Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Pentagon sees no need for gay discharged troops bill

Pentagon, military, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10
Feb
2014

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.gov).

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

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.”

28
Apr
2014

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.”


ABC US News | ABC Entertainment News

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.

11
May
2014

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.

17
May
2014

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.

05
Jun
2014

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.”

04
Jun
2013

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:

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

Gay firefighter, first responder to Pentagon on 9/11, dies

Phillip Curtis McKee, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Phillip Curtis McKee III was a first responder to the first at the Pentagon on 9/11. (courtesy photo)

Phillip Curtis McKee III, a businessman, stained glass artist and firefighter who was among the first to respond to the fire at the Pentagon caused by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, died May 31 at a hospital in Fairfax City, Va. He was 41.

Family members attribute McKee’s death to complications from injuries and illness linked to three days of fighting the Pentagon fire following the 9/11 attack, including inhalation of toxic dust, a severe leg injury that resulted in him being wheel chair bound, and a prolonged bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

McKee’s husband and partner of 15 years, Nopadon McKee, said the injuries forced Phillip McKee to retire from his job as a firefighter due to disability. Although he displayed “tremendous courage” in persevering as an artist, businessman, and author over the next 12 years, the injuries and his struggle with PTSD took its toll, Nopadon McKee said.

“He succumbed to his injuries,” a statement released by the family says.

Phillip McKee was born in Portsmouth, Va., and lived in his early years in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and San Antonio, Texas. He did undergraduate studies at Yale University and graduate studies at Harvard University in Medieval history as well as economic and diplomatic history, and held a fellowship at Princeton University, a biographical statement prepared by family members says.

At the time of his university studies he became interested in the medium of stained glass and eventually became a stained glass artist and owner of a small business selling stained glass artwork, including his own.

Sandra Martinez, McKee’s aunt, said McKee entered a Catholic seminary for a short period of time after completing his university studies before moving to Washington, D.C. to work in the field of computer and internet security with the National Fraud Information Center.

While working in this position he founded Capitol Web Services in 1998 as a part-time web-based business.

According to Martinez, McKee, who had been serving as a volunteer fireman in the Maryland suburbs, informed his family in early 2001 that he decided to change his career and become a firefighter with the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department about six months prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“[A]after all of that education, I chose to become a firefighter,” McKee wrote in a message appearing on his business website McKeestaindedglass.com.

“Needless to say, this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by my family,” he wrote. “However, a firefighter’s work schedule gave me the free time I needed and I was able to pursue my other passion – glass art!” he wrote.

“Since 9-11, stained glass has become an even greater part of my life as I went through rehabilitation for injuries suffered at the Pentagon,” he said in his website message. “Glass has provided me with a creative outlet that I have sorely needed during this most difficult time in my life and in the life of our country.”

He went on to publish two books on stained glass art, including the acclaimed “Make It or Break It: Stained Glass For Beginners.”

A biographical statement prepared by Nopadon McKee and Martinez says Phillip and Nopadon have been a couple since 1998 and were joined in a religious wedding ceremony in 2006 at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale, Va.

Nopadon McKee said the two proudly proclaimed their marriage to friends, family members and co-workers even though it is not legally recognized by the government.

In 2009, in spite of his disability and ailments, Phillip and Nopadon began mentoring a teenager they met that year and later adopted. Nate McKee is currently a college student, the biographical statement says.

“Phillip touched many lives throughout his forty years and will be remembered for many great accomplishments, but the most outstanding was his unselfish and brave act on 9-11,” the statement says.

Nopadon McKee, a Metro transit police officer who legally changed his name to McKee after he and Phillip McKee married, said he and Phillip have long been out as gay men at their jobs. He said Phillip McKee was out while working for the Arlington County Fire Department.

The Fire Department and some of its members are expected to participate in a funeral tribute for Phillip McKee scheduled for June 11 that will begin at the fire station in the Cherrydale section of Arlington to which McKee had been assigned at the time of the 9-11 attack at the Pentagon, Martinez said. The service itself is scheduled to take place at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale at 11 a.m.

A wake and viewing is scheduled to be held Sunday, June 9, at the same church from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

07
Jun
2013

Hagel to speak at Pentagon Pride event set for June 25

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

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

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is confirmed to make an appearance at an upcoming Pentagon event observing June as the month for Pride, which has been set for June 25, alongside Senior Adviser to President Valerie Jarrett, the Washington Blade has learned.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a statement provided via email to the Washington Blade that Hagel would participate in the event, making him the first defense secretary to take part in a Pentagon Pride celebration. A defense official said Hagel would provide opening remarks to the group in person.

“Secretary Hagel looks forward to participating in this year’s DoD Pride event at the Pentagon on Tuesday June 25, which is organized by a group of Defense Department service members and civilians to celebrate LGBT Pride Month,” Little said.

Emphasizing Hagel’s support for gay and lesbian service members — who have been able to serve openly since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — Little recalled the West Point address that Hagel delivered at the U.S. military academy at West Point on May 25. During his speech, the secretary said, ”The United States military has long benefited from the service of gay men and lesbians. Now they serve openly with full honor, integrity, and respect.”

“Secretary Hagel believes that the open service of gays and lesbians make our armed forces stronger and that this month’s DOD Pride event is just one way we honor what these service members and LGBT civilians do for our country,” Little added.

Additionally, Little said Jarrett will join Hagel on stage to represent the White House and deliver the keynote address on behalf of President Obama.

“Secretary Hagel is also looking forward to welcoming Valerie Jarrett to the Pentagon who will represent President Obama in delivering the keynote address at the event,” Little said.

The occasion will be the second Pride celebration at the Pentagon following “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but the first in which a sitting defense secretary will make a live appearance. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the group via a video message. A defense official said the Pride event is being organized by a “resource group” with the support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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

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

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

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

17
Jun
2013

Pentagon announces implementation of spousal benefits for gay troops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14
Aug
2013