend on a variety of factors, including:

Your loan amount and the term of years over which your mortgage will last;

Your income;

Your total monthly expenses;

Any taxes you might be required to pay, property or otherwise;

Current mortgage rates and estimated closing costs;

Any homeowners’ association fees;

Any other relevant factors that you determine should be considered in consultation with a trusted agent. 

After considering all of these factors, be certain to keep in mind that it’s also important to be realistic as you make your decision about what you can comfortably afford. Don’t underestimate your monthly expenses. It may not be helpful to tell yourself that you’ll cut back on leisure spending if you don’t think you really will, or to underestimate what you might need in an emergency fund for unexpected events. Doing so can often leave you in a difficult spot where debt can accumulate quickly. If anything, it’s best to overestimate your expenses so that you have some breathing room in your budget. 

We’re here for you

Wherever you are in the real estate process – if you’re searching for the perfect home to buy, considering whether now is the time to sell, or anywhere in between – at GayRealEstate.com, we’re here for you. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced, and LGBTQ-friendly real estate agents who know and love the communities in which they live and are ready to help you calculate just how much home you can afford, and connect you with a top LGBTQ+ mortgage lender for prequalification. Having the right agent can make all the difference to your real estate experience, and we want it to be the very best it can be. If we can help you, visit us at GayRealEstate.com today to get connected and get started. 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected]

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Dining

Crazy Aunt Helen’s to host ‘Pride-a-palooza’

Barracks Row restaurant celebrating all month long

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Crazy Aunt Helen’s ‘serves American comfort food with a southern slant.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shayne Mason’s restaurant is as colorful as his language. His multi-hued American eatery Crazy Aunt Helen’s debuted last July on Barracks Row, just a few days after Pride concluded. But as Pride is 365, this restaurant has spent its first year with flair and fanfare, and this June, Mason, who identifies as gay, isn’t holding back.

“I LOVE PRIDE MONTH,” Mason wrote (caps are his). “I love everything we have at Crazy Aunt Helen’s for Pride. Check out our events and get blown away,” he says.

This isn’t Shayne Mason’s first Pride – but it is his first as owner of Crazy Aunt Helen’s, a delightfully fabulous neighborhood restaurant in Barracks Row.  

Thus far in June, Mason has already held comedy shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and a Story District event. Coming up on June 25, to end Pride month with even more color, is “Pride-a-palooza,” featuring a host of drag queens, food, drinks, prizes, and plenty of surprises that Mason has been waiting an entire year to showcase.

Crazy Aunt Helen’s “serves American comfort food with a southern slant,” explains Mason. Taking over the space of Irish pub Finn McCool’s, Crazy Aunt Helen’s spreads over two floors, plus a patio and streatery. The interior is wildly bright: a Prince-esque purple host stand and staircase welcome guests, and a highlighter-green wooden banquette runs the length of the dining room. A set of wicker chairs and flower-print cushions recall that southern influence.

Mason enlisted Pixie Windsor – the very same of eponymous Miss Pixie’s – to design the restaurant (the two have been friends for years). “Pixie has a way with creating fabulous comfortable spaces,” Mason says. 

Windsor and Mason partnered to craft the whimsical aesthetic, from the brilliant paint job to a bright-pink neon sign.

Mason is quick to note that his Aunt Helen “was charming, warm, and funny, with an amazing laugh, and I wanted my restaurant to have that same feeling,” he says. “I wanted our guests to feel like they are getting a big’ol hug each time they walk in the doors.” 

The menu is just as homey and eclectic, overseen by chef Mykie Moll. Mason waxes poetic about the fried green tomatoes, the chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy, and a Jewish-style braised brisket. Yet many of the dishes are also vegan and vegetarian, like the “fab” cakes made of soy and mushroom and a vegan steak.

As for the drinks, Mason says that the “signature cocktails are also seasonally driven, and I only use local distilleries like Republic Restoratives, another LGBTQIA business.” There’s also a list of beer, wine, and zero-proof drinks.

Mason has been in the restaurant business since he moved to D.C. in 1984, working first at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill, and most recently as director of business development for the restaurant group of the highly lauded restaurant industry leader, and lesbian, Jamie Leeds.

Mason is using Pride this year as Crazy Aunt Helen’s coming out, both as a restaurant and a safe space. “I can say that I have had experiences in my life where I didn’t feel welcomed places. The staff and I work very hard to make sure everyone who walks into Crazy Aunt Helen’s feels welcome,” he says.

“I find it’s the small things that build to allow folks to feel safe,” he notes. There’s no required uniform, allowing staff to dress however they feel most comfortable. Mason also makes an effort to support local LGBTQ artists and performers, giving them space in the second-floor Peacock Room to share their talents.

To that end, Mason is offering The Rainbow Theatre Project, a theater group that has been dark since pandemic closings, a home until they are back up and running. During June, they performed four staged readings from four LGBTQ playwrights. “I can’t wait to have the Peacock Room buzzing with entertainment every night of the week and to hear all the people laughing and enjoying the food, each other and the show,” Mason says.

Mason’s goal at Crazy Aunt Helen’s is twofold: create a space “that’s welcoming and nourishing to both our bellies and our spirits.”

Shayne Mason (Photo courtesy of Mason)
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Autos

BMW speed demons

Two fun, flashy high-performance rides

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BMW M3 Competition xDrive sport sedan

Just in time for Pride month, two BMW sport sedans celebrate just how fun, fast and flashy a true high-performance ride can be.

BMW M3 COMPETITION xDRIVE
$78,000
Mpg: 16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.2 seconds

Talk about a pocket rocket, it’s hard to beat the thrill of the BMW M3 Competition xDrive sport sedan. This 503-horsepower speed demon streaks from 0 to 60 mph as fast as many premium sportsters, including the glitzy new 621-horsepower Maserati MC20 super coupe — which costs a whopping $215,000. Along with the lower price tag, the M3 has room for twice as many passengers and boasts three times as much rear cargo space as that two-person Maserati.

While this high-test BMW may be classified as a compact car, there’s ample legroom, decent headroom and a sharply angled dashboard for improved driver visibility. My test car had optional carbon-fiber racing bucket seats, trimmed in snazzy aqua blue and lemon yellow and backlit with illuminated M logos. While the futuristic design is truly a piece of art, scooching in and out of those sci-fi seats — which sit lower than standard seats and have sharply angled side bolsters—was quite a challenge. And, hello, it didn’t help that a “thigh separator” (a raised, hard-padded object stuck in the middle of the bottom cushion) protruded oh-so-close to my scrotum. Let’s just say I got more than my fill of butt-clenching exercises during the week-long test drive.

But once situated comfortably behind the sculpted steering wheel, all was forgiven. The M3 cabin is superbly sleek, with modish armrests and a duo of sweeping digital display screens. The eight-speed automatic transmission is wicked smooth, making it practically unnoticeable as the car shifts through gears. And the overall handling is rousing yet controlled, especially with the all-wheel drive. When not grooving to the guttural exhaust growl, I enjoyed jamming to a sparkling 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. There are plenty of other creature comforts, such as smartphone integration, wireless charging pad and Wi-Fi hotspot. Driving aids include blind-spot monitor, head-up display, collision alert and pedestrian detection. There’s even a system to automatically pull the car over if the driver falls asleep at the wheel. As you could tell, I didn’t have to worry about that happening.

BMW M440i GRAN COUPE xDRIVE
$60,000
Mpg: 22 city/29 highway
0 to 60 mph: 4.5 seconds

M440i Gran Coupe xDrive

If the BMW M3 Competition xDrive is a badass sport sedan, then the M440i Gran Coupe xDrive is more buttoned-down — but only to a point. The M Sport trim level on both vehicles includes sturdier brakes, suspension, and stability control. And each car can be ordered with all-wheel drive, a big plus considering the number of downpours and icy road conditions in this part of the country.

But the M3 is extra taut, tight and tuned — a race car enthusiast’s dream — whereas the M440i feels as suave as an Aston Martin. Think of it as trading flash for finesse. Styling is just as sharp, though the body cladding, side air vents and rear spoiler are all less pronounced on the 4 Series. It’s also wider and sits higher off the ground. And instead of having a trunk lid, the M440i is a hatchback with a more swoopy profile and easier access to the cargo area. Despite smaller wheels and about two-thirds the horsepower of an M3, the M440i is still plucky and a delight to drive.

And safety features and optional amenities are comparable. Inside, the cabin exudes refined BMW luxury but loses the Jedi spaceship vibe so noticeable on the M3. Gauges and the infotainment layout are the same, with similar but fewer performance-oriented readouts on the digital screens. I still found the M440i cabin to be plenty sporty, with premium fit and finish. And there’s beaucoup insulation to block annoying road noise. Perhaps most important, my tush welcomed the return to more traditional seats.

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