Connect with us

National

A personal victory for gay Pentagon official

‘Don’t Ask’ repeal allows gay service members to become ‘whole’

Published

on

Douglas Wilson, the Defense Department's assistant secretary for public affairs. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For the first openly gay assistant secretary at the Pentagon, helping to advance “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation has been a personally rewarding experience.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Douglas Wilson, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said Tuesday his role in bringing about the change has had particular significance for him because of his admiration for the nation’s armed forces.

“It’s meant a lot to me personally because it’s been an opportunity to help realize change in an institution that I respect tremendously,” Wilson said.

The process leading to gays serving openly in the U.S. military, Wilson said, has been important to him because he knows there are people in uniform who feel they “couldn’t be whole” as they served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I know what it’s like to feel like you’re not a whole person,” he said. “This is why as the process of repeal took place, and then the process of certification took place, that was something that personally I kept upper-most in my mind. An institution that has done so much for people, that has produced so many outstanding people, that has done so much for the country itself could understand and recognize how important it is to be a whole person.”

Wilson, whom the Senate confirmed in February 2010 to a senior position at the Pentagon, serves as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. His duties include being a principal adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on public information and community relations.

It’s not the Tuczon, Ariz., native’s first job at the Defense Department. Under former defense chief William Cohen during the Clinton administration, Wilson, 60, was a deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, and later principal deputy assistant under public affairs.

Wilson has had numerous other roles in government service and in work for non-profit organizations. Previously, he served as executive vice president of the Howard Gilman Foundation, where he oversaw the development and implementation of the organization’s domestic and international policy programs at its White Oak conservation center.

But in addition to his current duties at the Pentagon, Wilson had a direct role in bringing about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he served on the executive committee for the Repeal Implementation Team.

“I’ve never seen myself as either a gay community leader or poster boy,” Wilson said. “I’ve always seen myself as a person with a whole lot of different components to me as an individual, and being gay is one of them.”

The culmination of that work took place when President Obama, Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certified that the U.S. military is ready for open service. Under the repeal law signed in December, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be off the books 60 days after certification — so the law will officially come to an end on Sept. 20.

In the Blade interview, Wilson discussed a variety of topics including what the lifting of the military’s gay ban means to him as well as implications for service members in the future. His partner of 16 years is an educator.

His piece of advice for gay service members after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the off the books? Feel confident and believe you can be whoever you want to be.

“The military cliche, slogan is ‘be all that you can be,'” Wilson said. “Never has this been so true as it’ll be on Sept. 20 for thousands of people.”

Wilson had few words about potential partner benefits that could be offered to gay service members upon repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because he’s “not a specialist on benefits.” Pentagon officials have said they intend to examine the possibility of extending certain benefits to gay service members — although the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits major benefits like housing and health insurance from going to service members.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate because I think all of these are on the table and I think there is a true determination here to do the right thing and to follow the law,” Wilson said.

Additionally, Wilson addressed the possibility of an executive order barring discrimination against troops based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT advocates have called for the order because no non-discrimination rule will be put in place for the military even after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is lifted, but the Pentagon officials have said they don’t believe such an order is necessary.

Wilson said channels are already in place for gay service members to make complaints about discrimination while enabling the Pentagon to keep its policies sexual orientation-neutral. Still, Wilson left the door open for further discussion on a non-discrimination order.

“People here are aware that there are different views on this issue,” Wilson said. “I expect that discussion on this issue is going to continue but that is the rationale.”

The transcript of the interview between the Washington Blade and Wilson follows:

Washington Blade: You were involved in the Repeal Implementation Team as the Pentagon made its way toward certification. As an openly gay man, what did that role mean for you personally?

Doug Wilson: I was a member of the executive committee of the RIT, and I’ve also have been here as the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs since February of 2010, and I think I’m the first openly gay assistant secretary in the Pentagon’s history. It’s meant a lot to me personally because it’s been an opportunity to help realize change in an institution that I respect tremendously.

I served here in the late ’90s under [former Defense Secretary] Bill Cohen, and I had never in a million years thought that I would be working at the Pentagon. It was a transformational experience for me. I met the most outstanding people in uniform, and civilians as well. But the people I met in uniform were absolutely remarkable people. The things they were required to do and did, the sacrifices that they made — it made a huge impression on me.

It also made an impression on me that there were men and women in uniform who couldn’t be whole. And I know what it’s like to feel like you’re not a whole person. This is why as the process of repeal took place, and then the process of certification took place, that was something that personally I kept upper-most in my mind. An institution that has done so much for people, that has produced so many outstanding people, that has done so much for the country itself — could understand and recognize how important it is to be a whole person.

It has demonstrated that when it came to the integration of the armed forces. It has demonstrated that when it came to the role of women in combat. And I knew that it could demonstrate that when it came to allowing gay and lesbian men and women to be whole and equal.

Blade: But have you ever found it challenging or felt out of place working for a department that — had you been working on the uniform side — until recently would have forced you out of your job because of your sexual orientation?

Wilson: Yes. I have been well aware that as a political appointee and as a civilian that I was able to do things that my counterparts in uniform were not able to do.

I’ve never seen myself as either a gay community leader or poster boy. I’ve always seen myself as a person with a whole lot of different components to me as an individual, and being gay is one of them. The thing that mattered the most to me was the folks in uniform would be able to be that. To be recognized as that — that being gay or lesbian is a component of who they are. It was always uncomfortable that there was that gap.

Blade: Do you feel like you’ve experienced any sort of anti-gay bias or discrimination while working at the Pentagon?

Wilson: No. Even when I was here in the late ’90s and I was quite close to secretary and Mrs. Cohen. They knew my sexual orientation, they extended their hands and welcomed me and at social events welcomed me and my partner. That meant a tremendous amount to me.

I felt the same way being here as an assistant secretary for public affairs, particularly within the office that I had, which consists of a large number of military as well as civilian, political appointees — all of whom know that I’m openly gay, all of whom have been nothing but supportive. It’s not been a factor … it’s a part of who I am, and that’s how I’ve been treated.

Blade: Are there any openly gay figures in government who’ve inspired you to be out?

Wilson: I don’t know that there’s been anybody who’s inspired me to be openly gay. I think that there are figures in government who are friends, who I’m proud to call colleagues — people like John Berry, people like Eric Fanning, who used to work for me at [Business Executives for National Security], is now here with the Navy. … I work with a large number of men and women in this government who are openly gay and lesbian. Certainly on the Hill, there’s an even larger number who are.

I think the thing that — we’re all extremely different people. But I think the approach is similar, that this is a component of who we are. I don’t think John Berry looks at himself as the gay director of [the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.] I think he looks at himself as the director of OPM, and he’s a gay man. That’s how I approach what I’m doing here.

As I say, everybody has their own path in life that they follow, and whether you’re gay or straight how you come to be who you are is your own path. For me, it’s wanting to be accepted for everything that I am in terms of the whole person that I am.

It took a long time to get here because I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s when it was a very, very different time, and it’s been a long time coming, and I’m really proud of who I am. I’m proud of this institution. I’m proud of this administration, and mostly I’m proud of the literally thousands of people who are going to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that I’ve been able to advantage of earlier.

Blade: Did you know Pete Williams, the openly gay former Defense Department spokesperson?

Wilson: Yes I did. He was not openly gay. He was not open when he was here.

Blade: But he has since come out.

Wilson: I believe he has. You’ll have to ask him. I mean, I can’t speak for him. It’s very well known, but you’ll have to ask him how he wants to be characterized, but I feel very confident in saying I’m the first openly gay assistant secretary in any capacity here.

Blade: What was going through your head when certification was happening last week? Were you reflecting on anything personally?

Wilson: Yes. I was reflecting on the process that it took to get to this place in terms of repeal. In December of last year, it was kind of a crucible. And there were points during that month when people thought this ultimately was not going to happen, including very senior people here. And I never did believe that it wasn’t going to happen.

I thought that we really had reached a tipping point in December when [Sen.] Susan Collins stood on the floor after that vote on the [fiscal year 2011 defense] authorization [bill], and, within a couple of hours, she and [Sen. Joseph] Lieberman were back down there talking to [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, and they were going to offer this bill.

At that point, I thought this is not dead. I didn’t see how it could die. I thought there were so many chances to kill it, and it wouldn’t die. And I really thought that this was going to happen in December because I thought too many people could not look themselves in the face, look themselves in the mirror and say — with a report that showed what it showed, that attitudes in the United States being what they were — that they were the ones to be the anachronism. I won some money as a result of that.

Blade: You won some money? How is that?

Wilson: I bet it would happen.

Blade: How much did you win?

Wilson: Let’s put it this way. I won enough for a round of drinks for a few people at JR.’s if I had gone.

Blade: Some conservatives have criticized the decision to certify repeal at this time. Chairman Buck McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee called certification the culmination a “flawed repeal assessment and adoption process” and said he’s disappointed Obama didn’t address “concerns expressed by military service chiefs.” What’s your response to that?

Wilson: Everybody has their own opinion with regards to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and it would inappropriate for me wearing the hat that I wear to make any particular comments on any particular person’s point of view.

I would just say that I thought that the Comprehensive Working Group Report truly reinforced the fact that in the military — as well as outside the military — views have changed considerably and that this is not something that is being forced, that this is something that is evolving.

I personally knew that we had reached this point when I saw some of the outreach sessions that were conducted during the report. I can tell you an anecdote. You’ll never be able to fit this into the story, but I will if you don’t mind.

Blade: Go ahead.

Wilson: When I was at Ft. Hood, and after the outreach sessions, we went to see a tank at a tank crew. The purpose of it was to show how close quarters were in a tank and how difficult it would be for gay and straight troops to serve together.

So, we saw the tank, and at the end, the tank crew lined up in front of the tank, and people said to us, “Do you have any questions?” And I said, “You all have served together several years.” And they said, “Yes, we’ve been together a long time.” I said, “What happens if ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is repealed and one of you told the other four that he was gay? What would you do?”

And person by person — the first person said, “Well, my brother’s gay, so it doesn’t matter.” The second person said, “Well, you know, I have so many friends who are gay from high school. It doesn’t matter.” To each person, it didn’t matter. And the final person said, “What matters to me is if this thing is burning, I want someone to be able to pull me out, and I don’t care what their [sexual] orientation is.”

That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. That’s my opinion.

Blade: Do you have any advice for gay service members in this period after certification but before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books?

Wilson: I would say this has been a lengthy process. The length of it has been frustrating for some people. I understand both the frustration and the need for the process because this a very large institution and cultural change does not turn on a dime, but the evolution of the cultural change that has brought us to this point means that we don’t need to spike the football, what we need to do is understand that a lot of people have spent a lot of effort who are not gay to help us to get to this point.

I would say there are 60 days left because that is part of the legislation and we’ve come this far. Let us reach the end.

Blade: What about after that time? When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books, what advice would you have for them?

Wilson: Feel confident in yourself, believe in yourself that you can be whoever you want to be. This is the statement that you are a whole person, that your sexual orientation is a part of who you are and it is not a limiting factor to who you can be. Take pride in that.

The military cliche, slogan is “be all that you can be.” Never has this been so true as it’ll be on Sept. 20 for thousands of people.

Blade: Now that recruiters are soon going to be able to take on openly gay people, do you foresee some kind of special outreach or advertising to the LGBT community to search for talent in the armed forces?

Wilson: Here’s what’s very interesting right now about the recruiting process, and that is, for a variety of reasons, all of the services are more than meeting their goals. It’s harder, rather than easier, to get into the services because of that. So, I guess I would say it’s important to make clear that everybody’s welcome, and it’s important to make clear to everybody that their talents are needed. It’s also important to understand that the openings are going to be limited, so you want the best, and the best include both gay and straight individuals.

Blade: But could you see, for example, an ad in the Washington Blade asking for people to enlist?

Wilson: Sure. Let’s put it this way. When the circumstances warrant that we need more people, then I can see an ad in the Washington Post, in the Washington Blade, in the Washington Times, and in the Washington Examiner.

Blade: Pentagon officials have said the issue of benefits for gay service members is going to be examined in the 60-day period before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books. Which benefits do you think we’ll most likely see?

Wilson: I don’t know the answer to that. And I wouldn’t want to speculate because I think all of these are on the table and I think there is a true determination here to do the right thing and to follow the law.

The Pentagon has been put in a very interesting position by the courts over the past six months, and each step along the way, they have followed the law whatever the law is at that time. With regard to benefits, I think they want to look at each and every issue, they want to be able to determine it based on the law, whatever the law is now, whatever the law will be in 2012 or 2013 or 2014 — that will apply as well. So, I guess I would just say that nothing is off the table, but I wouldn’t want to advance guess the process.

Blade: Just to clarify … some of the major spousal benefits — housing and health insurance — those are prohibited from going to gay service members because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you see any possible workaround to offering those benefits to gay service members even with DOMA in place?

Wilson: I have to be honest with you, Chris. This is an area where I couldn’t give you the best answer because I’m not the specialist on benefits; I’m just not. All I would say is there is certainly a recognition here by the Repeal Implementation Team — both military and civilian — of the benefits that are extended to those in uniform, of the ones that for the moment, are not or cannot be because of the law, and people are looking at all of those.

Blade: One issue affecting gay service members has led to an ACLU lawsuit — the half separation pay that many service members face if they’ve been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s my understanding this could be changed administratively. Will the Pentagon make this change after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books?

Wilson: Again, I don’t know the answer. I’m being very honest with you. I don’t know the answer to the question; I wouldn’t speculate about the answer to the question. The only thing I would say is I’m well aware that that is an issue that is going to be raised.

Blade: I think I’m going to get the same answer here, but I’ll ask anyway. Another issue that is facing discharged service members is recoupment costs. Some who have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are required to pay back bonuses they’ve received or grants they received for ROTC tuition —

Wilson: You would get the same answer. … None of these issues or concerns are secrets or surprises to people. The people here are aware of all of them. The one thing — you asked me about my impressions of this team — one of the things that has most impressed me about this repeal implementation team is the degree to which the people who are leading it, particularly the people like [Marine Corps Maj.] Gen. Steve Hummer and [Virginia] “Vee” Penrod. … These are truly outstanding humans. These are people who want to do the right thing. I do not sense a prejudiced bone in their body.

Blade: The issue of non-discrimination is still a concern. There have been some calls for the president to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s been some talk in the briefings that we don’t need to have this executive order. Why is that?

Wilson: The position that has been articulated is because there are channels. There are channels for raising these complaints, and the approach has been — on as any many issues as you possibly can do — to not have to change the policy if the policy already is sexual orientation neutral. And that’s the view here that this policy is sexual orientation neutral. People here are aware that are different views on this issue. I expect that discussion on this issue on this issue is going to continue but that is the rationale.

Blade: There’s also been concern that openly transgender people are still unable to serve in the U.S. military. Do you think that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal will open the door to open trans service?

Wilson: I don’t know the answer to that. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I guess my own personal opinion is I think the issue of benefits is going to be the first issue after the 60 days, the most immediate issue of the set of the issues that are going to be addressed. The continuing issue of benefits, I think those are going to be addressed in the 60-day period and beyond. So, I think if I had to guess what are going to be the most near-term topics of discussion, it’ll be some of the benefits issues that you raised.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael Bedwell

    July 27, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Mr. Wilson obviously has good intentions, and I thank him for his service as a civilian to our country. But his combination of willful ignorance and naivete are indefensible when he asserts that he wants to our people serving in the military become “whole.” Rather he dishonoros them by simply serving up the Pentagon’s batch of Kool-Aid lies on such things as denying gay and lesbian service members discriminated against or harassed access to anything but “chain of command” rather than to the Military Equality Opportunity Program processes given NONgays. It has ALREADY been proven not to work in a 2004 study by the Palm Center on the EXISTING “Don’t Harass” policy. SLDN said:

    “There is no available avenue for service members who would typically report discrimination [based on sexual orientation] through an equal opportunity office. … In reality when a service member does report it through the chain of command it is rarely taken seriously. There’s no consequence for commanders who ignore anti-gay harassment. The environment has created second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian service members and it permeates all military.”

    Further, DADT did NOT empower either recoupment nor refusal of 100% of eligible separation pay. Mr. Wilson’s Pollyanna attitudes towards the Obama Pentagon’s ongoing discrimination, including fighting the ACLU class action suit are, at best, just plain sad.

    Finally, please publish a retraction of your assertion that DOMA bans access by gay couples to military housing. The DoD’s November report confirmed only that financial supplement for non-military housing was prevented by DOMA. On-base, “military family housing is NOT. Quote, emphasis mine:

    “A third category of benefits are those THAT ARE NOT STATUTORILY PROHIBITED, but that
    current regulations do not extend to same-sex partners. With regard to this category, THE
    DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AND THE SERVICES HAVE THE REGULATORY FLEXIBILITY TO REVISE AND REDEFINE THE ELIGIBLE BENEFICIARIES TO INCLUDE SAME-SEX PARTNERS. Here, we recommend that, where justified from a policy, fiscal, and feasibility standpoint, the benefit be refashioned to become a member-designated one—in other words, to give the Service member, gay or straight, the discretion to designate whomever he or she wants as beneficiary. An example of a benefit in this category is the provision of free legal services by a military legal assistance office, and it may be suitable for this member-designated approach. MILITARY FAMILY HOUSING IS ANOTHER PROMINENT BENEFIT IN THIS CATEGORY. However, we do NOT [emphasis theirs] recommend at this time that military family housing be included in the benefits eligible for this member-designated approach. Permitting a Service member to qualify for military family housing, simply by designating
    whomever he or she chooses as a ‘dependent’, is problematic. Military family housing is a
    limited resource and complicated to administer, and a system of member designation would
    create occasions for abuse and unfairness [to unmarried straight couples]. …

    For benefits such as these, the Department of Defense COULD [emphasis theirs] legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically
    mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed
    relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian
    employees.”

    Thank you.

  2. Out Military

    July 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Great piece, thank you for reporting! FYI – check out OutMilitary interview with gay man serving in U.S. Airforce in Turkey – http://outmilitary.com/magazine/read/outmilitarycom-blog-profile-tj-_431.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

National

Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland

‘They nearly killed me’

Published

on

Juniper Simonis (Photo by Mariah Harris)

It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.  

But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said. 

“They nearly killed me,” they said.

Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies. 

There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot. 

Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.” 

“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said. 

The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said. 

“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said. 

Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace. 

Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said. 

Wallace, Juniper Simonis’ service dog. (Photo by Mariah Harris)

Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos. 

“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said. 

Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody. 

Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit. 

A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said. 

Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.   

In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism. 

Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”  

“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.

The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said. 

The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well. 

Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.  

The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said. 

“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”

Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said. 

“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.” 

The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well. 

“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said. 

Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said. 

“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”

Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.

“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”

Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.

Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis,  even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said. 

“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added. 

“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”

With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process. 

“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said. 

Continue Reading

National

$2 million grant program to help LGBTQ restaurants, bars

Grubhub, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to support small businesses

Published

on

NGLCC, gay news, Washington Blade
Chance E. Mitchell and Justin G. Nelson of NGLCC announced the new grant program for restaurants and bars. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the global online food delivery company Grubhub announced on Sept. 22 that they have launched a $2 million grant program to provide financial support to struggling “LGBTQ+ owned and ally restaurants” adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic.

“America’s vulnerable LGBTQ+ owned restaurants and bars serving food will find a vital lifeline this fall stemming from the partnership formed by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and Grubhub,” according to a joint statement they released. 

“These small business owners have been among the hardest hit by COVID impact with loss of jobs and income over the past two years,” the statement says.

It says the newly launched Community Impact Grant Program is inviting restaurants and bars that qualify for the program to submit applications for grants up until Oct. 12, 2021, the closing date for the applications. The grants are expected to range from $5,000 to $100,000, the statement says, with NGLCC and its more than 50 affiliated LGBT chambers across the country playing the lead role in selecting which restaurants or bars are awarded the grants.

In a separate statement in response to a question from the Washington Blade, NGLCC said an LGBTQ-owned establishment such as a gay bar would be eligible to apply for a grant under the program if they offer a menu for serving food.

“They do not need to be licensed as a restaurant specifically to be eligible for consideration,” NGLCC said.

Among the D.C. gay bars that would fall into that eligibility category are Pitchers and its attached lesbian bar A League of Her Own, Uproar, and Nellie’s Sports Bar. Freddie’s Beach Bar in Arlington, Va. would also be eligible.

In the same follow-up statement to the Blade, NGLCC said it will determine whether an applicant qualifies for a grant as an LGBTQ ally by evaluating “the restaurant’s clientele, reach, track record of support, and public benefit.”

The statement adds, “In our application online, we ask allies to share evidence of their LGBTQ+ community support such as nonprofit sponsorships or advertising in local LGBTQ+ media, among others. We know that our allies are an important foundation standing by their LGBTQ+ patrons, neighbors, and friends.”

The statement announcing the launching of the LGBTQ grant program says the funds for the grants will come from a charitable program Grubhub started in 2018 called Grubhub’s Donate the Change program. It says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub to “round out their order total and donate the difference,” with Grubhub matching eligible donations from its Grubhub+ members.

It says NGLCC has set a goal to allocate 30 percent of the funds for the Community Impact Grant Program for LGBTQ-owned and ally-owned restaurants and bars to businesses owned by people of color and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

“We’re proud to partner with Grubhub offering these grants to support these businesses,” said Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the NGLCC, who noted that LGBTQ-owned and allied restaurants were among those who “kept our communities and first responders fed throughout the pandemic.”

Added Nelson, “America’s 1.4 million LGBTQ+-owned business owners have shown incredible resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, in turn, we can help them recover stronger than ever.”

The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce describes itself as the business voice of the community and “the largest global advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people.”

Continue Reading

National

Roundup of cities hosting Pride events next month — and those that cancelled

Annapolis, Richmond among postponements in mid-Atlantic

Published

on

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at D.C.’s Pride Walk in June. (Screenshot via WJLA 7)

Although organizers are closely watching COVID-19 related developments in their states, at least 15 outdoor, in-person LGBTQ Pride events were scheduled to take place across the U.S. in the fall of 2021, according to the international LGBTQ group InterPride and online announcements by organizers of the Pride events.

Cities in which the fall Pride events are scheduled to take place include D.C.; Fort Lauderdale; Palm Springs, Calif.; Las Vegas; Dover, Del.; and three small cities in Maryland.

The decision to move ahead with those events came shortly after Pride organizers in at least five cities announced they were cancelling their events for this fall due to concern over the COVID pandemic. Among them are Richmond, Va.; Annapolis, Md.; Atlanta; Louisville, Ky.; and San Francisco.

Organizers of a fall Pride event in Philadelphia also cancelled that event, originally set for Sept. 4. But the Philadelphia Gay News reports that the cancellation was not due to COVID but instead was due to objections by members of the community to the policies of the event’s organizers and a controversial public statement by one of the organizers considered by some to be derogatory to transgender people.

A statement announcing the cancellation of a San Francisco LGBTQ Pride Freedom Day Fest scheduled for Oct. 20 by its organizers appears to capture the sentiment of organizers of the other fall Pride events that were also cancelled.

“[W]e’ve determined that to produce a street fair with the safety and health of our communities at top priority, at the quality expected of SF Pride, is just not feasible this fall,” the statement says. “We are not cancelling – we’re merely postponing. Over the coming months, in addition to some new and returning fundraising events, we’re going to focus our energy on Pride 2022,” the statement continues.

“We remain as excited as we ever were to capture that spirit of wonder and look forward to bringing Freedom Day Fest to all of you in October 2022,” it says.

San Francisco Pride organizers noted that the fall Freedom Day Fest event was to be an addition to the city’s regularly scheduled Pride parade and festival that has taken place in June prior to the COVID outbreak but that were cancelled this year and last year. 

The Richmond Pride event, known as Virginia Pridefest, was scheduled to take place Sept. 25. The event, which was also cancelled last year due to COVID, has attracted tens of thousands of participants in previous years. 

“After consulting with our many corporate sponsors, organizational partners and volunteers we have decided it is in the best interest of the health and safety off our community to postpone VA Pridefest 2021,” organizers said in an Aug. 27 statement. “Our preparation puts us on solid footing as we postpone the festival to 2022 when we hope to hold it in June as part of the national observation of LGBTQ Pride Month,” the statement says. “This has long been a goal of ours, and this just may give us that opportunity,” it says.

Although organizers of Annapolis Pride cited COVID concerns as their reason for cancelling that event, which was scheduled for Oct. 30, activists in three smaller Maryland cities have chosen not to cancel their Pride events.

They include the Howard County Pride Festival scheduled for Oct. 9 in Columbia, Md.; the Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride Festival, also set for Oct. 9 in Havre De Grace, Md.; and Southern Maryland Pride scheduled for Oct. 16 in Solomons, Md.

Like D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance, Pride organizers in Baltimore cancelled their traditional June Pride parade and festival for the second year in a row and instead held more than a dozen smaller events in June of this year, both in-person and virtual.

In Los Angeles, Christopher Street West, the group that organizes that city’s Pride events, including its annual Pride Parade which in pre-COVID years has attracted hundreds of thousands of participants, also cancelled this year’s parade for the second year in a row. Like other cities, the group held several virtual Pride events in June.

Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters organized a Pride Walk in June that attracted a few hundred participants in an effort, Masters said, to hold at least one in-person event to celebrate Pride during the traditional Pride Month in June.

A larger outdoor Pride event did take place in LA Aug. 27-29, called the DTLA Proud Festival, with “DT” referring to downtown LA.

Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual Pride parade and street festival that have attracted over 200,000 participants in pre-COVID times, held a scaled back Pride Walk and Pride celebration at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza in June. The group has scheduled an Oct. 17 Pride Street Fair and Block Party on 15th Street, N.W. between P and Q Streets that it’s calling Colorful Fest.

On its website, Capital Pride says those entering the block party, which will be in a fenced in area where alcohol will be served, will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is committed to finding opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to gather together safely, especially as the fall and winter seasons will soon make it more difficult to hold outdoor events and pandemic guidelines will make indoor events challenging,” Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Blade. “To that end, we are working closely with the DC Government and following all current COVID-19 guidelines to have a safe outdoor event,” Bos said.

The Louisville, Ky., Pride, which had been scheduled for Sept. 18, is among the Pride events cancelled this fall due to COVID concerns, according to its organizers. But a second Pride event held in Louisville each year called Kentuckiana Pride, will take place as planned on Oct. 8-9 with a parade and festival. 

Chad Eddings, the Kentuckiana Pride co-director, told the Blade the event would take place in an enclosed outdoor area and participants must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test as a requirement for admission. He said the event usually draws about 15,000 people.

Cities in which fall Pride events are still scheduled to take place or have already taken place include Burlington, Vt. (Sept. 5); Miami Beach, Fla. (Sept. 18-19); Columbus, Ind. (Sept. 18); North Texas Pride Festival in Plano, Tex. (Sept. 25); Delaware Pride in Dover (Oct. 2); South Florida Afro Pride Parade & Music Festival in Ft. Lauderdale (Oct. 7-11); Las Vegas Pride Parade & Festival (Oct. 8-9); D.C Pride Street Fair & Block Party (Oct. 17) Pacific Northwest Black Pride in Seattle, Wash. (Oct. 29-31); Phoenix Pride Festival & Parade in Phoenix, Ariz. (Nov. 6-7); Palm Springs, Calif., Pride (Nov. 1-7); and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Pride Parade & Festival (Nov. 20).

InterPride, the LGBTQ organization that keeps track of Pride events “all over the world,” released the results of a survey it conducted of 201 worldwide Pride organizations to find out the type of Pride events they were planning for this year. The findings show that the largest number – 40.8 percent – reported they would be holding both in-person and virtual Pride events.

The findings show that 35.3 percent of the Pride organizations planned just in-person events this year; 19.9 percent planned only online or virtual events; and 4 percent either were not planning any events this year or had canceled their events.

The survey results released by InterPride did not breakdown the findings by specific countries.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular