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Santorum to gay soldier: ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal is ‘tragic’

Gay soldier asks question on LGBT rights at GOP debate

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum reiterated his support for reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Thursday in response to a question asked by a gay soldier serving in Iraq during a presidential debate.

Santorum — one of nine GOP presidential hopefuls who attended the Fox News/Google debate in Orlando, Fla. — said he’d reinstitute the military’s gay ban but suggested he would allow troops who have already come out to continue serving.

The question came via video from an Army soldier serving in Iraq identified as Stephen Hill. The service member said he was gay during the video and asked if debate participants would rollback LGBT advances in the military that have been achieved under President Obama.

“In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was because I’m a gay soldier and I didn’t want to lose my job,” the soldier said. “My question is: under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress we’ve made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?”

In response to the question, which was audibly booed by audience members during the debate, Santorum said, “Any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.”

Santorum maintained repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the 18-year-old ban on open service that officially came to an end Tuesday — amounts to affording special protections to gay troops.

“The fact that they’re making a point to include it as a provision within the military — that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege in removing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I think tries to inject social policy into the military,” Santorum said. “And the military’s job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country.”

Santorum continued, “We need to give the military, which is all volunteer, the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient in protecting our men and women in uniform, and I believe this undermines that ability.”

The audience shouted in approval and applauded as the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania made his remarks.

Pressed by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on what he would do with troops like Hill who are in service but already out, Santorum replied, “What we’re doing is social experimentation. That’s tragic.”

Santorum then restated his pledge to reinstitute “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as he maintained service members who are already out should be excluded from expulsion.

“I would just say that going forward, we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president: period,” Santorum said. “That policy would be reinstituted, and as far as people who are in it, I would not throw them out because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration.”

But then, in a seeming contradiction, Santorum said he’d “move forward with conforming with what was happening in the past,” under which he said “sex is not an issue. ”

“It should not be an issue. Leave it alone,” Santorum said. “Keep it to yourself — whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual.”

Gay GOP groups railed against Santorum in response to the answer he gave to the gay service member during the debate.

In a joint statement, Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, and Chris Barron, chair of the organization, said Santorum “disrespected” troops and owes the soldier who asked the question “an immediate apology.”

“That brave gay soldier is doing something Rick Santorum has never done — put his life on the line to defend our freedoms and our way of life,” LaSalvia and Barron said. “It is telling that Rick Santorum is so blinded by his anti-gay bigotry that he couldn’t even bring himself to thank that gay soldier for his service.”

LaSalvia and Barron noted that Hill is serving in the Iraq war, an operation that Santorum said he supports.

“How can Senator Santorum claim to support this war if he doesn’t support the brave men and women who are fighting it?” LaSalvia and Barron said.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Santorum gave a “shameful response” to the service member and “was incoherent and out of touch.”

“America’s uniformed leaders support gays and lesbians serving alongside their colleagues with dignity and respect,” said Cooper, who’s also an Iraq combat veteran and current Army Reserve officer.

“Santorum’s divisive and homophobic remarks do not befit a commander-in-chief,” Cooper continued. “Americans want to hear about how our next president is going to cut our national debt, advocate for a confident foreign policy and most importantly help let the private sector thrive to create jobs.”

It’s not the first time Santorum has said he’d reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He affirmed he would institute the military’s gay ban when Think Progress asked him about the issue in April.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has also said she’d reinstitute “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected to the White House.

Watch the video here (via Think Progress):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKtzOjAWGIE&feature=player_embedded

UPDATE: In a subsequent appearance Friday on Fox News, Santorum said he condemns those in the audience who booed Hill, although the candidate added he heard no jeers during the debate.

“I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier,” Santorum said. “That soldier is serving our country. I thank him for his service to our country. I’m sure he’s doing an excellent job. I hope he is safe. I hope he returns safely and does his mission well.”

Santorum continued, “I have to admit I seriously did not hear those boos. Had I heard them, I certainly would have commented on them, but, as you know, when you’re inside that sort of environment, you’re sort of focused on the question and formulating your answer, and I just didn’t hear those couples of boos that were out there. But certainly had I, I would have said, ‘Don’t do that. This man is a serving our country and we are to thank him for his service.'”

Watch the video here (via Think Progress):

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

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A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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ACLU and Justice Department to jointly challenge anti-Trans laws

Recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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U.S. Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON – In court documents filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice, in Statement of Interest filings, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), arguing that recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The suits filed by the ACLU challenges an Arkansas law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a West Virginia law banning transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, issued the following statement responding to the Department of Justice submitting a statement of interest in two federal courts supporting transgender youth;

“Today’s filings from the Department of Justice send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional. These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law. We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.” 

Law and Crime reported that in the West Virginia case filing, the Justice Dept. argued that House Bill 3293, which bans transgender athletes at public schools from competing in female sports at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, violates both the Equal Protection Clause and  Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the parents of transgender girl who said their daughter was unlawfully prohibited from trying out for the school’s cross-country track team because of the measure.

In Arkansas, the Justice Dept. backed an ACLU-filed lawsuit challenging a state law (Act 626) which bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths. The DOJ also claims that state ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Law & Crime reported.

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