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Trans military ban halted by war threat

LGBT groups file lawsuit as White House reportedly finalizes guidance

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President Donald Trump caved to pressure from religious conservatives and announced a ban on trans service members. (Photo courtesy of the White House YouTube channel)

It took the threat of nuclear war with North Korea to reportedly get the White House to put a hold on the policy re-instituting the ban on open transgender service in the military.

A White House source, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said “A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out”— which had been certified by the White House Counsel’s Office after repeated advice that it would result in lawsuits—was expected to be sent to Defense Secretary James Mattis sometime during the week starting Aug. 7.

However, according to a Pentagon source, after President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un got into a fiery verbal sparring match on Aug. 8, the Defense Secretary sent a message to major U.S. commands letting them know that the threat by North Korea was his overriding priority and that other issues “were to be temporarily sidelined.”

Additionally, the Pentagon source says that Mattis intends to put a hold on all personnel matters, though disciplinary issues such discharges will continue. However, anything that affects military strength and readiness, specifically troop numbers, will be put on hold. Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed to the New York Times Aug. 9 that it has not yet received the trans guidance.

More pressing is possible nuclear war. On Aug. 5, the United Nations Security Council imposed tougher economic sanctions on North Korea after the isolated country tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles. China and Russia voted with the United States, something of a diplomatic coup, considering China’s connections to North Korea. Trump and his advisers had been warned by President Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that Kim Jong-un was developing a threatening nuclear program—a fact made more concerning when the Washington Post reported that North Korea has developed a miniaturized nuclear weapon that can fit on top of an ICBM, which is capable of reaching the United States. Los Angeles, considered a prime target, is 5,935 miles from North Korea.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” warned Trump from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement,” Trump said of Kim Jong-un. “As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

North Korea threatened a preemptive strike creating “enveloping fire” against Guam, a sovereign U.S. territory that’s home to combined Navy and Air Force forces at Joint Region Marianas, with 6,000 service members, a port for nuclear submarines and other major military forces and more than 162,000 Americans. Last June, Guam held its first LGBT Pride parade with 150 people, including Guam Legislature Speaker Benjamin Cruz.

While Mattis did not specifically mention tabling the transgender service ban, it can be extrapolated that dealing with such a major policy change would be exceedingly disruptive during a time of crisis, especially when a military leader would want the ability to deploy all available troops.

transgender military ban, gay news, Washington Blade

Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann is continuing to do his job, despite President Trump’s announcement that he intends to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Meanwhile, GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a “Doe v. Trump lawsuit on Aug. 9 in federal court in D.C., seeking an injunction against Trump’s directive to reinstate a ban.

“President Trump is needlessly attacking courageous transgender service members who put their lives on the line for our country,” GLAD and NCLR said in a press release. “Trump’s efforts to reinstate the ban are already harming service members, who have been blindsided and are scrambling to deal with what this means for their families and their futures—including the loss of job security, retirement benefits, healthcare, and other serious harms.”

The two LGBT-focused law firms note that the military has already carefully studied the ban, which led to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreeing to lift the ban on open trans service in June 2016 after a RAND Study he commissioned indicated there would be no problems either with service or limited costs for medical care. Thousands of trans service members subsequently came out and have been serving openly without incident. The firms represent five of those active duty service members.

The lawsuit asserts that Trump’s tweeted directive violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Constitution, discriminates against one group with no legitimate purpose and contradicts the military’s own conclusion that there is no reason for the ban.
Transgender service members also relied on the continuity of the policy after Mattis’ Jan. 12 confirmation hearing in which he assured lawmakers that he would not roll back the Obama administration rules. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked specifically if Mattis thought there was anything innate about being a woman or LGBT that would disqualify them from serving in a lethal force, Mattis said, “No,” The Hill reported.

“We are heartened by Gen. Mattis’ stated commitment during his testimony not to reverse the profound progress we have made in ensuring LGBT service members and their families are able to serve our nation with pride,” American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn said in a joint statement.

So how did the White House, the Defense Department and the LGBT community come to this point, especially after then-candidate Trump promised to protect the LGBT community?

President Donald Trump, shows a crowd at Colorado campaign rally an upside down Rainbow flag. Upside down flags are a sign of distress. An omen of things to come (Photo courtesy Trump campaign Instagram)

“Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he tweeted on June 14, 2016.

Then there was his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. “Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time the terrorist targeted our LGBT community. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” Trump said.

But that promise clashed with another promise Trump made to his more reliable base, the evangelical community, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The specific drive to repeal and replace the open transgender service commitment started behind the scenes with a series of anti-LGBT nominations in March and April, with the growing sense that some military officers were pressing the chiefs to roll back the policy through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. They found an opening when on May 10, USA Today reported on two transgender cadets at the Air Force Academy and at West Point. That exposed a glaring loophole in the accessions policy, the procedure for accepting new troops into service.

“Currently, there is an Air Force Academy cadet who has identified as a transgender individual,” said Lt. Col. Allen Heritage, an academy spokesman, told USA Today. “The cadet can graduate. But, per the current (Defense Department) transgender policy, this cadet cannot commission into the Air Force. However, we are strongly recommending this individual for Air Force civil service as an option for continued service after the academy.”

On May 21, USA Today reported on a May 8 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work instructing the service secretaries and chiefs of the armed services to assess the military’s “readiness to begin accepting transgender applicants on July 1, 2017.” Their assessments are due May 31.

“The personnel policies of this Department are designed to enhance the warfighting readiness and lethality of the force that protects our country,” Work wrote. “We do not intend to reconsider prior decisions unless they cause readiness problems that could lessen our ability to fight, survive and win on the battlefield.”

Brad Carson, a top Carter official for military personnel and an advocate for lifting the ban, told USA Today he was concerned about how the other ordinary memo, for a new administration, could be interpreted.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates speaks with outgoing acting U.S. Central Command commander Lt. Gen. John Allen (right) and incoming commander Gen. James N. Mattis before an assumption of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., on Aug. 11, 2010. (Photo by Cherie Cullen; courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

“This could be seen as an opportunity to reconsider the policy,” Carson said. “It is certainly possible, and it would invite litigation. I do have full confidence in (Defense Secretary) Jim Mattis to do the right thing here.”

He was right. The articles exposing the loophole in the accessions policy and the May 8 memo, triggered a Religious Right chain reaction, with the Heritage Foundation reaching out to the Military Times to follow up. This was also during the same period that there was much coverage of Chelsea Manning in the media. On May 16, 85 conservative leaders, many like Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers, issued a statement opposing transgender service.

“Conservative leaders urgently suggest that the Trump Administration review and rescind the Obama-era policies that hinder military readiness and overall effectiveness,” the statement said. “Politically correct policies have been imposed largely through administrative fiat. They can be removed in like manner while further study and congressional guidance is obtained. The most problematic policies in this category are those addressing the presence of transgender individuals in the military.”

That was enough to motivate a number of religious Republican conservatives in the House — led by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Vicki Hartzler from Missouri — to launch a series of amendments to the NDAA.

By now, Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mo Brooks from Alabama, Steve King from Iowa, and Trent Franks from Arizona were involved.

Meanwhile, Perkins, along with his colleagues Ken Blackwell and Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (ret), went to Vice President Mike Pence who agreed to step in and help if he could, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The LGBT movement leadership knew what was going on but tried to keep everything quiet. “We were trying desperately to get to May 31 because we knew at that point the accessions policy would be locked into place by the Pentagon,” said a source who asked to remain anonymous. “Then it was just a simple matter of letting it ride until Secretar Mattis signed off on it.”

The LGBT coalition quietly working on this were confident (if they could get to May 31) because there had already been one year of open service without incident for an estimated 15,000 trans service members in all five branches of service, and because of the assumed power of the RAND Study.

But Hartzler’s focus on the Pentagon not paying for what Hartzler called “transition surgeries,” as well as hormone therapy, became a media talking point. “The job of Congress is to ensure that our military is the most effective, efficient and well-funded fighting force in the world. With the challenges we are facing across the globe, we are asking the American people to invest their hard-earned money in national defense. Each dollar needs to be spent to address threats facing us,” she said in a July statement. She threw out wild estimate that the surgeries would cost “a billion dollars over the next ten years.”

The RAND study flat contradicted that, underscoring that “not all of these transgender service members would be expected to seek medical treatment related to their gender status or become non-deployable.”

“Only a small portion of service members would likely seek gender transition-related medical treatments that would affect their deployability or health care costs,” said Agnes Gereben Schaefer, lead author of the study and a senior political scientist at RAND.

RAND estimated that “between 30 and 140 new hormone treatments could be initiated a year and 25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries could be utilized a year among active component service members. Additional health care costs could range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing an approximate 0.13-percent increase.”

Vice President Mike Pence addressed The Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Hunter, Hartlzer, Brooks, Franks and Meadows approached White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Rick Dearborn to get involved. “Dearborn has the ear of Vice President Pence. So he and the VP talked about it,” the source said.

This same week, there was a meeting of evangelical leaders at the White House and they briefly discussed the transgender issue. “But when Pence got back to his office, he made a call over to Meadows and they had another discussion about it,” the source says.

It was at this point that Rep. Pete Sessions, who is chair of the House Rules Committee, was basically saying we’re not going to let it in on the final rule, it’s basically going to have to go as an amendment to the bill on House floor. Speaker Ryan agreed.

Hunter and Hartzler, Brooks and Franks lined up as many votes as they could get, as did the pro-LGBT side.

The day before the vote, on Wednesday, July 12, the Pentagon source says Mattis reached out to Hartzler herself. Late that night, the source said Hartzler, “in a very polite way, told him to fuck off.”

The LGBT side needed all the Democrats and at least 25-30 Republican moderates to cross over, which happened after it was confirmed that Mattis had lobbied against the amendment. Though it was a narrow vote—214-209—the amendment was defeated. But the issue didn’t die, even after Mattis spoke directly to Ryan and others.

Hunter, Hartzler, and Meadows would not take “no” and eventually went to Pence.

While Trump was on his way to a rally in Ohio, Pence, Dearborn, Steve Bannon, and others held a conference call with the Republican legislators. At some point, the source says, Pence made a call to the plane and discussed the situation with Trump. About five hours later, Pence called the plane again as it was on its way back to Joint Base Andrews.

The issue was brought up again the next morning during the morning briefing and 25 minutes after that came the first tweet. There was a nine-minute gap, then came the second tweet, and then that was quickly followed by the third tweet.

Mattis and the Pentagon were told something was going on the day before, but not what it was. They were told to stand by for a change of direction in policy. They were all reportedly caught off guard by the tweets. And everyone was caught off guard by the swift backlash from such conservatives as Sens. Orin Hatch of Utah and Joanie Ernst of Iowa. The consensus was that this is not how policy is done.

Reversing the policy of inclusion for transgender service members has been a priority of Pence’s base—the religious right—since the ban was lifted on June 30, 2016. Just because of the possibility of war, a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the expected White House guidance, and the fact that Mattis does not want the anti-trans policy should not mean the LGBT community should drop its guard. Trans service may be constitutional but it’s still under attack in a war of the Religious Right’s making.

 

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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