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Thank you, Mr. President

Barack Obama, executive order, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Monday signed the executive order barring anti-gay bias by federal contractors that many of us have written about and asked him for since 2008 when he first promised to do it. We need to thank him for keeping his promise and taking another step toward securing full civil and human rights for the LGBT community. We have come a long way during his presidency.

This executive order is not a new initiative. What the president has done is to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories that were applied to federal contractors in an executive order first approved by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. As reported in the New York Times, “He is also adding gender identity as a protected category to a 1969 directive by President Richard M. Nixon that applies to federal employees, which was later amended by President Bill Clinton to include sexual orientation.”

This is a great step forward but it appears that while this EO applies to federal contracts it does not apply to federal grants whose criteria are usually left to each individual agency. The LGBT community takes heart that we have been heard and the EO does not carve out any new religious exemptions that don’t already exist for other protected categories. It is estimated this executive order applies to 24,000 companies that are designated as federal contractors and whose 28 million workers make up about a fifth of the American workforce.

Monday’s signing was done against a backdrop of the fight for legislation including ENDA ongoing for many years. That fight and the issue of exemptions for religious organizations have been impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The first comprehensive legislation to ban discrimination against the LGBT community was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974. That legislation didn’t pass and there has ensued a long and sometimes bitter battle to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which first passed the House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t get through the Senate. This past year, it passed the Senate but looks like it will fail in the House so we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

President Obama ran in 2008 and made a number of promises to the LGBT community including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and signing this executive order to get support in the election and it clearly worked. The problem many in the community have had is that every move forward on his part including making these issues a priority once he was in office seemed to coincide with a difficult election, either the mid-term congressional or his own reelection. Forward momentum seemed designed politically to recharge and energize the LGBT community to vote in and raise more money for a coming election. That strategy has worked and includes his well-timed decision to evolve, or as some suggested revolve, as he once before did support it, on the issue of marriage equality.

As someone deeply involved in the political process for more than 40 years I find this strategy understandable. As an activist it is my hope as we move beyond the Obama presidency we will move LGBT issues away from being just a political football and that they will be as ingrained in the continuing fight for civil and human rights as are the fights for the civil rights of African Americans and women’s rights. We also need to move the fight for immigration reform away from the politics of the moment to the politics of full inclusion.

President Obama will always be seen as a hero to the LGBT community for how far we have come during his presidency. He is by nature a decent man. But let us hope that his elections will be the last in which the issues of full civil and human rights for the LGBT community are even debated in the Democratic Party. Unfortunately at this time we can’t say the same for the Republican Party but we can always hope for a better future even there.

We know as we have seen the arc of history with regard to civil rights and women’s rights that we will always have to be vigilant to maintain any forward momentum. But that will be a different fight thanks to this president.

23
Jul
2014

Obama ‘blindsided’ Gates over ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

 

Robert Gates, Pentagon, Department of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly said he was blindsided by President Obama’s announcement that he would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Robert Gates’ new tell-all book is stirring controversy, including among LGBT rights advocates, who are hitting back at leaked excerpts regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

According to a preview of “Duty” in media reports, including in the Washington Post, the former defense secretary identifies “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as among the issues he said he endured “continued conflict and a couple of important White House breaches of faith” over the course of 2010.

Although Gates reportedly writes he supported the decision to move toward open service, he says Obama “blindsided” him and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with one day’s notice that he would announce his request to repeal the law.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gates also takes a jab at Obama by saying “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was among the few military issues about which the president expressed interest.

“The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Gates reportedly writes.

Based on the media outlet’s depiction of the portion of the book, it’s hard to tell what Gates is referring to by Obama’s announcement that he would move to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gates may be referring to the 2010 State of the Union address in which Obama pledged to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

Nonetheless, LGBT advocates who contributed to the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are scratching their heads over the depiction that Gates was “blindsided” by the president’s plans.

Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his memory of what happened “doesn’t really square” with Gates’ reported recollection of the administration’s efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“If anything, I think they were particularly sensitive to making sure that Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen were completely engaged in the process,” Solmonese said. “At each step along the way, my recollection, my memory, what I witnessed being part of the process was that was something they were incredibly sensitive to.”

Recalling that the Obama administration set up a 10-month study over the course of 2010 to examine the potential impact of open service, Solmonese said the administration approached repeal “with a deference toward” Gates and Mullen. They both endorsed the study when they announced it before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2010.

Nathaniel Frank, a political commentator who formerly worked for the University of California’s Palm Center on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said Obama was “clear from the start” he wanted open service and it’s “hard to see” how Gates could have felt blindsided.

“The two men were doing a delicate dance over how much to prioritize repeal among many important issues, and both were under a lot of pressure to deliver,” Frank said. “I don’t know what their private conversations involved, but eventually the president came to understand that the political window for repeal was closing, and he had to move forward.”

Solmonese added he thinks Gates included in his book disparaging remarks about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as part of a broader theme of disappointment with the administration. Although Solmonese said he wouldn’t speculate on Gates’ motivation, he said the former defense secretary’s claim he was “blindsided” is “somewhat disingenuous to me.”

“This was a United States senator and a candidate for president, and the president all through the first part of his term who ongoingly talked about his intention to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Solmonese said. “Quite frankly,  it was a rather long time from that particular moment, if that’s what he’s talking about, until we actually ended ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

But not all LGBT advocates who worked on the transition to open service share the same view.

Jarrod Chlapowski, who worked on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of HRC and the now-defunct Servicemembers United, said “it’s possible” Gates didn’t expect repeal would happen because there was a question over whether open service or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a priority for the LGBT movement.

“There are a number of events prior to that which indicated that DADT was sexier than ENDA: Patrick Murphy’s push in the House (coordinated with Voices of Honor), the rise of Dan Choi, the standing ovation during the HRC dinner in 2009,” Chlapowski said. “I remember talking to David Smith the next day who was absolutely shocked that DADT resonated so strongly among HRC’s major donors, and you can bet that shock was shared by the administration.”

Chlapowski said the “sudden announcement” that Gates recalled would be consistent with the sudden change in priorities for the LGBT groups.

“So the narrative that the administration worked closely with Gates on a long-term strategy only to pull out the rug from under Gates jibes with the sudden recalibration of the entire gay rights movement at roughly the same time,” Chlapowski said.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Gates’ remarks regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Even after Congress voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the president signed the repeal measure in December 2010, Obama, Gates and Mullen waited nine months to formally lift the ban in September 2011. Over the course of that time, military officials engaged with troops to prepare for the change in law, saying their duties wouldn’t change with open service.

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said she won’t comment on Gates’ recollection because she wasn’t part of his discussions. However, she said whatever the challenges in getting there, the end result to open service was seamless.

“Regardless of one’s memory, I think it’s important to note that the president and the administration were firmly committed, and that the process took some challenging turns, but the end result speaks for itself,” Stachelberg said. “Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a success and the concerns about undermining readiness and unit cohesion and retention never materialized.”

09
Jan
2014

Ban on trans service members a lingering injustice

Dan Choi, GetEqual, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender service

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal activists handcuffed themselves to the White House fence in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By Will Smith

Transgender Americans serve our country in uniform at twice the rate of the general population yet they are forced to keep their gender identity a secret or risk being discharged. While the United States military made a tremendous step forward within the realm of social justice and fairness with the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” nothing was done to remove the ban on transgender individuals from serving in uniform, a uniform I proudly wear as an officer in the Naval Reserve.

There is no doubt the “next generation,” my generation, possesses a completely different worldview than our parents and certainly our grandparents. The lens through which we view the world has been colored with more shades of equality than any other in our country’s history. We cannot forget that some my age are merely one generation removed from a time when people were deprived of their voting rights, equal access to quality education and public facilities — people like my parents.

My generation drinks deeply from wells we did not ourselves dig. We have been afforded a vast array of opportunities that eluded those who came before us. To us, issues like equality should transcend religious affiliation, gender and race. To us, issues like marriage equality, the ability to rent a home we can afford and military service are viewed as unalienable rights, civil rights deserving of the law’s protection.

To me — a heterosexual, African-American, church-going, Catholic military officer — the issue of transgender service is personal. Equal rights and the struggle for fair treatment under the law is analogous to the civil rights struggles of my parents and grandparents. As the great civil rights activist Julian Bond once said, “No parallels between movements for rights is exact … but we are far from the only people suffering discrimination — sadly, so do many others. They deserve the law’s protection and they deserve civil rights too.”

In 2008, the fall of my third year of law school at The College of William and Mary, I applied for a commission as a Naval Reserve officer. This was an important and personal decision for me. I have always believed people’s safety and security was as important to protect as their civil liberties. My military service has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have been tremendously enriched by the love of country and dedication to its principles those with whom I serve demonstrated every day. My love and dedication to our country has compelled me to write this article. My aim is not only to shed light on this issue, but also to appeal to those in positions of power with the hope they may find the same strength and courage our service members display every day to rectify this lingering injustice.

Will Smith of Silver Spring is a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 20.

14
Jan
2014

Life beyond marriage equality

Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There are people both in the Republican Party and in the gay community who strongly believe that gays do not belong in the Grand Old Party.

To my brothers and sisters in the gay community, while the Democratic Party has been much better on equality, when you step away from that string of issues, there is a wealth of policy positions where there is room for discussion and differing opinion.

As Urvashi Vaid says in her book, “Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics,” “Beyond a shared basic rights agenda, there is no political unity between progressives and conservatives in the LGBT community.”  This is highlighted on issue after issue with gun control, abortion, immigration, tax, and a panoply of other items that comprise our daily lives.

When you listen to some national gay organizations, they speak of the evils of Republicans. They often imply ALL Republicans. Either they are not mindful that we have a growing number of Republican allies in the House and Senate and around the country who support us on many of our core issues, or they are simply party hacks. It’s OK to be a party hack. I am. Just don’t masquerade as a non-partisan national LGBT organization if that’s what you really are — an operative of the Democratic Party.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would not have been repealed three years ago without the six Republican senators who supported ending the law. Nor would the Senate have passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide employment protections for LGBT individuals in the workplace, without the votes of 10 Republicans.

Fifteen years ago, those votes would have been unheard of. The Republican Party is going through a cultural shift (albeit slowly) as more Republican legislators consistently step up for LGBT Americans. States like New York, Maryland and Illinois bear witness to that.

Conversely, there are those in leadership positions within the Republican Party to whom it is anathema for gays to be in the GOP and, worse yet, that we exist at all. It would be dishonest to say that, for gay Republicans, the last 20 years have been easy.  The ascension of many within the Christian right into the party has often made life rough. That is, however, not a blanket statement.  There are many good people who are part of the Christian right.

The tenor of the marriage equality debate, on both sides of the aisle, has been nasty at times. Within the GOP, it uncovered the fact that there are those who see the party as a closed, inward-looking operation who view defeat in the pursuit of ideological purity as acceptable. The tone of the marriage equality debate by certain members of the GOP fails to recognize that, beyond marriage, there are other issues where the LGBT community can contribute to a winning coalition for Republicans.

What the Democratic Party fails to understand is that families cannot live on love alone. As my counterpart, John Fluharty, executive director of the Delaware GOP, often says, the GOP message of education, job creation, and economic growth and less government in our lives, are indeed the Republican Party and speak to many in the LGBT community when hate is not interjected.

Sadly, it’s the David Agemas of the party, with their ecclesiastical rants, who are the squeaky wheel. And it is because of their boisterous noise that the Republican Party is on the brink of shrinking instead of growing.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus has done a great job of starting to reach out to minority groups that have not supported the party in recent elections.  And while he does not have a plank in his Growth and Opportunity Project for gays and lesbians, he shows no malice toward us either.

We simply can’t throw a temper tantrum and leave an organization or a political party when we don’t get our way. That’s what they want.

We persevere. We engage. We listen. And then we continue to change hearts and minds. We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right.

Robert Turner is executive director of the D.C. Republican Party and former president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at robert.turner@dcgop.com or @RobertTurnerDC.

21
Jan
2014

Pentagon sees no need for gay discharged troops bill

Pentagon, military, gay news, Washington Blade

The Pentagon sees no need for legislation for troops discharged for being gay (Public domain photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond).

The Pentagon sees no need for new legislation to enable gay troops to remove the distinction of “dishonorable” from their discharge papers if they were expelled from the U.S. military because of their sexual orientation.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administrative process in place for upgrading paperwork is sufficient to ensure troops dismissed for being gay during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-era and before have honorable discharges.

“We continue to closely monitor the workload of the Boards, which indicate that DADT-related applications are being processed effectively, under clear procedures, and that no new policy guidance or legislation is required at this time,” Christensen said.

Asked whether that statement means the Pentagon opposes legislation to codify the process known as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, Christensen said the Pentagon doesn’t comment on pending legislation as a matter of policy.

Late last month, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate along with 17 Democratic co-sponsors. Companion legislation sponsored by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) was already pending in the U.S. House and has more than 140 co-sponsors.

An estimated 114,000 troops were discharged from the armed forces for being gay starting in World War II until the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011.

Although many service members were given an “honorable” discharge from the military if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation, others were given “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable” discharge.

By having designation other than “honorable” on their papers, former troops may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits, such as GI bill tuition assistance and veterans’ health care, and may not be able to claim veteran status. In some cases, they may be prevented from voting or have difficulty acquiring civilian employment.

Meaghan Smith, a Schatz spokesperson, said the senator appreciates the Pentagon’s work on the issue, but service members seeking upgrades had complained the process wasn’t working fast enough.

“Based on direct input from veterans groups that went into the drafting of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, the existing process is overly burdensome on the veteran, and more can be done to simplify the process as well as to protect veterans’ privacy,” Smith said.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act aims to adjust the process for upgrading paperwork by codifying it, simplifying the paperwork requirement and requiring military services historians to review the facts and circumstances surrounding these discharges.

“Put simply, who is to say that a future administration may not decide that those reviews are beyond the scope of those discharge and military records boards?” Smith said. “This bill would make those reviews specifically within their scope of inquiry, ensuring that that process always remains available to these service members to seek corrective action.”

Pocan’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

The legislation has the support of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Veterans for Equal Rights and Service Women’s Action Network and Equality Hawaii.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, reiterated his organization’s support for the bill when asked about the Pentagon’s view that the existing process is sufficient.

Walking through the existing process, Christensen insisted the Pentagon enacted a “robust and responsive” policy in 2011 to ensure troops discharged because of their sexual orientation can receive upgrades through the Military Department Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) or the Military Department’s Discharge Review Board.

“The resulting Department-wide policy and Service Review Board procedures ensure equitable and consistent review of all cases related to DADT,” Christensen said. “Presently, members discharged under DADT may request a correction to their military records from either their Military Department DRB or their BCM/NR based upon these implemented changes in law and policy.”

Military department DRBs are responsible for reviewing cases within the last 15 years and change discharge characterization from “Homosexual Conduct” to “Secretarial Authority.” If an applicant is not satisfied with DRB decision, or needs additional relief, he or she may appeal to the BCM/NR, which also reviews cases 15 years or older, or those that fall outside the scope of the DRBs.

By law, the BCM/NRs speak for the military service as final authority on the decision, but if applicants still are not satisfied, they may write their service secretary for intervention or file suit in federal civil court.

Upon the introduction of the House bill in July 2013, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the legislation’s co-sponsors, said during a conference call with Pocan he wants the White House and the Pentagon to support the legislation. The White House hasn’t responded to numerous requests for comment about the bill.

10
Feb
2014

Poking the homophobic beehive in Botswana

University of Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Botswana (Photo public domain)

By KATLEGO K KOL-KES

 

With Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being vocal with their homophobia, it seems University of Botswana students have felt left out of the action. The newly formed LGBT society, UB-LEGABI has subsequently threatened politicians who would not support LGBT issues. This is a drastic move in a country with an antiquated colonial anti-sodomy law. This new campaign has poked the proverbial homophobic beehive on a national level, especially as it’s an election year.

Last year, I debated the chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana on national radio after it employed similar bullying tactics. They warned politicians that it was the EFB’s duty to protect the moral fiber of the “Christian community,” therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call “gay rights.” Needless to say, the EFB chair’s citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don’t pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new “gay” headline, including a rumoured bill to register and imprison suspected homosexuals and sex workers to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. What the UB-LEGABI committee has done with this tirade is enable the homophobes rather than boost any LGBT rights defences. They’ve declared war before understanding the battlegrounds.

Reading through the Facebook responses to the article published in the tabloid newspaper, The Voice, the roots of the homophobic comments are evident: religious bias, masculine insecurity and uninformed notions of homosexuality.

The (unedited) comments included statements like: “wats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?”; “why must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America…”; “B4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.” Some even blame gays for the lack of rain in southern Botswana, a country that is 80 percent desert.

The greatest shock comes when you read comments calling presidents like Robert Mugabe, Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni to Botswana to instill laws like Uganda’s recent measure. Museveni’s declaration that the west is promoting homosexuality in Africa goes to show how uninformed, and religiously blinded, some of our leaders are.

This begs the questions: Is Western intervention in internal affairs worsening the situation? Are U.S. warnings to cut off aid simply making life more laborious for LGBT activists in these countries?

The homophobes fail to understand the far-reaching effects of such legislation as Museveni’s because of their obsession with the act of gay sex. Unfortunately, lesbians are sidelined in the conversation on homosexual acts. Some comments referred to two bearded men kissing, and “how can a man sweat to provide for another man?”

Statements such as these prove that the nation is in dire need of education on the nature of homosexuality before expecting citizens to support threats to de-campaign people they see as their protectors. The plethora of closed-minded comments that acknowledge homosexuality slows population growth, or that this will mark Jesus’ cue to return has made it seem, to the homophobes in Botswana, that they are not alone nor wrong for such ignorant thoughts.

The hive was poked, but of the 467 comments fewer than 10 were in defense of LGBT rights. There isn’t a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng’s that: “There are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.” We must put facts before fury.

What’s been made evident is that we’re growing too impatient with the community we want to “accept” us. National acknowledgement of LGBT existence would suffice because it sets enough of a precedent for educating the laymen. It seems LGBT movements around the world have forgotten the baby steps that have led to U.S. victories over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it’s as important as making grand threats against politicians in an election year. Smoke works better on bees than sticks and stones.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is a writer and activist based in Gaborone, Botswana. She has recently begun covering Botswana LGBT life and has contributed to Afropunk’s Gender Bent blog. Follow her on Twitter.

04
Mar
2014

Victory Fund’s dangerous endorsement

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican Richard Tisei is challenging a pro-LGBT Democrat for Congress in Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

By JOE RACALTO

 

Recently, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed former Massachusetts Republican Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who is openly gay, for Congress. Although I applaud Tisei — and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tisei’s opponent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, has been a staunch champion for LGBT rights — even when it wasn’t popular. He backed marriage equality in Massachusetts, despite the criticism. He has supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; he was a strong and early supporter of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and he has a HRC score of 100 percent in the 112th Congress.

Tierney’s support for LGBT causes is clean, clear and perfect.

And, Congressman Tierney will do one thing Tisei will not do — vote for Leader Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House.

It is no secret that Speaker John Boehner does not support ENDA, claiming it is not necessary. Nor is it a secret that the GOP continues to block or stall every single LGBT advancement at all levels, and in all parts of the country. Given the recent events in Arizona, ENDA is needed now more than ever and if Democrats were in control, ENDA would be the law of the land. Make no mistake, Tisei’s potential vote for Boehner would be a vote to further delay justice for LGBT Americans who face employment discrimination.

Torey Carter, COO of the Victory Fund, said Tisei’s election to Congress would “shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party” and “further the dialogue within the GOP about LGBT issues.”  With all due respect to Carter, at what cost and at whose expense? Should those who fight for LGBT rights have to sit by and wait for the Republicans to understand? Additionally, in order to “further” one must “start.” They have had 40 years to start the dialogue and who is gullible enough to believe Tisei can help them with that process?

This country has moved on and the election of Tisei over Rep. Tierney would represent a major setback for LGBT Americans. We must never, ever turn our backs on those who have championed our causes, like Tierney, simply to “shatter glass” or “further dialogue (within the GOP)” or whatever other reason the Victory Fund uses to describe this dangerous endorsement.

Joe Racalto is president of Giesta Racalto, LLC. He served as former Rep. Barney Frank’s senior policy adviser and is a board member at Freedom to Work.

04
Mar
2014

Pride celebration at Fort Meade

Kevin Naff, National Press Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Defense Media Activity, which provides news and information on behalf of the Defense Department to service members around the world, held its first-ever Pride month commemoration on Tuesday.

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff was the featured speaker at the event, held at the Fort Meade Army installation in suburban Maryland, where the DMA is located. In his hour-long remarks, Naff touched on an array of LGBT-related topics, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the continuing ban on openly transgender service members.

About 75 civilian staffers and uniformed service members attended the event, which was held in a state-of-the-art DMA television studio and recorded for a future broadcast on YouTube. Naff was introduced by Kenji Mundy, the wife of a retired service member who shared her story of supporting her spouse from the closet as she served in Iraq. Mundy said she often turned to the Blade for news and information about DADT and other issues over the years.

“It was an honor to speak at Fort Meade,” Naff said after the event. “I never imagined 12 years ago when I started at the Blade that within a decade the U.S. military would be inviting openly gay speakers to its bases to celebrate Pride month.”

Defense Media Activity presents information and entertainment across a variety of platforms, including radio, TV, Internet, print and social media to millions of U.S. forces around the world.

25
Jun
2014

A look back on the three year anniversary of DADT`s repeal

The repeal of DADT was a huge step forward, but the full mission, 3 years later, has yet to be accomplished.

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02
Dec
2013

HIV/AIDS returning to the spotlight?

Act Up, Silence = Death, AIDS, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

After years of being overshadowed by other issues like marriage equality and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an issue that decades ago was at the center of the gay rights movement is once again moving to the forefront.

Following hard-fought victories for marriage rights at the Supreme Court, in states throughout the country and across the globe, the persistence of HIV/AIDS is grabbing new attention as recent news stories have documented progress toward a cure and the disease’s continuing impact on gay youth and people of color.

Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine, said LGBT leadership is taking a renewed look at the issue in response to community pressure and stubbornly high infection rates among young gay men — particularly men of color — which he said are “skyrocketing and simply impossible to ignore.”

In the past week, two separate articles in the mainstream media were published following World AIDS Day that documented the persistence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among gay and bisexual men.

One article, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times, reported the disease is “rapidly becoming concentrated” among poor, black and Latino men who have sex with men.

Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV prevention at the Centers for Disease Control, is quoted as saying reaching these men is “the Holy Grail” in confronting HIV/AIDS.

Although his agency has granted millions of dollars to local health departments, Mermin reportedly couldn’t identify any city or state that has succeeded in lowering infection rates among young men of color.

An op-ed published on CNN.com written by Perry Halkitis, associate dean of New York University’s Global Institute of Public Health, raised the question of whether there’s a “gay generation gap” with regard to the perception of HIV. Halkitis points to the growing rate with which young gay men have unprotected sex now that the disease is perceived as chronic, but not fatal.

“The disease may not be front and center — it may not be the primary presenting problem faced by young gay men, as it was for me at age 18 in 1981 — but it is a concern,” Halkitis writes. “However, it’s a concern that must be spoken about and dealt with differently for this ‘new’ AIDS generation.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men remain the most profoundly affected by HIV.

In 2010, an estimated 29,800 men were infected with HIV after having sex with another man  — a 12 percent increase from the 26,700 new infections among this group in 2008. In 2010, men who have sex with men accounted for 63 percent of all new HIV infections nationwide.

At the same time as the disease gets renewed attention from the gay community, Strub said young gay men infected with HIV face new challenges — even though the disease is no longer a death sentence — because of the lack of solidarity with other gay men.

“People with HIV no longer inspire a sympathetic response from the public, especially not the gay public, but are more often seen and defined — particularly by the public health and criminal justice systems — as potential threats,” Strub said. “We’re living longer so we’re around to infect longer, viral vectors, potential infectors, an inherent risk to society.”

Meanwhile, advocates working on HIV/AIDS contend the issue has always belonged to the gay community, but is rising again in prominence for various reasons.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York Democratic activist, was among those predicting HIV/AIDS will “emerge as a major issue for the gay community.”

“Especially now, as a whole new generation of young gay men face issues relating to safe sex head on for the first time,” Socarides said. ”But now in a context where ‘silence’ may not equal death but instead, a long-term chronic but treatable disease.”

Mark Mazzone, a spokesperson for the LGBT military group SPART*A, said he thinks HIV will come to forefront for advocates working on LGBT military issues in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I think this will return as an LGBT military issue simply because of the lack of education given to our service members and the high risk behaviors mostly younger LGB men engage in, which need to be mitigated through a comprehensive training and prevention program,” Mazzone said.

Mazzone said service members become non-deployable once they’re discovered to have HIV; can’t commission as an officer or warrant officer; can’t fly aircraft or work in any jobs requiring a flight physical; are restricted to stateside duty assignments (with the exception of the Navy); and are not eligible for special schools such as Ranger, Special Forces or other special ops jobs.

And the nation’s largest LGBT group says that it continues to make a priority efforts to bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic to an end.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HIV/AIDS has been and continues to be at the forefront for LGBT groups like HRC.

“Until the scourge is gone, fighting HIV/AIDS has, is and will remain a top priority for the LGBT civil rights movement,” Sainz said.

Strub said in recent months he’s seen HRC devote more attention to HIV/AIDS.

“I am heartened by HRC’s outreach to HIV advocates in the last several months and am cautiously optimistic we will see a greater commitment from them in 2014, on HIV issues, than we have seen in recent years,” Strub said.

One HIV/AIDS issue that has particularly risen in prominence is the HIV criminalization laws in some states. Under such laws, an HIV-positive person can face criminal charges for failing to disclose their HIV status before engaging in sex.

LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocates have railed against the laws, saying they send an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, create a disincentive to receiving testing and may discourage disclosure of HIV status. According to Lambda Legal, 39 states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges, which have resulted in more than 160 prosecutions in the United States in the last four years.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced on Tuesday legislation in the Senate known as the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (“REPEAL”) HIV Discrimination Act, which would require an interagency review of federal and state laws that criminalize certain actions by people living with HIV.

“A disturbing number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/AIDS are rooted not in science, but in outdated fear,” Coons said in a statement. “They run counter to effective public health strategies, discourage HIV testing, and perpetuate unfair stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS – people who are our friends, family, and neighbors.”

In May, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the House version of the legislation along with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). According to the Library of Congress, the bill has 37 sponsors, although Ros-Lehtinen is the only Republican co-sponsor.

In Iowa, the punishment for being found guilty of violating Code 709C can be imprisonment for up to 25 years and registration as a sex offender.

Donna Red Wing, executive director of the LGBT group One Iowa, said in the wake of securing marriage equality in her state, working with local HIV groups to repeal her state’s HIV criminalization law has become the No. 1 legislative priority for the organization.

“Over the years, I’ve been troubled that as the face of AIDS changes, fewer and fewer LGBT organizations are engaging in this struggle,” Red Wing said. “It seems like the right thing to do, you know? Because in the early days, if it wasn’t for our people, if it wasn’t for the LGBT communities, we would not be where we are today.”

Although the Iowa Legislature is no longer in session, Red Wing said efforts are underway to move forward legislation with lawmaker reconvene in January.

“We already have laws that deal with communicable diseases, and the fact that HIV/AIDS gets this special treatment and these enhanced sentences is so draconian,” Red Wing said. “A communicable disease is a communicable disease is a communicable disease, and there should be nothing special and no enhanced sentences for people living with AIDS/HIV.”

The potential for discovering a cure for the disease has also received significant attention amid new developments from the Obama administration as part of the goal of achieving an “AIDS-free generation.”

Last week, President Obama announced he’s redirecting $100 million over the course of three years at the National Institutes for Health to an initiative with the goal of developing a cure for the disease.

“The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries in how to put HIV into long-term remission without requiting live-long therapies, or better yet, eliminate it completely,” Obama said.

A NIH official later clarified for the Blade the $100 million will be on top of another $60 million previously directed toward the effort and comes from grants for other initiatives that have expired at the agency.

But the prospects for a cure were dealt a blow last week, following media reports that two men who had hoped they were cured of HIV after bone marrow transplants found they still had the virus.

After the two men underwent life-threatening procedures intended for cancer, they initially were virus-free as of July in four months in one case and two months in another and stopped taking their HIV medication. But doctors announced last week that virus has reemerged in their systems.

Despite the reemergence of the virus in the systems of the two men, doctors said they learned from the procedure that even if you make HIV seemingly disappear, it can hide in the body — possibly held up in the organs and inside the intestines — and reactivate.

Strub said while efforts to eliminate the disease are important, changing the way society looks at HIV/AIDS should also be a priority.

“The advocacy needs are immense, but one of the most important — to which we in the LGBT community can contribute to greatly — is in reducing stigma by supporting and empowering people with HIV and refocusing on the human rights approach, rather than just a biomedical approach, to HIV prevention.”

12
Dec
2013