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Akin ‘rape’ remarks draw attention to candidate’s anti-gay record

Led efforts against ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

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U.S. Senate candidate W. Todd Akin (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Republican  nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri has been thrust into the national spotlight following comments he made suggesting a woman can resist becoming pregnant after a “legitimate rape” — prompting LGBT advocates to decry not only his views on women but also his long history of opposition to LGBT rights.

Todd Akin, who’s seeking to oust Democrat Claire McCaskill from her seat representing Missouri in the U.S. Senate, raised eyebrows when he made comments in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI-TV after being asked if women who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault should have the option of abortion.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

The remarks ignited a media firestorm, particularly over the notion of what Akin would consider a “legitimate” rape. The next day, Akin apologized on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s radio show, saying his earlier remarks were “ill-conceived, and it was wrong.” Amid speculation that he would drop out of the race, Akin said he had no intention of quitting.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s leading Republican efforts to take control of the U.S. Senate, said Akin’s comments were “wrong, offensive and indefensible” and over the next 24 hours the candidate should consider what is best for him and people he’s seeking to represent in public office. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race.

Akin has an anti-gay record as a six-term congressman representing Missouri in the U.S. House, where he has not only supported, but taken the lead, on measures targeting the LGBT community. He has consistently scored a “0” on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual congressional scorecards.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Akin proposed an amendment in May — which the Republican-controlled panel adopted as part of major Pentagon spending legislation — to institute a “conscience clause” in U.S. code to allow service members to object to openly gay people in their ranks in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The president has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and he’s now using the military as campaign props to advance the gay agenda,” Akin said. “My sons and our sons and daughters didn’t volunteer to be part of some political agenda; they volunteered to protect our freedom in America.”

Last year, Akin introduced a committee amendment to expand the Defense of Marriage Act to prohibit military chaplains from officiating over same-sex wedding ceremonies and to bar same-sex marriages from taking place on military facilities. A similar amendment introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) this year was attached to pending defense legislation. Palazzo said during the markup that Akin helped write the legislation.

On the House floor, Akin has a significant anti-LGBT record. The lawmaker twice voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment when it came to the House floor in 2004 and 2006. In subsequent years, Akin voted against hate crimes protections legislation, a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

In 2006, Akin came to the House floor to decry same-sex marriage and suggested that countries that have allowed it have vanished as a result of that decision.

“From a practical point of view, to preserve our civilization and society, it’s important for us to preserve marriage,” Akin said. “Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.”

When legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came to the House floor in December 2010, Akin was among the House Republicans who were vocal against any attempt to repeal the military’s gay ban, saying the vote on repeal represented an attempt to impose a “social agenda” on the U.S. military during wartime as operations continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the course of the current Congress, Akin has voted for amendments affirming DOMA that have come to the House floor: the one offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) last year as well as one offered by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) this year. He didn’t vote on the one offered by Steve King (R-Iowa) a few months ago.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Akin in a statement, calling him “one of the leading voices in the House working against the best interests of LGBT people.”

“He’s against any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples; he’s made remarks that are demeaning to LGBT families; he voted against the historic repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and he refuses to support workplace protections,” Griffin said. “Todd Akin is no friend to anyone who has experienced discrimination and is looking to their elected officials to protect their rights under the law.”

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of Missouri’s statewide LGBT group PROMO, said the endorsements that Akin has earned are reflective of anti-gay views that the candidate will act upon if elected to the Senate.

“His endorsement list includes foes of not just choice, but also LGBT equality — such as Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly and Mike Huckabee,” Bockelman said. “Make no mistake, while Akin will attempt to back-peddle in his statement, when one examines his record and past statements, Akin is simply restating his beliefs loud and clear.”

Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said it’s time for Akin to not only abandon his campaign, but “resign from office with all due haste.”

“If he truly believes there is some sort of classification system for rape and that only certain types of rape can result in pregnancy, he is unfit for public office and has no business voting on issues he clearly cannot comprehend,” Davis said.

McCaskill was among the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 even before the Pentagon produced its report on the issue later in the year.

On same-sex marriage, McCaskill hasn’t yet expressed support, but instead of outright opposing marriage equality has deferred to the states. Following President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, McCaskill’s office said she opposes discrimination against gays and lesbians, but believes states should “take the lead in determining marriage equality.”

“The state of Missouri’s position on this issue has been clearly established since 2004 and nothing about today’s announcement changes that,” McCaskill spokesperson John LaBombard was quoted as saying in the Springfield News-Leader.

The Missouri race is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the nation and could determine control of the Senate. Most polls gave Akin a slight lead. A poll published last week by SurveyUSA gave Akin an 11-point lead over McCaskill. But that poll was taken well before Akin made his controversial remarks.

Gay Republican groups had differing views on what consequences Akin should face as a result of his remarks.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization backs Cornyn’s decision to call on Akin to reconsider his campaign.

“Log Cabin Republicans support Chairman Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee decision to pull resources from Akin’s campaign,” Cooper said. “There is no such thing as ‘legitimate rape’.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said his organization would defer to the Missouri GOP on what should happen with its U.S. Senate candidate, but expressed concerns.

“We are going to leave it up to the Missouri Republican Party to determine who their nominee is in the U.S. Senate race,” LaSalvia said. “GOProud hopes that Sen. McCaskill is defeated this year, and we are seriously concerned about Akin’s ability to defeat her in November.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42

Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers

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The Mexico-U.S. border in Mexicali, Mexico, on July 22, 2018. A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration from terminating Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. The previous White House's policy was to have ended on May 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.

The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”

“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.

Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.

Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”

Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”

“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

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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