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2013 in photography

2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) buyphoto 


Schatz introduces bill for discharged gay veterans

Brian Schatz, Democratic Party, Hawaii, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has introduced a bill to aid discharged gay veterans. (Photo public domain)

A Hawaii Democrat introduced on Thursday new legislation in the U.S. Senate that would ensure gay veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation have the designation of “honorable” discharge on their records.

The bill, known as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, would apply to gay veterans who were in service prior to the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, when the U.S. military expelled troops for being openly gay.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chief sponsor, said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a watershed moment,” but his bill would address remaining issues for the estimated 114,000 service members expelled because of their sexual orientation since World War II.

“Yet thousands of former service members still bear the scars of that discrimination, with their military records tarnished with discharges other than honorable and marks on their records that compromise their right to privacy,” Schatz said. “Many of these brave men and women that served our country are currently barred from benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and in the most egregious cases they are prevented from legally calling themselves a veteran. This needs to be corrected now.”

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.

As a consequence, these 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.

Even troops who received “honorable” discharges may have difficulties in the aftermath of their service because their sexual orientation may be identified as the reason for the discharge.

Although an administrative process already exists for service members to change their records, the proposed legislation would streamline the process to ensure these designations don’t impair former members of the armed forces.

Joining Schatz in introducing the legislation is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who said allowing service members to change their discharges if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation demands immediate attention.

“A clean, honorable record is long overdue for veterans who were discharged solely because of who they love,” Gillibrand said. “Our veterans served our country courageously and with dignity and we must act to give them the appropriate recognition they deserve.”

The legislation has 17 co-sponsors — all Democrats. They are Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Gillibrand, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Denny Meyer, national public affairs officer for the LGBT group known as American Veterans for Equal Rights, said her organization supports the bill.

“LGBT veterans who served and sacrificed in silence during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as those who served before and during ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, deserve to see their service recognized and honored at long last,” Meyer said. “We endorse and support the efforts by Senators Schatz and Gillibrand and Congressmen Pocan and Rangel to move forward the Restoring Honor to Our Service Members Act, which will accelerate discharge upgrades.”

In joint statement, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who are taking the lead on the legislation in the House, commended the senators for introducing the Senate companion.

“This bill would close the book on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and provide tens of thousands of gay veterans, who selflessly risked their lives for our nation,” Pocan and Rangel said. “Our bill already has the support of more than 140 House members, and we look forward to working with Senators Schatz and Gillibrand to ensure it can pass Congress and get to the President’s desk.”

Upon the introduction of the bill in July 2013, Rangel said during a conference call with Pocan he wants the White House and the Pentagon to support the legislation.

“We’re hoping we get this involved in the Department of Defense,” Rangel said at the time. “We hope, too — we haven’t talked about it, Mark — but there’s no question we’re looking to get White House support as well.”

Seven months later at the time of Senate introduction, the White House still hasn’t spoken out. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the bill.


NGLCC National Dinner

The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce held its annual National Dinner at the National Building Museum on Nov. 22. Speakers included Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts with entertainment provided by gay singer/songwriter Steve Grand. (Washington Blade photos by Lee Whitman) buyphoto 


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 “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” 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 — which has never before been introduced in Congress — 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 — and rights — 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 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011, an estimated 114,000 service members were discharged for being gay — 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,” Rangel said. “Now 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.

“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation’s 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.”


Pocan, Rangel introduce bill for discharged gay veterans

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 are proposing legislation to ensure gay veterans have honorable discharge papers (D-Wisc.) (Photo of Rangel public domain, Washington Blade photo of Pocan by Michael Key)

More than 100 House members have introduced a bill to ensure gay veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation have “honorable” discharges as one co-sponsor is calling for White House and Pentagon support to help push the legislation forward.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a gay lawmaker, introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act on Thursday, which would streamline the process for gay veterans to change their records to receive an “honorable” discharge if they were expelled for no reason other than sexual orientation.

During a conference call with reporters, Pocan said the bill would help the estimated 114,000 service members expelled because of their sexual orientation since World War II change their records if they were given an other than honorable or dishonorable discharge.

“While the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a landmark step toward equality in our military, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian veterans still have records that are marred with a range of discharges and designations,” Pocan said.

It’s unclear how many of these 114,000 service members discharged because of their sexual orientation — either under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or before that law was enacted — received designations of “other than honorable” or “dishonorable.” Many of the gay service members who receive these designations were expelled before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1993.

Still, Pocan said these service members who received other than honorable or dishonorable discharges don’t have access to certain services — such as the ability the vote, receiving GI benefits or ceremonial burials — in addition to having difficulty finding employment.

Joining Pocan in leading the effort for the legislation is Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), a veteran of the Korean War who said the idea that service members expelled because of their sexual orientation would still have dishonorable discharges is un-American.

“The whole idea that just because of their sexual orientation that they will be given dishonorable discharges, bad discharges, blue discharges, less than desirable discharges is really inconsistent with everything that good Americans think that is fair, and they think that is equitable,” Rangel said.

But Rangel also stepped up the pressure on the Obama administration to help out with efforts to pass the legislation.

“We’re hoping we get this involved in the Department of Defense,” Rangel said. “We hope, too — we haven’t talked about it, Mark — but there’s no question we’re looking to get White House support as well.”

Rangel was optimistic the bill would find sufficient support for passage, even in the Republican-controlled House.

But upon the introduction, the Obama administration had little to say about the legislation. Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said DOD policy is to “not comment on pending legislation.” The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on the legislation.

The legislation currently has 105 sponsors, including Pocan and Rangel. The only Republican to co-sponsor the bill is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

While a process exists for service members to change this designation, the legislation aims to streamline the effort.

“They don’t have a procedure to really upgrade what has been done,” Rangel said. “We are establishing now — an appropriate board would be set up to review the discharge. … Because of the problems that veterans have had, until Mark and I have come up this, there is no legislative solution.”


New House bill seeks to aid LGBT homeless youth

Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan, Wisconsin, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) have introduced a bill to support LGBT homeless youth (Photo of Moore public domain; Washington Blade photo of Pocan by Michael Key).

Homeless shelters that receive federal funds won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT youth if new legislation introduced in the House is signed into law.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of six openly gay members of the U.S. House, introduced the legislation, known as the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act, along with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) on Thursday.

In a statement, Pocan called passing the legislation a “moral responsibility” to ensure that LGBT homeless youth have access to “life-saving services and safe, welcoming places to stay.”

“Homelessness is one of the most pressing matters affecting LGBT youth,” Pocan said. “Young people in the LGBT community are disproportionately at-risk for homelessness, often as a result of the rejection, discrimination, or violence they face simply for being themselves.”

The bill seeks to amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act — which was last authorized in 2008 and is up for reauthorization this year — in key ways to make the law LGBT-inclusive.

Staff for Pocan and Moore said they hope to pass the bill as part of Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act reauthorization this year and are working with House and Senate leaders to encourage them to include the bill.

The bill would prohibit discrimination against LGBT youth at homeless shelters that receive federal funds and require grant recipients to have the cultural competency to serve these youth. Additionally, the bill would provide resources to support services for families struggling with the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children.

Further, the Runaway & Homeless Youth Inclusion Act would require the Family & Youth Service Bureau at the Department of Health & Human Services to compile comprehensive data on the pervasiveness of the LGBT youth homelessness problem.

According to a report last year from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, LGBT youth comprise 40 percent of the clientele served by homeless shelters. The study identifies family rejection as the most heavily cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness.

In an interview with the Washington Blade last month, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin identified youth homelessness as one LGBT issue that doesn’t receive enough attention in the media, saying the issue came up on his recently completed Southern tour.

“I was talking to a number of folks in North Carolina about the homeless youth issue, and the issue of homelessness,” Griffin said. “There are a number of ways to combat that problem. One of them is direct service providing and the need for public funds to do that.”


DP benefits bill for fed’l workers reintroduced

Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is set to reintroduce the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate introduced on Thursday a bill that would ensure gay federal workers would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they’re not legally married.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act was introduced in the House by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and in the Senate by lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Under the bill, a federal employee could gain access to health and pension benefits for a same-sex partner if the employee submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management certifying the relationship.

The Obama administration has determined that gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages are eligible for these benefits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of DOMA. Moreover, OPM determined gay federal employees would be eligible for these benefits even if they reside in non-marriage equality states.

Still, that implementation of the ruling didn’t cover couples living in civil unions or domestic partnerships, or those unable to travel to gain access to a same-sex marriage. It only applies to federal employees working in states where marriage equality isn’t currently recognized.

In a statement, Pocan said the legislation would ensure the federal government will “continue to lead” in providing equal rights and benefits for civil servants.

“Passage of our bipartisan legislation will remove discriminatory practices that punish certain federal employees merely for whom they love and where they live,” Pocan said. “As the private sector has shown, policies that promote equality are not only the right thing to do, they also allow you to compete for the best and brightest employees.”

Among the current 53 co-sponsors in the House are Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Ileana Ros-Lentinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joins Baldwin in introducing the bill.

Ros-Lehtinen said the legislation would the bring the federal government into alignment with other LGBT success in the past year.

“It has been a banner year for equality for all Americans but the Federal government still has much work to do,” she said. “This is why my colleagues and I will present this bipartisan bill to ensure that employees in same sex domestic partnerships have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples.”

One LGBT advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Baldwin wanted to reintroduce the legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA to ensure gay federal employees have partner benefits even if they live in non-marriage equality states.

“Sen. Baldwin felt strongly that until all same-sex couples have the opportunity to live in marriage states, a variety of relationship recognition opportunities should be made available so that the greatest number of federal employees could access important benefits,” the advocate said.

Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is “about the basic concept of fairness in the workplace.”

“Corporate America has led the charge in offering equal pay for equal work, and the U.S. Supreme Court sent a message this summer that the Federal government should follow their lead,” Herwitt said. “Equal workplace policies, like those DPBO would enact, will help attract and retain the best and brightest talent, which is exactly what our federal workforce needs.”

Pocan sits on the House Committee on Oversight & Reform and Baldwin sits on the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee – which both had jurisdiction on the legislation in previous years.

Both lawmakers also represent Wisconsin in Congress. That state has limited domestic partnerships, but not same-sex marriage.

UPDATE: This posting has been updated in the wake of news statements from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the Human Rights Campaign providing more information.


Victory Congressional Celebration

buyphotoThe Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute held a celebration at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Friday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)


Shaheen honors lesbian guardsman in Senate floor speech

Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, New Hampshire, Democratic Party

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) honored the life of lesbian guardsman Charlie Morgan on the Senate floor. (Pubic domain photo)

The senior senator from New Hampshire took to the Senate floor on Thursday to honor the life of a recently deceased lesbian guardsman who fought against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who died Sunday after battling breast cancer and DOMA, was one of the nation’s “outstanding citizens” and touted the late service member’s efforts in the military and LGBT advocacy.

“Many know Charlie for the national attention she received over the last several years advocating on behalf of fellow gay service members and their families,” Shaheen said. “However, first and foremost Charlie was a soldier.”

Shaheen was apparently holding back tears on the Senate floor as she informed the chamber that Morgan was “just 48 years old” upon her death.

As Shaheen noted, Morgan began her military service by enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1982 and participating in a year-long deployment to Kuwait following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Afterward, Morgan became involved in LGBT activism after being diagnosed with incurable breast cancer so that upon her death her spouse Karen Morgan and five-year-old daughter Casey Elena would have access to military spousal benefits.

A plaintiff in OutServe-SLDN’s lawsuit against DOMA, Morgan met with staff from U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last year to urge him to discontinue House Republican defense of the anti-gay law in court. She also testified before the 15-member Democratic Party draft platform committee in favor of including a marriage equality plank in the document, which was ultimately added.

“I hope that Charlie Morgan knew how many lives she touched and how greatly we admired her efforts,” Shaheen said. “I know that she will be sorely missed, and that her example will continue to guide us well into the future.”

Shaheen said she met Morgan in 2011 when she contacted the senator’s office upon her return from Kuwait. Morgan received notification that her spouse would be unable to attend a transition program known as National Guard Yellow Ribbon Reintegration. The senator said she worked with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ensure Morgan’s family could participate.

Following Morgan’s death, Shaheen said she’s received more than 2,000 messages of support from citizens all across our country. She read a couple of them on the Senate floor. One read, “Charlie is a hero to many of us. Thank you for making your lives public so others can live their lives privately in love.” Another read, “Thank you so much Charlie for all you have done. You will not be forgotten, and your service, work and legacy will live on. Those of us left behind will honor you by continuing on in this all-important fight for equality.”

Shaheen noted Morgan died just one day before the Pentagon announced that it would extend limited partner benefits to gay troops, saying “it is unfortunate” Morgan was unable to live to see the accomplishment.

Concluding her speech, Shaheen announced that she would soon introduce a bill she called the Charlie Morgan Act, which she said would end a number of restrictions of benefits for legal spouses for service members, regardless of sexual orientation.

Smith reintroduces benefits bill for gay troops

In related news, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, announced on Thursday that he reintroduced the Military Spouse Equal Treatment Act, which would change the definition of “spouse” under U.S. code governing the rights of service members. Smith introduced the bill for the first time last year.

“This bill would make sure that service members and veterans with same-sex spouses receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts,” Smith said. “All spouses of those serving in our Armed Services make tremendous sacrifices for our country, and no one should be prevented from receiving hard-earned benefits simply because they are the same sex as their partner.”

U.S. code under Titles 10, 32, and 38 restricts the definition of spouse to opposite-sex couples. Even if DOMA were repealed, gay service members would still be unable to receive certain major ticket partner benefits — like health and pension benefits — with these sections of U.S. code still in place. Smith’s bill would alter these provisions of U.S. code and add a favorable controlling definition of “spouse” to Title 37.

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said passage of the legislation would put gay service members on the same footing as their straight comrades.

“Treating service members equally, without partiality or favoritism, is one of the most basic principles of sound military leadership,” Robinson said. “For this reason, equality for LGBT troops and their families is a national security issue. Commanders should not be forced to treat some service members like second-class citizens because the federal government does not recognize their marriages.”

Among the original co-sponsors of the legislation is Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a freshman gay member of the U.S. House. In a statement, Pocan called the legislation an important step forward after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Supporting our servicemen and women and our veterans also means supporting their spouses and families, whose sacrifices often go unseen and unrecognized,” Pocan said. “This support should not be contingent on whether a member of our military is gay or straight.”

Watch a video of Shaheen’s floor speech here:


National Champagne Brunch

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund held its annual National Champagne Brunch at the Washington Hilton on Sunday. Prominent speakers included Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto