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Hagel nomination controversial in LGBT community

Some seek reassurances during confirmation proceedings

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Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, White House, Secretary of Defense, Washington Blade, gay news

President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel and John Brenner to high-level administration positions (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

President Obama officially announced on Monday he would nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, a move that has stirred controversy in the LGBT community.

Obama appeared with Hagel in the East Room of the White House to name the Nebraska Republican as his choice — calling him “the leader that our troops deserve” and praising him for his service as a U.S. senator and Vietnam veteran — in addition to nominating John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Chuck Hagel’s leadership of our military would be historic,” Obama said. “He’d be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department.  As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength.”

Obama also alluded to outstanding work at the Pentagon on LGBT issues without enumerating any specific initiatives, saying the nation must move toward “continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love.”

Hagel made no reference to LGBT issues during his remarks, but more generally said he was grateful to have another opportunity to serve the country as well as “men and women in uniform and their families.”

“These are people who give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel said. “This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.”

The news was met with varied reactions in the LGBT community — ranging from full support to outright opposition — based on Hagel’s anti-gay record and lingering inequities faced by LGBT service members.

First, there are the anti-gay remarks that Hagel made in 1998 about James Hormel, whom the senator referred to as “openly, aggressively gay” in remarks published in the Omaha World-Herald while questioning his ability to serve as a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. A U.S. senator representing Nebraska from 1997 and 2009, Hagel also had a poor record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Just last month, Hagel delivered an apology to media outlets over his 1998 remarks, saying he backs open service and is “committed to LGBT military families.” Major LGBT groups like OutServe-SLDN and the Human Rights Campaign quickly accepted the apology.

But questions linger on outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon. Gay service members still aren’t afforded partner benefits offered to straight troops in the U.S. military  — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — which could be changed administratively at any time even with the Defense of Marriage Act in place. Pentagon officials have said they’ve been looking into this issue since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, but no action has been taken. Another lingering issue is the prohibition on openly transgender service in the military — another problem that could be changed administratively.

Baldwin seeks answers on Hagel

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who after being sworn in last week as the first openly gay senator, will be faced with voting on whether to confirm Hagel, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday that she plans to “ask some tough questions, to give a thorough review and to be fair.”

“But I do want to speak with him … to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient,” Baldwin said. “I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military … We need to see [repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] implemented successfully especially because the security of this nation is at stake.”

Another group seeking additional information from Hagel is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns about the nomination.

Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, called on Hagel to address how he’d advance LGBT issues at the Pentagon — as well as abortion rights for female service members — during his upcoming confirmation hearings before the Senate.

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights,” Carey said. “Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families.”

Another group that’s seeking a specific action from Hagel — after initially accepting the senator’s apology — is OutServe-SLDN, which issued a statement calling for a plan on partner benefits and non-discrimination policies.

Allyson Robinson, OutServe-SLDN’s executive director, said she wants Hagel to expand on what he means by being “committed to LGBT military families” by articulating policy plans on these issues.

“A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books. It’s past time to put in place military equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections so that all qualified Americans who wish to serve this nation in uniform may do so without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, has been relatively silent on the Hagel nomination after accepting Hagel’s apology a couple weeks ago and issued no public news statement on the day of the announcement.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade that his organization is looking to hear more from Hagel during the confirmation hearings without offering an explicit position on the nomination.

“The next secretary of defense will be critical to the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” Sainz said. “We look forward to Senator Hagel’s testimony on how he intends to end the discriminatory behavior against gay and lesbian service members’ families.”

White House says Hagel values inclusion

The White House has responded to LGBT concerns about Hagel’s record through its chief advocate handling LGBT issues — Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett — who addressed the issue on Monday in a blog posting on the White House website.

“The President is fully committed to ensuring that all of our service members and military families are treated equally,” Jarrett writes. “He is confident that, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel will ensure that all who serve the country we love are treated equally — no matter who they love.”

Noting that Hagel issued an apology for the remarks and expressed a commitment to LGBT military families, Jarrett said “one of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement” is providing people the opportunity to evolve on those issues.

“The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DOD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible,” Jarrett concluded.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Hagel would lay out more specific plans during his confirmation process to address outstanding issues regarding benefits or non-discrimination policies.

Former gay Rep. Barney Frank appeared to have a change of heart on Hagel. In an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday, Frank reversed his earlier stated opposition to the former senator’s confirmation as defense secretary, saying he was initially hoping Obama wouldn’t nominate him.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

Frank, who’s now vying for an appointment as interim U.S. senator of Massachusetts, also reportedly said, “With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed.” If appointed to the Senate seat, Frank would be in a position to vote on the confirmation.

Perhaps the strongest support in the LGBT community in favor of the nomination came from Rick Jacobs, chair of the California-based progressive grassroots organization known as the Courage Campaign, who declared his support for Hagel in a column for The Huffington Post.

“Chuck, like most Americans, has evolved has changed his views on homosexuality,” Jacobs said. “He gave his word that as DoD chief he supports the law, that openly gay and lesbian soldiers will be treated equally to ‘straight’ ones. Remember when the Commandant of the Marine Corps opposed repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] and then when it passed said the Marines would implement it better than any other branch?”

Speaking with the Blade, Jacobs also said he’d like to see Hagel address outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon during his upcoming confirmation hearings.

“It would be great to have that addressed as we move forward,” Jacobs said. “It’s a good idea; we should do that. The more we can discuss openly the policies and implementation of policies to make equal LGBT people in service, the better off we are.”

Jacobs told the Washington Blade he hadn’t spoken to any groups prior to writing his column urging him to come out in support of the Hagel nomination.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Log Cabin Republicans. For the second time, the organization on Monday published a full-page ad in a major newspaper opposing the Hagel nomination. The ad, which follows a similar one published in the New York Times last month, is titled “Chuck Hagel’s Record on Gay Rights” and offers a timeline of remarks on LGBT issues made by Hagel.

In addition to the 1998 anti-gay remarks against Hormel, the ad also notes Hagel has expressed support for DOMA and says in 2005, when a federal judge in Nebraska determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Hagel opposed the decision, saying, “I am hopeful the federal appeals court will recognize the rights of Nebraskans to determine their own laws governing marriage and reverse this decision.”

Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s interim executive director, said his organization continues to oppose Hagel after examining the “‘totality’ of his public record on gay rights.”

“Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don’t lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary.”

The move by Log Cabin raised questions about how a small organization can afford to buy full-page ads in major newspapers amid speculation that neo-conservative opponents of Hagel are influencing the group. Additionally, Log Cabin applied a different standard to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by endorsing the candidate even though he backed a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Speaking to the Blade, Angelo said “there’s some potential” for more ads, but declined to comment on the costs of the ads, saying they’re “part of a larger communications effort” that has come from the board of directors. Angelo also denied that other groups had asked Log Cabin to run the ads, saying they came “exclusively from within Log Cabin Republicans.”

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.

The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Federal Government

National Park Service clarifies uniform policy

Announcement has implications for Pride

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National Park Service rangers from the Stonewall National Monument march in the 2021 New York City Pride parade. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service’s Facebook page)

BY ERIN REED | The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

In a follow-up, the park service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that park service participation in Pride “could imply agency support … on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the park service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the park service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

One park service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

Park service resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain national parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and tribal engagement.) This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy — specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-park service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Diverse group includes 11 LGBTQ judges

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Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 5, 2023. (Screenshot via White House YouTube channel)

With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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