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Obama ‚Äėblindsided‚Äô Gates over ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt Ask‚Äô repeal

 

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

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly said he was blindsided by President Obama‚Äôs announcement that he would repeal ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell.‚ÄĚ (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‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask Don‚Äôt Tell,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ a heterosexual, African-American, church-going, Catholic military officer ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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, ‚ÄúIrresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics,‚ÄĚ “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 ‚ÄĒ an operative of the Democratic Party.

‚ÄúDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúhonorable‚ÄĚ discharge from the military if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation, others were given ‚Äúother than honorable,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúgeneral discharge‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúdishonorable‚ÄĚ 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‚Äô 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‚Äôs duty to protect the moral fiber of the ‚ÄúChristian community,‚ÄĚ therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call ‚Äúgay rights.‚ÄĚ Needless to say, the EFB chair‚Äôs citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don‚Äôt pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new ‚Äúgay‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôve 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:¬†‚Äúwats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?‚ÄĚ;¬†‚Äúwhy must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America‚Ķ‚ÄĚ; ‚ÄúB4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúhow can a man sweat to provide for another man?‚ÄĚ

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‚Äôt a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng‚Äôs that: ‚ÄúThere are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.‚ÄĚ We must put facts before fury.

What‚Äôs been made evident is that we‚Äôre growing too impatient with the community we want to ‚Äúaccept‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell,‚ÄĚ Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office ‚ÄĒ this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tisei‚Äôs opponent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, has been a staunch champion for LGBT rights ‚ÄĒ even when it wasn‚Äôt popular. He backed marriage equality in Massachusetts, despite the criticism. He has supported the repeal of ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask Don‚Äôt Tell,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs election to Congress would ‚Äúshatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúfurther 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 ‚Äúfurther‚ÄĚ one must ‚Äústart.‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúshatter glass‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúfurther dialogue (within the GOP)‚ÄĚ 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

Defense bill contains gay-related provisions

United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

The defense authorization passed by Congress includes gay-related provisions. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Congress passed major defense budget legislation on Thursday that includes provisions related to the LGBT community ‚ÄĒ both good and bad ‚ÄĒ in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill contains an expansion of the conscience protections for service members under current law, but also repeals the sodomy ban under military law and calls for a report on HIV policy within the U.S. military.

The Senate approved late Thursday by a vote of 84-15 a $630 billion version of the bill, which primarily reauthorizes pay for troops and funding for military programs. The House already approved the legislation, so it’s heading to President Obama’s desk.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the retiring chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement upon passage of the legislation praising the bipartisan nature of its approval.

‚ÄúTonight we passed legislation that is good for our national security, and for the men and women who protect us and their families,” Levin said. “The Senate vote is a strong bipartisan statement that, despite our differences, we can come together and accomplish important business for the good of the country.”

Under Section 532, the legislation contains an expansion of the conscience provision that was enacted as part of last year’s defense authorization bill.¬†Under this provision, the armed services shall accommodate service members’ expression of their beliefs ‚ÄĒ unless it would have an adverse impact on military readiness or good order and discipline.

The language was inserted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) during the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization. It’s along the lines of a conscience amendment submitted by Rep. Mike Fleming (R-La.) during the House Armed Services Committee markup of its version of the bill, but not quite as strong. LGBT advocates decried the House version of the amendment as a means to enable service members to discriminate and harass their gay colleagues.

A related provision, Section 533, instructs the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to submit a report to Congress no longer than 18 months after the bill is signed into law on incidents of adverse personnel actions or discrimination against troops based on their moral beliefs.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, praised Congress in a statement over inclusion of the provision, which he said is a means for “protecting the right of service members to freely practice and express their faith.”

“Congress acted appropriately after investigating numerous incidents involving service members who have had their careers threatened, and harassed simply for practicing their faith in a real and tangible way,” Perkins said. “The religious liberty violations have grown so frequent in recent years leading many service members to report being too fearful to share their faith.”

After the enactment of the earlier conscience provision under the previous defense authorization bill, Obama said the Pentagon assured him the language wouldn’t change how the armed forces operated. The Defense Department didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on how implementation will work this time around.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the inclusion of the conscience provision in the defense authorization bill was unnecessary.

“The ACLU believes that the Constitution and existing laws and regulations already offer all members of the Armed Forces, including chaplains, strong protections for their religious beliefs,” Thompson said.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, expressed a similar sentiment that the provision is unnecessary because service members’ religious views are already protected under current policy.

“Although this amendment is unnecessary, Congress dropped a different version adopted by the House of Representatives that would have been truly harmful, requiring the military to accommodate beliefs, actions, and speech of service members unless the armed forces could prove ‘actual harm’ to good order and discipline,” Sainz said.

But the legislation as a whole also contains positive language sought by LGBT advocates in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Among these provisions is Section 1707 ‚ÄĒ repeal of the ban on sodomy for gay and straight service members under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The provision was added by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

In its place, the legislation inserts into military code a provision making “unnatural carnal copulation” with another person “by force” subject to a court martial. The provision also reasserts the ban on bestiality in military code.

Although the sodomy ban was rarely enforced for service members engaging in consensual sex in private, it has remained on the books and been used to prosecute troops in combination with additional infractions.

ACLU’s Thompson said the repeal of the sodomy ban is an important step forward to guarantee the liberty of service members ‚ÄĒ gay and straight ‚ÄĒ in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“This is a welcome and overdue step forward that respects the liberty and privacy of all service members, and is especially significant for gay and lesbian service members whose intimate relationships, including marriages, were labeled a violation of military criminal law,” Thompson said. “Removing this stigmatizing and discriminatory provision from the Uniform Code of Military Justice advances the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel.”

Additionally, under Section 572, the legislation directs the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress no later than 180 days after the bill is signed into law on personnel policies regarding service members with HIV or Hepatitis B.  The bill directs the Pentagon to include a description of the policies as well as related retention, deployment and disciplinary actions as well as an assessment of whether these policies are evidence-based and medically accurate.

According to the LGBT military group SPART*A, 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.

Thompson said the provision is welcome because it will examine whether the military’s current HIV policy is appropriate or outdated.

“This review is welcome and overdue becausemany of our laws, policies, and regulations regarding HIV were written at a time when we knew far less about the routes and risks of HIV transmission, and prior to the development of effective HIV treatment,” Thompson said.

Another important non-LGBT provision in the defense authorization bill replaces foreign transfer restrictions in  current law to enable President Obama to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. The bill also seeks to aid victims of sexual assault in the military by criminalizing retaliation against victims who report it,  preventing military commanders from overturning jury convictions and protecting victims of sexual assault from abusive treatment during pre-trial proceedings.

The LGBT group Freedom to Work had said insertion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into the defense authorization bill could be a viable way to pass the measure. However, prior to ENDA’s passage in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Blade such inclusion wasn’t a viable option because he didn’t know if the larger defense bill would pass.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying the administration has concerns with certain aspects of the legislation, but supports it overall.

“Although the bill includes a number of provisions that restrict or limit the Defense¬†Department‚Äôs ability to align military capabilities and force structure with the President’s strategy and implement certain efficiencies, overall the Administration is pleased with the modifications and improvements contained in the bill that address most of the Administration‚Äôs significant objections with earlier versions regarding these issues,” Carney said. “The Administration supports passage of the legislation.”

20
Dec
2013

Republican’s proposal would make it easier to harass gay service members

John Fleming, Louisiana, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is introducing an amendment to expand the “conscience” provision in defense law. (Photo public domain)

A House Republican from Louisiana is proposing a measure to expand the “conscience provision” in defense law in a way that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay comrades, according to a copy of his amendment provided by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an “actual harm” to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation.

Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the defense secretary consults with “official¬†military¬†¬†faith-group¬†representatives¬†who¬†endorse¬†military¬†chaplains.”

Fleming introduced the amendment before the House Armed Services Committee as a proposed change to the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill. The markup of that bill started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and is expected to conclude late in the evening.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, said the language proposed by the three-term House Republican would have a detrimental impact on a commanding officer’s ability to protect gay service members from harassment.

“It would tie the hands of commanders, prohibiting them from responsibly addressing threats to unit cohesion that an accommodation might create,” Thompson said.

The amendment would expand an existing “conscience provision” already in the law that President Obama signed under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”

Sexual orientation isn’t mentioned anywhere in the amendment, nor in the existing provision in the law that it would expand, but the amendment is likely intended to protect anti-gay service members.

Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the amendment or to verify the language offered by the ACLU.

The language of the amendment as provided by the ACLU follows:

SEC. 5 EXPANSION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND CHAPLAINS OF SUCH MEMBERS

(a)¬†¬†ACCOMMODATION¬†¬†OF¬†MEMBERS’¬†¬†BELIEFS, ACTIONS,¬†¬†AJ’\JD¬†SPEECH.-Subsection¬†¬†(a)(1)¬†¬†¬†of¬†section 533¬†of¬†the¬†National¬†Defense¬†Authorization¬†¬†Act¬†for¬†Fiscal¬†Year¬†2013¬†¬†(Public¬†¬†Law¬†112-239;¬†126¬†¬†Stat.¬†¬†1727;¬†¬†10¬†¬†U.S.C.¬†prec.¬†1030¬†note)¬†is¬†amended -

(1) by striking “The¬†¬†Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs” and inserting “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed¬†¬†Forces¬†¬†shall¬†accommodate¬†¬†the¬†¬†beliefs,¬†actions,¬†¬†and¬†¬†speech”;¬†¬†and

(2)¬†¬†by¬†¬†inserting¬†¬†¬†”,¬†¬†¬†actions,¬†¬†¬†or¬†¬†speech”¬†¬†¬†after¬†”such¬†¬†beliefs”.

(b)¬†NARROW¬†EXCEPTION.-Subsection¬†(a)(2)¬†¬†of this section¬†is¬†amended¬†by¬†striking¬†¬†”that¬†threaten”¬†and¬†inserting¬†”that¬†actually¬†harm”.

(c)   DEADLINE  FOR   REGULATIONS;    CONSULTATION.-The  implementation regulations required  by subsection  (c) of such  section  shall  be issued  not  later  than 120 days after the  enactment  of this  Act.  In preparing such regulations,  the Secretary of Defense shall consult  with  the  official military  faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.

05
Jun
2013

Fleming defends ‚Äėconscience‚Äô amendment to harass gay troops

John Fleming, Louisiana, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is defending his “conscience” provision in the defense authorization bill. (Photo public domain)

A Louisiana House Republican is defending a “conscience” amendment that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues in the wake of White House objections to the measure.

In a statement on Wednesday, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) blasted the Obama administration for criticizing his amendment ‚ÄĒ which has become Section 530 of the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill ‚ÄĒ by saying the president is “continuing his war on free speech.”

“With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief,” Fleming said. “That is an outrageous position, but it‚Äôs what I‚Äôve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.”

The measure puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an ‚Äúactual harm‚ÄĚ to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation. It‚Äôs seen as a way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.

The lawmaker’s reaction comes in response to the Statement of Administration Policy that the White House Office of Management and Budget made public on Tuesday. The administration said it “strongly objects” to the provision because it would undermine a military commander’s authority in a unit. The White House has threatened a veto of the House version of the defense authorization bill, but it didn’t enumerate that provision as a reason for the veto threat.

Fleming, a physician and small business owner, goes on in his statement to say the purpose of the amendment is to protect the free speech of service members who hold religious beliefs.

“It has¬†bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity,” Fleming said. “We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.‚ÄĚ

Zeke Stokes, spokesperson for OutServe-SLDN, disputed Fleming’s characterization of his amendment, saying the lawmaker’s “rhetoric does not match reality.”

“The fact is that this amendment¬†would protect inappropriate, defamatory, and discriminatory speech and actions ‚Äď a significant expansion of current protections ‚Äď and would leave commanders with no recourse against such prejudicial conduct when it occurs in their units,” Stokes said. “The military already has in place adequate protections for religious freedom and this measure is unwarranted and harmful.”

The full statement from Fleming follows:

‚ÄúPresident Obama is continuing his war on free speech.¬†With the IRS trying to intimidate and silence conservative groups, and the Justice Department digging into the phone records of reporters, it’s¬†no surprise that the president also wants to deny First Amendment rights to our Armed Forces. With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief. That is an outrageous position, but it‚Äôs what I‚Äôve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.

‚ÄúMy amendment protects, for our men and women in uniform, a principle enshrined in our Constitution and cherished since our Founding Fathers: the free exercise of one‚Äôs religious beliefs, including¬†expressions of one‚Äôs belief. It has¬†bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity. We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.‚ÄĚ

12
Jun
2013

New bill seeks to aid discharged gay troops

Charlie Rangel, Mark Pocan, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, New York, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) (left) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are proposing legislation to ensure gay veterans have honorable discharge papers. (Photo of Rangel public domain, Washington Blade photo of Pocan by Michael Key)

Two House Democrats are working to build support for legislation that would streamline the process for veterans to remove the blemish on their discharge papers if they were expelled for being gay and their service wasn’t characterized as honorable.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the six openly LGB members of the U.S. House, and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) are proposing legislation known as the¬†‚ÄúRestore Honor to Service Members Act,‚ÄĚ which would ensure veterans who were discharged for being gay would be designated with an honorable discharge.

In an interview the Washington Blade, Pocan said the bill ‚ÄĒ which has never before been introduced in Congress ‚ÄĒ would build off earlier legislative efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and help gay veterans who are unable to receive certain benefits ‚ÄĒ and rights ‚ÄĒ with their current discharge papers.

“There are still so many people out there who have served their country honorably, they still don’t have access to the GI bill or receiving veteran’s benefits,” Pocan said. “They still can’t even have a military burial ceremony. They, in some states, can’t vote or get unemployment benefits, so we just need to set up a fair process for these people. There are just too many who’ve served our country so ably and risked their lives, and we owe this to them.”

While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instituted in 1993, the military had a policy prior to that time in which it expelled people for being gay.¬†From World War II to the repeal of ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask Don‚Äôt Tell‚ÄĚ in 2011, an estimated 114,000 service members were discharged for being gay ‚ÄĒ more frequently with dishonorable and other than honorable¬†discharges in the period before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In a statement, Rangel said he wanted to take part in the effort to enact a change in the policy because of his own military service.

“As an American, a congressman, and a Korean War veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country,‚ÄĚ Rangel said. ‚ÄúNow is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Although a policy currently exists to change the designation on discharges, Pocan said he’s spoken to veterans who find the process cumbersome and are seeking a streamlined process.

“Sometimes they’ll put in, and then a couple months later, they’ll find out they need to submit something else, and a couple months later, submit something else, so they’ve had to get lawyers,” Pocan said. “We’re trying to put all of that up front so that the process will be much easier and more expedited than it currently is.”

Other aspects of the bill, according to Pocan’s office, will require the Pentagon to review the discharge review process and report on its consistency;¬†provide for the collection of oral histories on the discrimination against gay troops; and repeal the still-standing section of the¬†Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits sodomy for both straight and gay service members.

Pocan said the bill will be introduced “likely next week” and, in the meantime, he and Rangel are looking to build ¬†co-sponsors. The Wisconsin lawmaker said they’re making an “extra effort” to build support among members of the House Armed Services Committee because that panel will likely have jurisdiction over the bill.

Pocan said about 30 House members are interested in being original co-sponsors of the legislation.

Asked about his plan for passing the legislation with Republicans in charge of the House, Pocan was vague about the way forward, but emphasized they’ll be talking with “partners on the outside” and the bill would be a follow-up to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I’m hoping that since we already have it repealed, that this can gain enough support that Congress can try to lead and get it done so we can put a fair process in place for people to get rid of that old discharge recognition,” Pocan said.

Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, shared the sentiment that the legislation would build off the successful 2010 effort to repeal the military’s gay ban.

‚ÄúThe repeal of ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell‚Äô was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation‚Äôs armed forces,” Herwitt said. “It is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service.‚ÄĚ

20
Jun
2013