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Pressure mounts on Obama to back marriage

1996 statement favoring nuptials continues to dog president

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President Obama (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pressure intensified on President Obama to endorse marriage equality this week as he prepared to travel to New York for an LGBT campaign fundraiser just as the state legislature was debating a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

Since October, Obama has said he could “evolve” on the issue of same-sex marriage and noted that he has many friends in committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. But he has yet to endorse the right of gay couples to marry. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said he believes marriage is between one man and one woman, but backed the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples.

Although Obama’s LGBT supporters overlooked his opposition to same-sex marriage in 2008, the situation in 2012 has changed to the point that merely “wrestling” with the issue will no longer suffice for many.

Over the course of this year, at least six national polls have found majority support for same-sex marriage. For example, a Gallup poll published on May 20 found that 53 percent of Americans support marriage equality. The poll found an increase of 9 percentage points in support of same-sex marriage since last year, which was the largest year-to-year shift measured since 2004 when Gallup started polling on the issue.

When Obama first started running for president, gay couples could only marry in Massachusetts. Now four additional states and D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage. A Republican-controlled State Senate in New York could legalize same-sex marriage — or at least come close to legalizing it — by the end of the week, which would make same-sex marriage legal in the nation’s third most populous state.

Obama’s positions on other issues related to same-sex marriage don’t seem to square with his opposition to allowing gay couples to marry. Even during his presidential campaign, Obama called for full legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In February, the president said he determined the anti-gay statute was unconstitutional and that he would no longer defend the law against litigation in court.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said Obama should “stop trying to have it both ways” by remaining in opposition to same-sex marriage while at the same time saying his position could evolve as he demonstrates support for married same-sex couples in other ways.

“When he says his position is ‘evolving,’ he’s not for same-sex marriage or against it,” Socarides said. “If the president wants to be on the right side of history, he needs to start leading on this issue now, or he’s going to be left in the dust by other progressive leaders who are already on board.”

Socarides said Obama may have gotten off to a slow start with LGBT rights at the beginning of his administration, but has since been “making very good, important, steady, important progress” with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the discontinuation of the legal defense of DOMA. An endorsement for same-sex marriage, Socarides said, would build on the progress made in the past six months.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Obama is ‘”lagging behind the American people” by not yet endorsing same-sex marriage when a majority of Americans now support the concept.

“One of the important duties of a president is to lead and particularly stand up for the full inclusion, protection and equality of all Americans,” Wolfson said. “We look to our president to stand firm for the Constitution’s guarantees for liberty and equality. When the government itself is the major discriminator, as it is in the denial of marriage, it’s especially important for the president to help guide the country in the right direction.”

Observers are saying Obama needs to come out for same-sex marriage to conform to the rest of his positions — or risk coming off as inauthentic to voters.

Socarides said the president’s position is “so contrary to everything else he stands for in terms of the expansion of rights and responsibilities for all Americans” and coming out for marriage equality would make his views consistent.

“If I were advising the president, I would say his position now does not seem terribly authentic, and authenticity is highly valued in presidents,” Socarides said.

Wolfson said the position Obama has eked so far on same-sex marriage is becoming “increasingly incoherent and very inauthentic.”

“That’s not what a president, whose support comes from people who believe in him wants to see,” Wolfson said. “President Obama’s hesitation in outright supporting the freedom to marry is the one jarring false note in his dialogue with the American people. Although this question of the freedom to marry is not the thing most people will cast their vote on, no politician wants to have inauthenticity and the doubts that it spreads begin to take root.”

But what is perhaps most dogging Obama regarding marriage is his early support for the right of gay couples to marry. In 1996, when he was running to become an Illinois state senator, Obama stated in a questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times newspaper that he supports same-sex marriage. The future president wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

Last week, during a question-and-answer session at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, the 1996 questionnaire received renewed attention when White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer suggested the questionnaire response was fake when he said the survey “was actually filled out by someone else, not the president.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, later issued a statement clarifying that Pfeiffer “was not familiar with the history of the questionnaire.”

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney asserted Pfeiffer had been mistaken last week when talking about the 1996 statement under questioning from the Washington Blade.

“I think you know because you’ve read it multiple times since then that we’ve corrected it beginning Friday that he — that that is not the case, that he was mistaking that with another questionnaire,” Carney said. “The president’s position on gay marriage has been clear since ’08 — is clear, again, since he’s been president.”

The White House hasn’t provided an explanation on the record for why the president expressed support in 1996 for same-sex marriage, then later changed his position to oppose it. According to a report on Sunday in the New York Times, White House officials have said that Obama “was really referring to civil unions,” although no on-the-record source is identified in the article for the remarks.

Carney said on Monday that he doesn’t know if the president supported same-sex marriage in 1996, but reiterated that Obama has opposed gay nuptials since he made his bid for the White House, and that his views are evolving. Still, Carney said he believed the president, in fact, signed the questionnaire response from that time.

“What I know is what his position was during the campaign and what it is now,” Carney said. “He’s been very clear about it. He was very clear in the campaign. He was very clear about the fact that his position on the views — that it’s evolving. And I really don’t have anything to add to it.”

Obama’s shifting views on same-sex marriage could plague him as campaign season starts for the 2012 election and he seeks support and donations from the LGBT community. On Thursday, Obama was set to headline a $1,250 a plate fundraiser, titled “Gala with the Gay Community,” with LGBT donors in New York City. Next week, the president is set to commemorate June as Pride month with a reception at the White House.

It remains to be seen whether Obama’s LGBT supporters from the 2008 election will continue to back the president with the same gusto in 2012 — of if they’ll stay home on Election Day because they feel Obama doesn’t support them on a fundamental right.

Asked by the Blade on Monday whether Obama was selling these audiences short by seeking their support for his campaign and not supporting their right to marry, Carney replied, “I think you know that this president is very supportive of and strong on LGBT rights. And his record is significant with regard to that. He’s been very clear about his position on gay marriage, he’s been very clear about how that position is evolving. I don’t have any new announcements to make, but I think you know his record, and he’s proud of it.”

Advocates say an endorsement of same-sex marriage would help seal the deal for LGBT supporters for the president’s re-election campaign.

Wolfson said coming out for same-sex marriage would “energize and excite those who believe in equality and inclusion,” particularly younger voters, in addition to independents who, according to polls, now support same-sex marriage.

“This is a happy instance where doing the right thing is also doing the right thing politically,” Wolfson said. “President Obama has much to gain and little to lose by completing his journey and outright supporting the freedom to marry.”

Beyond showing solidarity with the LGBT community, Socarides said the courts and state legislatures are looking to the president in deciding whether or not to overturn statues prohibiting gay nuptials or to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

“As president, he’s capable of shaping the debate and controlling the agenda,” Socarides said. “I think that for those reasons alone it’s important. I also think that as leader of the country, he often reflects where the national consensus is, or where it’s headed, and I think that courts will look to that as well as state legislatures. He’s the most important leader in the country, and his views are important even though, obviously, him saying he supports it won’t make it the law everywhere.”

Still, Socarides expressed skepticism that Obama would, in fact, make this change because he said LGBT people seeking additional rights have limited options in the presidential election.

“I don’t believe that there will be substantial political consequences for him to stay in this non-committal position,” Socarides said. “I think the alternatives are so limited, and he’s also done a number of important things, so I don’t there will be any political consequences. And that is probably why he is going to hang out where he is through the 2012 election.”

Nonetheless, hope pervades in some circles that Obama will complete his evolution to come out in favor of same-sex marriage in time for the 2012 election.

The Times article from Monday reported that one Democratic strategist close to the White House, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said senior advisers “are looking at the tactics of how this might be done if the president chose to do it.”

“This is clearly a president who is interested in making big historical changes,” the Democratic strategist was quoted as saying. “I think this issue has moved into that context for him.”

According to the Times, gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he was asked this year by a top adviser to the president what the impact would be if Obama came out for same-sex marriage. Frank reportedly wouldn’t identify the adviser.

But Socarides said he doesn’t believe this reporting indicates any serious consideration in the administration about Obama coming out for marriage equality — although he left the door open for a potential surprise from the president.

“I don’t put much credence in those reports,” Socarides said. “I think they plan for all kinds of contingencies, but I would be surprised. But you know, he surprised me before, so maybe I’ll be surprised.”

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U.S. Army considers allowing LGBTQ troops to transfer from hostile states

Proposed guidance remains in draft form

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Top Army G-1 officer & enlisted advisor speaking with Joint Base Lewis-McChord single and dual military parents (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

A draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy.

Steve Beynon writing for Military.com reported last week the guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the Army amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army has a majority of its bases and major commands.

“Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told Military.com. “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”

This policy tweak to the existing Army regulations pertaining to compassionate reassignment would clarify the current standard rules, which are oft times fairly vague.

A source in the Army told Beynon the new guidance has not yet been fully worked out through the policy planning process or briefed to senior leaders including the Army secretary or the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“The Army does not comment on leaked, draft documents,” Angel Tomko, a service spokesperson, told Military.com in an emailed statement. “AR 600-100 and 600-200 establish the criteria for which soldiers may request for a compassionate reassignment. The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”

A base member wears rainbow socks during Pride Month Five Kilometer Pride Run at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 28, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

The Crystal City-based RAND Corporation had published a study on sexual orientation, gender identity and health among active duty servicemembers in 2015 that listed approximate six percent of LGBTQ troops are gay or bisexual and one percent are trans or nonbinary.

A senior analyst for RAND told the Washington Blade on background those numbers are likely much lower than in actuality as 2015 was less than four years after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and prior to when the Trump administration enacted the trans servicemember ban in 2017, which has had a chilling effect on open service.

The Biden administration repealed the Trump ban.

Another factor is that the current 18-24 year old troops colloquially referred to as “Gen Z” are much more inclined to embrace an LGBTQ identity and that would cause the numbers to be higher than reported.

Also factored in is uncertainty in the tweaking of policy in light of the recent leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade.

According to Military.com it’s unclear whether the Army’s inclusion of pregnancy on the list would protect reproductive care for soldiers if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That language could be intended to protect pregnant service members or their families from employment or other discrimination, but could also be a means for some to argue for transfers based on broader reproductive rights.

One advocacy group pointed out that the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation will negatively impact the moral of service members:

“What we’re seeing across the board is a small group of elected officials who are trying to politicize and weaponize LGBTQ identities in despicable ways. They’re not only doing that to our youth, but the collateral damage is hurting our service members,” Jacob Thomas, communications director for Common Defense, a progressive advocacy organization, told Military.com. “[Troops] can’t be forced to live in places where they aren’t seen as fully human.”

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How a pro-transgender memo sneaked through the Trump administration

2020 memo an outlier amid otherwise hostile policy

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By the time the Trump administration ended, it had solidified a reputation for being hostile to transgender people — barring them from military service and reversing regulations aimed at ensuring non-discrimination protections regardless of gender identity — but one minor policy decision managed to sneak through affirming the acceptance of employees going through gender transition.

Top officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, a company support agency for the U.S. government, outlined in a memo dated June 15, 2020 the process for employees and supervisors to “navigate transitioning while employed at the DIA.” The document, which was not previously made available to the public, was obtained earlier this month by the Washington Blade through an appeal of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Transitioning in the workplace is a personal decision,” the memo says. “DIA encourages transitioning employees to openly communicate during the transitioning process; discuss plans for workplace transition with their supervisor or manager; and, as appropriate, include any steps that will prompt workplace changes (e.g., transitioning employees may begin using a different name or pronoun).”

Because the fundamental nature of a memo outlining steps to help employees in the workplace transition is contrary to the overwhelming anti-transgender outlook of the Trump administration, the DIA memo appears to have been an internal effort shielded from the White House at the time as opposed to a government-wide initiative.

The DIA guidance for transgender employees runs contrary to other sweeping Trump administration policies that sought to enable discrimination against transgender people, including the military policy former President Trump issued via Twitter in 2017 outright banning them from service “in any capacity.”

Other anti-trans actions include the Department of Health & Human Services rescinding an Obama-era regulation that barred health care providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients, including the denial of transition-related care, which was orchestrated by then-director of Office of Civil Rights Roger Severino and came just days before the DIA memo.

Both the military ban and the health care rollback have since been reversed under the Biden administration.

Another Trump-era policy at a comparable scope to the DIA memo to employees, however, was the U.S. Office of Personal Management deleting on a page on its website outlining the guidance for accommodating federal workers going through the transition process. The DIA memo, which facilitates those transitions within that one agency, contradicts the message sent by the deletion of the OPM resource.

Although two sources familiar with the document told the Washington Blade it was timed for Pride month (which would be consistent with the June publication date), it would also be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination. After all, the Bostock decision came out on the same day as the date on the DIA memo.

A defense insider familiar with the DIA memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was among those who said the memo went out in recognition of Pride month and said it was intended to ensure there was guidance for transition at the agency.

“We had a number of different individuals who were going through the transition process and management needed to understand what the policy as they dealt with the individuals who were going through transition,” the insider said.

The insider said production of the memo “wasn’t part of any government wide effort” and completely within DIA. The memo, the insider said, wasn’t creating any new policy for the agency, but “looking at existing policy, and then providing our manager and our workforce clear guidance.”

Asked whether there was any backlash to the memo, the insider said, “No, I would say absolutely not.” Once the guidance went out, the insider said, he “didn’t hear anything from outside the organization” about it.

In response to a follow-up question on whether the White House or Pentagon under Trump expressed any objections to the guidance, the insider denied that was the case: “No one said anything to me about it.”

Other highlights of the memo include options for diversity training to better understand transition-related issues; instructions to refer to employees by the name and pronoun of their choice; a reminder the Defense Intelligence Agency has no dress code, therefore employees are allowed to wear attire in the manner they choose; and a guarantee employees shall have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Employees may transition without prior coordination, the memo says, or may do so while creating a transition plan that includes the date the transition will begin, whether time off is needed and how to discuss the situation with colleagues.

“Employees can use the restroom and other facilities that best align with their gender identity and are not restricted to use of a single-user restroom,” the memo says. “Employees are not required to undergo or provide proof of any medical procedures to use restroom facilities designed for use by a specific gender.”

Additionally, the document outlines the process for administrative record updates, including making a request for a gender marker changer through human resources, updating personnel files, and changing DIA and intelligence community badges and identification cards.

A DIA spokesperson, in response to email inquiries from the Washington Blade on the document, confirmed the memo was issued to coincide with Pride month and remains in effect to this day.

“Released jointly to the DIA civilian workforce by the DIA Chief of Staff, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, and Office of Human Resources, the memo titled ‘Gender Transition in the Workplace for Civilian Employees’ serves to notify DIA civilian employees of the Agency’s position on supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) employees, including those taking steps to align themselves more fully with their gender identities,” the DIA spokesperson said. “The memo was released in June 2020 to coincide with Pride Month and serves as active guidance.”

In many cases, regulations and guidance would have to go through the White House Office of Management & Budget or Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, but not necessarily, especially an internal memo to supervisors and employees to reinforce policy that purportedly was already in place.

A Trump White House official said he was unaware of the document until the Blade brought it to his attention and said it would not have come to the White House because it was never published in the Federal Register. The Office of Management & Budget didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it ever was brought to the attention of the White House at the time of its publication in 2020.

While regulations within U.S. agencies go to the White House for review and consultations, government agencies as well as businesses often consult transgender groups for assistance in developing guidance for transitioning in the workforce, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, a transgender advocate who served as executive director of the advocacy group during the Trump administration, said she was completely unaware of the memo until the Blade brought it to her attention, although DIA would have been “required by law” to have such a policy for transgender workers after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.

“We would have been happy to see it, but this was not the Trump administration doing something good,” Keisling said. “This was HR bureaucrats, I don’t mean bureaucrat in a bad way at all. This is HR bureaucrats following the law, and it clearly didn’t rise to the level of the White House.”

Keisling said she was unaware of any similar guidance for gender transition coming from a U.S. agency during the Trump administration. However, she disclosed her organization was able to work with federal workers to get “a couple of sneaky things done the White House didn’t know about” consistent with the DIA memo, although she didn’t elaborate.

“And super importantly, it’s the intelligence community and defense and intelligence, which Defense Intelligence Agency obviously is both,” Keisling said. “They have a little more autonomy than others anyway, so … if you told me there was something surprising from somewhere on a personnel issue, I would have guessed that it was somewhere in the intelligence report or Foreign Service community.”

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Texas to resume abuse investigations into families with trans children

“To be clear the Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters & DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse”

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In a statement issued Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) agency announced that it will resume abuse investigations into families with transgender kids.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the DFPS statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse, the Dallas Morning News noted.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that DFPS can continue to investigate families in the state who provide medically necessary care for their Trans children, excluding the parties in the litigation that brought the matter forward in a lawsuit filed in March.

In its decision, the court emphasized that neither Attorney General Paxton nor Governor Abbott has the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of medically necessary lifesaving health care for transgender youth as child abuse. But the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

Trans activist Landon Richie who has been deeply involved in the efforts to mitigate the anti-trans actions by Texas lawmakers and has led protests against the transphobic actions by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Blade:

“To be clear, the Texas Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters and DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse. While the decision means now only the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have protection, it reiterates that Attorney General Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter are not binding and not enforceable, meaning DFPS’s actions moving forward are at the discretion of Commissioner Masters only and not the state leadership’s directives. The Texas Supreme Court allowing for the district court to provide a temporary injunction is a good sign for people’s protection. 

It bears reminding families in Texas and around the country that today’s decision (and yesterday’s regarding gender-affirming care at UT Southwestern and Texas Children’s) reaffirms what we already know: opinions are only opinions and the people in power cannot abuse that power to abuse trans people. We know decisions can change at a moment’s notice and that this fight will take years, but to our families and communities under attack, please remain strong and take a moment to breathe. We’re in this together. “

An employee of DFPS who was a litigant in the lawsuit is represented by the ACLU of Texas.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing that unnamed employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

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