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U.S. House approves defense bill with anti-gay provisions

Bill reaffirms DOMA, could disrupt ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

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The U.S. House approved on Thursday major Pentagon budget legislation that includes anti-gay language that could disrupt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and would reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act.

By a vote of 322-96, the Republican-controlled House approved the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill after three days of debate that discussed continued military operations in Afghanistan, funding for next-generation military programs and increased pay rates for U.S. troops.

Among the many provisions of the defense authorization bill is anti-gay language that the House Armed Services Committee inserted upon consideration of the legislation.

The most high-profile anti-gay provision — offered as an amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) — is language that would expand the certification requirement needed for repeal to include the four military service chiefs. Such a provision would complicate the repeal process established by the law signed in December, which would implement open service after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Another provision, offered as an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), reaffirms that the Defense Department and its regulations are subject to the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Yet another provision — offered as an amendment by Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo) — prohibits military facilities for being used for same-sex marriage ceremonies, even in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and prevents military chaplains from presiding over same-sex marriages in their official capacities. The language would expand the federal restrictions on same-sex marriage beyond what DOMA already imposes.

Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, expressed concerns over passage of the legislation — particularly for the inclusion of a provision authorizing worldwide war against terrorism suspects and nations suspected of supporting them — in addition to objecting to the provision that would complicate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Trying to throw a roadblock up to derail ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal at this point is a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable,” Murphy said. “For nearly 20 years, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have been forced to hide who they are and who they love in order to serve their country. It was with the will of the president, the uniformed and civilian leadership of the military and Congress itself that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed and its implementation will continue to move forward successfully despite the attempts by some House members to disrupt it.”

A number of lawmakers who supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year voted in favor of the defense authorization bill despite the anti-gay language. On the House floor, some pro-repeal lawmakers said they were casting affirmative votes because they said they think the bill as whole is good for the U.S. armed forces.

On Tuesday, Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services personnel committee, objected to the language in the bill related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as she expressed support for the legislation as a whole.

“While there are many good provisions in this bill, I must raise my extreme disappointment with several sections that were included by the majority that seek to delay and prevent gays and lesbians from serving in uniform,” Davis said. “One of the liberties that we as Americans hold dear is that we are all created equal. These individuals should be entitled to serve their Nation in uniform and should not be denied the opportunity.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also among the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal supporters who voted in favor of the defense authorization bill.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader voted for the defense authorization bill despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language because she believes this provision won’t ultimately make it to the president’s desk.

“Leader Pelosi strongly opposes the [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] language in the [defense] Authorization bill but believes the provisions concerning [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal will be removed in conference,” Hammill said. “If these provisions remain intact and are an obstacle to [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal implementation, she believes President Obama should veto the legislation.”

But each of the four openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — were among the among the 96 “no” votes on the legislation.

Although the House approved the defense authorization bill with anti-gay language, passing such a measure into law would be challenging because the Democratic-controlled Senate would have to agree to the anti-gay language during conference negotiations.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization is looking to the Senate to ensure the anti-gay provisions won’t appear in the final version of the defense authorization bill.

“The opposition may well believe they won the day in the House, simply outnumbering repeal advocates,” Sarvis said. “But this fight is far from over. We must look to repeal supporters in the Senate, where the defense bill will be taken up next and where we are better positioned than in the House. We need to beat back this harmful language and make sure it does not survive in conference committee.”

Another roadblock for the anti-gay language is President Obama, who would have to sign the provisions into law as part of the larger measure for them to enacted. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy earlier this week denouncing the provisions related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA — although stopped short of threatening to veto the bill over this language.

Moreover, the certification expansion for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal may well be a moot point even if the legislation reaches the president’s desk. Defense officials have testified that certification for repeal could happen mid-summer, and the final version of the defense bill likely will not reach the president’s desk until after that time, rendering the provision useless.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, expressed skepticism about the anti-gay measures becoming law or thwarting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The passage of the defense authorization bill with these hostile amendments included comes as no surprise, and it should not become a cause for concern as long as our allies in the Senate and the president all stand strong and refuse to support a defense bill containing these amendments,” he said. “These amendments were nothing short of a waste of time by lawmakers who were sent to Washington to do serious business and a waste of taxpayer money. The Pentagon, the president, and the American people have made it abundantly clear — we are moving forward and building a stronger military free of unnecessary discrimination.”

No attempt was made on the House floor to strip the defense authorization bill of its anti-gay language. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had intended to offer an amendment to remove the language related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to the Rules Committee website, but never offered the measure. Kezmiche Atterbury, a Norton spokesperson, said her boss “withdrew her amendment for tactical reasons.”

Informed sources said House Democratic leaders offered those who worked last year to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal the opportunity for an amendment on the floor to eliminate the language in the defense authorization bill related to certification expansion.

However, the five major repeal organizations — the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Third Way, Servicemembers United and the Center for American Progress — agreed to decline the opportunity for the amendment.

According to sources, repeal advocates believed such a amendment would likely fail and could pick up support from moderate House Democrats. A defeat on the House floor, advocates believed, would increase the chances of the Senate adopting the certification expansion language.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Michael

    May 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Why are militant anti-gay activists in the House trying to destroy the religious liberty of pro-equality Americans? Thisi is a direct attack on the freedom of religion of the millions of Americans who believe homophobia is a sin.

  2. Jerry

    May 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    96 voted against this abomination. There are 192 Democrats in the House. Who are the 86 Demoturds?

  3. billy Wingarden

    May 27, 2011 at 3:08 am

    if DADT is not ended every last gay soldier and their friends should come out as gay on the same day.

    An America of hate, ignorance and religious zealots is not worthy of being defended.

    why is America the only one of the orig nato nations to not allow open service, except for islamic turkey.

    Because America is not America, it is AmeriKKKa. Filled with religious creeps little different then those who gave us 9-11

    And give us a repeating 9-11 every year in the 3000 or so gay kids who commit suicide. We went to war over 3000 deaths on 9-11 and rightly so.

    we should do the same re the catholic church, the rightwing christian churches whose words muirder thosuands of gay kids every year.
    while these monsters babble about protecting life.
    http://www.catholicarrogance.org http://Www.nobeliefs.com/nazis.htm

  4. Andy Humm

    May 28, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Excellent and throrough report. Hope the Log Cabin Republicans will come to the realization that the Republican Party is on a mission in Congress to roll back LGBT rights in Congress and in state legislatures where they have control. The Party seems incapable of modernizing. We’re not done reforming the Democratic Party by a long shot, but Republicans are just hopelessly hostile.

  5. No Surprise From The Bigots On Capital Hill

    May 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    What do you really expect from these ignorant gorillas? All they do is sit around and hate everyone they see. B.F.D! Any gay man or lesbian woman that supports the GOP is just plain blind. They probably spend their afternoons cruising the Union Station restrooms.

  6. No Surprise From The Bigots On Capital Hill

    May 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    What do you really expect from these ignorant gorillas? All they do is sit around and hate everyone they see. B.F.D! Any gay man or lesbian woman that supports the GOP is just plain blind. They probably spend their afternoons cruising the Union Station restrooms. Republicans are trash waiting for a can to dye in.

  7. Dakotahgeo

    June 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    MichaelMay 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Why are militant anti-gay activists in the House trying to destroy the religious liberty of pro-equality Americans? Thisi is a direct attack on the freedom of religion of the millions of Americans who believe homophobia is a sin.
    —————————————
    Don’t you mean “homosexuality,” SFBs??? Get your act together before you post srupid comments against your ideas. Cheeesch!!!

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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