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Restore honor to service members

Protect the rights of gay veterans and correct a great injustice

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Pentagon, military, gay news, Washington Blade

(Public domain photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond).

By REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL

Recently, National Public Radio covered the story of Hal Faulkner, a 79-year-old Marine with terminal cancer whose dying wish was to have his discharge upgraded to Honorable. In 1956, he was kicked out of the United States Marines with an “undesirable discharge” for being gay. His military papers said “homosexual” forcing him to hide his service from perspective employers and avoid discussing his service with his family.

The Marines acted on his dying request in just two weeks. A small group – including Marines – presented Faulkner with his honorable discharge. OutServe-SLDN supplied Hal Faulkner with a pro-bono lawyer to help him through the process. I applaud the Marines for expediting Hal Faulkner’s case but it proves there is no reason for the time and expense placed upon the “victims” of an unjust policy to once again prove their innocence.

Earlier this month, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administrative process in place for upgrading paperwork is sufficient to ensure troops dismissed for being gay during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-era and before have honorable discharges.  This statement contradicts the data and personal experiences we are recording from LGBT Veterans and their lawyers who find the process takes from six months to several years and requiring the assistance of a lawyer familiar with the process.

As a Veteran and congressman who has spent all of my adult life fighting for my country and the rights of many of my countrymen without a voice – I want to see the right of these LBGT Veterans firmly embedded into the law of this great nation. The rights of our nation’s Veterans should not hinge on a process enacted by a memo or even an Executive Order that can be easily overturned or dismissed by the next administration.

When I watched the Republican presidential debates and a service member on the front lines in Afghanistan was beamed in live and asked all the presidential candidates, ‘If they would work to undo the repeal of DADT?’ That service member was heckled and jeered by the audience and all eight presidential candidates stood on the stage in silence.  I knew then more needed to be done.  This “process” needs the power of law behind it.

The repeal of DADT is law but the Under Secretaries’ Memo regarding the upgrade of service to “Honorable” is not law. There is no law forcing this or any administration to do the right thing.  The president is doing this because it is the right thing to do and he has the authority to allow the review boards to perform this duty.  The next president may choose a different path and there would be no law to stop the next president from doing so.

President Obama has been a leader in the fight for the rights of all service members. The Secretary of Defense has been a leader in implementing these rights. It was the president’s Under Secretary of Defense who published the memo that has acted as a cornerstone of the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act.”

The president stated very clearly in his State of the Union Address that he would do whatever he could do, within his authority, to move the country forward when Congress refuses to act. The president has done his job for service men and women. Congress needs to do its job and codify the process of “Restoring Honor to Service Members.” That is why I turned to Congressman Pocan and the Congressional LGBT Caucus to write the law that will ensure the rights of our LGBT Veterans. Working with Congressman Pocan and the Congressional LGBT Caucus we now have more than 150 co-sponsors of “Restore Honor to Service Members Acts.” In the Senate, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Schatz have already added 15 senators to the growing number of senators ready to act and we are adding more cosponsors each week.

There are additional concerns and nuances in the legislation that go beyond the Under Secretary of Defense’s Memo that we address. This is a solid law that will protect the rights of the LGBT Veterans and help correct a great injustice done to so many for so long.

Democrat Charles B. Rangel represents New York’s 13th congressional district in Congress.

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Opinion | Pulse shows that out of tragedy, there can be triumph

Gun reform now a top priority of LGBTQ movement

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The Pulse nightclub (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

It’s been 5 years since 49 people were killed and 53 others were injured when a man armed with an assault rifle, large capacity magazines, and a heart full of hate attacked the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On June 12th, 2016, Pulse became the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

It’s been 5 years since the families and friends of those taken that night have heard their laughs, seen their smiles, or held their hands. It’s been 5 years that the survivors have had to relive their trauma of that fateful night. Saturday marks 5 years since this deadly attack and it is a time we can reflect on the lives lost, those injured, the progress made since the attack, and what we all can do to fight for commonsense gun reform to make our country a safer place.

This tragedy struck at the heart of the LGBTQ community, both in Orlando and around our country, happening right in the middle of Pride month. While this is a somber anniversary that we must honor and remember the tragedy, it is also a time to reflect on what our community has accomplished as a result of this horrific event. While we grieve for those we lost, today there is hope. Out of the tragedy, a movement was born in the LGBTQ community to fight for gun reform, led by groups such as the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which was established within days of the shooting. It includes Pulse survivors, family members of those killed in the attack, and key stakeholders. Working at the state and federal level, this new generation of activists are mobilizing and advocating for change to honor those lost with action. Through political action, advocacy, and recruiting new activists to the gun reform fight, the Pride Fund, other groups, and the LGBTQ community as a whole are honoring the legacy of the Pulse victims through meaningful action. The mission of Pride Fund is year round, working daily to enact gun reform, elect gun safety champions at the state and federal level, and advocating for change all over the country.

As we look back over the last five years there have been some significant accomplishments that reflect the hard work that has been done since the tragedy.

First, prior to Pulse, gun reform was not one of the top priorities among the LGBTQ community. Immediately following the shooting, our community began to have conversations about this critical topic and learn about the current efforts underway to change our gun laws. I created Pride Fund to End Gun Violence as an organization to spearhead our community’s efforts and harness the political power of the LGBTQ community to create change. Whereas gun reform was not a top priority before, public polling has shown in the years since that gun reform is now a top priority for LGBTQ voters. We are holding our political candidates to a certain standard and pushing them to make gun reform a priority. As a community, we are targeting some of the worst elected officials at the state and federal that are NRA backed cronies who stand in the way of legislative change. Pride Fund has been involved in over 125 political races around the country since our creation, and we have helped kick some of the worst Republicans out of office, replacing them with gun safety champions.

Second, we have witnessed many of those personally impacted by the tragedy, the survivors, the family members and friends of those killed, and key stakeholders like the owner of Pulse, become national activists in this cause. They have stepped beyond their own personal pain to take on leadership roles, speak about their experiences and the need for change in the media, in public forums, political rallies, and in meetings with elected officials. These individuals have refused to sit on the sidelines, they have wanted to honor those lost with action, and they have been doing a stellar job.

Third, Democrats have seized on the issue and made it one of their top priorities – in their campaigns and in elected office. The 2018 election was the first time gun reform was a key issue, not only on the campaign trail, but by voters. With Democrats winning the House of Representatives, bills started to finally pass to address gun reform, however the Senate stopped its movement. Now with Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and White House, we are in the greatest position to enact change. We just have to work hard in the Senate. For the first time in recent history, the CDC has received funding to study gun violence. A major win! With the election of President Biden, he is acting within his power to make our country safer. He has announced a series of initial actions and subsequent items have taken place. Most recently, the ATF has issued a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” and in his budget request for next year, he has included a $232 million dollar increase in funding for the DOJ and HHS to tackle gun violence.

Fourth, in a significant move by Congress in recent days, the House and Senate have voted to designate a Pulse National Memorial site.

Out of tragedy, there can be triumph, and the Pulse tragedy has certainly shown this to be true.
As we reflect on this 5th anniversary, take a moment to think about this loss of life, remember the victims, and think about all of the people around you that you want to protect from gun violence, then take action by getting involved with Pride Fund to End Gun Violence by visiting www.pridefund.org. 
To get involved, volunteer, or donate to help enact real gun reform, visit our website at PrideFund.org.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @Pride_Fund.

Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a PAC that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. Lindsay is a seasoned political operative with 16 years of experience working in politics, government, and campaigns. He also served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

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Opinion | LGBTQ youth face mental health challenges amid pandemic

We must assist with legislative remedies, resources

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The mental health of many has suffered amid the coronavirus pandemic, with rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses steadily rising since March 2020. Youth, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, are being hit especially hard by these manifestations. 

The Trevor Project’s 2021 Youth Mental Health National Survey found that 72 percent of LGBTQ+ people between the ages of 13 and 24 experienced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and 62 percent experience symptoms of major depressive disorder — a steep increase since the 2020 survey. This uptick can be attributed to the lack of support that two out of every three respondents to the 2021 survey experience in their homes. 

Due to the pandemic and resulting restrictions placed on social gatherings, LGBTQ youth are unable to participate in in-person activities where their identities are affirmed, and forced to endure misgendering and other discriminatory situations within their homes that are confirmed to increase feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Online crisis lines, LGBTQ organizations that offer online events for youth, and other resources that support young LGBTQ people are especially vital to their mental health during this time when school-wide Gender and Sexuality Alliances and counseling aren’t as widely accessible. 

Before the pandemic, LGBTQ youth were already suffering from mental illness at extremely high rates. The Trevor Project’s 2019 Youth Mental Health National Survey reported that 39 percent of respondents had seriously considered suicide, more than double the national statistic encompassing both LGBTQ and cisgender, heterosexual youth found in a CDC study the same year. 

The culture surrounding many LGBTQ students in their homes and schools contributes to their alarming rates of mental illness. 

The lack of positive representation of LGBTQ identities in books, on screen, and in classrooms leads youth to believe that there is no hope to ever have successful lives as openly LGBTQ people. 

The LGBTQ characters that young people do have to look up to are often unnecessarily killed off when the “bury your gays” trope is employed, or their storylines center around their LGBTQ identity and disregard any other part of their humanity; tricking them into thinking that they’re nothing beyond their sexual orientation or gender identity and can’t be functioning and productive members of their communities because of it. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index, only two U.S states have laws addressing discrimination against students based on sexual orientation, and only one state has legislated protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Six states specifically restrict the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in curricula. 

The institutionalized exclusion of LGBTQ students from school curriculum further alienates them in spaces where they should feel comfortable and accepted for who they are and helps to facilitate a breeding ground for further discrimination. 

Students internalize the stereotypes, tropes, and other ways in which homophobia and transphobia permeate society and are poisoned with beliefs that they’re abnormal, perverted, and disgusting. Over time, this brainwashing eats away at the psyche of youth as they grow and leads to the high rates of mental health issues in LGBTQ youth. 

Straight and cisgender students are also affected by these failings and in turn, affect the mental health of their LGBTQ counterparts. They absorb the same falsehoods about LGBTQ people and their identities, and lash out at those who they’ve been taught are lesser than them, including their friends and classmates. The internal struggle that manifests in LGBTQ youth as well as external attacks from their peers results in the unique mental health crisis they face. 

LGBTQ youth have also been affected by the pandemic at a higher capacity than other groups. A 2017 study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that LGBTQ youth are over 100 percent more likely to report homelessness than straight and cisgender youth. 

Many LGBTQ people, especially members of the transgender community, avoid seeing doctors or mental health professionals due to the absence of protections for LGBTQ people and hostile experiences with medical personnel. 

Without access to spaces where they can interact with other LGBTQ youth, shelters in which they feel safe, LGBTQ affirming doctors, and policies in place that protect LGBTQ workers and patients, LGBTQ youth are struggling mentally in high volume that increased during the pandemic. 

The lives and futures of LGBTQ youth are not expendable, and it’s time that they stop being treated as such. Legislated protections for LGBTQ students and resources that are available to youth are necessary to combat the daunting rates of mental illness within the young LGBTQ community.

Maeve Korengold is a freelance journalist and student ambassador for Safe Space NOVA.

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Opinion | Life is precious, so live each day to the fullest

Clark Ray’s death reminds us to hold our friends tight while we can

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Clark Ray, gay news, gay politics dc
Clark Ray (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This past week I learned of the sudden passing of two close friends. It was a stark reminder of how precious life is and it can be over suddenly without warning and much too soon. Both friends lived their lives to the fullest and made a real difference for those around them. While they did it in different ways each shared a love of people and were loved in return. They will be missed not only by their families but by so many they might never have met but through their work impacted in a positive way.

This column is about Clark Ray who lived his life more publicly; my other friend was more private. Like so many others I was left speechless by Clark’s passing when I read it on Facebook. I will always remember Clark as a young man of substance, charm, and honor. He lived life in a way that so many others try to do but fall short; not Clark. He not only talked the talk of justice, equality and love for all, he walked that walk every day. He cared about all people and shared his love with them unstintingly and in return all of us who knew him loved him back.

Though older than Clark by many years I looked up to him. I first met him more than 25 years ago and have been close to him for over two decades in which he served four different mayors in D.C. I stood with him when he ran for Council-at-large and when he had some issues with a job. But Clark overcame everything and was able to do that because of his expertise and ability to get along with everyone.

His last job for the District of Columbia was as executive director of the D.C. State Athletic Association (DCSAA). The DCSAA combines public and private school athletics in D.C. Clark handled football and basketball playoffs, and pitting the public school champion from the DCIAA against the several champions from private schools within the city. It wasn’t easy this past pandemic year but Clark always spoke up for the athletes and their needs.

Prior to that, Clark served in many roles for the mayors he served. He began with a stint in the Office of Neighborhood Services. He then served as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation; senior director, Strategy for the Greater Washington Sports Alliance; and director of External Affairs for the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission. In each role, Clark spoke out for the LGBTQ+ community. He helped to found Team DC, the gay sports league, and was co-chair of the committee that worked to bring the Gay Gaymes to D.C. He supported the fight for gay marriage through the Foundation for All DC Families and fought for the right of LGBTQ people to adopt children. He and his husband Aubrey have four. He was incredibly knowledgeable about D.C. government and willingly shared his knowledge with others, mentoring them.

Clark came to D.C. with the Clinton administration, a proud son of Smackover, Ark. His amazing and supportive mom still lives there. He worked as director of Strategic Scheduling and Advance, Office of the Vice President for Tipper Gore. He then served as chief of staff to Tipper during the Gore 2000 campaign. When Clark ran for Council, Tipper returned the favor and come to a fundraiser for him. Another big name who did a fundraiser for him was Madeleine Albright. Clark could charm both the guy on the street and the famous; they all loved him. I don’t know anyone who met Clark who didn’t respect and love him. I once had a debate with Cora Masters Barry in our Leadership Washington class and we finally hugged it out when Clark sat us at the same table at his and Aubrey’s wedding. That is just who Clark was.

My heart goes out to Clark’s husband Aubrey who was clearly the love of his life and their beautiful four children as well as the host of loving family both in Arkansas and Mississippi where Aubrey is from. They visited with them regularly. I also send my condolences to all those friends who were lucky enough as I was to know Clark and be a part of his life. We have all lost something irreplaceable with his passing.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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