Obama taps Hagel despite opposition from LGBT groups, right-wingers

Chuck Hagel

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz probably didn’t expect his first major stand in the U.S. Senate to be firmly on the same side as his LGBT constituents.

But Cruz and LGBT groups — along with right-wing supporters of Israel, some Jewish groups and many Democrats who want a Democrat appointed — are united in their opposition to the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Sen. John Cornyn also said he opposes Hagel’s nomination.

Cruz said on Fox News Sunday he couldn’t imagine supporting Hagel because of his anti-Israel positions.

Log Cabin Republicans has been among the most vocal of Hagel’s LGBT opponents. Log Cabin, which took a leading role in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” took out full-page ads last week in the New York Times and today in the Washington Post opposing the nomination. In 2011, Log Cabin won a lawsuit challenging DADT that resulted in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the federal government to stop enforcing it. The ruling came after repeal legislation passed but before final enactment.

—  David Taffet

What’s Brewing: Chick-fil-A downplays anti-gay sponsorship; Gates on DADT repeal; Lady Gaga

1. Chick-fil-A is attempting to downplay its sponsorship of two upcoming events hosted by the anti-gay Pennsylvania Family Institute, releasing a statement Thursday on Facebook saying a “local operator” had simply agreed to provide greasy-ass food. In the meantime, however, LGBT blogs have uncovered several additional connections between the company and anti-gay groups. Fool me once …

2. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon is moving fast to end “don’t ask don’t tell,” with military leaders expected to begin training troops on the change “in a very few weeks.” The troop training is part of a three-step process outlined by Gates on Wednesday in his first public comments about DADT since President Barack Obama signed the bill repealing the policy.

3. Lady Gaga unveils Polaroid sunglasses that take photos, video (video above).

—  John Wright

Obama to sign bill that DOES NOT immediately repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Wednesday

SLDN provided this image from Saturday’s ‘NBC Nightly News’ to illustrate how media outlets are incorrectly reporting that DADT has been repealed.

President Barack Obama will sign the bill that outlines a path for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in a ceremony at the Department of the Interior, at 9:15 a.m. Eastern (8:15 Central) on Wednesday. However, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is reminding folks — and especially the media — that even after Obama signs the bill, the law will remain in effect for an unknown period of time.

“We need the media’s help to let troops know they remain at risk under the law even after the President signs the bill,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in an e-mail statement this morning under the subject line “URGENT: Media warning ….”

“The Pentagon just released new guidance that made clear ‘Don’t Ask’ may still be the law for some time to come,” Sarvis said. “We respectfully renew our call for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ investigations during this limbo period. Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day implementation period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law. Certification and the implementation period must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted.”

SLDN says LGBT servicemembers with questions should call 202-328-3244 ext. 100 to speak with a staff attorney.

For more on the process for repealing DADT, see this story from the Washington Post.

—  John Wright

Senate vote on DADT repeal just hours away

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the standalone bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” sometime after 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, or 9:30 a.m. Dallas time, on Saturday. With at least four Republicans on board, supporters say they have the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to a final vote, which could come as early as late afternoon. From the Associated Press:

The Senate was headed toward a landmark vote Saturday on legislation that would let gays serve openly in the military, testing waning opposition among Republicans and putting Democrats within striking distance of overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Passage would be a historic victory for President Barack Obama, who made repeal of the 17-year-old law a campaign promise in 2008. It also would be a political win for congressional Democrats who have struggled repeatedly in the final hours of the lame-duck session to overcome Republican objections. …

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in U.S. history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers — the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — are required to certify to Congress that lifting the ban won’t hurt troops’ ability to fight. After that, 60 days must pass before any changes go into effect.

You can watch the historic proceedings live on the CSPAN website. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

Pentagon report sets up Senate showdown on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent mixed signals Tuesday, Nov. 30 in releasing the Pentagon’s long-awaited study about how to implement repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Gates said repeal “can and should be done,” but he urged Congress to consider the views of all-male combat units who expressed concern about negative consequences. He said the concerns of those combat units were “not an insurmountable barrier” to repealing the ban on openly gay people in the military, but said the military should be given “sufficient time” to exercise “an abundance of care and preparation” in rolling out that repeal. And neither he nor any other top Pentagon official were willing to give even a vague estimate of how much time would be sufficient.

But in a statement released Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama urged the Senate to act “as soon as possible,” saying he is “absolutely confident” troops “will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.”

The president reportedly spoke to Republican and Democratic leaders about DADT during a meeting at the White House on Monday to discuss a number of issues. Details of those conversations were not available.

Gates’ remarks and the report released by the Pentagon on Tuesday on how best to implement repeal of DADT will provide both proponents and opponents of repeal plenty of political ammunition once the Senate takes up the issue sometime this month.

The 256-page study is called the Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The report includes 20 pages of recommendations, presented in essay form, and 112 pages discussing and illustrating the results of surveys conducted of servicemembers and their families. Most media reports focused on the survey results, but the recommendations have, perhaps, the greatest importance for the LGBT community. The most significant of the recommendations include:

• Issuing “an extensive set of new or revised standards of conduct” for servicemembers while in uniform, including for such matters as “public displays of affection,” dress and appearance, and harassment, and that those standards “apply to all Service members, regardless of sexual orientation”;

• That military law not add sexual orientation “alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class eligible for various diversity programs or complaint resolution processes.” Instead, the report recommends DOD “make clear that sexual orientation may not, in and of itself, be a factor in accession, promotion, or other personnel decision-making.” Complaints regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation would be addressed through “mechanisms” available for complaints other than those involving race, color, sex, religion, or national origin — “namely, the chain of command … and other means as may be determined by the Services.”

• Repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to the extent it prohibits consensual sodomy, regardless of whether same-sex or heterosexual;

• Amend the code to “ensure sexual orientation-neutral application” with regards to sexual offenses. For instance, Article 134 prohibiting adultery, would be rewritten to include a married female servicemember having sex with another woman who was not her spouse;

•  No separate housing or bathroom facilities for gay or lesbian servicemembers and no assignments of sleeping or housing facilities based on sexual orientation “except that commanders should retain the authority to alter … assignments on an individualized, case-by-case basis, in the interest of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline, and consistent with performance of mission”;

• No revision “at this time” of regulations to add same-sex committed relationships to the current definition of “family members” or “dependents” in regards to military benefits, such as housing, but to revisit the issue at a later date;

• Review benefits “that may, where justified from a policy, fiscal, and feasibility standpoint,” be revised to enable a servicemember to designate “whomever he or she wants as a beneficiary”;

• Evaluate requests for re-entry into the military from those servicemembers discharged under DADT “according to the same criteria as other former Service members seeking re-entry”; and

• No release from obligations of service for military personnel who oppose serving alongside gay and lesbian service members.

The survey part of the report indicates:

• 69 percent of servicemembers believed they had already served with someone they knew to be gay;

• 70 percent to 76 percent said repeal would have “a positive, a mixed, or no effect” on task cohesion; and 67 percent to 78 percent said it would have positive, mixed or no effect on “social cohesion”;

• 92 percent of those servicemembers who said they served alongside a gay person said they did not consider the gay servicemember’s presence to have created any problems for unit cohesion; and

• 26 percent said they would take a shower at a different time than a gay servicemember.

The report noted that the responses of Marines Combat Arms units (fighting forces on the ground) were “more negative” than the forces overall concerning how gay servicemembers would affect unit cohesion. Overall, 21 percent said gays in the unit would negatively affect their unit’s readiness, but while 43.5 percent of Marine Combat Arms said so.

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen also underscored a need to move slowly and carefully to implement repeal, should Congress approve it. In doing so, Gates highlighted a finding that between 40 percent and 60 percent of all-male combat arms and special operations units predicted a negative effect of repeal on unit cohesion. He said this finding was a concern for him and for the chiefs of the branches of service. And he urged Congress to consider this in its deliberations.

But Gates said he did not consider that finding to be an “insurmountable barrier” and said he does believe repeal “can and should be done without posing a serious threat to military readiness.”

Even before the report was officially released at 2:15 Eastern time on Tuesday, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said it expected the report to be “overwhelmingly positive” and “one of the best tools that repeal advocates can use” in the lame duck Congress.

The report will be the subject of two days of hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 2 and 3. Republican opponents of repeal, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are expected to challenge the legitimacy of the study and to tweak out information within it to support their position against repealing the law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had been considered a potential vote for repeal, surprised many over the weekend when he began to parrot a criticism of the study that McCain raised in recent days — that the Pentagon studied “how” to repeal DADT, not “whether” to repeal it.

Gates rebuffed this criticism previously and again during today’s press conference.

“This report does provide a sound basis for making decisions on this law,” said Gates. “It’s hard for me to imagine you could come up with a more comprehensive approach.” More than 400,000 servicemembers responded to a survey, as did thousands of family members. And Mullen said data “is very compelling.”

But Graham also told Fox News Sunday on Nov. 28 that he doesn’t believe there is “anywhere near the votes” to repeal DADT “on the Republican side.”

Democrats don’t really need Republican votes to repeal DADT; it takes only 51 and, with Independents, they have 58. But many took Graham’s remarks to suggest that Republicans would stand together as a party to block the Senate from even considering the Defense Authorization bill that contains the DADT repeal language.

“I think we’ll be united in the lame duck,” said Graham of Republican senators. “… So I think in a lame duck setting, ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is not going anywhere.

And that’s where the uncertainty lies: Will Democrats have 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster in order to begin deliberation on the FY 2011 Defense Authorization bill?

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he expects McCain and others to try and thwart repeal. He said he was hopeful Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to reach an agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on some number of amendments either party could offer on the annual Defense Authorization bill which contains the repeal language. Among those amendments, said Sarvis, will almost certainly be one to strip the repeal language from the bill, but Sarvis said he does not believe there are enough votes to do that.

Sarvis also made clear during a telephone press conference with reporters Tuesday morning that his group is not going to put all its eggs in the lame duck basket.

Sarvis said his organization would — “early next week”— file at least one lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco to continue pressure for eliminating the ban on openly gay people in the military. He said the group would likely file two more lawsuits soon after that. Each lawsuit, he said, would represent the interests of different groups affected by the law — those on active duty, those who have been discharged and seek reinstatement, and those who would like to join the service.

Gates and Obama have both spoken out against lawsuits currently pending in the 9th Circuit seeking to challenge DADT — one from the Log Cabin Republicans (challenging the law on its face) and one from Air Force nurse Margaret Witt (challenging the law as applied). Both have been successful, thus far.

In an interview with ABC News, released Nov. 9, Gates said he thinks the end of DADT was “inevitable.”

“My hope, frankly,” he said, “is that … if we can make the case that having this struck down by the courts is the worst outcome, because it gives us no flexibility, that people will think I’m called a realist, a pragmatist. I’m looking at this realistically. This thing is gonna go, one way or the other.”

In the end, it may take more than just one showdown vote in the Senate. In addition to needing 60 votes to begin debate on the defense spending bill, SLDN’s Sarvis said Tuesday he expects Senate Democrats will need 60 votes to force a vote to end debate as well. Then a final version of the bill must be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee and returned to both chambers for a final vote.

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

Leaked study results support DADT repeal

FUTURE MILITARY | Members of a Dallas-area Jr. ROTC group march in formation, carrying U.S. flags, during Dallas’ annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday morning, Nov. 11. According to information leaked to The Washington Post earlier this week, a Pentagon report studying attitudes of current members of the military, a large majority don’t believe repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would harm military readiness. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” poses only minimal risk to current war efforts, according to results from a 370-page Pentagon study that were leaked to the Washington Post.

According to an article published on the Post’s website late Wednesday, sources said the study results indicate more than 70 percent of 400,000 servicemembers and 150,000 military spouses surveyed said the effect of DADT repeal would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. The survey found that a majority had no strong objections, though a significant minority is opposed. But the study’s authors reportedly concluded that objections to serving alongside openly gay colleagues would drop over time. And it says that servicemembers who object to sharing a room or shower with openly gay troops should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Openly gay Air Force veteran David Guy-Gainer of Forest Hill called the report “a Veterans Day gift” for LGBT current and former servicemembers.

Guy-Gainer is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He had just returned from a Veterans Day breakfast in Tarrant County when he spoke to Dallas Voice on Thursday, Nov. 11.

“I am thrilled. It’s wonderful. I can’t think of a better gift for Veterans Day,” he said.

The story was published just hours after the Obama administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the military be allowed to continue enforcing DADT while a lower court ruling declaring the policy unconstitutional makes its way through the appeals process.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal argued that the stay is necessary because the injunction would cause “the government the kind of irreparable injury that routinely forms the basis for a stay pending appeal.”

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips issued an injunction against enforcement of DADT last month in the wake of her earlier ruling, in a case brought by Log Cabin Republicans, that DADT is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of Phillips’ injunction, and Log Cabin Republicans appealed that stay to the Supreme Court.

The Post article is based on information provided to the newspaper from two people “familiar with a draft of the report,” according to reporters Ed O’Keefe and Greg Jaffe. The sources are not identified in the article. Asked if the reporters could convey a request from Keen News for follow-up, O’Keefe said Thursday morning that the sources “insisted we not contact them again.”

The report will almost certainly affect the momentum for repealing DADT during the lame-duck Congress, as the potential for breaking a Republican-led filibuster hinges largely on 10 senators who said in September that they did not want to vote on the issue until the Pentagon study was available. The study is due to President Barack Obama by Dec. 1.

“These results confirm what those of us who actually know the modern military, especially the rank and file troops, have said all along: The men and women of America’s armed forces are professionals who are capable of handling this policy change,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under the law in 2002. “In light of these findings, as well as the Secretary of Defense’s recent call for Senate action on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ during the lame duck session, there is no longer any excuse for failing to bring the defense authorization bill back up during the first week of the post-election legislative session.”

Aubrey Sarvis, exeutive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said servicemembers who were polled for the study reflect how most Americans feel about open service — ”It’s no big deal, let’s move on and get the job done.”

“The military has a proud tradition of adjusting to change and becoming stronger for it. Ending ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ will be no different,” Sarvis said. “It’s clear a majority of Americans in both the military and civilian spheres agree that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is outdated and should go. Congress needs to catch up and the Senate should immediately act on repeal when it returns to Washington next week. No one should be surprised if a vocal minority, for a short window, might object, as a minority did when segregation in the ranks ended and women were admitted to the service academies. In the military you get over your objections or you get out.”

The Post said its sources provided details about “a draft” of the study that was distributed late last week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and leaders — both civilian and uniformed — of the four military branches.

The study reportedly does not recommend any significant changes to military housing or benefits, saying that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits recognition of same-sex spouses.

Although many political observers have suggested there is little to no chance that the lame-duck Congress will pass a defense authorization bill this year with the DADT repeal language intact, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Washington Blade this week that “Democrats are going to try very hard” to do so.

And in a telephone conference call with reporters Wednesday, Winnie Stachelberg, a key participant in meetings with the White House on the issue, said she thinks the strong statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in recent days have help put the repeal effort “in a solid position” during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Stachelberg, who is a vice president at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said pro-repeal activists need to focus on 10 senators who indicated during debate in September that they wanted to hear from the Pentagon study before taking a position on repeal. Those 10 include Republicans Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio. They also include Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia, as well as two senators who will not take their seats until the new Congress convenes in January — Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois, whose election is still pending, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Human Rights Campaign also launched a grassroots campaign Monday to put pressure on senators from eight key states to support breaking the filibuster on DADT. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

The House passed DADT repeal language in its version of the FY 2011 defense authorization bill last May, but the Senate was unable to take up a similar version of the bill in September when Republicans led a filibuster aimed primarily at DADT repeal.

Some unsourced reports suggested last week that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a supporter of repeal, was discussing with Sen. McCain the possibility of stripping DADT repeal from the bill. But neither senator confirmed that report and, with unsourced reports, it’s hard to know what is really being discussed and what is simply a rumor being spread by one side or the other to create an appearance of inevitability to advance their own interests.

Stachelberg said Wednesday she believes the only real objections surrounding DADT repeal now are ones over procedure — how and when to repeal it, not substance. But she acknowledged that Congress must vote repeal this year because “next year would be very grim.”

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright