That’s the word that might best describe the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal on the U.S. armed forces based on briefings held this week to prepare service members for the post-repeal military.
On a warm, sunny spring day earlier this week, Marines stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., take a break from their day-long training in sharpshooting and physical conditioning — which the service has practiced and perfected for its nearly 236 years of existence — to engage in something completely new: preparation to serve alongside openly gay, lesbian and bisexual troops.
Prior to start of the briefing, scheduled to begin on Monday at 1300 hours, Marines dressed in their summer camouflage gear begin settling into a briefing room at the barracks to prepare for the training. One Marine patiently awaits the training while reading the Quantico Sentry. Another Marine entering the room smacks his comrade on the shoulder with a notepad before taking a seat.
Standing in the back, this reporter — clad in a bright magenta dress shirt — wilts in the sun-baked room, which is overheated thanks to a malfunctioning air conditioner. One Marine responds, “This is nothing! Try taking a tour in Iraq!”
The start of the training is delayed for 15 minutes — unusual in the military, which almost always follows its schedules with precision — to ensure that as many Marines as possible can sign up to participate. The Marine Corps is set to finish training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by June 1.
Col. Jay Johnson, commander of the Marine Corps’ Headquarters and Service Battalion, begins the briefing by greeting his Marines with “Good afternoon,” a salutation they repeat in unison. All Marines present are part of the battalion, which comprises more than 3,200 service members and is the largest battalion in the service.
Johnson stands before his audience displaying a slide presentation with four bulletpoints: leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect. The commander has a simple message: The key to handling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is for Marines to continue to treat one another respectfully.
“We don’t need anybody to remind us about that,” Johnson says. “We do that every day. We do that out of San Diego or Paris Island — the transfer over to civilian to Marine — we understand about treating each other with dignity and respect.”
Even under the change, Johnson maintains that no one will pry into the sexual orientation or relationships of Marines while they’re in the service — nor will anyone attempt to alter their personal views or religious beliefs.
“Sexual orientation — that’s personal, that’s private,” Johnson says. “Nobody’s going to get in and starting asking you about these kinds of things.”
A video plays from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent instructing Marines on how to prepare for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. When Congress considered repeal legislation last year, Amos was among those who opposed it — going so far as to say open service could prove a distraction that might cost Marines’ lives on the battlefield. But in February he issued guidance saying the Marine Corps would work to implement repeal.
“I want to be clear to all Marines, we will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law,” Amos says. “It’s important that we value the diversity of background, culture and skills that all Marines bring to the service of our nation. As we implement repeal, I want leaders at all levels to reemphasize the importance of maintaining dignity and respect for one another throughout our force.”
The Marines watch silently as their top uniformed commander instructs them on his expectations of them during the transition to open service.
After the video is complete, Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Taylor, who’s set to handle the briefing, kicks off the training with his own words of wisdom. He’s been handling the training session since repeal implementation for two months and has already conducted four briefings.
“Like I said earlier, 235 years we’ve been doing this,” Taylor said. “The implementation of this new policy — nothing will change. As Marines, you’re first and foremost a rifleman — first and foremost. Nothing will change. I want everybody to take that away along with leadership, professionalism, dignity and respect.”
The slideshow begins detailing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and that repeal states that open service will be implemented after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
What does this mean for the Marine Corps? The female voice states that Marines are responsible for executing the change “in a manner consistent with readiness, unit cohesion while treating all Marines and sailors with dignity and respect.”
Another recorded male voice states, “Gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation in the military is no longer a disqualifying factor for entering military service. Marines and sailors are no longer subject to administrative separation on the basis of lawful homosexual conduct.”
Still, the voice states that the Marines will continue to be evaluated on their own merit in the post-repeal military and that sexual misconduct — for either gay or straight Marines — will be a violation of the rules.
“It remains the policy of the Marine Corps to evaluate all Marines on the basis of their individual merit, fitness and capability,” the voice states. “Sexual misconduct, regardless of sexual orientation, that violates that standards of rule, regulation, policy or law will still be considered grounds for administrative or legal action to include possible discharge.”
Taylor interrupts the briefing to pose a question: What happens if two Marines object to sharing a room with someone they believe to be gay and want to live elsewhere? Unlike the other military services, the Marine Corps has for decades focused on housing designed for two Marines.
“They know he’s gay, or think he’s gay, but due to the fact that he dresses a certain way — his mannerisms, the way he fluffs his hands up in the air or anything else of that nature,” Taylor says, “they request to move out of that room. Do you think that’s right, No. 1, to request to move out of that room if the only lead they can go on is that they assume that [he’s] gay? Do they have the right? And two, the company commander, does he have that moral right to make the request happen?”
A Marine in the audience stands and responds that the move may only be granted on a case-by-case basis, such as if the Marine believed to be gay has engaged in lewd activity or other actions in violation of conduct rules.
“That’s the question I was looking for,” Taylor says. “That could be classified as discrimination. Again, we’re going into a whole other avenue — possibly a [Military Equal Opportunity] complaint.”
Additional slides state that the same-sex partners of gay service members may be eligible for designation as emergency contacts or life insurance beneficiaries. Still, the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, blocks other benefits such as co-location in military housing or survivor benefits.
Taylor asks the audience if anyone has heard of DOMA. One Marine staff sergeant belts out, “It means that marriage is one man, one woman!” — perhaps the most overt anti-gay remark of the briefing.
“Exactly,” Taylor responds. “Right now, the Department of Defense recognizes that marriage is between one man and one woman, heterosexual. It does not recognize same-sex homes.”
But Taylor poses the hypothetical question: If a Marine with a same-sex partner and three children deploys to Afghanistan, can the same-sex partner receive obligations for the children?
The same Marine who answered the question about billeting responds, “Can the same-sex partner have access to the commissary or the [Post Exchange]? Yes, he can. But that’s only as long as what he’s buying is for your children.”
“You’ve been doing your reading,” Taylor says in response to the Marine.
The closing slide features a female voice restating that the main mission of the Marine Corps as a war-fighting service remains the same as it has been for nearly 236 years.
“We cannot allow these few changes to divert our focus from our warfighting mission, readiness and unit cohesion,” the voice states. “We will continue to treat all Marines with dignity and respect while demanding that all [have] exemplary behavior in keeping with our traditions and faithful service.”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, is among those observing the briefing and, afterwards, says participants may have been muted because media outlets were in the room covering the session.
“I think there might have been a number of more questions asked,” Nicholson says. “It wasn’t silent … but I think it’s just to be expected. The people in attendance are a little nervous and they’re in front of strangers. They may not feel as comfortable asking a question that may be perceived in a certain way, or that may be recorded or taken down.”
Still, Nicholson says the training presents views of gays and lesbians to a conservative audience that may not have otherwise been exposed to them.
“People from Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi would never have exposure to people talking about gay couples being normal and maybe having kids and living together in housing,” Nicholson says. “I think we’re going to see a … long-term benefit because it’s unprecedented. It really is showing the normal side of the gay community to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally be exposed to it.”
Following the briefing, Marines who attended say the training was helpful and that proceeding toward open service should be no problem for the Marine Corps.
Lance Cpl. Christina Monti, 22, says she was interested in all the steps the Marine Corps is taking to make sure the entire service is prepared for repeal.
“I think that it’s not going to be much of a change at all,” she says. “I think that we adapt and overcome. We don’t discriminate against anyone — race, gender, sexual orientation. So, it shouldn’t be any different.”
Sgt. Jonathan Garrigues, 27, says the briefing helped to put all Marines “at ease” during the transition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and serving alongside openly gay service members will be “not a big deal.”
“I’m a combat veteran as well,” Garrigues says. “I don’t think that it’s going to make any difference. Especially [with] the polls and everything saying homosexuals are — gays and lesbians are already serving with us, so their ability to be open [and] to be comfortable with who they are. I don’t think that’s going to be any kind of impact whatsoever.”
Capt. Stewart Coles, 27, says he thinks the briefing was “absolutely helpful” and laid out “very plainly” the Marine Corps’ plan for allowing open gay service.
“It, of course, laid out some of those basic things,” Coles says. “For instance, no matter what happens, without regard to [sexual] orientation, gender, race anything like that, it goes back to discipline and respect. Those are always the most important things.”
Asked about his personal views on serving with openly gay Marines, Coles says, “If I or any Marine had personal concerns, then, once again, that’s — orientation is a personal and private matter, just as any belief. We’re not expected to change any of our beliefs. What we’re expected to do is follow our orders and treat each other with dignity and respect.”
One remark that a Marine shouted at this reporter perhaps best sums up the ease of transition to permitting gay service members to serve openly alongside their straight counterparts.
“Hey! I have that magenta shirt at home!” the Marine says.
Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill
HB 25 now heads to state Senate
Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.
Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.
However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.
HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.
“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.
“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.
“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.
During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.
He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”
He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.
Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”
González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.
Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.
He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”
“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.
“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.
The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”
We’ll continue to educate lawmakers — replacing misinformation with real stories — and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.— Equality Texas (@EqualityTexas) October 15, 2021
LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained
Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported
AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.
Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.
In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”
“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,”
A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.
According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”
LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.
GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;
“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.
Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.
Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:
“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”
Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.
Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.
“But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.
More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:
“Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”
“FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.
Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.
“LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.”
The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.
Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”
- Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
- Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
- While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
- Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
- Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.
- The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
- The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered.
LGBTQ resources were removed from Texas’ child welfare agency website after Don Huffines criticized their existence there, emails show.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 13, 2021
Democratic state senators urged Gov. Greg Abbott and the agency commissioner to reinstate them on Tuesday. https://t.co/koCgoUUJG0
Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit
Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers
Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.
As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.
“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”
According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.
In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).
“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”
According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.
Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.
“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.
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