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Lesbian, trans Defense nominees sail through confirmation hearings

Biden picks exemplify change after LGBTQ bans lifted

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Two nominees, one lesbian and one transgender, sailed though a breezy confirmation hearing on Wednesday for high-ranking positions at the Defense Department.

Among the five nominees questioned before the Senate Armed Services Committee were Shawn Skelly, who’s transgender and nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s a lesbian and nominated to become under secretary of the Air Force.

The LGBTQ nominees for the high-ranking posts stand out in the wake of the Biden administration enacting to reverse the transgender military ban enacted under President Trump, as well as the coming anniversary of the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Both Jones, a former Air Force pilot, and Skelly, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, served in the U.S. military at times when they would have been discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jones made a reference to serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of her opening statement for the confirmation hearing.

“My experience in the Air Force was hindered by the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, yet I to remain undeterred because of my desire to serve our country,” Jones said. “That experience cemented my resolve to ensure anyone ready and able to serve can do so to their full potential and accordingly our country’s fullest potential.”

Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement the nominations of the LGBTQ individuals to high-ranking Defense roles is significant.
 
“These two trailblazing nominees demonstrated their deep military expertise and qualifications before the committee and we know their experiences as LGBTQ people will shape their leadership in these critical positions,” Parker said. “Their performance was a powerful testament to the progress our military and nation has made – just one decade after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – and is an important moment for LGBTQ service members who served or continue to serve in silence. Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”

No member of the committee objected to — or even pointed out — the sexual orientation or gender identity of the nominees. In fact, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had openly called for codifying the transgender military ban into law as opposed to reversing it, notably recognized Skelly’s gender identity by referring to her as “Ms. Skelly” when addressing her.

Questions, instead, comprised issues related to the U.S. military, including rooting out “extremism” in the military, competition with China, access to care at medical facilities and the U.S. military being the biggest single consumer of fossil fuels.

Skelly, in her opening statement, said she was “simultaneously humbled and inspired” over being nominated for the role as assistant secretary of defense for readiness, which includes being responsible for recruitment, career development, pay and benefits, and oversight of the state of military readiness.

“As a retired Naval flight officer, the importance of the department safety and professional military education programs, and the manner in which they support the readiness of the total force are deeply ingrained in me, and if confirmed, I will ensure they receive the priority and focus they deserve,” Skelly said.

Jones and Skelly are two of three pending LGBTQ nominees for high-ranking Defense positions. The other is Brenda “Sue” Fulton, a lesbian who had advocated for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and was nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and readiness.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Fulton wasn’t among the nominees questioned on Wednesday even though she was nominated at the same time. The Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t respond Wednesday to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

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Glenn Youngkin sworn in as Va. governor

Republican backed teacher who opposed trans student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at his swearing in in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 15, 2022 (YouTube screenshot)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Saturday amid concerns that he will seek to curtail LGBTQ rights in the state.

“Today we gather not as individuals, not as Republicans and Democrats,” said Youngkin after his swearing in. “Today we gather as Virginians.”

Former Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are among those who attended the ceremony that took place at the State Capitol. Terry McAuliffe, who Youngkin defeated in the general election, did not attend because of a COVID-19 scare.

Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin on Thursday named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

“We will remove politics from the classroom and focus on the essentials,” said Youngkin in his inaugural speech, without specifically mentioning LGBTQ students.

He added “parents should have a say in what is taught in schools.”

Youngkin has also expressed his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and would “support that” as governor.

Lieutenant Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares also took office on Saturday.

Winsome, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is the first woman and first female of color elected lieutenant governor. Miyares, a former House member whose mother was born in Cuba, is Virginia’s first Latino attorney general.

Youngkin in his inaugural speech noted “the people of Virginia just elected the most diverse leadership” in the state’s history. Youngkin’s first executive order ends “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia schools) and other “divisive concepts” in Virginia’s public schools.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday.

Republicans control the House by a 52-48 margin. Democrats have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate.

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Murdered Honduran transgender activist buried

Thalía Rodríguez shot outside her home on Monday

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The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)

The Washington Blade on Thursday published a Spanish-language version of this story from Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras.

A prominent transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered on Monday has been buried.

Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday.

Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horrified” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church.

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Va. school board names new chair who called for burning books

Kirk Twigg backed torching of materials with “sexually explicit” content

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(Screenshot via WUSA)

The Spotsylvania County School Board voted Monday to name Kirk Twigg, who advocated for burning books he deemed “sexually explicit” in November, as its new chair. 

His win gives conservatives the majority on the board as Republicans across the country continue an effort to ban books dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism from schools. 

Spotsylvania County has been involved in the controversy from the beginning, voting last year to remove books containing “sexually explicit” materials — only to rescind the order a week later.  

Monday’s board meeting, Twigg’s first as chair, would prove to be disorganized and, at times, unruly. 

Twigg’s first order of business was to call an unscheduled, closed-door session, which may have violated Virginia’s open meeting requirements. According to Virginia Code, a closed meeting cannot be called without a public body approving a motion that states the subject matter and the purpose of the meeting, as well as an applicable exemption from open meeting requirements.    

After the board returned from the closed-door session, Twigg said well-regarded Superintendent Dr. Scott Baker would be fired without cause. Baker had already announced he would be resigning at the end of the school year in December. 

After Baker decided to resign, a longtime Spotsylvania resident penned a letter in the Free Lance-Star, calling him “the finest superintendent, by far.”

“Dr. Baker is trusted and respected by parents, students and employees of Spotsylvania Schools; and he never lost sight of his mission for good reason,” it read. “He did so despite the noise and disruption from those few board members dedicated to bringing political disruption and dissidence into our public educational system. Shame on the few.”

As Twigg made the announcement, another member of the board interrupted him, saying: “Um, Mr. Twigg, no he is not. You need to make a motion — there needs to be a motion and a vote.”

Board members continued to speak over each other as conservative members attempted a vote. But Board Member Nicole Cole told the chairman she had comments. 

“I believe that the board members who have lodged this termination owe our citizens and our students of Spotsylvania County a justification for firing Dr. Baker,” said Cole. “You have not stated any justification or ability to fill the position. How is this good for the students, the children of Spotsylvania? How does this make sense?”

In a rebuke of the chaotic meeting, she added that Twigg “couldn’t even properly chair a meeting.”

After approximately 7 minutes of heated discussion where members from both sides got noticeably frustrated, the board voted 4-3 to fire Baker. 

Twigg, Lisa Phelps, April Gillespie and Rabih Abuismail, who also advocated for burning books, voted in favor. 

The Free Lance-Star reported that Baker was escorted from the building before the board returned from the second closed-door meeting. 

An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Friday to name an interim superintendent.

“It’s just very sad to hear that a superintendent who has been fully engaged in this community for 10 years is just let go with no rhyme or reason,” said Board Member Dawn Shelley, while noting Baker’s accomplishments. 

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