Connect with us

National

‘Don’t Ask’ repeal a non-issue for Marines in training

Service conducts training session to prepare for open service

Published

on

Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Taylor conducts 'Don't Ask' repeal training for Marines (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Uneventful.

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.

Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Taylor (Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

Marine Lance Corp. Christina Monti (Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Federal Government

Trump indicted in classified document mishandling case

Former president to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday

Published

on

Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump on seven criminal counts in connection with his mishandling of more than 100 classified documents.

In a series of posts to his Truth Social account Thursday, Trump said that he has been indicted related to his mishandling of the classified documents taken to his estate at Mar-a-Lago after his term of office ended in January 2021.

The unprecedented decision comes after a more than yearlong investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Trump knowingly retained classified and top secret government records when he left office and then disregarded a subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession and whether he and his staff obstructed Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to ensure all documents had been returned.

A person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly said Trump’s lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted, the Associated Press reported.

In the first of a series of posts Trump wrote:

“Page 1: The corrupt Biden administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is ‘secured’ by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time.”

“Page 2: I have been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday at 3 p.m. I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting president in the history of our country, and is currently leading, by far, all candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in Polls of the 2024 presidential election. I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

“Page 3: This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a country in serious and rapid decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

The AP also noted it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Trump. His first indictment spurred millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn’t damage Trump in the polls.

No matter what, the indictment — and the legal fight that follows — will throw Trump back into the spotlight, sucking attention away from the other candidates who are trying to build momentum in the 2024 presidential race, the AP pointed out.

Continue Reading

The White House

White House debuts new actions to protect the LGBTQ community

The administration is coordinating efforts across different federal agencies

Published

on

The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, announced a slate of new actions the administration will undertake to better protect the LGBTQ community.

These will focus on three major areas, she said: safety and security, issues for LGBTQ youth like mental health and housing insecurity, and combatting book bans.

President Joe Biden has “already developed a historic record of supporting the LGBTQ community,” Tanden said, noting that he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are also prepared to “host the largest Pride celebration in White House history” on Thursday evening.

At the same time, she said, LGBTQ Americans are now experiencing “a whole range of attacks” from “hateful, un-American legislation” to “a disturbing surge in violent threats.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the administration’s “community safety partnership” will “work hand in hand with LGBTQ community organizations” to provide safety training and resources, Tanden said.

For example, she said, “and it’s so unfortunate to have to say this,” but the partnership will help LGBTQ community centers “prepare for the worst” – including “bomb threats, active shooters, and cybersecurity threats – while also protecting “healthcare providers who serve the community by working with doctors and medical associations.”

Actions for LGBTQ kids that Tanden previewed on Wednesday include HHS’s development of a behavioral health care advisory for transgender and gender diverse youth, to help ensure young people are given the best evidence-based care.

On Thursday, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch federal initiatives to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness and new regulations to “protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.”

Finally, Tanden said, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “will appoint a new coordinator” to combat book bans, which disproportionately target, for exclusion, materials with LGBTQ characters or themes, or communities of color.

DoE’s coordinator will “offer trainings and resources to schools to help them understand that students have a right to learn free from discrimination, and that book bands may violate federal civil rights laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” Tanden said.

A senior administration official, responding to a question from the Washington Blade following Tanden’s remarks, elaborated on the scope of the community safety partnership.

Community organizations, they said, will include “health clinics, community centers, and organizations that are planning Pride celebrations, but it also includes small businesses like restaurants and bars that have been targeted because they’re run by LGBTQI+ Americans or because they host events that support that community.”

“We’ll be encouraging and reaching out directly to organizations that have been impacted by these violent threats to help make sure that they have the training and the resources they need to stay safe,” the official said.

They added that DHS and DoJ, in anticipation of the possibility that threats will increase in June, “have both been working proactively over many months leading up to Pride to communicate with state and local law enforcement about the threats that the community may face and to help local pride organizers get access to any federal safety resources they may need to help keep the community safe.”

Asked to explain how HHS’s healthcare focused initiatives will be reconciled with restrictions targeting medical interventions for trans youth in conservative states, the official noted ongoing efforts to fight back – including by federal rulemaking and litigated challenges of policies that violate Americans’ rights.

When it comes to the actions previewed by Tanden, the official said, “Almost half of LGBTQI+ youth say they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, and that attacks on their rights have made their mental health worse. That’s a serious crisis that we want to take on and this advisory will help.”

Additionally, they said, “HHS is announcing that they’re going to release new guidance to states to help them use federal funds to offer dedicated mental health services to the LGBTQI+ community,” while “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, is releasing $1.7 million in new federal funding for programs that support the health and mental health of LGBTQI+ youth by investing in programs that are focused on family affirmation.”

Responding to other questions about anti-LGBTQ legislation and the rising transphobic and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, the official offered some insight into the Biden-Harris administration’s positions on these matters more broadly.

“Part of our role here is to lift up the stories of transgender kids and their families to help the American people understand what is happening to families who, as the President says aren’t hurting anyone but are being hurt by these laws,” said the official.

“These aren’t just attacks on the rights of LGBTQI+{ Americans, they are part and parcel of a coordinated attack on our democracy,” they said. “We’re not just talking about laws that target transgender kids. These are really laws that get at the heart of our basic freedoms and values: the right to free expression, the right to make decisions about your own body, the right to parent and raise your children.”

The official added, “Opponents of LGBTQI+ Americans are leading a pretty significant campaign of disinformation,” which have included “the same types of hateful lies and stereotypes that have been used against our community really for decades and for generations.”

Continue Reading

California

Calif. school district meeting over LGBTQ studies turns violent

Police officers and protestors clashed outside Glendale Unified School Board meeting

Published

on

(YouTube screenshot from KCAL)

Police officers and protestors clashed outside a meeting of the Glendale Unified School Board over LGBTQ studies and the GUSD polices on addressing LGBTQ related issues.

News footage from CBS Los Angeles KCAL showed approximately 50 Glendale police officers attempting to keep the two groups separated and then fists were thrown as both sides engaged in physical assaults. A Glendale police spokesperson confirmed that some arrests had been made but wouldn’t comment further.

Witnesses and news crews noted that many of those protesting against the LGBTQ community were from the same group that had protested at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, angered over a Pride month assembly. Officers from the LAPD’s North Hollywood Community Station responded and there were physical assaults as well.

The situation in Glendale has become increasingly acrimonious. Last year during Pride month, a third grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Tammy Tiber, had enraged some parents after speaking to her students about LGBTQ topics on Zoom. The GUSD officials later transferred her because Tiber had told them she no longer felt safe.

A spokesperson for the district said that all materials are vetted by the GUSD, and are in full compliance with curriculum that deals with LGBTQ history, mandated under California’s FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

It amends the California Education Code to include the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum.

Last month on May 18, a man who is not the parent of a child in the district, accused GUSD school board vice president Jennifer Freemon of concealing consistent attempts to “indoctrinate” students on LGBTQ issues.

“They are saying boys can be girls and girls can be boys,” Henry said during the board meeting. “If you believe in that, that is your opinion, and if that is your official policy, Jennifer, that is indoctrination because it offends a lot of people’s actual doctrine.”

As an example of instructing students to “behave inappropriately,” Henry referenced an alleged recent incident involving a student with special needs. GUSD student Thelma Gonzalez, who spoke later in the meeting, was allegedly asked to provide the definition of “scissoring” during a health lesson, despite her mother requesting that she be excused.

“A violation of their doctrine, their Christian doctrine,” Henry said, referring to Gonzalez and her mother. “Regardless of what you think, what I think, what the community thinks about any faith, you violated that. And if you don’t condemn that today, Jennifer, you are a hypocrite and a liar.”

He then mounted an attack on district polices regarding its transgender students.

“If you think they value your children, you’re more than entitled to think that,” Henry said. “They will not lie to you about your child, they will lie to these parents. They will conceal that private information from parents. You have enshrined that into doctrine, into policy, which is a misinterpretation of the law.”

It is not immediately clear what policy Henry was referring to. However, GUSD’s anti-discrimination policy states the district will only disclose a student’s “transgender or gender-nonconforming status” with their consent. It also mandates that a district official may discuss with that same student “any need” to confide in their parents or guardians.

Inside the Tuesday GUSD board meeting, pro- and anti-LGBTQ protesters faced off over how schools teach gender and sexuality, attendees were suddenly told to shelter in place as the violence outside escalated. The interruption came after about an hour of public comments, most of them in defense of the LGBTQ community and the district’s handling of materials and policies.

Protesters fight outside Glendale school district meeting about LGBTQ studies:

Related:

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular