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Obama leaves lasting legacy, advances LGBT equality

Continue reading Obama leaves lasting legacy, advances LGBT equality

91-year-old gay veteran wins honorable discharge

A 91-year-old veteran who was dismissed from the U.S. Air Force as “undesirable” in 1948 because he is gay has had that discharge status changed to “honorable.”

The move by the Air Force comes in response to a lawsuit filed in November by H. Edward Spires of Norwalk, Connecticut, who served from 1946 to 1948 as a chaplain’s assistant, earning the rank of sergeant.

Spires was forced out of the military in 1948 after an investigation into his sexual orientation.

Spires’ attorneys said he was originally denied the discharge upgrade after the repeal of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy in 2010 because the Air Force said his records had likely been lost in a 1973 fire.

The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records informed Spires on Friday that the honorable discharge had been approved by the Air Force Review Boards Agency.

Spires’ attorneys have said he is in poor health and would like a military funeral, which the upgrade makes possible.

“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable,” Spires’ husband, David Rosenberg, said during a briefing on the case at the Yale Law School in November.

Spires’ case also was championed by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said Monday that the Air Force’s decision “corrects an incredible injustice.”

Also this month, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a public apology for the State Department’s institutional discrimination in the past against gay and lesbian diplomats.

In a statement, Kerry says discrimination suffered by gay State Department workers has gone on since the 1940s. He says denying some people jobs and forcing diplomats out of the foreign service was “wrong then” and “wrong today.”

Speaking on behalf of the department, Kerry apologized to all those who were discriminated against and said the department was committed to “diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”



DOD to lift transgender military ban by July 1

The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to announce by July 1 an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in our military.

“At long last, thousands of brave transgender patriots will be able to serve our nation openly with the respect they deserve,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a news release. “This historic announcement will not only extend long-overdue recognition to thousands of transgender service members, it will strengthen our military and our nation. By turning the page on this disgraceful policy, we will now be able to recruit and retain the very best candidates, rather than discharging highly-trained, talented transgender service members for no other reason than who they are.”

In July 2015, the Pentagon announced a working group to study how to modify existing regulations to allow open transgender military service.

The working group was expected to complete its review after six months and provide options for how to address the various regulations needed to be updated in order to allow for open service by transgender people.

According to the Williams Institute, there are about 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in the United States.

But Defense Department medical regulations prohibit transgender service and require separation from the military if discovered.

HRC said the outdated regulations have significant implications for military readiness and on the transgender service members who are currently risking their lives around the world — sometimes in combat zones.  A service member who is able to be open and honest about his or her gender identity and receive appropriate care is more productive and more focused on their job.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in armed forces. U.S. service members have been serving alongside their transgender counterparts from these allied forces since at least 2001.

Unlike the now repealed statutory ban against lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, the ban on transgender military service is policy and can be removed by the Defense Department.

“This decision is a great victory for the many trans people who have served and sacrificed in the military over the years. They also served in fear of being discharged from the service for simply being who they are. Thankfully this now will change. We look forward to hearing more implementation details,” said Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Military might: After ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ reform is still needed

Do ask.

Do tell.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan wants ex-service members to tell about the harm caused by discharges under the now defunct ban against gays in the military.

And the Wisconsin Democrat wants Congress to ask about the harm caused by the ban years after the its repeal.

Pocan and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., want the House Committee on Armed Services to examine the challenges faced by gays and lesbians discharged from the military.

Recently, however, the committee refused to hold a hearing on the bill.

A year ago this summer, the congressmen introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which would help former service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and to restore benefits they earned.

The bill, according to Pocan’s office, has 113 co-sponsors in the House, including four Republicans. A companion measure in the Senate has 38 co-sponsors.

In a letter this spring to Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who is the chair of the Armed Services Committee, Pocan and Rangel wrote, “Since World War II, more than 100,000 individuals are estimated to have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation. Today, thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans are tarnished with discharge statuses other than honorable. This status affects both their access to benefits they have earned from their service and their opportunities in civilian life, potentially hindering employment opportunities and the right to vote.”

Pocan’s office said even gay service members who received honorable discharges may face discrimination because the “Narrative Reason” for their discharge may refer to “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual act” or “homosexual marriage.”

In the 1992 race for president, Bill Clinton campaigned on a platform that included a vow to lift a ban against gays in the military — a prohibition applied in various ways over the years. But Clinton faced stiff opposition in Congress and eventually offered a compromise — “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The policy allowed for gay people to serve if they didn’t tell, and military leaders were prohibited from asking about sexual orientation.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was not administered as Clinton proposed, and investigations about sexual orientation continued, with service members still losing careers and benefits as had happened for decades before.

The ban was repealed in 2011, allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the Armed Forces.

A year after the repeal, a study from the Palm Center, an independent research institute in San Francisco, found:

• Only two service members, both chaplains, were identified as having left the military as a result of the repeal.

• The Pentagon reported not a single episode of violence associated with the repeal.

• Pentagon data show recruitment and retention remained robust after the repeal.

• Survey data revealed that service-wide, troops reported the same level of morale and readiness after the repeal as they did before.

• Data also showed trust among troops improved following the repeal.

The transgender front

Still, nearly five years later, the struggle for full equality in the military continues with the campaign to remove barriers to transgender people serving openly.

Last summer, this effort was boosted by a vote of the American Medical Association, which adopted a resolution finding “there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals” from U.S. military service and urged that transgender service members be provided with necessary medical care “according to the same medical standards that apply to non-transgender personnel.”

The AMA also said the anti-transgender policy is out of date.

Four U.S. Surgeons General — Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Regina Benjamin and Kenneth Moritsugu — reached the same conclusion.

This spring, a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon and first reported on by The New York Times found that repealing the ban on transgender service would not negatively impact the Armed Forces and would lead to no more than 129 of the military’s million-plus troops seeking transition-related care each year.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said the Rand report confirmed his institute’s research on the issue. “Inclusive policy will not compromise readiness, will not be costly and will not be difficult to formulate or implement,” he said.

There have been hints the Defense Department, which created a working group to examine the issue, could announce its plan for allowing open transgender service this spring.

Congress likely would play a role in any reforms, and the House Committee on Armed Services would get an early review.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state is the ranking Democratic member on that committee. He’s a supporter of lifting the ban on transgender service, as well as an advocate of equal and fair treatment of gay service members and those discharged because of their orientation.

Letter: Wisconsin Gazette presents revisionist history of the Clintons’ record on LGBT issues

In the 5 November 2015 editorial “In Defense of the Clintons’ record on LGBT issues,” the staff of the Gazette has presented fact-free, wishful thinking, revisionist history regarding the Clinton White House and its support for DOMA and DADT.

The editorial made the following statement: “Clinton signed DOMA with the hope of appeasing anti-gay activists and avoiding Republican threats of a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. And he succeeded.”

That is a patently false assertion without a shred of contemporary evidence to support it. Not a single document from the Clinton Justice Department, the Clinton White House staff, or documents marked with the reverse Clinton check mark indicating President Clinton reviewed the page backs up the false narrative that Clinton was trying to head off a constitutional ban on gay marriages when signing DOMA into law. None. I challenge the staff of the Wisconsin Gazette to either produce documentation or apologize for lying to Wisconsin’s progressive community.

Your credibility is on the line. The history you are reporting belongs in fact-free Texas tea party textbooks, not a credible progressive news publication.

And, pray tell, what about the Clinton White House was progressive exactly?  The five major pieces of legislation Bill Clinton signed into law were uniformly conservative:

1) NAFTA was a jobs killing free trade treaty supported by corporate Republicans.

2) Welfare reform was a conservative Republican idea Clinton stole from Republicans and made his own.

3) The federal Religious Freedom Act Bill Clinton signed into law was pointed to by Indiana Governor Mike Pence earlier this year to justify his version of the Indiana bill to over ride civil rights protections for the LGBT community in the name of “religious freedom.”

4) was the Defense of Marriage Act, and

5) was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Not a single progressive idea is present in any of the five major legislative Acts signed into law during the Clinton White House years.

Progressive policies rely on science and facts, not revisionist history and celebrity star gazing.  

James Wall, Madison

See also Sanders has also been an uneven ally on gay rights.

In defense of the Clintons’ LGBT record

The nation has come so far so fast on LGBT issues that it’s easy to forget — or never to have known — the sociopolitical realities that faced Bill Clinton when he introduced the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy and signed the Defense of Marriage Act.

It was Clinton’s zeal to fulfill his campaign promise to end the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military that led to the enactment of “don’t ask.” New to Washington and naïve to its vicious ways, Clinton announced soon after taking office that he intended to keep his promise to end the ban preventing gays and lesbians from serving in the military. He was unprepared for the near-hysterical backlash from Republicans as well as the majority of American citizens.

Looking back, it’s obvious that he should have taken a more measured, pragmatic approach, as President Barack Obama did on marriage equality. Clinton and the LGBT community acted before they’d sufficiently made their case on the issue.

In response to the backlash, Clinton proposed the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue,” which was seen as a compromise. It meant gays and lesbians could serve, but only secretly. In retrospect, the compromise seems shockingly offensive: It forced gays and lesbians to live in the closet, in the shadows — in paranoia and shame.

Still, it might actually have been better than the previous policy if not for the anger it triggered among Armed Forces leaders, who were offended that a young liberal and former anti-war activist dared tell them how to run the world’s largest military. So they ignored the “don’t pursue” portion of the policy and, in an act of revenge, embarked on a witch-hunt that led to record numbers of discharges. The witch-hunts wrecked tens of thousands of gay and lesbian patriots’ lives and undermined the nation’s military capacity.

Clinton’s role, however, was motivated by miscalculation and inexperience, not anti-gay sentiment.

The same is true of the Defense of Marriage Act. We remember it now as a gross perversion of our constitutional rights, which indeed it was. But support for same-sex marriage was only 27 percent in 1996. Republicans were determined to enact a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, which would have taken decades to undo. Clinton signed DOMA with the hope of appeasing anti-gay activists and avoiding Republican threats of a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. And he succeeded.

In signing the anti-gay law, Clinton made it easier for gays and lesbians to gain the right to marriage later through a Supreme Court decision. Otherwise, equality leaders would have  had to go through the process of enacting a constitutional amendment repealing an anti-gay amendment — a process that, like the Equal Rights Amendment, would probably never have succeeded.

With this history in mind, it seems unfair to mock Hillary Clinton’s claim that the Defense of Marriage Act was a defensive political maneuver, because that’s exactly what it was. Both Clintons have devoted large swathes of their careers to expanding civil rights. There is no calculated flip-flopping concerning Hillary Clinton’s evolving position on this issue, any more than Obama’s change of heart was a flip-flop. Both Clinton and Obama have consistently been on the side of social justice. It’s in their DNA.

When progressives resort to demagoguery on issues like marriage equality, they are mirroring the destructive, unyielding approach of the right. They’re suggesting that compromise is no way to win, that pragmatism is betrayal.

In so doing, they’re aiding and abetting the real enemy, the opponents of equality and social justice. The Republican right would love to watch us bicker internally with our self-defeating purists and wind up as frayed and recklessly self-destructive as their side of the aisle.

Progressives need to decide if they want to win the war or continually re-enact the battle on this and other key issues. 

American Medical Association: No rationale to exclude transgender people from military

The nation’s largest physicians group declared in June that there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from U.S. military service.

The policy adopted by the American Medical Association during its annual meeting also affirmed the organization’s position that transgender servicemembers should receive care according to the same medical standards that apply to all other military personnel.

The policy is intended to help modify the federal regulations that bar transgender individuals from the military and prohibit providing medically necessary care as determined by a doctor. The estimated 15,500 transgender individuals who serve in the U.S. military face being discharged if outted. Unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the statutory ban that barred LGB servicemembers from serving openly, the ban on transgender military service is regulatory and could be eliminated by the Department of Defense, without congressional action.

“The new AMA policy adds to a growing public consensus, including former public health and military officers, which questions the military’s policies toward transgender individuals, and the negative impact these policies have on the health of transgender servicemembers,” stated AMA president Robert M. Wah.

The Human Rights Campaign has repeatedly called for the DOD to end the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military, which is the largest employer of transgender people in the United States.

HRC also has urged reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which fails to provide a full range of medically necessary care to transgender veterans.

Before the AMA vote, four former U.S. Surgeons General issued a statement of support for the policy. Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Regina Benjamin and Kenneth Moritsugu said, “We agree with the proposed American Medical Association resolution that there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender service members should, as is the case with all personnel, receive the medical care that they need.”

Members of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, a national group, also encouraged support and applauded the AMA vote.

During its meeting, the AMA also approved:

• A policy to help human trafficking victims. About 12.3 million adults and children are enslaved in human trafficking around the world at any given time, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. To help address this growing epidemic, the AMA adopted a policy to ensure physicians are trained to report suspected cases of trafficking to authorities while ensuring victims have the medical, legal and social resources they need.

“We must do everything we can to help get victims of human trafficking to safety,” said AMA board member William E. Kobler. “Since we know that victims of human trafficking rarely seek help out of fear of their captors or law enforcement, we believe that the health care setting is an ideal way to engage with suspected victims and get them the help and resources they so desperately need.”

• A policy aimed at strengthening prescription drug-monitoring programs. In the midst of what the AMA called a national opioid misuse epidemic, the organization bolstered its support for drug-monitoring programs.

The policy encourages the use of programs that protect patient privacy, contain relevant and reliable clinical data, are integrated into a care team’s workflow and provide actionable information. It also calls on state governments to modernize and fully fund the programs.

“We must also continue efforts to increase access to the life-saving medicine naloxone, ensure that patients in pain and patients with substance use disorders receive the coordinated care they need for as long as they need it and to reduce the stigma associated with being treated for pain or having a substance use disorder,” said AMA board secretary Patrice A. Harris.

Defense secretary comments on transgender military service

UPDATED: White House supports Defense secretary on trangender military service.

Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter addressed the issue of military service by transgender people — who are currently prohibited from serving openly — in a town hall in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

When asked about transgender service members serving in “austere environments” such as Afghanistan, Carter replied, in part, “And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

The question to Carter was posed from by a servicemember, who asked, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar? Secretary Carter responded, “I come at that from a fundamental starting point. It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of defense. But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country. And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

On Feb. 23, the White House backed Carter’s statement. During the daily briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “The president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve.”

LGBT civil rights advocates responded by encouraging Carter to work toward removing the prohibition against transgender people serving openly.

“We urge Secretary Carter to put action to his comments by ordering an immediate review of the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving our nation openly and honestly,” said David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign. “As Secretary Carter pointed out, all that should matter is the ability to do the job. Our nation’s transgender service members bravely and heroically serve our nation, and they certainly deserve to be able to be honest about who they are.”

The Palm Center, a research institute based in San Francisco, released a statement referring to prior studies on the issue: “A recent Palm Center study by a former U.S. Surgeon General and retired General and Flag Officers addressed the issue of deployment in austere conditions explicitly and concluded that ‘there is no compelling rationale for banning transgender military service’ and that ‘With few exceptions, transgender service members are deployable and medically ready.’

“Another recent Palm Center study by a former US Army Surgeon General and retired General Officers concluded that, ‘formulating and implementing inclusive policy (for transgender personnel) is administratively feasible and neither excessively complex nor burdensome.’”

The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families, also responded. “Secretary Carter is right in that their ability to serve is the only thing that should matter,” said AMPA president Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Thousands of transgender service members ARE currently doing the job, and doing it well, but are forced to do so in silence — forced to lie about something as fundamental as who they are in order to continue to serve. While we applaud Secretary Carter for being ‘open-minded’ on this issue, we urge him to take action that will lead to ending this ban that continues to harm our transgender service members and their families.”

Defense secretary: regulations against transgender personnel need review

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on May 11 that regulations effectively barring transgender people from serving openly in military service should be reviewed.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Hagel said, “I do think it continually should be reviewed. I’m open to that. I’m open to those assessments because — again, I go back to the bottom line — every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

LGBT civil rights activists have long urged changes to the 30-year-old medical regulations that serve as a barrier to transgender people openly serving in the Armed Forces.

“It makes no sense to exclude qualified transgender servicemembers and we are pleased Secretary Hagel endorses a review,” said David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign.

President urged to lift ban on transgender troops

The United States should join the dozen other nations that allow transgender people to serve in the armed forces, a commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general said in a report released on March 13 that concludes there is no medical reason for the decades-old ban and calls on President Barack Obama to lift it.

The five-member panel, convened by a think tank at San Francisco State University, said U.S. Department of Defense regulations designed to keep transgender people out of the military are based on outdated beliefs that require thousands of current service members either to leave the service or to forego the medical procedures and other changes that could align their bodies and gender identities.

“We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components,” said the commission led by Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served as surgeon general during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, a former chief health and safety director for the Coast Guard.

The White House referred questions to the Department of Defense.

“At this time there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a defense department spokesman.

The report says that while scholars have yet to find government documents explaining the basis for the ban, which has existed in medical fitness standards and conduct codes since the 1960s, it appears rooted in part in the psychiatric establishment’s long-held consensus, since revised, that people who identity with a gender different from the one assigned at birth suffer from a mental disorder.

The ban also was apparently based on the assumption that providing hormone treatment and surgeries would be too difficult, disruptive and expensive. But the commission rejected those notions as inconsistent with modern medical practice and the scope of health care services routinely provided to non-transgender military personnel.

“I hope their takeaway will be we should evaluate every one of our people on the basis of their ability and what they can do, and if they have a condition we can treat we would treat it like we would treat anyone else,” Elders said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The panel’s work was commissioned by the Palm Center, a think tank based at San Francisco State that is funded in part by a $1.3 million grant from Jennifer Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and former Army lieutenant colonel who came out as transgender last year.

At least a dozen nations, including Australia, Canada, England and Israel, allow transgender military personnel. Transgender rights advocates have been lobbying the Pentagon to revisit the blanket ban in the U.S. since Congress in 2010 repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly serving in the military.

The commission argued that facilitating gender transitions “would place almost no burden on the military,” adding that a relatively small number of active and reserve service members would elect to undergo transition-related surgeries and that only a fraction might suffer complications that would prevent them from serving. It estimated that 230 transgender people a year would seek such surgery at an average cost of about $30,000.

Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz, a former Army commander and West Point professor on the commission, said he thinks allowing transgender people to serve openly would reduce assaults and suicides while enhancing national security. Lawyers for Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks, presented evidence that stress over having to keep her gender identity secret contributed to an irrational belief that she could end the war in Iraq and by leaking the information.

“When you closet someone, you create a security risk, and we don’t need another Chelsea Manning,” Kolditz said. “If I were a commander, I certainly wouldn’t want people in my unit in a position to be blackmailed.”

The commission recommends the president issue an executive order instructing the Department of Defense to amend its regulations so transgender people are no longer automatically barred. The Pentagon then would need to develop rules for assigning service members who are transitioning, said Palm Center executive director Aaron Belkin.

The Williams Institute estimates that the U.S. currently has about 15,500 transgender military personnel, nearly all serving under their birth genders and not transitioning in an appearance-altering way.