Senate votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

John Wright  |  Online Editor

In a landmark victory for gay rights, the U.S. Senate gave final approval Saturday afternoon to a bill repealing the military’s 17-year-old ban on open service.

The bill, which passed the House earlier in the week, cleared the Senate by a margin of 65-31. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature before the process of implementing a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” can begin.

This morning, the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on DADT repeal, a defining procedural move that virtually ensured the bill’s passage this afternoon. As expected, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted against advancing DADT repeal.

Six Republicans joined 45 Democrats and two Independents to provide the 60-vote supermajority needed to cut off debate. The six Republicans were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois and George Voinovich of Ohio. No Democrats voted against advancing the bill, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not vote.

“This vote represents an historic step forward for this country, and it will very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former multi-lingual Army interrogator who was discharged under DADT.

Nicholson added that while implementing DADT repeal will take some time, “those who defend our freedom while living in fear for their careers will finally breathe a sigh of relief tonight, and those who have fallen victim to this policy in years past will finally begin to see true closure and redemption on the horizon.”

Repealing the policy will mean that for the first time in this history of the U.S., gays, lesbians and bisexuals can serve openly in the military. More than 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it became law in 1993.

In the wake of the initial vote this morning, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend all investigations and discharges under DADT.

Under the bill, implementation of DADT repeal won’t begin until 60 days after Obama, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that eliminating the policy won’t harm the military’s readiness.

“Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day Congressional period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law,” said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final. Certification and the 60-day Congressional requirement 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.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued this statement:

“Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognized that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal DADT.

“This has been a long fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history,” added Solmonese. “Congress now joins the majority of our troops and the American public in the common sense belief that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a service member is lesbian, gay or straight — what matters is that a service member gets the job done. The President can now fulfill his promise and sign this repeal legislation into law. After signing this legislation, we call on the President and Secretary of Defense to act expeditiously to complete the steps necessary to implement final repeal.”

—  John Wright

DPD, W hotel investigating gay man’s complaint against officer

GLBT Chamber chair says officer working security at hotel choked him in anti-gay incident after concert

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Derrick Brown
Derrick Brown

The chair of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint this week against a Dallas police officer who allegedly choked him during a confrontation outside the W-Dallas Victory hotel following a Lady Gaga concert on Friday, July 23.

Derrick Brown filed the complaint on Wednesday, July 28, against Officer F. Phelps, who was off-duty and working security for the hotel at the time of the incident.

Phelps, who was in uniform, reportedly accused Brown of grabbing his buttocks as they crossed paths near the street entrance to Ghostbar, a business inside the hotel.

“A group of us were walking to Ghostbar after the concert,” Brown said in a message posted online Saturday, July 24. “The off-duty officer claimed that I grabbed him (which I did not). When trying to tell him so, he grabbed my neck, pushed and pinned me against the wall by my neck telling me to shut up. Needless to say, I am outraged and will ensure action is taken to prevent it happening to someone else in our community.”

Brown was traveling this week and couldn’t be reached for further comment. Another member of Brown’s group who witnessed the incident didn’t respond to a phone message.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Brown had filed a complaint against Phelps.

“There has been a complaint filed with our internal affairs division and an investigation has begun into the allegations against the officer,” Janse said. “This process will take some time so that we can conduct a very thorough investigation.”

Janse would not provide a copy of Brown’s complaint, saying the newspaper would need to file a formal records request.

The confrontation with Brown was one of two separate incidents involving Phelps and gay hotel patrons that occurred just minutes apart after the concert at the nearby American Airlines Center.

Another gay leader, Malcolm Gage, alleges that Phelps threatened him with arrest after he tried to enter the hotel to visit a friend who was staying there.

Gage, director of finance at Park Place Volvo and a board member for the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said he also planned to file a complaint with DPD.

“I took issue with the attitude of the officer and the way he was treating us and what the W did, but with Derrick it’s considerably more serious because he [Phelps] attacked him,” Gage told Dallas Voice. “This guy screams at Derrick and says, ‘You grabbed my ass.’ Derrick’s issue is a much bigger issue.”

Gage said he and his roommate drove from the Lady Gaga concert and parked their vehicle using the hotel’s valet service. As they walked toward the main entrance of the hotel, they were stopped by a security guard who told them they needed a room key to come in.

When Gage explained that they were visiting a hotel guest, the security guard said they would need to call their friend and have him come down to meet them.

Gage, who says he visits the hotel frequently, questioned why this was necessary and said it was a major inconvenience because their friend was already entertaining other guests.

The security guard then summoned Phelps and another off-duty DPD officer. Phelps reportedly told Gage, “Look here man, if you don’t leave the property I’m going to arrest you for criminal trespassing.”

Words were exchanged between the parties before the second DPD officer pulled Gage aside and said, “If this were off [hotel] property then this probably would have been a little more physical removal, so I’m being nice right now by talking to you,” according to Gage.

The hotel’s night manager arrived and asked Gage and his roommate to leave. When Gage asked for a valid reason, Phelps said, “You need to do what I say.”

As Gage and his roommate left, Phelps said things like, “What you going to do now?” according to Gage.

“I would like to notify you that I plan to not only file formal complaints against the officers mentioned, but I will do everything in my legal rights to make sure that this does not happen to another member of the Dallas LGBT community,” Gage wrote in a letter to the general manager of the W hotel. “I feel that we were discriminated against because we were gay and the hotel staff was just as much at fault as the officers involved.”

The general manager, Thomas Caramucci, told Dallas Voice in a statement that the hotel is investigating.

“We are aware of the incident and are currently looking further into the details of the situation, in cooperation with the Dallas Police Department,” Caramucci said. “Please know that the safety and comfort of our guests is our top priority and any and all situations receive our utmost attention.  … As you are aware W Dallas-Victory and the W brand are a strong supporters of the LGBT community and we appreciate the opportunity to respond.”

The W Dallas-Victory is owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which maintains a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

“As previously stated, the safety and comfort of our guests is a top priority,” Caramucci said in a follow-up statement. “To meet that end, in instances where large crowds are involved (i.e. popular concerts, Victory Park events, New Year’s Eve, etc.) it is our policy to request that anyone entering the front lobby doors present a key card to gain entry after 9:00 PM. Extra security is also hired to help ensure the added safety and enjoyment of our patrons. Though no one involved in Friday’s incident was a hotel guest, we take any situation that occurs on our property very seriously and are continuing to investigate the matter.

“W Dallas-Victory and the W brand are strong supporters of the LGBT community, and the hotel values the relationship and rapport we have built,” Caramucci added. “We have and will continue to demonstrate our support by participating in the local pride parade, Pride in the Park, BubbleQ and other events and fundraisers. Additionally, we offer our Pride 365 Package year-round.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas