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White House: Gay troops benefits issue has Obama’s attention

President aware of the need ‘to ensure that proper benefits are provided’

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White House, Jay Carney

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said benefits issue for gay troops ‘has the president’s attention’ (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney asserted on Friday that President Obama is considering the issue of outstanding partner benefits that could be extended to gay service members administratively.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said Obama is focused on further implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and “the need to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” but referred further questions to the Pentagon.

“The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” Carney said. “You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.”

Asked by the Blade whether it was reasonable to conclude the Pentagon needs prodding, Carney replied, “Again, this issue has the president’s attention.”

Since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, Pentagon officials have said they’ve been examining possible partner benefits that are currently withheld from gay troops. However, the Pentagon hasn’t taken any action since that time.

While major ticket items like health and pension benefits are precluded under the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal law governing rights of U.S. service members, LGBT advocates say other benefits could be extended administratively, such as military IDs and joint duty assignments, as well as access to housing and family programs.

The issue has received more attention in the wake of controversy over a spousal club at an Army base in Ft. Bragg, N.C., refusing to offer membership to Ashley Broadway, the spouse of the lesbian service member. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe-SLDN have called on the Pentagon to action, as has Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has circulated a letter among U.S. House members calling for the extension of these benefits.

Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign responded to Carney’s answers saying that the Pentagon can extend partner benefits to gay troops at any time.

“I would just reiterate that the secretary can issue regulations tomorrow  — a simple fix really that’s doesn’t run afoul of DOMA,” Nix said. “All of this country’s servicemembers, their spouses and partners should be treated equally.”

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama tapped to replace Panetta upon his departure, is expected to answer questions on issues pertaining LGBT troops during his confirmation hearing set for Thursday. In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer last week, Hagel already expressed commitment to extending partner benefits to gay troops, saying, “I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

A transcript of the exchange between the Washington Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, there’s been a lot in the news recently about how service members with same-sex partners aren’t receiving certain benefits that could be extended administratively at any time at the Pentagon. They include military IDs, joint duty assignments and access to certain family programs. Is the President aware of this issue and will he direct the Pentagon to take action on this if they don’t do it on its own?

Jay Carney: I can tell you broadly, I don’t have specifics for you. The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided. You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.

Blade: The Pentagon has saying since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011 that they’ve been reviewing this issue, but no action has been taken. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that they need a little prodding?

Carney: Again, this issue has the president’s attention.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Michael Bedwell

    January 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Chris Johnson deserves loud, sustained applause for his tireless courage in wading again and again into White House press conferences knowing, as all reporters do, that they’re barely less adversarial than facing someone in court, and that Carney’s PAID to say NOTHING that admits mistakes or failure by his boss, the President. But everyone needs to understand two relevant facts this article doesn’t make clear:

    It isn’t as if the President JUST learned of these issues. Not only did HRC and SLDN raise them in early 2011 [however quickly they essentially gave up], but SIX YEARS AGO, when he was still a candidate for the Party’s nomination, Mr. Obama brought them up himself, saying:

    “The eradication of [DADT] will require more than just eliminating one statute. It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination. The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office.”

    Need we add he did NOT mean the SECOND time he took office?

    Nor was it just since September of 2011 that the Pentagon has been studying benefits. Their “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” published in November 2010, explicitly admitted:

    “Our Terms of Reference REQUIRED that we consider the issue of benefits for
    same-sex partners and the families of gay and lesbian Service members, in the event of
    repeal. This issue is itself large and complex, and is part of the ongoing national, political,
    and legal debate concerning same-sex relationships and gay marriage. WE STUDIED THE ISSUE CAREFULLY, AND NO OTHER POLICY RECOMMENDATION CAME CLOSE TO CONSUMING AS MUCH TIME AND EFFORT.” [Emphasis mine.]

    They even made suggestions of HOW those not banned by DOMA could be extended:

    “For benefits such as these [e.g., access to military family housing], the Department of Defense COULD legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian employees.” [Emphasis THEIRS.]

    BUT they recommended AGAINST doing either for a variety of transparently phony reasons one could only explain by recognizing that—just as racism in the military did not end with PHYSICAL integration—there remains a recalcitrant core of homophobes in the Department of Defense doing all they can to prevent gay and lesbian service members from being treated equally under the law. The only mystery is why this President continues in 2013 to let them get away with it—and why OUR paid advocates in Washington aren’t DEMANDING he stop.

  2. Michael Bedwell

    January 26, 2013 at 2:10 am

    Chris Johnson deserves loud, sustained applause for his tireless courage in wading again and again into White House press conferences knowing, as all reporters do, that they’re barely less adversarial than facing someone in court, and that Carney's PAID to say nothing that admits mistakes or failure by his boss, the President. But everyone needs to understand two relevant facts this article doesn't make clear:

    It isn't as if the President JUST learned of these issues. Not only did HRC and SLDN raise them in early 2011 and pre repeal implementation [however quickly they essentially gave up when they were ignored], but SIX YEARS AGO, when he was still a candidate for the Party’s nomination in 2007, Mr. Obama brought them up himself, saying:

    “The eradication of [DADT] will require more than just eliminating one statute. It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination. The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office.”.

    Need we add he did NOT mean the SECOND time he took office?

    Nor was it just since September of 2011 that the Pentagon has been studying benefits. Their “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” published in November 2010, explicitly admitted:

    “Our Terms of Reference REQUIRED that we consider the issue of benefits for.
    same-sex partners and the families of gay and lesbian Service members, in the event of repeal. This issue is itself large and complex, and is part of the ongoing national, political, and legal debate concerning same-sex relationships and gay marriage. WE STUDIED THE ISSUE CAREFULLY, AND NO OTHER POLICY RECOMMENDATION CAME CLOSE TO CONSUMING AS MUCH TIME AND EFFORT.” [Emphasis mine.]

    They even made suggestions of HOW those not banned by DOMA could be extended:

    “For benefits such as these [e.g., access to military family housing], the Department of Defense COULD legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian employees.” [Emphasis THEIRS.]

    BUT they recommended AGAINST doing either for a variety of transparently phony reasons one could only explain by recognizing that—just as racism in the military did not end with PHYSICAL integration—there remains a recalcitrant core of homophobes in the Department of Defense doing all they can to prevent gay and lesbian service members from being treated equally under the law. The only mystery is why this President continues in 2013 to let them get away with it—and why OUR paid advocates in Washington aren’t DEMANDING he stop.

  3. I'm Just Sayin'

    January 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Bedwell’s demands for “self-identification” of family members and HRC’s suggestion that not just spouses but “partners” as well, may be pushing the envelope farther than an organization that functions through rules and order can go. Independent, government issued proof of dependency is a reasonable standard for the military.

    Accordingly, HRC is absolutely correct that there is no “defense” for not immediately providing legally married same-sex couples the same access to non-DOMA barred benefits as any other legally married couple. That one is a no-brainer and requires no study since the protocols are already in place and can be met with the same state government issued documentation currently accepted as proof of marriage.

    Carney, was posturing and Obama should rightfully be taken to task for this. Not by those posers over at Log Cabin who have lost all standing as gay advocates with their endorsement of Mitt Romney and their defense of John Boehner, but by those of who helped put him into the White House four years and ago and those of us who put him back in residence again.

    Asking if the President needed prodding, was cheeky but not very useful. I mean what did you really expect Carney to say, “yes?” The follow-up question should have been “when can we expect a decision?” And should continue to be so, until it is answered.

  4. Robben Wainer

    January 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I believe that equality means we don't segregate. There is no reason to grant benefits only to those in Hetero marriages. A gay marriage often takes place in the setting of other interests. There must be some pivotal factor why Gay Service men would not be allowed an equal opportunity. I feel education is needed in regards to the information that this country has about Gay couples.

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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