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Hagel open to reviewing military’s ban on trans service

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he’s open to reviewing transgender service (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

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.”

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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.

“We 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 — 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 — either on the military or civilian side — 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.”

“This 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 I’ve met, he’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.”

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 — 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 backs efforts on review of trans military ban

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House backs the Pentagon’s efforts on the military trans ban (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

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 “continually should be reviewed,” 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 that no review of the trans military ban has been ordered.

According to the Washington Post, Hagel told reporters en route to Jeddah he’s 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 for a specific study. I would want to hear more from individuals who are close to this issue, know this issue, who I would value their judgment and their 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 Hagel’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 everyone’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.


2013 in photography

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) buyphoto 


Hagel may attend Pride event at Pentagon

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend a Pentagon Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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 didn’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.

“Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction – and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “It’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.”


Hagel to speak at Pentagon Pride event set for June 25

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is confirmed to attend a Pentagon Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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 on 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 — who have been able to serve openly since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — 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, ”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 is being organized by a “resource group” with the support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Hagel’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 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 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 didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Still, over the course of the confirmation process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits available under current law for troops with same-sex partners.


Hagel addresses LGBT service members at Pride event

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a DOD Pride event (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

For the first time, a sitting defense secretary on Tuesday made a live appearance at a Pentagon event to observe June as Pride month and to thank LGBT troops for their service to the country.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led a trio of high-ranking Obama administration officials at the event, giving opening remarks in which he called gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilian workers “integral to America’s armed forces.”

“Our nation has always benefitted from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and Marines,” Hagel said. “Now, they can serve openly with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger — much stronger.”

Alluding to the now lifted policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hagel emphasized America is a nation that has the capability to evolve.

“For more than two centuries, our democracy has shown that while it is imperfect, it can change, and it can change for the better,” Hagel said. “All of us should take pride in the role the U.S. military has played in this endeavor and continues to play. The military continues to fulfill this country’s promise. Our commitment to equality requires us to continue building a culture of respect for every member of the military, our society, and for all human beings.”

The event, which was organized by the LGBT affinity group DOD Pride, was the second-ever Pride celebration at the Pentagon and the first ever in which a sitting defense secretary participated. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered remarks by video, but didn’t appear in person.

Hagel’s participation is also noteworthy because his nomination was controversial in the LGBT community. In 1998, Hagel reportedly called then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg Jim Hormel “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel apologized when these remarks resurfaced during his confirmation process and Hormel eventually endorsed the nomination.

At the event, Hagel received a warm welcome from the audience. Attendees, who mostly filled the 350-seat Pentagon auditorium, gave  resounding applause when he approached the podium before his remarks.

Valerie Jarrett, gay news, Washington Blade

Senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Representing the White House at the event was senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett, who during her keynote speech emphasized the significance of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and President Obama’s leadership in the effort.

“As you know, change has been the defining theme of the Obama administration,” Jarrett said. “When I look back over the last four-and-a-half years since President Obama took office, nothing better exemplifies that kind of profound, meaningful and historic change than repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Recalling the start of the legislative process to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jarrett said she heard stories of gay service members at the White House and relayed them in the Oval Office to President Obama, who assured her repeal would happen.

“He put his hand on my shoulder and he said that he was determined, no matter what, that we would find a path to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ so that the next time these men and women came to the White House, they could do so in uniform, proudly and openly, with their heads held high and their loved ones at their side,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett also touted the announcement in February that the Pentagon would start the process for providing partner benefits to gay troops available under current law. She said the military would be able to issue these benefits “this fall.”

Additionally, Jarrett also spoke at length about efforts to stop sexual assault in the military and alluded to future plans to enhance the health of the military.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning, the highest-ranking openly gay civilian official within the Pentagon, was third to deliver remarks and spoke about his personal experience working at the Pentagon 20 years ago as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented and the path toward its repeal.

“It was hard to imagine we’d ever be where we are today, but during these 20 years, the military’s gone through the difficult process of opening itself up by providing opportunities to those for whom it was previously denied or constrained, to women, to immigrants looking to prove their loyalty to this country and earn their citizenship, to gays and lesbians,” Fanning said.

Eric Fanning, United States Air Force, gay news, Washington Blade, military

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Fanning, who said he was in the same room with Obama as he signed the certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, also recalled the feeling of it being a non-event within the Pentagon.

“I kept getting asked, ‘What was it like when you went back to the building after the repeal was signed? Was that what everyone was talking about? Was there a buzz in the building?’” Fanning said. “And I answered honestly — and I think disappointingly — that, no, went back to the building, and in my view, the building had already moved on past the decision and we talked about what we talk about every single day: the budget.”

In accordance with military tradition, a quintet of service members presented the colors at the start of the event by bearing the Americans flag as well as flags for each of the military services. One service member, Marine Corps Cpl. Joey Gutierrez-Alvarez, sung the national anthem.

While each of the speakers talked generally about making more progress in the country for greater equality, they didn’t explicitly address two outstanding items LGBT advocates have sought for the U.S. military: the implementation of a non-discrimination policy and openly transgender service.

Allyson Robinson, outgoing executive director of OutServe-SLDN, nonetheless told the Blade in the auditorium after the event she was encouraged by what she heard on stage.

“I think it was historic,” Robinson said. “I was especially moved, though, by the acknowledgment … that there is so much work left to be done. Absent from much of this discussion is the need to include transgender people who are willing and qualified to serve to be a part of armed forces. We’re looking forward to completing that work as well.”

In his remarks, Hagel made the effort to exclude transgender service members — referring to “gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians” — even though he was addressing at least one transgender veteran in the audience. Robinson herself served in the Army before she transitioned.

The event took place the day after Robinson announced that she would leave OutServe-SLDN following a tumultuous two days of media reporting that she was ousted by the group’s board. At the event, Robinson declined to elaborate on why she was leaving.

Army Capt. Valerie Palacios, a member of the interim board with DOD Pride, told the Blade after the event the mere presence of the secretary of defense was significant.

“First of all, this is somebody so high, like the secretary of defense, and a senior adviser to the president at an event like this,” Palacios said. “As service members, we had a similar event last year, but it wasn’t quite as big … So this year is very important to us, especially because Secretary Hagel is very supportive of our community.”

Also in attendance at the event was Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay flag officer in the U.S. military and deputy chief in the Army Reserve Office of the Chief in D.C.. After the event, she spoke highly of the speakers’ remarks.

“They were inclusive, they were about diversity, but they also focused on the military, the total force, and about the importance of the military and where it plays in the strategic security of our nation,” Smith said. So, we are a piece of that, we are not a whole of that, we are not a whole of that, and we recognize that as part of that diversity, we’ll make the military better.”


Pentagon announces implementation of spousal benefits for gay troops

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made final the implementation of troop benefits in a recent memo (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday the implementation of spousal benefits for gay service members following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act — and plans to make these benefits available as soon as Sept. 3.

In a memo dated August 13, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced service members in same-sex marriages will receive the same benefits for their spouses delegated to U.S. troops in opposite-sex marriages, and designated Sept. 3 as the a target date for implementation. These benefits includes health and pension benefits that were previously unavailable under DOMA as well as housing benefits, which the Pentagon had previously withheld.

“It is now the department’s policy to treat all married military personnel equally,” Hagel writes. “The department will construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.”

The memo follows up on Hagel’s announcement at the end of June immediately following the Supreme Court decision against DOMA that the Pentagon would work to implement these benefits. Additionally, the memo culminates the effort announced in February to implement to provide benefits to gay troops that were available even under that law, such as military IDs and access to family services.

The document is along the lines of what the Associated Press reported last week that the Pentagon was preparing to make final for the implementation of benefits for gay troops.

As such, the memo retracts a previous pledge to allow troops in domestic partnerships to have certain benefits. Instead, it offers gay troops stationed in places without marriage equality leave to travel to another state to marry. The memo says the Pentagon will recognize same-sex marriages of service members even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the Department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” Hagel writes.

In a supplemental memo dated Aug. 13 also made public on Wednesday, Acting Under Secretary of Defense of Personnel & Readiness Jessica Wright lays out additional details for the rules governing gay troops seeking spousal benefits, citing the need for technical changes in current policy.

“Extension of benefits to same-sex spouses will require some policy revisions, and in the case of identification cards, technical upgrades as the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System currently does not authorize the issuance of an identification card to a spouse of the same gender,” Wright writes.

The Washington Blade reported last week that gay service members were unable to enroll for benefits through the DEERS because it’s set up in a way that only facilitates opposite-sex marriages.

Wright also details the leave process for service members in same-sex relationships who are seeking to marry, saying non-chargeable leave will be granted for troops who are more than 100 miles away from a U.S. jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal.

According to the memo, if the service member is the stationed within the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant non-chargeable leave for a period of up to seven days. For a service members stationed outside the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant a leave period of up to 10 days.

“Extensions of this non-chargeable leave period for the convenience of the service member(s) will be charged to the member’s leave account,” Wright concludes. “Marriage leave may be granted only once during the career of a service member.”

Wright says troops will be entitled to these benefits retroactively to the date of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA on June 26, but claims to entitlement before that time “will not be granted.”

Praise for the implementation of these benefits came from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.,) a U.S. House member who has been vocal about providing them to gay service members.

“I am especially pleased that military personnel  based  in those states where same-sex marriage remains illegal will be offered leave to travel to a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage, and I look forward to the day when such travel is no longer necessary,” Schiff said. “Our military men and women sacrifice every day to defend freedom and equality around the world. The least we can do is make sure they enjoy that equality here at home.”

Expectations that the Pentagon would announce on Wednesday it the implementation of these benefits for troops with same-sex partners was first reported Tuesday evening by NBC News.

Stephen Peters, president of the LGBT military group known as the American Military Partners Association, responded to the NBC News report by praising the move as “a huge step forward.”

“The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support,” Peters said. ”While this is a huge step forward in making sure our same-sex military spouses have equal access, we still have a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states.”

Not explicitly addressed in the memo is whether gay veterans would also have the same access to spousal benefits as their straight counterparts. Title 38 under U.S. code, which governs veterans benefits, defines spouse in opposite-sex terms independently of DOMA and related statutes look to the state of residence as opposed to the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married. To extent to which gay U.S. troops will be eligible for veteran spousal benefits in the aftermath of DOMA is still unclear.


Let the Gay Games begin

Les Johnson, Team D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

Les Johnson and Team D.C. expect to field a strong contingent at next year’s Gay Games in Cleveland. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

The two quadrennial international sports competitions taking place in 2014 — the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the Gay Games in Cleveland — couldn’t be setting more dissimilar tones.

Though it hasn’t been without its own controversies, next August, organizers of the Cleveland Gay Games are prepared to welcome the LGBT athletes that Russia vows to muzzle.

Rob Smitherman, sports and operations director for Cleveland’s Gay Games 9, said that, even as much of the western world begins to embrace LGBT rights, the continued need for the Gay Games couldn’t be more obvious since Russia and the IOC have begun warning athletes not to attempt to test the nation’s new anti-gay “propaganda” law.

“People need a place to come to feel that they are safe and to express themselves fully,” Smitherman said. “To be who they are, not feel like they have to hide in any way. And it’s still important.”

He said athletes from around the world still contact him saying they can’t compete and be open anywhere besides the Gay Games.

“Even in the United States and Europe, we still need this. For the kids in small towns and states like Alabama.”

Atlanta-based 10-year hockey veteran Chuck Hagel — who will be attending for the first time as an official and a participant with his group Gay Hockey International — said the games are much different than other traditional, non-sporting events because they are inclusive of people of all ages, ability levels, and even include a focus on non-competing attendees.

“This particular event is incredible because it brings together athletes of all different playing levels, different types of sport,” Hagel told the Blade, adding that the games are perfect for those who may have felt less included or sidelined in other championship events. “Promoting athleticism and camaraderie at all different age groups.”

Smitherman touts the walkability of all of the venues from the official 30 host hotels in Cleveland and Akron offering registrants special rates through the Games’ site. Early bird registration ends Sept. 1, but Team D.C. announced in its Facebook group a special discount through Sept. 15 for Team D.C. members.

Team DC President Les Johnson — who attended the 2010 games in Cologne, Germany with more than 100 other Team D.C. participants as a bowler — said that for most athletes at the Gay Games, competing is about “personal best.”

“It’s something that ordinary people don’t experience,” Johnson said of experiencing the festive and affirming spirit of the Gay Games. “Getting that medal really means a lot because you’re competing against all of your peers”

“Cleveland is going to be totally different because we can drive to Cleveland,” Johnson said, contrasting it with Cologne. Johnson said Team DC could bring more than 500 athletes.

Ten percent of the 11,000 expected attendees have already registered. Most competitive events are free for spectators, making this an ideal getaway for LGBT sports fans — assuming there are hotel rooms left.

“People need to get a move on and get registered,” said Smitherman, who has attended and played basketball in four Gay Games.

Smitherman said participants should be excited about the non-sporting events too, with opening ceremonies at the home of the Cavaliers basketball team, Quicken Loans Arena, and closing ceremonies taking place at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — all within walking distance of the hotels.

Pink Flamingo is an event that many who attend Gay Games look forward to, where aquatics teams compete for prizes performing synchronized swimming routines in outrageous costumes.

“It’s kind of a highlight of the games every time,” said Smitherman.

Besides official Gay Games events, Johnson said the games always feature a multitude of unofficial parties every night around town, and Smitherman said that his group is working with local theaters and galleries to offer even more cultural opportunities. Additionally, the Gay Games is partnering with the International Gay Rodeo Association to bring an event to Akron as part of the festivities.

Smitherman said the Gay Games 9 organizers are eager to move on after a previous group, the Synergy Foundation, had its license revoked by the Federation of Gay Games, which the Washington Blade reported on extensively.

“Our organization is a gay organization that has a really diverse board. We have straight people on our board,” Smitherman tells the Blade, saying while their involvement with the Gay Games ended abruptly, had it not been for Synergy Foundation, Cleveland would not have won its bid for the games against other the larger cities competing, including Washington, D.C. and Boston. “We’re way past the drama of ‘who should host the games.’”

Johnson said Russian athletes also plan on taking part in the Gay Games.

“I’m not for boycotting personally, but it does seem some kind of action needs to take place,” Johnson said regarding the legal quagmire faced by athletes, coaches, personnel, trainers and fans heading to Sochi, where any demonstration of support for LGBT people could be penalized.


Hagel to direct nat’l guards to offer same-sex benefits

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is directing national guard to process benefits applications for troops in same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

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-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said. “Not only does this violate the states’ 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 they’re entitled to.”

Hagel said he’s 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 Oklahoma 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 — gay and straight — 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 means 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.

“Secretary 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. ”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 – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.”


Breaking: SecDef orders 9 rogue red-state National Guards to recognize spouses of gay US troops

National Guard in 9 mostly-southern red states have defied DOD orders to recognize spouses of gay troops.