Kagan nomination ensures that LGBT issues will play big part in confirmation process

Elena Kegan
Elena Kagan

As I write this, President Barack Obama is announcing his nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan, 50, would become the youngest member and the third woman on the current court. She has no prior judicial experience.

Kagan is expected to come under fire from conservatives over her decision as dean of Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from campus on grounds that “don’t ask don’t tell” violated the school’s non-discdrimination policy. Kagan and 40 other Harvard professors signed a brief to the Supreme Court supporting an unsuccessful challenge to the Solomon Amendment, a federal law that denies funding to universities that don’t allow access to military recruiters. After ultimately allowing the recruiters back on campus, Kagan wrote an e-mail to the Harvard Law School community in which she called DADT “a profound wrong — a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan has also been the subject of a whisper campaign alleging that she is gay. In April CBS published a blog post by a former Bush administration aide saying that Kagan’s nominiation would help Obama “please” much of his base, since she would be the “first openly gay justice.” The White House swiftly quashed the rumor, accusing CBS of “lies,” and the blog post was taken down.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement this morning praising Obama’s nomination of Kagan. HRC noted that the court could rule on several issues critical to the LGBT community in the next few years, including marriage equality, DADT, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the new federal hate crimes law.

“We applaud President Obama for choosing Elena Kagan to become our nation’s next U.S. Supreme Court Justice,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “The U.S. Supreme Court decides cases that intimately affect the lives of all Americans. We are confident that Elena Kagan has a demonstrated understanding and commitment to protecting the liberty and equality of all Americans, including LGBT Americans.”

—  John Wright

Defense secretary urges Congress not to repeal 'don't ask don't tell' this year

There was some bad news concerning “don’t ask don’t tell” Friday afternoon.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are telling Congress they’re “strongly opposed” to repealing the ban until the Pentagon has completed its review of the repeal’s impact.

Their statements came in an April 30 letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who’d inquired about the potential for a repeal as part of this year’s Defense Authorization Act.

“I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families,” Gates and Mullen wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Because the Pentagon’s review won’t be completed until December, this means Gates and Mullen don’t want to see DADT repealed until next year. But if Democrats lose seats in November elections, there may not be enough votes to repeal the law in 2011. Some say this timeline would push a DADT repeal back until at least 2013, when the law will turn 20 years old.

While the letter is disappointing, it’s not the first time Gates has gone on record opposing a 2010 repeal of DADT. And the letter doesn’t specifically say whether Gates would support a “delayed implementation” repeal of DADT, which would pass this year but wouldn’t take effect until after the Pentagon review is complete.

The letter comes in advance of a major protest of DADT  planned for Sunday outside the White House.

In response to Gates’ letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday evening called for an immediate moratorium on discharges under DADT.

“We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department. In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted,” Pelosi said in the statement.

After the jump, responses to Gates’ letter from the White House, the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, as well as the full text of the letter.

—  John Wright

Discharged Marine is a Texas native, and his letter to Obama served as his big coming out

Marine Cpl. Danny Hernandez
Marine Cpl. Danny Hernandez

When I posted a letter here yesterday from Marine Lance Cpl. Danny Hernandez to President Barack Obama, I had no idea that Hernandez was a Texan.

Hernandez contacted me this morning to say, “Thanks for the post — and oh, by the way, I’m from Paradise (a town of 400 northwest of Fort Worth near Decatur).”

The 22-year-old Hernandez, discharged from the Marines nine weeks ago for being gay, graduated from Paradise High School and then from Texas A&M University last year. His letter was part of a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network campaign aimed at repealing DADT.

But here’s the kicker: Hernandez said the letter also served his big coming out.

—  John Wright

Marine discharged under DADT to President Barack Obama: 'Please be faithful to me'

LCpl. Danny Hernandez
Lance Cpl. Danny Hernandez

Well we missed a few days, but better late than never right? On Monday the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network launched a new media campaign called, “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama,” which aims to underscore the urgent need to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” From SLDN’s press release about the series.

Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.”

Which brings us to today’s letter, part three of the 16-part series. It comes from Lance Cpl. Danny Hernandez, a former Marine discharged nine weeks ago after being outed by a third party. Below is a snippet from the letter, and I’ve posted the full text after the jump. To read previous letters, go here.

“Upon earning the title of Marine, I took an oath and vowed to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This enemy is a domestic one, and with your direction as Commander and Chief, this is a war in which we can be victorious.

“‘Semper Fidelis’ is the Marine Corps motto meaning “Always Faithful.” Not only am I willing and anxious to go overseas, but I am prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect our freedoms.

“I have remained faithful to my country; please be faithful to me.”


—  John Wright

Vet to Obama: I'm not an "it"

Autumn Sandeen FC1 USN (Ret.)
Autumn Sandeen FC1 USN (Ret.)

On April 20, six members of GetEQUAL were arrested outside the White House when they handcuffed themselves to the fence to protest “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” One of them was Autumn Sandeen, a retired Gulf War veteran. She served in the Navy for 20 years and has a service-related disability.

Sandeen, who is transgender, released a letter today that detailed her treatment after her arrest. She was called “impersonator,” “it” and “shim” by federal law enforcement officers.

Although her legal identity is female and she had her military retiree identification card with the name Autumn Violet Sandeen, the processing officer demanded to know her “given name.” She was placed with male prisoners. Proper policies were followed at the D.C. cellblock, she said.

As disturbing as the name-calling was by a few officers, no other police or marshal stepped up to stop the offensive language.Sad that she has to explain why being called “it” is dehumanizing.

Sandeen said there was a video camera in one place where she was called “it” and “shim” and has filed a Freedom of Information request for the video.

Full text of the letter follows the jump:

—  David Taffet

6 GetEQUAL activists who chained themselves to White House fence are released from jail

The six GetEQUAL activists arrested for chaining themselves to the White House fence on Tuesday were released from jail on Wednesday, but two of them are scheduled to face a trial in July, according to Metro Weekly.

Lt. Dan Choi and James Pietrangelo II, who had previously chained themselves to the fence in March, were originally scheduled for a trial on charges of failure to obey a lawful order April 26. But since the two now face similar charges stemming from Tuesday’s action, the judge has set a combined trial July 14.

The other four activists – Autumn Sandeen, Larry Whitt, Mara Boyd and Evelyn Thomas – were ordered to pay a $100 fine, which was promptly covered today by GetEQUAL.

Tuesday’s protest of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was one of three actions in as many days from GetEQUAL. On Monday night, activists from the group disrupted a speech by President Barack Obama in Los Angeles over DADT. And earlier today, they disrupted a House committee hearing to demand action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Dallas’ Mark Reed, Laura McFerrin and Chastity Kirven were among those involved in this week’s actions.

—  John Wright

Obama to gay-rights protesters who disrupted his speech: 'I don't know why you're hollering'

Gay-rights activists demanding a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” twice interrupted President Barack Obama’s speech at a Los Angeles fundraiser for Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer on Monday night. The activists were from GetEQUAL, the same group that staged sit-ins at offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a month ago.

Shortly after Obama took the stage Monday, the activists began chanting things like, “What about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?” Obama halted his speech before saying, “I agree, I agree, I agree. What the young man was talking about was, we need to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which I agree with, and which we have begun to do, but let me say this: When you”ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer, and you’ve got an ally like me who are fighting for the same thing, then I don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you. It would make more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”

A few minutes later, when the activists began chanting again, Obama said: “I’m sorry, do you want to come up here? Because can I just say once again, Barbara and I are supportive of repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ so I don’t know why you’re hollering.”

Obama then walked over to Boxer before returning to the podium. “I just wanted to confirm,” he said. “I just checked with Barbara, so if anybody else is thinking about starting a chant, Barbara didn’t even vote for ‘don’ t ask, don’t tell’ in the first place, so you know she’s going to be in favor of repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’”

Watch video of the disruption by going here.

—  John Wright

President Obama orders hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Thursday directing the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a rule prohibiting hospitals from denying visitation to gay and lesbian partners. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the memorandum was inspired by the case of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, in which Langbehn was kept from Pond’s bedside as she lay dying at a Miami hospital in 2007.

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” the memorandum begins. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.”

The memorandum goes on to say that gays and lesbians are “uniquely affected” because they’re “often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

In addition to drafting the rule prohibiting discrimination, the memorandum directs the department to make recommendations about what other steps it “can take to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued this response:

“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever. No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the President’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family.”

To read Obama’s full memorandum, go here.

—  John Wright

Creating Change: Rea Carey calls out Obama in annual State of the Movement Address

(David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey delivers her State of the Movement Address on Friday afternoon during the Creating Change conference at the Sheraton hotel in downtown Dallas. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called out President Barack Obama today during her annual State of the Movement Address, delivered at NGLTF’s Creating Change conference in Dallas.

Speaking to a crowd of thousands at the Sheraton hotel downtown, Carey recalled that a year ago, the LGBT community was filled with hope following the election of Obama and a new Congress.

But Carey said Obama has failed to live up to his campaign promise of being a “fierce advocate” for LGBT equality.

“We were eager to see what a fierce advocate could do, but now it’s a year into this new administration, it’s a year into this new Congress,” Carey said. “There have been glimmers of advocacy, but certainly not fierceness. Speeches aren’t change. Change is more than words. Change is action.”

As an example, Carey pointed to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers.

Obama has repeatedly said he favors repealing the ban, including during his recent State of the Union Address. This week, the nation’s two top military commanders told Congress they’ll conduct a yearlong study to determine how the DADT repeal should be implemented.

“Let me be clear — a yearlong study does not a fierce advocate make,” Carey said Friday. “A year is far too long to wait, and it’s time the president used the executive branch to stop these discharges now, while the military and Congress move to bring this shameful and discriminatory chapter of U.S. history to an end. Mr. President, the ball’s in your court. You have the opportunity to go down in history as one of the few presidents who acted decisively to move human rights forward.”

Carey added that Congress should be held “equally if not more accountable” than Obama, and she said it will ultimately be up to the community to “create change.”

“We thought we were finally going to have leadership that would stand with us, work with us and for us, but that hasn’t fully happened yet, and so it’s still up to us to push and in fact, to lead,” she said.

To read a full transcript of Carey’s remarks, go here.

—  John Wright

Q&A with the gay, blind, Hispanic woman who serves as assistant U.S. secretary of labor

Kathleen Martinez speaks during a visit to Dallas on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathleen Martinez speaks during a visit to Dallas on Thursday, Jan. 21.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Kathleen Martinez, a gay, blind, Hispanic woman who was named assistant secretary of labor last year by President Barack Obama. Martinez, who heads the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, was in Dallas to kick off a six-city Disability Listening Tour. Here are excerpts from my conversation with Martinez, which took place at the Westin City Center in downtown Dallas:

—  John Wright