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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.


Pentagon’s gay-inclusive human goals charter omits trans people

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a signing ceremony for a gay-inclusive human goals charter (Screenshot courtesy

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a signing ceremony for a gay-inclusive human goals charter (Screenshot courtesy

The Pentagon issued Monday a new declaration of its goals for human rights, and although the document affirms for the first time inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, it omits any reference of either transgender troops or civilian workers.

The document, known as the Department of Defense Human Goals Charter, sets forth principles for the Pentagon to “create a culture of inclusion” in the U.S. armed forces — both on the military and the civilian side. Although the document sets goals for the department, it doesn’t necessarily reflect a change in policy or law.

The Human Goals Charter was signed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top leaders military at 3:30 Eastern Time during a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“The defense of the nation requires a well-trained volunteer force comprised of active and reserve military members and civilian personnel,” the document says. “We gain a strategic advantage through the diversity of our total force and create a culture of inclusion where individuals are drawn to serve, are valued, and actively contribute to the overall mission success.”

During the signing ceremony, Hagel touted the progress the Pentagon in integrating openly gay people in the military since repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’m proud that the language of the charter has been updated to reflect the contributions of gay and lesbian military personnel, who now serve openly and proudly across America’s armed services,” Hagel said.

Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Jessica Wright said the Pentagon has made “fundamental changes” in its views on sexual orientation, including the extension of spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of military and civilian personnel.

In a section of the document that lays out the process for “attainment of these goals,” the term sexual orientation is included on both the military and civilian side.

The charter includes sexual orientation as a category in which the military will strive to be a “model of equal opportunity.” The term “sexual orientation” is also included in a section that describes ways “to provide equity in civilian employment.”

But there is no reference to gender identity. Transgender people are barred from service in the military because of medical regulations, despite growing efforts among LGBT advocates to push for openly transgender service.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said “gender identity” wasn’t included in the section for civilian workers because it would fall under the category of “sex” in the charter.

“The Department did not specifically list ‘gender identity’ in the civilian equal employment opportunity section of the Human Goals document because discrimination against a transgender individual could be covered as a form of prohibited ‘sex discrimination,’ which is listed in the charter,” Christensen said.

Regarding the absence of “gender identity” from the military service portion of the document, Christensen said “there are no plans to change” to change the policy on transgender service.

“The Department considers that service members must serve in austere environments, many of which make necessary and ongoing treatments related to sex reassignment and many other conditions untenable,” Christensen said. “Policies on military personnel and health care regarding transgender members are intended to meet the needs of the services, which include the ability to deploy to and serve in austere environments with limited (and perhaps no) access to medical care for prolonged periods on little or no notice.”

The document is intended to be a forceful statement because it’s signed by all top leaders at the Pentagon. The Human Goals Charter was signed by the defense secretary; the deputy defense secretary; the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the vice chair; each of the four military service chiefs; each of three service secretaries; the chief of the National Guard Bureau; and the Pentagon’s director of administration and management.

Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association, gave the charter a mixed review, praising the gay-inclusive components, but saying more should be done in terms of non-discrimination.

“We applaud the Secretary of Defense and the Administration for identifying these important goals to build stronger and more inclusive command climates throughout the Department of Defense,” Peters said. “However, we call upon the Secretary and the Administration to take swift action in changing the official DoD Non-Discrimination Policy and the Military Equal Opportunity Program to include sexual orientation as a protected class for uniformed troops against unlawful prejudice and discrimination.”

Currently, service members have no recourse for anti-gay discrimination outside of their chain of command. LGBT advocates have been pushing for the enactment of an explicit non-discrimination protections for gay members of the armed forces within the Military Equal Opportunity Program.

Peters also took note of the absence of gender identity from any section of the charter.

“We also look forward to the day when the Human Goals Charter addresses gender identity and our transgender service members are no longer forced to serve in silence,” Peters said.

The last time a Human Goals Charter was signed under the Defense Department was in 1998 under then-Defense Secretary William Cohen. At the time, when openly gay troops were barred from service under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the charter omitted any reference to “sexual orientation” under a section related to inclusion in the military. However, sexual orientation was included in the component the civilian workforce.

For his part, Hagel admitted — without any identifying any particular task — more work is necessary to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans serving or working for the U.S. armed forces.

“While there has been much progress made, all of us know there’s still more work to be done,” Hagel said. “We must reinforce a culture of accountability, dignity and respect across DOD and for all people. That is a top priority for all of us. Every person who serves our country in uniform has stepped forward with courage and commitment. Their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so, that’s what matters. Nothing else.”


Hagel open to reviewing military’s ban on trans service

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

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

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed an openness in an interview that aired Sunday to the idea of reviewing the U.S. military’s ban on openly transgender service, saying all Americans should be able to serve “if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

Hagel said the military’s ban on transgender service “continually should be reviewed” when asked by reporter Martha Radditz about the issue during an ABC News’ “This Week” interview that was taped on Saturday.

“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said. “I’m open to that by the way.”

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But Hagel qualified his willingness to review the issue by saying the issue of transgender service is “a bit more complicated” because it has a “medical component to it,” saying the issue “is an area that we have not defined enough.”

“These issues require medical attention,” Hagel said. “Austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”

Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, the Pentagon conducted a review of open service headed by then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson and then-Commander of U.S. Army-Europe Gen. Carter Ham. The report, which laid out the way for the military to adjust to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, was what enabled Pentagon leaders to come on board with the idea of open service.

Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, praised Hagel for backing a review of the current ban, which has been in place since before 1980.

“We appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over thirty years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness,” Robinson said. “They harm our service members and weaken our military.”

Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s ban on transgender service could be lifted at any time within the Pentagon because it wasn’t codified into law and is instead a medical regulation.

The issue of transgender service has received new attention following the publication of a front-page story in the Washington Post about Landon Wilson, a former sailor who was discharged in March from the Navy — even though he possessed critical skills on intercepting enemy communications.

In the same week the Post story ran, the Human Goals Charter signed by top military brass at the Pentagon lacked any mention of transgender people — either on the military or civilian side — even though other categories, including sexual orientation, were enumerated in the document.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she welcomes a review at the Pentagon and looks forward to “working with the Pentagon to end these outdated rules that harm our military.”

“This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” Keisling said. “If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I’ve met, he’d understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.”

A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Sunday he had nothing to add about any plans for a review other than to reiterate Hagel’s remarks on “This Week.”

For his part, Hagel asserted during his interview that military service should be open to all Americans — as long as they meet the qualifications to do the job.

“I’m open to those assessments, because again I go back to the bottom line that every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said.


White House backs efforts on review of trans military ban

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

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney signaled support on Friday for Pentagon efforts to review the ban on openly transgender service in the military, but stopped short of endorsing an end to the policy outright.

Days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week” the military trans ban “continually should be reviewed,” Carney said the White House backs his efforts in response to a question on whether President Obama has had any conversations with the Pentagon chief on this issue.

“Well, the president speaks with Secretary Hagel regularly, meets with him weekly,” Carney said. “I don’t have a readout on all his conversations, but I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and certainly we support his efforts in this area.”

But efforts at the Pentagon to reconsider the policy seem to have already lost traction. A Pentagon official confirmed for the Washington Blade on Friday that no review of the trans military ban has been ordered.

According to the Washington Post, Hagel told reporters en route to Jeddah he’s disinclined to review the Pentagon’s policy formally, but expressed interest in learning more.

“I’ve not asked for a specific task force,” Hagel was quoted as saying. “I’ve not asked for a specific study. I would want to hear more from individuals who are close to this issue, know this issue, who I would value their judgment and their direction on.”

Moreover, Carney didn’t outright say Obama wants to see the ban on transgender service lifted when asked if he thinks the policy should be changed at some point in time.

“I would simply at this point leave it to Secretary Hagel’s comments,” Carney said. “I haven’t spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.”

Nonetheless, transgender advocates praised Carney’s words as a commitment from the Obama administration to move forward with a reassessment of the regulatory ban on transgender service.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Transgender Center for Equality, was among those praising the White House for endorsing of Hagel’s views.

“It is wonderful to hear that the White House agrees with the Secretary about the need to update these outdated and discriminatory policies,” Keisling said. “There are currently 15,000 trans service members. Having reasonable and modern policies that guide their service is in everyone’s interest and is good for military readiness and national security. Clearly this issue is now on the agenda. Now we need to push for a quick analysis and implementation.”

Instituted sometime before 1980, the ban on transgender service is a medical regulation that, unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” could be lifted any time administratively by the stroke of a pen.


Pentagon celebrates Pride with trans speaker

Amanda Simpson, gay news, Washington Blade

Amanda Simpson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The benefits afforded to the same-sex spouses of service members in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act emerged as a major theme among speakers during the Pentagon’s annual Pride event Wednesday, which featured a transgender emcee.

In the department’s first Pride celebration since the milestone court decision last year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work hailed the extension of such benefits nationwide to service members with same-sex spouses.

“We believe that anyone and everyone who serves their country, or desires to serve their country as well as their families, should have all the benefits they deserve and have earned in accordance — and we did this simply because it was the right thing to do,” Work said.

After the DOMA decision, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the ruling would afford these spousal benefits — such as health care and housing benefits — to married service members, even in states without marriage equality.

In a panel following Work’s remarks, the importance of benefits became more apparent as representatives of same-sex military families spoke about their personal stories.

Kristen Hamilton-Brindee, the spouse of Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Kelly Hamilton-Brindee, talked about how the allocation of benefits afforded her crucial treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer at around the time Kristen gave birth to their child.

“I received my ID card four days before I went into the emergency room, and we found out that I had cancer,” Kristen Hamilton-Brindee said. “Having her chain of command know and having that ID card made a profound difference in our lives, and we’re very grateful that that happened in the sequence.”

As a result of the treatment afforded to her spouse, Kelly Hamilton-Brindee said her spouse has now been cancer-free for six months.

It was the third annual Pride celebration at the Pentagon, which have taken place since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in 2011. Although Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Air Force Under Secretary Eric Fanning, who’s gay, spoke at last year’s event, they didn’t make an appearance this year. Hagel was traveling overseas.

The event was an official Pentagon event and organized by the department a group of LGBT military and civilians called DOD Pride. The Pentagon provided some support to publicize the celebration.

Organizers of the event included a transgender emcee. Transgender people are still barred by medical regulation from serving openly in the U.S. military even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” off the books.

The emcee for the event was Amanda Simpson, now executive director of Army Energy Initiatives Task Force and the highest-ranking transgender civilian official, who talked about her inability to serve on the uniform side of the military.

“I was recruited to serve with the Navy as a nuclear propulsion officer, but I couldn’t,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t desire to serve my country, it was because I had a secret that would make it extremely difficult, a secret that I didn’t have words for, and when words were spoken by others, it usually ended up with me being beaten up or hazed.”

The issue of transgender exclusion from the military has gained attention in recent months. After top military brass signed a Human Goals Charter in April that lacked any explicit mention of transgender individuals — either on the civilian or military side — transgender groups criticized the Pentagon for the omission.

In his address, Work suggested — either by mistake or possibly by referencing the civilian side — that the days of anti-transgender discrimination at the Pentagon are over in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“For far too long, gay and lesbian service members and their partners and families, and bisexual and transgender individuals in our department, were unable to serve,” Work said. “They were forced by law to compromise their values, to choose between serving the country they love and…being true to themselves. Today, we celebrate that that chapter in our history is now over.”

Hagel said during a recent interview on ABC’s “This Week” he thinks the U.S. military’s ban on open service “continually should be reviewed,” and the White House has announced it backs Hagel’s efforts. However, the Pentagon has announced no formal review of the policy.

Work invoked a transgender-inclusive military later in his speech, suggesting more work needs to be done without naming any particular action for transgender service.

“Because of the work of the LGBT service members and civilians for the department, I think the hurdles to their acceptance are growing smaller and smaller every day because all of these people have proven their great worth and that they should be primarily judged on their capabilities, but, as I said, we have more to do,” Work said.

Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, attended the event and noted Work’s disconnect during his speech, calling for the review of transgender service to move forward.

“I appreciated Deputy Secretary Work’s reference to the values of integrity and inclusion that make our military strong, but I question his assertion that the days of anti-LGBT discrimination in DOD are gone and almost forgotten,” Robinson said. “For the 15,000 transgender people serving in uniform today, they are neither. The policy review suggested by Secretary Hagel and supported by President Obama needs to get underway now so we can finally bring those dark days to an end.”

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, also attended and said the exclusion of transgender people from the military was noticeable at the event.

“Although not spoken, it was clearly evident that we still have progress to make,” Peters said. “The aproximately 15,000 service members who identify as transgender are still forced to serve in silence or risk ending their careers, which also impacts their families. We look forward to the day when the service of these brave Americans is honored as well.”

Others at the event were gay Arlington business owner Freddie Lutz, SPART*A communications director Sue Fulton and gay Virginia 8th district congressional candidate Adam Ebbin.

The panel concluding the event, which focused on LGBT military families, was moderated by Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay general officer in the U.S. military, included Kathy Moakler, who has a gay daughter and is government relations director for the National Military Family Association as well as Technical Sergeant Erwynn Umali-Behrens and his spouse Will Umali-Behrens.

Concluding the panel, Smith said the ability of LGBT service members serve authentically and openly with their families “is the essence of Pride.”

“It is Pride in your military identity, and the opportunity to serve as your authentic selves, the ability of the service members to fully and openly rely upon their family and access the same support structures that are available to any military family,” Smith said.


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

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

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

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Thursday evening that he’s directing national guards throughout the country to process benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages regardless of their state laws.

Hagel made the announcement during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City.

In his speech, the defense secretary spoke out against the decision by certain national guards to deny benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, referencing the directive he issued in August indicating spousal benefits for gay troops should be available worldwide after the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”

Hagel said he’s directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass “to take immediate action” to remedy this situation.

“At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied,” Hagel said. “The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, counted nine states with national guards that are refusing to process benefit spousal applications for gay troops and said Hagel is “prepared to take further action” if these states don’t comply with Pentagon policy.

Asked by the Washington Blade what this “further action” would be, the senior defense action declined to speculate, but noted military ID cards are processed through federal funds.

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “I’m not going to speculate on our legal options.”

Actions that advocates had previously posited include a restriction of federal funds at these facilities or, in an extreme case, the federalization of these national guards by President Obama.

The Washington Blade has previously reported that Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma are refusing to enter the spouses of gay troops into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System for the purposes of benefits, which include health and pension benefits, because of their state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve directed troops in same-sex marriages to federal installations.

The national guard in South Carolina had opted out of processing benefit applications altogether and is directing all couples — gay and straight — to go to federal installations.

But the senior defense official also counted Indiana, Georgia, Florida and West Virginia as having made similar declarations, making for a total of nine states. According to the senior defense official, that means 114 Army and Air National Guard sites that are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.

Advocates had been pressuring the Obama administration to take action. In a letter earlier this month, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top defense Democrats in Congress, wrote to Hagel to encourage him to take action.

Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association, heaped praised on Hagel for taking action against these national guards that weren’t complying with Pentagon policy.

“Secretary Hagel has made it clear the national guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” Peters said. ”We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the national guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy. No matter what state of our great nation they serve in, no military spouse should be treated differently just because of their orientation.”

Hagel said in his speech that all members of the national guard are entitled to the same benefits because they’re fighting for the same purpose.

“Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America,” Hagel said. “They are serving this country. They – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.”


Georgia Nat’l Guard to process same-sex benefits

Georgia National Guard, gay news, Washington Blade, benefits

The Georgia National Guard has agreed to process same-sex benefits (Image public domain).

The Georgia National Guard has become the latest state to agree to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to two sources familiar with the decision.

Maj. Jon Craig, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said Georgia had agreed to process applications to grant same-sex spouses military IDs last week in a decision along the lines of Texas and Louisiana.

“With Georgia, what it came down to was the authorization to put some state employees on temporary federal status,” Craig said.

Georgia had been one of two remaining states that had refused to enroll the spouses of gay troops into the benefit system in the aftermath of an edict for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying military spousal benefits should be available to troops in same-sex marriages nationwide. These states had cited state constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage as the reasons why they couldn’t comply.

In the past weeks, Texas and Louisiana, which had previously refused to process same-sex benefits, said they had come to agreement to comply with the edict by processing applications through federal funds, personnel and systems.

Lt. Col. Thomas Lesnieski, a Georgia National Guard spokesperson, acknowledged changes were made, but declined to comment further until the guard issued an official statement later on Monday.

Chris Rowzee, a spokesperson for the American Military Partners Association, commended Georgia’s decision, but questioned what exactly had changed because her understanding is federal resources were already being used to process benefits applications at National Guard facilities.

“Certainly, we are pleased that they have changed course and are now providing the federal benefits to which these military members are entitled,” Rowzee said. “We still have questions regarding what has actually changed since all of the personnel processing those benefits were federal employees to begin with.”

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said Georgia had agreed to comply and the Pentagon views the decision as “welcome news.”

The official added the decision leaves Mississippi as the only state that isn’t conforming to federal policy, saying National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass continues work on the issue.

“The Secretary has directed General Grass to resolve this issue with the TAGs,” the official said. “Gen. Grass, and the National Guard Bureau are continuing the dialogue with Mississippi — the only remaining state to comply with DOD Policy.”

A Mississippi National Guard spokesperson deferred comment on whether the state would come into compliance Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, which didn’t respond to multiple requests to comment.


All nat’l guards now compliant with Hagel edict on same-sex benefits

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

All state national guards a are complying with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to process benefits applications for troops in same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

All state national guards are now compliant with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requiring them to processing spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to the Pentagon.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Hagel confirmed that all gay service members can apply for military IDs for their spouses at military installations throughout the country.

“Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the Adjutants General of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees — including same-sex spouses — are now able to obtain ID cards in every state,” Hagel said.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mississippi, the last remaining hold-out state, came on board sometime this week, although the official didn’t have an exact date for when that happened. The official said Mississippi is adopting a policy similar to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which are placing state workers on federal status to process same-sex benefit applications.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Hagel announced military spousal benefits — including health, pension and housing benefits — will become available to gay troops.

However, certain state national guards, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, refused to process the spousal benefits applications from gay troops, citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. During an Anti-Defamation League meeting in October, said each of these states must comply and he directed National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Frank Grass to find a way to bring them on board.

One by one, the state national guards announced they would comply with the policy. Texas Military Forces, which had been the first state to announce it wouldn’t process the benefits, announced last month it would come on board. Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi later followed suit.

“All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country,” Hagel concluded. “They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization helped in the effort to encourage state national guards to process same-sex benefits by writing letters to the Pentagon as well as governors in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.

“In the end, it’s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who deserves credit for taking decisive action,” Sainz said. “Hagel delivered a speech in late October in which he demanded that these state national guard outposts heed federal law and Department of Defense policy or risk punitive action. That demand has now produced results all across the country.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted his organization petitioned Hagel to ensure these states comply with federal policy and called the latest news a welcome development.

“This is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen,” Thompson said. “The resistance on the part of some governors on extending these benefits to same-sex couples was a grossly unfair violation of federal law that  turned the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel on its head.”

Although all states are now considered compliant, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina are conforming to the Hagel edict by directing all spousal benefit applicants — gay and straight — away from state-run installations to federal facilities within those states to avoid conflict between state law and federal policy. These states moved all their ID card machines to federal installations, so they’re still processing benefits at full capacity.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, commended Hagel for ensuring each state national guard is compliant with his edict on same-sex benefits, but said additional action is necessary.

“We applaud the administration and Secretary Hagel for seeing this issue through and ensuring all state national guards are compliant,” Peter said. ”However, our military families serving in non-marriage equality states still face discouraging challenges because of the discrimination and exclusion by state governments. We look forward to the day when our military families are treated equally in all 50 states of our nation.”


Hagel may attend Pride event at Pentagon

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

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

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.

On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.

“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”

Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Hagel has expressed an interest in attending the event.

It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.

Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.

Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.

As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

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

DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.

“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.

That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.

“Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction – and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”


House panel adopts ‘conscience’ amendment to defense bill

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

A House panel approved an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay colleagues. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A House panel on Wednesday approved as part of major defense legislation an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay comrades without fear of reprisal.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), was approved by the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 33-26 as part of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill.

Fleming’s measure would expand the “conscience provision” in that already exists in defense law. It 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 for them.

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.”

President Obama signed the existing “conscience provision” 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.”

The Blade will provide a roll call vote soon.

The full language of the amendment follows:


(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.