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NFL’s embrace of Timberlake a racist, sexist joke

Rumored Super Bowl gig rightly outrages Janet Jackson fans



Justin Timberlake, gay news, Washington Blade

One of Justin Timberlake’s more cringeworthy moments: cornrows. (Photo courtesy Twitter)

Reports that Justin Timberlake will headline the 2018 Super Bowl offer further evidence of the NFL’s racism, sexism and ageism. It’s craven lunacy that NFL executives would consider asking Timberlake back while continuing to boycott all things Janet Jackson in the wake of the duo’s infamous 2004 nipple-baring performance.

The black woman took the fall for the accident, while the white boy was celebrated and saw his career take off in the aftermath. Yes, I said “accident.” Amid the endless speculation about whether it was planned or not, one fact is always forgotten: the FCC under then-Chair Michael Powell launched a thorough investigation into the incident, prodded by angry members of Congress. The senior MTV executive in charge of the show was forced to turn over her laptop to investigators, who concluded: “The FCC found nothing to suggest they had planned the moment,” as ESPN reported. That finding is consistent with Jackson’s denials that it was planned.

Ten years after Powell pretended to be offended by the split-second nipple flash in a series of TV interviews, he finally admitted the truth to ESPN. “I think we’ve been removed from this long enough for me to tell you that I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on,” he said, while rolling his eyes.

Nevertheless, Jackson was immediately blacklisted by CBS, MTV Networks and mainstream corporate radio. She was disinvited from the Grammy Awards that year, despite being a 26-time nominee and five-time winner. Timberlake was welcomed at the ceremony, accompanied by his mommy. He used the opportunity to apologize, dutifully carrying water for a network — and a conservative Republican administration — at the expense of his one-time friend Jackson.

It was a cruel stab in the back for Jackson, who did so much to advance Timberlake’s career. Before letting him share her Super Bowl stage, Jackson hired Timberlake and his cheesy boyband mates from N*Sync to open for her on 1997’s acclaimed “Velvet Rope” world tour. Many had never heard of Timberlake before that tour.

Timberlake would go on to appropriate Janet and Michael Jackson’s style and moves. Jimmy Fallon once dubbed him the “president of pop.” Luckily, presidents can be impeached. Timberlake is really the “appropriator-in-chief,” stealing liberally from the Jackson playbook and from other black artists over the years. He once even wore his hair in cornrows, an unintentionally hilarious and cringeworthy choice.

When Timberlake was the target of the MTV prank show “Punk’d,” his true personality was revealed. The gag involved IRS agents and a moving truck showing up at Timberlake’s mansion as he’s told he owes $900,000 in unpaid taxes and his belongings are being repossessed. He bursts into tears and again calls mommy for help. When he realizes it’s a gag and that cameras are rolling, he reverts to his phony “bad boy” persona, complete with “yo yo yos.”

Timberlake is a copycat, a cheap imitation of talent. He’s an average-looking Mickey Mouse Club alumnus who rode a wave of ‘90s teeny-bop cheese to undeserved fame and fortune. He is the embodiment of mediocrity. A saccharine, non-threatening, milquetoast pop star for the white bread Orlando suburbs.

And yet, the NFL is reportedly ready to give him the headliner slot at the Super Bowl at a time when the country is finally beginning to engage in a dialogue about systemic racism thanks to athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem. Two steps forward and two steps back.

Virtually no one seems to think Jackson stands a chance of being invited back to the Super Bowl, even though she’s the much bigger star by any measure. Timberlake’s four solo studio albums have sold about 27 million copies worldwide, compared to Jackson’s roughly 160 million records sold. She’s won every music industry award there is — a total of 370, including five Grammys, 33 Billboard Music Awards and 11 AMAs. She even holds nine Guinness World Records, has an Oscar nomination and was named MTV’s inaugural “Icon” award recipient.

The next generation of pop stars have unanimously cited Jackson as a primary influence, including: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Usher, Mya, Lady Gaga, Pink, Tinashe, Aaliyah, Ciara, among many others. Jackson has collaborated with a diverse array of music’s biggest stars, including Elton John, Luther Vandross, Missy Elliott, Carly Simon, Q-Tip, Chuck D, Kathleen Battle, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Nelly, Herb Alpert and Michael Jackson. And her music has been covered by everyone from Whitney Houston and Prince to Buckcherry and most recently Katy Perry.

Outside of music, Jackson starred in three successful sitcoms as a child actor; she’s a New York Times Best-Selling author and four of her five feature films debuted at No.1 at the box office.

And though Timberlake is much younger, Jackson is proving her modern relevance and staying power. While Timberlake’s last album was released in 2013, Jackson’s last outing was 2015’s “Unbreakable,” which debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s albums chart, her seventh compared to three solo No. 1 albums for Timberlake. Jackson is currently on a 56-date “State of the World” tour selling out arenas across the country at age 51 without a new single to plug and without doing any media appearances to promote the tour.

She is inexplicably absent from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite two nominations. Here’s hoping the Rock Hall finally gives Jackson her due next year.

But back to Timberlake. The NFL’s embrace of this cad, who so blithely tossed Jackson under the bus, reinforces all the racist, sexist and ageist stereotypes about American popular culture. We can only hope the NFL will do the right thing and reconsider giving such a platform to someone so undeserving. Jackson certainly deserves another shot at that stage, but she doesn’t like to repeat herself and has nothing left to prove. Jackson gracefully endured years of ridicule and boycotts. She’s proved herself the better person and the bigger star, no matter what the NFL decides.

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  1. EastCoastJ

    September 29, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Whatever. Hard to take anything seriously about the audience that watches grown men getting paid millions for throwing a ball around

  2. EastCoastJ

    September 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    BTW : I’m not a fan of Timberlake, but he does look sort of hot as the 1950’s lifeguard in that upcoming Woody Allen movie

  3. lnm3921

    September 30, 2017 at 12:33 am

    Janet Jackson will always be awesome and doesn’t need to appear on the Superbowl to prove it. I can’t think of one Justin Timberlake song but recall so many wonderful Janet Jackson songs! Who would have thought back in the day that the little girl on Good Times would become such a force?!

    She’s in Control! No, her name ain’t baby, it’s miss Jackson cause you’re nasty! Because of Love, all I have to do is think of you and nothing else seems to matter and when you go, diamonds are still a girl’s best friend to name a few verses. Many happy musical memories because of her! Her songs make you want to dance instantly! She’s fierce!

    She also is so poised and soften spoken like a lady. So glad she’s back on tour! She’s an icon!

  4. Mike Scott

    September 30, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Completely agree with everything in this article!

  5. Ellipse Kirk

    September 30, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    The article is naff. I get that the author doesn’t like Timberlake, but this reconstruction is s t r e t c h e d out.

    • Guy Gotham

      September 30, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Actually given how long it’s been there’s a whole generation of people who don’t really remember Janet for anything prior to nipplegate… Not only that but most people don’t fully realize the double standard that went into play afterwards or to what level she has been silenced and shunned while he continued unencumbered in his ascent without the slightest tarnish laid at his feet over the incident. To that end and to illustrate even today what a miscarriage of justice this was, Justin is being courted to headline the show while Janet is still banned from even attending games!

      Janet’s status as a musician, dancer, actress, writer, entertainer is iconic. What makes her legendary is that beyond those achievements she has been a quiet force in charity work and in her unmatched and incredibly successful efforts at marrying pop music with timely, relevant messages about often complex social and humanitarian issues. This is something she has done throughout her career not just one single along the way. I can’t think of any other performer to address those problems consistently within their music and on top of that still have that music be so wildly popular and hit making.

      And there in lies the tragedy in all of this. Even if you believe that the Superbowl was on purpose she has MORE than paid the price for it by now, a price that was too big to be fair by a huge margin and one that should have been rested upon 2 sets of shoulders rather than be saddled upon herself alone.

      So please spare the complaints about retelling the truth in what actually happened and raising up protests of Justin being invited to headline the show. After 13 years its about damn time the public heard the how things went down and how Janet graciously and quietly took the hit all alone that should never have even happened to start with.

      • Ruby

        October 2, 2017 at 2:39 am

        God, get intervention already. The world has moved on and you still whine about something that has been long forgotten or no one has a clue about. Save your emotion for something more worthy , puhleeeease!

        • Guy Gotham

          October 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

          If either of those points were true Ruby then you wouldnt be reading this article, then reading the comments, then spending your time at 230 in the morning posting your own reply. In doing so you negate your own point and you’ve clearly missed the point that by inviting Justin to perform just reinforces the mysogonistic bigotry that the NFL employed 13 years ago is still standing as the modus operandi today. It’s amazing that I as a man can see that and call it out, yet you as a woman either cant recognize that that is the real issue here, or you choose to ignore it, or you remain complicit in it’s continued embrace by parts of society that should know better. Open your eyes. I don’t need to defend how incredible Janet is. She has all the awards and accolades and chart topping records to maintain that all on it’s own. This isn’t about being a fanboy, though I readily and proudly admit that I am. This is about something much bigger and much more important to you as a woman and if you can’t see that then consider this your intervention.

          • Ruby

            October 2, 2017 at 3:21 pm

            It was my evening.

          • Guy Gotham

            October 2, 2017 at 5:07 pm

            There I fixed that for you, though it absolutely blows my mind that that is what you chose to reply about. Some tiny little detail in the face of what this all stands for. But I guess it answers my question from above on how you as a woman can justify supporting Justin in all of this. Complicity. Whatever talents he does have are overshadowed by his greed and his lack of empathy and the simple ability to do what’s right here and not perform especially given everything that Janet did for him to launch his career. It’s too bad you allow yourself to be ignorant of those realities even after they’ve been explained to you…

          • Julie Ann Homa-Kuntz

            November 14, 2017 at 12:38 pm

            Which should also tell you …irrelevancy. Yes she chose that! What else is there to REHASH?

        • Julie Ann Homa-Kuntz

          November 14, 2017 at 12:36 pm


      • hkzombie1

        November 15, 2017 at 8:53 am

        Sounds like you Naff

        • Guy Gotham

          November 15, 2017 at 10:00 am

          I’m definitely not Naff. There’s many Janet fans around the world. A primary reason why her current tour has such strong ticket sales.

          • hkzombie1

            November 15, 2017 at 10:51 am

            And I’ve been a fan. BTW

    • Julie Ann Homa-Kuntz

      November 14, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      As a writer myself… agreed. Is this an Op-Editorial or fake news….Well written; however, badly produced. See? How much sense did that just make. You have every right to voice as you did. But, for a country that is searching unity….not helping the cause. I suppose you perhaps never did anything, you’d do different in your teens and 20s?

  6. Jay Anthony Marrero

    September 30, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Just another white boy Emulating black Artists. PERIOD

    • Ruby

      November 15, 2017 at 8:20 am


  7. Mark Mayes

    September 30, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    This is a very high and mighty opinion that essentially trumpets the commercial sanctity of a sport which is idolized for its violence and aggression. If you feel so comfortable about terming Timberlake “a cheap imitation of talent,” why not turn your aim at the millions of dollars of worth thrown at athletes while educators have no money for classroom equipment. People starve in this country and you soapbox that some star isn’t getting their glory.

    • David Roddis

      October 1, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      I think his main point was about racism and sexism, whether or not one agrees with his premise. That’s what he was addressing. I agree with you 100% about the pointlessness and decadence of the actual event (though are you saying that money is diverted to the NFL that would otherwise go to education? I don’t think football is taxpayer funded…). And there are indeed more pressing issues in the world, but one tends to read the Atlantic or Harper’s or even the NYTimes for in-depth analyses of those. This is a lighter publication…

    • EastCoastJ

      October 2, 2017 at 1:15 am

      Actually, some of us might find violence and aggression acceptable, even useful, in it’s place. (I know that’s endlessly debatable). But what I find illogical about professional football (or most pro team sports) is the fans’ determination for one team to win over another. Why the preference? A team can’t represent a city, because the players are from all over the place. And next year the players can change anyway. Is it just…the team mascot ? That seems farfetched. If teams were divided into race, religion, political party, etc., then I could see some logic to rooting for a team, but……as it is, no sports fan has ever been able to give me an answer to this.

  8. Desiree Jones

    October 1, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Kevin, Thank you for a brilliantly written and thoughtfully expressed article. I agree with this article and the statements made 210%.

    But the question if we were Janet Jackson and have won every award imaginable, was looked upon by our peers as an Legend and Icon and have inspired the careers of many, would we really give 2 f*cks about being invited back to perform at the Super Bowl? I think not. Janet Jackson is and will ALWAYS BE an Icon in the music industry and does not need the the problematic NFL to tell her otherwise.

    As for Justin Timberlake, he actually needs that appearance on the Super Bowl to help his career. He is where he is today in his career due Janet, Michael, Brian McKnight and other Black Artists helping him. Nevertheless, I will not be tuning in to watch him imitate blackness and be a fraud.

  9. Dan Avery

    October 1, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Half Time at the Super Bowl is not a lifetime achievement award. And Janet’s been off the radar for years. Record sales-wise, Timberlake is monumentally bigger than she is. (No judgment on her talent, just numbers)

    Also, the NFL doesn’t pay artists to perform— there’s allegations the musicians have to pay the NFL for the “privilege” to play. So most who do have a new album or something to promote. Why would Janet do it?

    I think this is a reach.

    • Guy Gotham

      October 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      That’s exactly the point. She’s been off the radar for years because of the blacklisting by the NFL, MTV(Viacom is their parent company that also put on the halftime show) and corporate mainstream radio all punitively put upon her alone for the decade afterwards. No one’s arguing for Janet to do the show again, it’s already shown itself to be far beneath someone who champions equality on the regular like Janet does, in the way they treated her which is clearly not in step with equality. This isn’t about Janet getting her due, she’s running a sold out stadium tour right now without even releasing a new album, she’s doing just fine, trust! But by asking him to perform again while she is still banned just shows yet again white male priveledge is alive and well 13 years later in the NFL. Which is really just pathetic and old and the last thing that it needs right now since it just reinforces the same thing so many players have been protesting. Plain old straight up bigotry available in both racial and misogynistic flavors. Or if you’re a black woman like Janet they serve you up a swirl. Enjoy!

      • EastCoastJ

        October 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm

        Poor Janet must be scrubbing floors somewhere now.

      • Dan Avery

        November 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

        I think she’s been off the radar because she married a rich Arab guy and moved to Dubai and he wouldnt let her perform. Also, her last few efforts havent done well. I dont think there’s a blacklisting. Maybe for a year or two after the incident she was a little too controversial, but that was nearly 20 years ago.

    • hkzombie1

      November 15, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Very very well said

  10. Michael Friedman

    October 1, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    LOL. This is what you’re outraged about? How much time did you waste on this nonsense article?

    • hkzombie1

      November 15, 2017 at 8:35 am

      I know I regrettably fell for it.

  11. Michael Friedman

    October 1, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Janet Jackson is like the Nelson Mandela of pop music. The years of pain, heartache and abuse she has endured have no end in sight. I don’t know how she goes on. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed it to go on. And now this. Justin Timberlake, a white guy, who is arguably the most popular solo artist in the world is getting to play halftime at the SuperBowl. Is there no justice in this world? Is there no limit to the pain Janet Jackson must continue to endure. We are all complicit in this tragedy. There’s boob on all of our hands.

    • EastCoastJ

      October 2, 2017 at 1:09 am

      As a white man, you’re certainly making me feel………mortified.

    • Ruby

      October 2, 2017 at 2:53 am

      The analogy is a bit of a stretch…

  12. Jayson Franklin

    October 2, 2017 at 8:50 am

  13. EastCoastJ

    October 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    At least he wasn’t feminine when he ripped that breast plate off…..arrghhh..

  14. hkzombie1

    November 15, 2017 at 8:29 am

    I love Janet Jackson. But this article is clearly meant to bash on Justin Timberlake.

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Blogging my first overseas vacation since COVID

Chronicling life aboard Celebrity APEX



I will be blogging a number of times during my two-week transatlantic cruise and sharing my thoughts and experiences. 

The first thing I found is boarding during a pandemic is a little different. People were given specific boarding times yet most arrived at the port when it was convenient for them as many had early check-out times from their hotel or Airbnb in Barcelona. Celebrity didn’t turn anyone away. There was no Wi-fi at the entrance to the terminal so things got a little complicated as many had the information needed on their iPhone Celebrity app. It worked out and when you got inside to the counter they shared a Wi-fi connection. 

I knew in advance from a Facebook connection, some childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years were going to be onboard. We ended up arriving at the terminal at the same time and caught up for the next hour and a half as we progressed through the boarding process. We all had to take a Covid test and only those with negative results could board. Of the approximately 1,300 people boarding, less than half the possible number for a full ship, I didn’t hear of anyone getting a positive result. 

When my negative result came back I was allowed to board and went to find my stateroom on deck 11. The key was at the door with all my information on it. Celebrity was doing everything to limit crew-to-passenger contact. We were asked to keep masks on in all indoor spaces except when eating or drinking, which on a cruise is often, and the crew are all wearing masks. Luggage was delivered to the door. 

Shortly after entering my beautiful stateroom there was a knock at the door and my stateroom attendant, Lenie, had come to introduce herself. She didn’t come in but explained how I could reach her anytime and for safety she would only come into the room when I was out. We chatted for a few minutes and I found out she was from the Philippines, had three children, and had worked for Celebrity for 20 years. She was both charming and efficient. 

I then took a walk around the ship and was duly impressed. It is beautiful. I walked through the huge buffet where people were happily eating lunch and saw instead of serving yourself there were servers behind each station filling people’s plates. All passengers had on their masks when getting food, as did the crew serving them. It made for a very safe feeling. 

Instead of a group muster each passenger was asked to go to their assigned muster station where you were met by staff who explained emergency procedures. You also had to look at a video on the Celebrity app and were then logged in and confirmed you had done so. All efficiently and safely done. 

Then I headed to the sail-away party my travel agent, and friends, Scott Moster and his husband Dustin, were hosting in the Iconic suite. The suite has everything from a peloton cycle to a hot tub for eight. It is incredible. I had the chance to catch up with old friends I had sailed with before the pandemic. Then it was a quick tour of the spa and gym open twenty-four hours a day. A way to assuage guilt over all the food and drink. Then back to the stateroom to finish unpacking and change for dinner with good friends in one of the specialty restaurants, EDEN. That meant long pants and a shirt with a collar. That’s as formal as required on this cruise. 

The food was superb and we got to meet the chef, Nicholas. An interesting guy who I will interview during the cruise. The menu was a combination of fresh fish, lobster, to filet mignon, all interestingly prepared. 

After dinner it was a stop at the Martini bar where a large group of LGBTQ friends had gathered along with some who would become friends. I was surprised when a guy came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t recognize him with his mask on but turned out he was another friend from my past I hadn’t seen in years. It is clearly a small world and the gay world seems even smaller. 

Finally headed to my stateroom around midnight, where turndown service had been done, to get some sleep and prepare for day two, and our first stop, Alicante.  

Day two and three on the Celebrity APEX

Time flies when on a cruise; maybe it’s the endless food and drink. All passengers received a letter in their room telling us we would need to report for a Covid test on day 5 the first at-sea day before we get to the Canary Islands. I pre-scheduled mine just before what I planned as my first hour at the gym. I expect to go to the gym on all sea days and there will be eight of those.

Each morning I have had coffee, a bagel and orange juice delivered to the stateroom.  I always miss that knock on the door each morning when I am home but then I would miss my daily coffee at Java House so I guess it’s OK. 

On day two we stopped at our first port, Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. I was truly surprised at how beautiful the city is. I joined friends for what turned out to be a three and a half hour walk as we were allowed off the ship on our own without booking a tour. We visited churches and the main market in town. We strolled along the beach and the harbor with great walking and bicycle paths. Alicante is a wonderful mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. One friend ventured up to the castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara, but since the elevator (the easy way up) wasn’t working and it’s a very long, steep climb up the mountain I passed. We arrived back at the ship around 1 p.m. and headed to the Mast bar on deck 14 for burgers and fries. Then some time back in the stateroom before heading to the martini bar for a drink and then to the beautiful APEX theater to see the Shamrock Tenors, four Irish performers who are not only talented but cute to boot. 

We decided to try one of the regular restaurants, those not needing reservations and chose Normandy. The food was good and I had shrimp cocktail, rigatoni, and cherries jubilee for dessert. 

After dinner it was up to the Rooftop Garden for ‘Silent Disco’. That is where you get a set of headphones with a few channels of disco music, and you dance to the music only you can hear. It’s really fun but by 11:30 my knees gave out and it was off to bed. 

Day three dawned nice and sunny and we were docked in Cartagena, located in the autonomous of the region of Murcia. I had an 8:45 excursion and again had breakfast delivered to the room. We were instructed to head to the theater to meet the tour group and sign in for our ‘Journey to Murcia’. Murcia is a city in south-eastern Spain, the capital and most populous city of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, and the seventh largest city in the country, with a population of 447,182. It is about a forty-minute drive from the port. It is a fascinating city with an incredible history from the Romans to and Moorish influence. There is a beautiful cathedral, isn’t there one in every Spanish city? This being a national holiday in Spain most of the shops were closed saving some on the tour a lot of money. We strolled around the city with our guide giving us a running commentary on its history for about an hour and a half. She was a little hard to understand because not only did she have a heavy accent but she spoke really fast. But it was still fun and we did learn a lot. We made a second stop outside the city at another church where a wedding was being officiated. The bride was beautiful. Then we headed back to the ship for an early departure. Our tour was the last onboard and we sailed not more than thirty minutes after we got there. 

Then it was off to the captain’s reception. I had the chance to chat a few moments with the Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, who is as charming as are most Greek men. We also met the rest of the senior crew who run the ship. Many said they would be more than happy to sit and get a cup of coffee with me during our at-sea days so I can interview and write about them.

Then it was back to my stateroom again to prepare for another tough night of food and drinking. We went to see Andrew Derbyshire in the theater for the 7:30 show and then to dinner at Cyprus.   After dinner Celebrity hosted the first LGBTQ+ event of the cruise at the EDEN bar. A large crowd showed up, not all gay but they all knew where the fun people would be. The entertainers all showed up there as including the Shamrock Tenors, four talented Irish guys and Andrew Derbyshire, a British actor and singer. We chatted and I will meet him for coffee to do a column on him. 

Then about midnight it was back to the stateroom for what some of my friends on board called an early night. Morning would have us docking in Cadiz and we had a private tour planned for over 20 of the people who had booked the trip with Scott Moster, travel agent extraordinaire, taking us to the city of Seville.  

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

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‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clouds Powell’s legacy

A final act of redemption



Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (Photo by Susan Montgomery via Bigstock)

The legacy of General Colin Powell is complicated for those in the LGBTQ community. On the one hand, we celebrate that Powell was the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. On the other, he is also the person who disobeyed the strategic choice of his Commander in Chief, Bill Clinton, on gays in the military. 

Powell stood on the steps of the Pentagon reporting how many calls had been received opposing lifting the ban. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the service of openly gay troops would harm unit cohesion. He argued that race was a “benign characteristic” and being gay was not. Congress codified into statute what had been a regulatory ban on gays in the military, making the law that much harder to change. Almost 14,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual service members were dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a rate of two-four service members every day. Some were subjects of witch hunts. Others faced criminal charges. Many endured harassment, assault and threats. Private First Class Barry Winchell was murdered.

Michelle Benecke and I knew when we founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed, we would have to either win the support or neutralize the opposition of Powell, one of the previously undisclosed strategies described in my new book, “Mission Possible.” Michelle and I first met him at the Arlington, Va., headquarters of America’s Promise. We offered to brief him on the ban’s implementation as he was being asked on the Sunday shows about the law’s efficacy. He agreed to see us.

The question was whether we could find common ground on which to build a new consensus. My theory was that Powell genuinely believed that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a better policy than the one before it. After all, he had testified before the Senate, “We will not ask, we will not witch-hunt, we will not seek to learn orientation.” 

“General Powell,” I said, “we have received nearly a thousand calls from service members who have been impacted by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We have documented that most are being asked point blank about their sexual orientation in contravention of ‘Don’t Ask.’” 

“That’s not supposed to happen,” he said.

That was our first conversation. We might have been able to better enforce some of the meager gains under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if we had been able to prevail upon Powell to help us, but he wasn’t ready. 

In 2003, he told Teen Ink magazine that while discrimination is wrong, “I think it’s a different matter with respect to the military, because you’re essentially told who you’re going to live with, who you’re going to sleep next to.”

Four years later, he called me, prompted by an opinion essay in The New York Times that I had sent him. “Second Thoughts on Gays in the Military”—written by retired Army General John Shalikashvili, Powell’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs—called for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Powell and I spoke for 45 minutes. “I agree with General Shalikashvili that America has changed and is ready for gays to serve openly,” he said. My heart leapt. “I am not convinced, however, that military commanders are ready for that change.” My heart sunk.

It was clear to me, though, that he was moving in the right direction.  I put it on the line. “Sir, you will be a critical voice on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ when it comes up for debate again. I need you to support repeal if we are going to win. Do you know that?”

“Yes,” he said.

Finally, on Feb. 5, 2010, 10 months before final repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and days after Admiral Mike Mullen had testified before the Senate that he supported repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Powell released a statement. “If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy, then I support it. Attitudes and circumstances have changed. Society is reflected in the military. It’s where we get our soldiers from.” The stage was set for final repeal.

We too often look for heroes and villains when the record can be complicated. Powell deserves opprobrium for defying Clinton, rallying opposition, and allowing 60,000 troops under his command to suffer the indignity of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He deserves credit, though, for changing his mind. I admired his willingness to speak with me over nearly two decades. I find that the best leaders engage in a lifelong process of learning and challenging assumptions. Powell will receive deserved accolades for his service to our nation, but for us, his legacy includes a profound betrayal with a final act of redemption.

C. Dixon Osburn is author of ‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’’

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‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal serves as a guide for enacting equality legislation

Equality Act supporters should take cues from Senate moderates



Equality legislation is close to passing in Congress, but close isn’t good enough. “Close” won’t change anything for the LGBTQ Americans who face discrimination every day. Senate Democrats and Republicans must make a push to negotiate. With a reach on both sides to find common ground, we can move equality legislation from “close” to “done deal.”

Some Democrats are waiting for the filibuster to end—despite clear evidence that they lack the votes to end it. Some Republicans are practicing a tried-and-true brand of obstructionism. To break this deadlock, we should look to the successful, bipartisan repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) as a guide.

The DADT repeal is the single reference point for LGBTQ advocates for overcoming the Senate filibuster. Other victories have been in the courts; notably, the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision that made gay marriage legal nationwide.

Before Obergefell, advocates had success in the state legislatures. I worked on campaigns for the freedom to marry in Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and elsewhere, finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans who thought it was impossible to negotiate on marriage. Eventually, enough people from both parties came together to pass marriage laws in a majority of states.

Working together at the state level is one thing. Congress is another.

Despite Democrats’ control of the White House, Senate and House, negotiations are failing at the federal level. So, we lets look to ancient history—the 2010 repeal of DADT—for guidance on reaching 60 votes in the Senate.

The most important lesson from the DADT repeal is that Senate moderates must champion the cause and lead negotiations. The more partisan figures on both sides need to step back. Overcoming the filibuster is a job for moderates, not ideologues.

As it happens, the hero of the DADT repeal is still a senator and can help. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine led the negotiations on DADT repeal.

Senator Collins supports the Equality Act in principle and even sponsored a version of the bill in past. However, the current version is too extreme for Sen. Collins, as a result, she has withdrawn as a co-sponsor. The current bill has also foundered with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, another important figure in the repeal of DADT.

The fact that moderate, pro-LGBTQ senators are unable to back the current version of the Equality Act should send a clear message to Democrats that we need to make reasonable changes to the bill. So far, the message is being ignored.

On the Democratic side, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman was essential to the repeal of DADT. There certainly were passionate, liberal Democrats who could have asserted themselves during the debate. But then, the bill would have taken longer to pass, or even might have failed.

The lesson is clear. Listen to the moderates. Let them lead this charge.

Another important lesson from the repeal of DADT is to be flexible in the legislative strategy. DADT repeal was originally an amendment to a large defense authorization bill. Rather than give up, Collins and Lieberman fought and saved DADT repeal from defeat by pulling out key provisions they knew could pass on their own and making them a standalone measure. Repeal passed with bipartisan support.

The current version of the Equality Act tries to do too much. That’s why it can’t win support from moderate Republicans who have legitimate concerns the bill might suppress free speech or shut down religious charities.  

Over 60 senators can agree on the basic premise of the Equality Act. They would gladly vote to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in employment, housing, and public accommodations, so long as the law didn’t intrude on the First Amendment.

If the far left believes that our country has too much religious liberty, they can deal with that in future legislation. But so long as we have a filibuster—and, there’s no indication it will end any time soon—the Equality Act needs to reflect our society’s current views on religious liberty.  

The DADT repeal passed with 65 votes in the Senate, overcoming the filibuster. Let’s replicate that victory by using the same playbook. Moderates: Take the lead.

Tyler Deaton is the senior advisor to the American Unity Fund, a conservative nonprofit organization working to advance LGBTQ freedom and religious freedom

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