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‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is gone

After 18 years, military’s gay ban sent to history books

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The anti-gay law that for 18 years has prevented openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military is today finally lifted from the books and cast in the dustbin of history.

Under the law, which came to be known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an estimated 14,346 service members were discharged from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation. The gay ban was officially removed from the books at 12:01 am.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been lifted thanks to repeal legislation President Obama signed in December. But before repeal could take effect, the law required Obama and Pentagon leaders send certification to Congress.

On July 22, Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certified the U.S. military was ready for repeal, starting the 60-day period leading to today when the ban has finally come to an end.

The Washington Blade obtained statements that reflect on the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from Obama, LGBT advocates and lawmakers who were involved in the repeal process:

PRESIDENT OBAMA

“Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed. As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.”

“I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans. Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them.”

“For more than two centuries, we have worked to extend America’s promise to all our citizens. Our armed forces have been both a mirror and a catalyst of that progress, and our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans. Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.”

LGBT ADVOCATES

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign:

“[Today] is a historic day for gay and lesbian service members and our nation as a whole. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a stain on our nation — not only did it damage our military readiness and national security, but it sent a message that discrimination based upon sexual orientation was acceptable. We know that not to be the case — discrimination accomplishes nothing and tears at the fabric of our country’s strength.”

“Beginning [today], gay and lesbian service members previously discharged under [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] will have the opportunity to re-enlist. Gay and lesbian Americans eager to serve the country but not willing to compromise who they are as individuals will, for the first time ever, be able to openly join. And brave men and women currently serving will have the freedom to come out and be honest with their comrades about who they are and who they love.”

“Despite this progress, much work remains to ensure full equality in the military. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act will prohibit gay and lesbian service members and their spouses from receiving many of the benefits their straight counterparts receive. Limiting regulations also impact areas like military family housing, access to legal services, and spousal relocation support. We also are continuing to deal with an infrastructure ill-prepared to handle incidents of discrimination and harassment against gay and lesbian service members. It is incumbent upon fair-minded legislators to continue pushing equality forward by standing up to discriminatory legislative tactics, pushing for repeal of DOMA, examining barriers to service for qualified and dedicated transgender Americans, and ensuring gay and lesbian military families get the same access to benefits as everyone else.”

“This was a hard-fought victory, and supporters of equality should feel proud. But we cannot lose sight of the challenges that remain — from passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to bar employment discrimination in every workplace, to bringing an end to DOMA through the Respect for Marriage Act, and to combatting anti-gay activities and rhetoric from political leaders and hate groups. This is indeed a historic moment, but we remain focused on the work ahead.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

“Today marks the official end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and is an historic milestone along the journey to achieving full LGBT equality in America’s military. Thanks to you — the veterans, active duty, leaders, allies and supporters who have fought so long and hard — this is a monumental day for our service members and our nation. Indeed, we have taken a tremendous leap forward for LGBT equality in the military.

“Our work is far from done, but today we pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our patriots as we look forward to a new era of military service — one that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served and wish to serve.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United:

“On March 15, 1778 the first American servicemember was drummed out of the military for being gay. Since then, tens of thousands more have had their careers ruined and their lives turned upside down by a succession of anti-gay polices and regulations, culminating in the codification of an anti-gay statute in 1993 with the passage of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law. In all, 14,346 men and women were discharged pursuant ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ But thanks to the persistent hard work of unwavering advocates, especially those who have been directly impacted by this issue, and some courageous politicians over the past six years, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is now history. As a result, those who continue to serve can sleep easier tonight knowing that they can no longer be arbitrarily fired because of their sexual orientation. Justice has prevailed and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is dead. God bless America.”

Robin McGehee, director of GetEQUAL, which is organizing a “Day of Discontent” of rallies pushing for further LGBT rights in more than a dozen cities on the day “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is lifted:

“It has taken 17 years of hard work to remove this discriminatory policy, and still our community faces discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis that this one important victory won’t fix. [Today’s] collaborative effort by LGBT organizers across this nation will show lawmakers that we will not be content until we have full federal equality in all matters governed by civil law. We cannot and will not accept anything less — for ourselves, our families and our communities.”

Josh Seefried, an active duty Air Force officer and co-director of OutServe, an organization of actively serving LGBT military personnel (under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Seefried went by J.D. Smith to avoid being outed under the law):

“I feel privileged and honored to serve during this time in our nation’s history. This change in policy has not only made our military stronger, but America stronger. I’m proud to serve in the United States Air Force and proud of the fact gay service members can now do their job with their integrity intact.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force:

“Today marks the end of an ugly era in American history. After nearly two decades, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members will finally be able to serve their country openly and honestly. Those who fight for freedom will now themselves be able to live more freely. We celebrate this historic moment, which could not come fast enough. Thousands of exemplary and courageous service members have lost their careers and livelihoods to this unjust policy, once again proving there are very personal and costly consequences of discrimination.

“While we observe this tremendous, hard-fought victory for lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, we recognize the journey is not over. Transgender service members are still being forced to serve in silence. This is unacceptable. All qualified, patriotic Americans willing to risk their lives for this country should be able to do so free from discrimination. In addition, the military still lacks explicit nondiscrimination protections, equal benefits and an inclusive equal opportunity policy for LGBT people. We will continue to work toward the day when full inclusion is a reality in the military.”

U.S. LAWMAKERS

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

“With the long-overdue end of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, our nation will finally close the door on a fundamental unfairness for gays and lesbians, and indeed affirm equality for all Americans. When the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate took action last year to end this wrongheaded policy, we reaffirmed the core American principle that anyone who wishes to serve, secure, and defend this country must be judged by their abilities and honored for their dedication and sacrifice.”

“For those gays and lesbians discharged unfairly, including those who seek re-accession, we must correct their paperwork so that it properly reflects their service. We must continue efforts to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, but in the meantime, I urge the Obama Administration to investigate opportunities to extend the same support and benefits to all our troops and their families. We cannot allow there to be two classes of service members in our military — those who receive benefits for their families and those who do not.

“This landmark progress comes after the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense have all certified that repeal will not hurt military readiness or unit cohesion.”

“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave because of our men and women in uniform. And [today], we honor their service by recommitting to the values that they fight for on the battlefield.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

“Today marks the end of a shameful and counterproductive policy that needlessly destroyed careers and harmed our military readiness. Thousands of qualified men and women who want to serve our country will now be able to do so without fearing their careers could end due to their sexual orientation. Our armed forces will be stronger because now our military commanders and our nation can be sure we will have the best and brightest service members on the job, regardless of ethnicity, creed or sexual orientation.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.):

“Beginning Tuesday, thousands of brave American service members will be able to serve the country they love without concealing part of their identity. They will no longer have to lie in order to help protect us. The end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an important victory not just for equality, but integrity. And this victory will come without harming our military’s readiness or effectiveness. I applaud the military and civilian leaders throughout the Department of Defense who have helped us to adopt this historic change.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), original co-sponsor of the Senate repeal legislation:

“Today represents an historic change for our military and our country. Today, for the first time in our history, we welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country. Today, we will no longer dismiss brave, dedicated, and skilled service men and women simply because they are gay. The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a victory for our national security, and our values, and it strengthens the ranks of our military.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

“Today is a great day for our national security. Repealing [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] will strengthen our military by allowing it to attract our nation’s best talent, regardless of whom they love. The service members who will come out today are the same soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines they were yesterday — the only thing that has changed is that they can now be honest and open about who they are.”

“Countless young men and women in uniform — gay and straight — have told me that in combat, sexual orientation, race, religion and gender simply don’t matter.  Our military leaders were given the time and flexibility to study and implement repeal — they say they’re ready, our troops are ready, and I’m incredibly proud that we’re finally closing the book on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and putting it where it belongs — the dustbin of history.”

Watch Udall’s video commemorating the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” here:

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Illinois

Chicago mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot is first Black lesbian elected to run major U.S. city

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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National

Mixed views among U.S. adults on trans issues: Pew

Most back non-discrimination, but divided on other issues

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A majority of U.S. adults back non-discrimination protections for transgender people, but are less supportive on other issues (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new survey from a leading non-partisan research center reveals Americans have mixed views on transgender issues at a time when states are moving forward with measures against transgender youth, with strong majorities favoring non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors and participation in school sports.

The Pew Research Center issued the findings on Tuesday as part of the results of its ongoing study to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or non-binary. The findings are based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults from data collected as part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22.

A majority of respondents by wide margins favor non-discrimination protections for transgender people. A full 64 percent back laws or policies that would protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces, while roughly 8-in-10 acknowledge transgender people face at least some discrimination in our society.

Additionally, nearly one half of Americans say it’s extremely important to use a transgender person’s new name after they undergo a transition, while an additional 22 percent say that is somewhat important. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, say using a transgender person’s pronouns is extremely important, and 21 percent say it is somewhat important.

But other findings were less supportive:

  • 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, reflecting an increase from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017, compared to 38 percent who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 54 percent say society has either gone too far or been about right in terms of acceptance, underscoring an ambivalence around transgender issues even among those who see at least some discrimination against transgender people.
  • About six-in-ten adults, or 58 precent, favor proposals that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to teams consistent with their gender identity, compared to 17 percent who oppose that and 24 percent neither favor nor oppose it.
  • 46 percent favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide transition-related care, such as hormones or gender reassignment surgery, to someone younger than 18, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.
  • Americans are more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (which is favored by 41 percent, and opposed by 38 percent) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 obtain transition-related care (37 percent are in favor and 36 percent oppose it).

Young adults took the lead in terms of supporting change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared to about four-in-10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about one-third of respondents 50 and older.

Predictably, stark differences could be found along party lines. Democrats by 59 precent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, while 15 percent say it has gone too far and 24 percent say it’s been about right. For Republicans, 10 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough, while 66 percent say it’s gone too far and 22 percent say it’s been about right.

Read the full report here.

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Congress

House passes resolution that calls for Brittney Griner’s immediate release

Detained WNBA star’s trial to begin on July 1

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A participant in the Capital Pride parade parade in D.C. demands Brittney Griner's release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a resolution passed on June 24 by the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers called on Russia to immediately release detained WNBA star Brittney Griner. 

Griner was first arrested in Russia in the days leading up to its invasion in Ukraine. Authorities have charged her with drug trafficking after claiming that she attempted to pass through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport while in possession of cannabis oil. 

The House’s resolution, introduced in May by U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Colin Allred (D-Texas), made multiple demands of Russia, including that the country “immediately release Brittney Griner,” provide her with consular access and humane treatment and that the U.S. “raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release” in all its dealings with the Russian government.

“This legislation insists on our embassy personnel having access to Ms. Griner and restates our commitment to freeing her now,” Lee said in a statement after introducing the resolution. “We continue to pray for her family and we will continue to work together as three members of Congress, along with others, to spread the message that she is held wrongfully and must be freed now.”

The resolution also expressed support for both Griner’s family and for “all prisoners unjustly imprisoned in the Russian Federation.”

Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took to Twitter following the passage of the resolution.

“I’m proud the House has spoken in passing our resolution and calling for Brittney Griner’s swift release,” Allred wrote. “Every day an American is held abroad is a lifetime, and I will keep working with @POTUS to do all we can to bring home every American detained abroad.”

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, welcomed the House’s passage of the resolution this past weekend.

“[Rep.] Stanton and many others are continuing to work with the White House, State Department and Brittney’s family to secure her safe return home,” the team wrote on Twitter.

The resolution comes after reporting revealed missteps on the part of the U.S. government in handling communication related to Griner’s detention. 

According to past reporting, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow failed to connect Griner with outside phone calls permitted by the Russian government when Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, attempted to call her. Cherelle Griner reportedly called 11 times on June 18 on the couple’s fourth anniversary but was unable to reach her wife due to what the State Department claimed to be a “logistical error.”

While the resolution is being heralded by its supporters, it contains no provisions intended to enforce the House’s demands for the release and humane treatment of Griner and others held by Russia. With less than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia being acquitted, it is unclear whether the resolution will do anything to persuade the country’s courts to permit Griner’s release.

Griner appeared in Russian court on Monday for a preliminary hearing prior to her trial that has now been scheduled to begin on July 1. It was also confirmed by Griner’s attorney on Monday that her detention had been extended for six months pending her trial. 

If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

“We must keep Brittney’s case on the forefront and make clear to the White House that her release should be one of the highest priorities for our government,” Cherelle Griner said in May.

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