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Mullen honored at NYC “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal celebration

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became official on Sept. 20, 2011

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Soldiers, Don't Ask Don't Tell

Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (Photo by TJ Sengel)

NEW YORK — More than 1,000 people gathered at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan on Tuesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe and the Interbank Roundtable Committee honored former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for the role he played in the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Advocates note that his testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee in Feb. 2010 in support of openly gay and lesbian servicemembers was a pivotal moment in the fight against the Clinton-era law.

President Obama signed the repeal bill into law later that year after it passed with bi-partisan support.

“One of the things I pass on and I know you know this is it’s actually pretty easy to stand up for what you believe in,” said Mullen, who attended the event with his wife Deborah. “It’s pretty easy to stand up and represent the values you have held close for your entire life and be fortunate enough to be in a leadership position where that value actually crosses over in a time and a place and in a way where you as a leader can really make a difference. So I feel blessed to [have been] there and blessed to [have represented] all of us in the United States military at a time that made such a difference in so many lives.”

Mullen, who retired from the U.S. Navy last September, further noted that 70,000 servicemembers remain in Afghanistan nearly 11 years after the war began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Keep them in our thoughts and our prayers,” he said. “They’re courageous young people who have made such a difference as you have, so this celebration tonight is one of great gratitude.”

ABC newswoman Barbara Walters, who emceed the event, described Mullen as her “hero” before she applauded gay servicemembers and those who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“You have fought for something that is right — the end of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, so tonight is about history. Tonight is also honoring each and every one of you who has served our nation,” she said. “Tonight for the first time in American history, you have the chance to stand before this leader, an admiral, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who helped you on this journey and we all simply say, thank you sir.”

As the Washington Blade reported late last month, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos echoed other military commanders who have said the integration of openly gay men and lesbians into the armed forces has gone smoothly since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became official on Sept. 20, 2011.  

“In how’s effected the military, it’s only been positive,” retired U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. John Adams told the Blade before Mullen spoke. “The military works, the services work, there’s been zero effect on combat cohesion as some people said there would be. In fact if nothing else what it’s meant is tens of thousands of gays and lesbians who were already serving now can serve without being afraid of somebody looking over their shoulder and finding out who they’re spending their off-duty time with and asking them to deny who they are. That’s ridiculous. That’s history. Thank goodness.”

Josh Seefried, co-director of OutServe, agreed.

“People can go to work and feel like they don’t have to look over their shoulder anymore,” he said when asked how things have changed since the Pentagon allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly. “It’s a lot easier to go to work and not have to worry bout losing their career they love and being fired.”

 

Will “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” once again become law?

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, said last week that he supports the reinstatement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has previously indicated that he would not seek to reinstate the policy as president.

‘There’s just no turning back the clock,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, told the Blade. An Army Reserve officer, Cooper attended the Intrepid event in uniform. “Open service has not been an issue, in fact if anything it’s been beneficial for recruitment and retention. People can be honest and open about who they are. They don’t have to hide from themselves or their command. And it’s been a good thing.”

Former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, who helped spearhead “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal efforts on Capitol Hill, took a more partisan approach.

“It’s absolutely going to happen if they win the White House and get control of the Senate because they [the Republicans] already have control of the House,” he told the Blade. “It’s in their platform. It’s going to happen if we let it happen, but hopefully we all continue the march to full equality in America. It was a proud moment to pass ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and then to see seven states pass marriage equality, but there’s still over 40 states that we have to make sure every American has full equality in our country in 2012.”

Seefried echoed Murphy, Cooper and others who described the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is one step towards full equality for LGBT servicemembers and Americans.

“There’s still a lot more work to do,” he said. “A lot more people don’t have harder support right now. We have the Defense of Marriage Act and there’s a lot of things that the Pentagon can do right now that they just haven’t done. And we also have transgender service to achieve, so I think we have a lot of work to do and we have to realize that.”

Lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, former Human Rights Campaign President Elizabeth Birch, Fox Morning Extra co-host Tom Murro and Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell of “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” were among those who attended the event.

Tammy Majors of Arizona said she was discharged from the U.S. Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when a woman she had dated told her commanding officer about their relationship. She became emotional as she waited to greet Mullen after he spoke.

“I think this is a great honor and I never thought I would see this happen, ever. I’m just really happy. I’m excited,” she told the Blade about the ability of gays and lesbians to serve openly. “I just wanted to celebrate with everyone else.”

The event also doubled as a fundraiser that raised more than $700,000. Mullen said this money will benefit wounded veterans and other related causes.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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