2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) Â
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed an openness in an interview that aired Sunday to the idea of reviewing the U.S. military’s ban on openly transgender service, saying all Americans should be able to serve “if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
Hagel said the military’s ban on transgender service “continually should be reviewed” when asked by reporter Martha Radditz about the issue during an ABC News’ “This Week” interview that was taped on Saturday.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said. “I’m open to that by the way.”
But Hagel qualified his willingness to review the issue by saying the issue of transgender service is “a bit more complicated” because it has a “medical component to it,” saying the issue “is an area that we have not defined enough.”
“These issues require medical attention,” Hagel said. “Austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”
Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, the Pentagon conducted a review of open service headed by then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson and then-Commander of U.S. Army-Europe Gen. Carter Ham. The report, which laid out the way for the military to adjust to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, was what enabled Pentagon leaders to come on board with the idea of open service.
Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, praised Hagel for backing a review of the current ban, which has been in place since before 1980.
â€śWe appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over thirty years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness,” Robinson said. “They harm our service members and weaken our military.”
Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s ban on transgender service could be lifted at any time within the Pentagon because it wasn’t codified into law and is instead a medical regulation.
The issue of transgender service has received new attention following the publication of a front-page story in the Washington Post about Landon Wilson, a former sailor who was discharged in March from the Navy â€” even though he possessed critical skills on intercepting enemy communications.
In the same week the Post story ran, the Human Goals Charter signed by top military brass at the Pentagon lacked any mention of transgender people â€” either on the military or civilian side â€” even though other categories, including sexual orientation, were enumerated in the document.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she welcomes a review at the Pentagon and looks forward to “working with the Pentagon to end these outdated rules that harm our military.”
â€śThis willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” Keisling said. “If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members Iâ€™ve met, heâ€™d understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.â€ť
A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Sunday he had nothing to add about any plans for a review other than to reiterate Hagel’s remarks on “This Week.”
For his part, Hagel asserted during his interview that military service should be open to all Americans â€” as long as they meet the qualifications to do the job.
“I’m open to those assessments, because again I go back to the bottom line that every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney signaled support on Friday for Pentagon efforts to review the ban on openly transgender service in the military, but stopped short of endorsing an end to the policy outright.
Days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week” the military trans ban â€ścontinually should be reviewed,â€ťÂ Carney said the White House backs his efforts in response to a question on whether President Obama has had any conversations with the Pentagon chief on this issue.
“Well, the president speaks with Secretary Hagel regularly, meets with him weekly,” Carney said. “I don’t have a readout on all his conversations, but I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and certainly we support his efforts in this area.”
But efforts at the Pentagon to reconsider the policy seem to have already lost traction. A Pentagon official confirmed for the Washington Blade on Friday thatÂ no review of the trans military ban has been ordered.
According to the Washington Post,Â Hagel told reporters en route to Jeddah he’sÂ disinclined to review the Pentagon’s policy formally, but expressed interest in learning more.
“I’ve not asked for a specific task force,” Hagel was quoted as saying. “I’ve not asked forÂ a specific study. I would want to hear more from individuals who are closeÂ to this issue, know this issue, who I would value their judgment and theirÂ direction on.”
Moreover, Carney didn’t outright say Obama wants to see the ban on transgender service lifted when asked if he thinks the policy should be changed at some point in time.
“I would simply at this point leave it to Secretary Hagelâ€™s comments,” Carney said. “I haven’t spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.”
Nonetheless, transgender advocates praised Carney’s words as a commitment from the Obama administration to move forward with a reassessment of the regulatory ban on transgender service.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Transgender Center for Equality, was among those praising the White House for endorsing of Hagel’s views.
“It is wonderful to hear that the White House agrees with the Secretary about the need to update these outdated and discriminatory policies,” Keisling said. “There are currently 15,000 trans service members. Having reasonable and modern policies that guide their service is in everyoneâ€™s interest and is good for military readiness and national security. Clearly this issue is now on the agenda. Now we need to push for a quick analysis and implementation.”
Instituted sometime before 1980, the ban on transgender service is a medical regulation that, unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” could be lifted any time administratively by the stroke of a pen.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Thursday evening that he’s directing national guards throughout the country to process benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages regardless of their state laws.
Hagel made the announcement during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City.
In his speech, the defense secretary spoke out against the decision by certain national guards to deny benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, referencing the directive he issued in August indicating spousal benefits for gay troops should be available worldwide after the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sexÂ spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said. “Not only does this violate the statesâ€™ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards theyâ€™re entitled to.”
Hagel said he’sÂ directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass “to take immediate action” to remedy this situation.
“At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied,” Hagel said. “The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, counted nine states with national guards that are refusing to process benefit spousal applications for gay troops and said Hagel is “prepared to take further action” if these states don’t comply with Pentagon policy.
Asked by the Washington Blade what this “further action” would be, the senior defense action declined to speculate, but noted military ID cards are processed through federal funds.
“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “I’m not going to speculate on our legal options.”
Actions that advocates had previously posited include a restriction of federal funds at these facilities or, in an extreme case, the federalization of these national guards by President Obama.
The Washington Blade has previously reported that Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and OklahomaÂ are refusing to enter the spouses of gay troops into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System for the purposes of benefits, which include health and pension benefits, because of their state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve directed troops in same-sex marriages to federal installations.
The national guard in South Carolina had opted out of processing benefit applications altogether and is directing all couples â€” gay and straight â€” to go to federal installations.
But the senior defense official also counted Indiana, Georgia, Florida and West Virginia as having made similar declarations, making for a total of nine states. According to the senior defense official, that meansÂ 114 Army and Air National Guard sites that are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.
Advocates had been pressuring the Obama administration to take action. In a letter earlier this month, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top defense Democrats in Congress, wrote to Hagel to encourage him to take action.
Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association, heaped praised on Hagel for taking action against these national guards that weren’t complying with Pentagon policy.
â€śSecretary Hagel has made it clear the national guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” Peters said.Â ”We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the national guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy. No matter what state of our great nation they serve in, no military spouse should be treated differently just because of their orientation.”
Hagel said in his speech that all members of the national guard are entitled to the same benefits because they’re fighting for the same purpose.
“Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America,” Hagel said. “They are serving this country. They â€“ and their families â€“ are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.”
The Georgia National Guard has become the latest state to agree to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to two sources familiar with the decision.
Maj. Jon Craig, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said Georgia had agreed to process applications to grant same-sex spouses military IDs last week in a decision along the lines of Texas and Louisiana.
“With Georgia, what it came down to was the authorization to put some state employees on temporary federal status,” Craig said.
Georgia had been one of two remaining states that had refused to enroll the spouses of gay troops into the benefit system in the aftermath of an edict for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying military spousal benefits should be available to troops in same-sex marriages nationwide. These states had cited state constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage as the reasons why they couldn’t comply.
In the past weeks, Texas and Louisiana, which had previously refused to process same-sex benefits, said they had come to agreement to comply with the edict by processing applications through federal funds, personnel and systems.
Lt. Col. Thomas Lesnieski, a Georgia National Guard spokesperson, acknowledged changes were made, but declined to comment further until the guard issued an official statement later on Monday.
Chris Rowzee, a spokesperson for the American Military Partners Association, commended Georgia’s decision, but questioned what exactly had changed because her understanding is federal resources were already being used to process benefits applications at National Guard facilities.
“Certainly, we are pleased that they have changed course and are now providing the federal benefits to which these military members are entitled,” Rowzee said. “We still have questions regarding what has actually changed since all of the personnel processing those benefits were federal employees to begin with.”
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said Georgia had agreed to comply and the Pentagon views the decision as “welcome news.”
The official added the decision leaves Mississippi as the only state that isn’t conforming to federal policy, saying National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass continues work on the issue.
“The Secretary has directed General Grass to resolve this issue with the TAGs,” the official said. “Gen. Grass, and the National Guard Bureau are continuing the dialogue with Mississippi â€” the only remaining state to comply with DOD Policy.”
A Mississippi National Guard spokesperson deferred comment on whether the state would come into compliance Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, which didn’t respond to multiple requests to comment.
All state national guards are now compliant with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requiring them to processing spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to the Pentagon.
In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Hagel confirmed that all gay service members can apply for military IDs for their spouses at military installations throughout the country.
“Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the Adjutants General of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees â€” including same-sex spouses â€” are now able to obtain ID cards in every state,” Hagel said.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mississippi, the last remaining hold-out state, came on board sometime this week, although the official didn’t have an exact date for when that happened. The official said Mississippi is adopting a policy similar to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which are placing state workers on federal status to process same-sex benefit applications.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Hagel announced military spousal benefits â€” including health, pension and housing benefits â€” will become available to gay troops.
However, certain state national guards, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, refused to process the spousal benefits applications from gay troops, citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. During an Anti-Defamation League meeting in October, said each of these states must comply and he directed National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Frank Grass to find a way to bring them on board.
One by one, the state national guards announced they would comply with the policy. Texas Military Forces, which had been the first state to announce it wouldn’t process the benefits, announced last month it would come on board. Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi later followed suit.
“All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country,” Hagel concluded. “They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization helped in the effort to encourage state national guards to process same-sex benefits by writing letters to the Pentagon as well as governors in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.
“In the end, itâ€™s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who deserves credit for taking decisive action,” Sainz said. “Hagel delivered a speech in late October in which he demanded that these state national guard outposts heed federal law and Department of Defense policy or risk punitive action. That demand has now produced results all across the country.”
Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted his organization petitioned Hagel to ensure these states comply with federal policy and called the latest news a welcome development.
â€śThis is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen,” Thompson said. “The resistance on the part of some governors on extending these benefits to same-sex couplesÂ was a grossly unfair violation of federal law thatÂ Â turned the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel on its head.”
Although all states are now considered compliant, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina are conforming to the Hagel edict by directing all spousal benefit applicants â€” gay and straight â€” away from state-run installations to federal facilities within those states to avoid conflict between state law and federal policy. These states moved all their ID card machines to federal installations, so they’re still processing benefits at full capacity.
Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, commended Hagel for ensuring each state national guard is compliant with his edict on same-sex benefits, but said additional action is necessary.
“We applaud the administration and Secretary Hagel for seeing thisÂ issue through and ensuring all state national guards are compliant,” Peter said.Â ”However, our military families serving in non-marriage equality states still face discouraging challenges because of the discrimination and exclusion by state governments. We look forward to the day when our military families are treated equally in all 50 states of our nation.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.
On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.
“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”
Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Hagel has expressed an interest in attending the event.
It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.
Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.
Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.
As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didnâ€™t cast a vote in 2006.
Still, over the course of the nomination process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits for troops with same-sex partners available under current law.
DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.
“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”
Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.
That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.
â€śTransgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction â€“ and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “Itâ€™s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is confirmed to make an appearance at an upcoming Pentagon event observing June as the month for Pride, which has been set for June 25, alongside Senior Adviser to President Valerie Jarrett, the Washington Blade has learned.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a statement provided via email to the Washington Blade that Hagel would participate in the event, making him the first defense secretary to take part in a Pentagon Pride celebration. A defense official said Hagel would provide opening remarks to the group in person.
“Secretary Hagel looks forward to participating in this year’s DoD Pride event at the Pentagon onÂ Tuesday June 25, which is organized by a group of Defense Department service members and civilians to celebrate LGBT Pride Month,” Little said.
Emphasizing Hagel’s support for gay and lesbian service members â€” who have been able to serve openly since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” â€” Little recalled the West Point address that Hagel delivered at the U.S. military academy at West Point on May 25. During his speech, the secretary said,Â ”The United States military has long benefited from the service of gay men and lesbians. Now they serve openly with full honor, integrity, and respect.”
“Secretary Hagel believes that the open service of gays and lesbians make our armed forces stronger and that this month’s DOD Pride event is just one way we honor what these service members and LGBT civilians do for our country,” Little added.
Additionally, Little said Jarrett will join Hagel on stage to represent the White House and deliver the keynote address on behalf of President Obama.
“Secretary Hagel is also looking forward to welcoming Valerie Jarrett to the Pentagon who will represent President Obama in delivering the keynote address at the event,” Little said.
The occasion will be the second Pride celebration at the Pentagon following “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but the first in which a sitting defense secretary will make a live appearance. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the group via a video message. A defense official said the Pride event isÂ being organized by a “resource group” with the support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Hagelâ€™s participation is noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary.
Many expressed concern overÂ comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldnâ€™t be confirmed because heâ€™s â€śopenly aggressively gay.â€ť Hagel later apologized for the remark when these remarks surfaced, and Hormel eventually endorsed Hagel’s nomination.
As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didnâ€™t cast a vote in 2006.
Still, over the course of the confirmation process, Hagel said he supports â€śDonâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€ť repeal and pledged to implement â€śexpeditiouslyâ€ť benefits available under current lawÂ for troops with same-sex partners.