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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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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

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The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach — real world studies are needed — and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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