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White House gives Pentagon six months to create new trans military ban policy

UPDATED (8/24): Memo went back to White House Counsel for “adjustments”

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A U.S. Army sergeant flies the American flag from the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The pilots and crew chiefs fly American flags to present with certificates to service members as part of aviation tradition. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)

UPDATE (8/24): According to a White House source, the guidance on the transgender service ban went back to the White House Counsel’s Office for “adjustments” in response to public statements by organizations after the news broke that the 2 ½ page memo was on its way to Defense Sec. Mattis. There has been no word what adjustments were made or if the memo is in or out of the Counsel’s Office. In the meantime, seasoned journalists are asking if the memo even exists since the memo on the Muslim ban was leaked within hours of its announcement. The LA Blade, however, is confident the memo exists because details were leaked that are very similar to information leaked separately to the Wall Street Journal. One other note: under ordinary circumstances, a memo ordering such a significant change in policy must be delivered directly into the hands of the Secretary of Defense—and Mattis is out of the country. So will the White House wait for his return or shoot him an email? The Washington Blade reports that when asked about the memo, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged the question. “When we have an announcement on that, I’ll let you know, and we’ll be sure to answer those questions at that time,” Sanders said. Stay tuned.

Original story:  White House guidance on the transgender military service ban President Trump ordered via tweet July 26 is headed to the Pentagon, as soon as Thursday afternoon or possibly Friday morning, a senior White House source told the Los Angeles Blade.

The Guidance has been boiled down to a 2½-page memo that directs Defense Sec. Mattis to come up with a policy in six months, stop spending money on transgender-related medical treatment for active duty trans servicemembers and gauges fitness for service based on “deployability”—whether the trans individual can ably serve in a war zone and engage in military exercises or function a ship for months, officials told the Wall Street Journal. 

“‎DoD will provide an update upon receipt of formal guidance,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick told The Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. “The Department continues to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect.”

That guidance was also watered down from the complete ban Trump ordered to one that would allow active duty trans service members to continue serving after even Republicans opposed the policy change. The weakened policy requires that recruitment and the accessions policy be halted (they are now), enlistment contracts not be renewed, promotions result in discharges, and transgender-specific healthcare be prohibited.

 

At an Aug. 14 news conference, Mattis indicated support for trans service members, noting the United States Armed Forces is “a widely diverse force. We look at E Pluribus Unum on our coins. Out of many, one. They were simply emphasizing on the battlefield we are one team and that’s the way we stay.”

It has now been widely reported that Mattis quietly intervened to scotch efforts by anti-LGBT Reps. Duncan Hunter and Vicky Hartzler to get a version of the trans ban passed through Congress. Nor did he object when Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the current policy of open service would remain in effect until it is formally replaced or when Navy Secretary Spencer said “any patriot” should be allowed to serve, echoing other commanders supporting their trans service members.

However, Mattis also noted that the military chain of command requires him to follow orders given by the civilian commander-in-chief. “You all elected — the American people elected the commander in chief. I — they didn’t elect me. So the commander in chief in our country and our system of government is elected by the people. He has that authority and responsibility. So that was fully within his responsibility,” Mattis said.

Mattis flagged that he expected the guidance “very soon,” after which “we will study it and come up with what the policy should be.”

It is unclear how long it will take to study the guidance and come up with a policy, considering that the Pentagon is already investigating four serious incidents with the Navy involving numerous deaths—raising questions about military readiness in the forward Asian theatre as North Korea continues saber-rattling. Additionally, Trump is sending roughly 4,000 more troops into the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, while also fighting a war in Iraq, a conflict in Syria and in hotspots like Somalia.

Ignobly, Trump called for unity during his Afghanistan speech as the ban was being prepared. “[All service members] are bound together by common purpose, mutual trust, and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other,” Trump said. “Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate.”

The White House senior official source — who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity — said Vice President Mike Pence is the driving force behind the ban. In fact, he has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers.

“[Trump] makes decisions based upon what he believes is right, but more importantly, what he committed to,” Perkins told the Christian Broadcast Network after the tweets. “He’s only doing what he committed he would do.”

Trump’s fear of his evangelical base is more powerful than his promises to the LGBT community, justifying the ban by saying: “It’s been a very difficult situation and I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. As you know, it’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”

Fact check: an estimated 6,000 trans service members have been serving openly without incident since the original ban was lifted by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in July 2016, after a year of study and deliberation.

News of the ban prompted the California Legislative LGBT Caucus to introduce a Resolution saying California would protect its own trans service members. California is home to more than 190,000 active and reserve service people on three army bases, seven marine bases, 10 navy bases, six air force bases and five reserve and numerous U.S. Coast Guard bases.

“Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military is offensive, misguided, and contrary to our American values,” said Assembly member Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, after introducing Assembly Joint Resolution 22 on Aug. 23. “The thousands of transgender military service members who have put their lives on the line for our country deserve better. The California Legislative LGBT Caucus stands by our transgender service members and will do everything in our power to prevent further discrimination.”

The LGBT Caucus cites a Pentagon-commissioned study by the RAND Corporation that estimated medical care for transgender service members would cost approximately $8 million a year of the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget—“compared to $84 million, which the United States military currently spends on Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs,” the Caucus says in a press release.

“As an American, a veteran and a lesbian—I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s recent announcement that transgender people will be banned from military service,” said Assembly member Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton). “Americans who love their country and feel a call to duty—in the form of military service—should be lifted up for their courage and sacrifice, rather than pushed out!”

“Military rules and regulations allow trans people to serve their country, and even the commander-in-chief cannot change those via Twitter. Thousands of trans service members on the front lines deserve better from their commander-in-chief. Discrimination doesn’t make us safer, but it does exclude those with the desire and talents to serve our country. Their service matters, their lives matters, and the CA LGBT Caucus stands with our trans service-members,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), vice chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.

Interestingly, at the end of the resolution, the Caucus notes what could prove to be a wrinkle in Trump’s plan. “Resolved, That the Legislature of the State of California calls upon the Governor of California to direct the California National Guard, the California Air National Guard, and the other Armed Forces of the state to take no action that discriminates against transgender service members in enlistment, promotion, or any other aspect of their service, on the basis of their gender identity or expression, unless superseded by federal law, regulation, or formal directive from the United States Department of Defense.”

But what happens if and when transgender members of the state National Guard are called up and federalized? Low’s office says they are looking into that. AJR 22 will be heard on the Assembly floor in the coming weeks.

Next up are the lawsuits. GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights already filed a“Doe v. Trump” lawsuit on Aug. 9 in federal court in D.C., seeking an injunction against Trump’s directive to reinstate a ban. A joint lawsuit from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with lots of amicus briefs, will no doubt be coming soon.

It will be interesting to see if the same outrage demonstrated at Trump’s alignment with white supremacists will greet the ban on the patriotic right of transgender Americans to serve their country.

UPDATE:  OutServe-SLDN sent out this angry press release moments after the news became public. They intend to file a lawsuit with Lambda Legal as soon as they see and scrutinize the 2 1/2 page memo:

OutServe-SLDN Condemns White House Purge of Trans Service Members

(WASHINGTON) August 24, 2017– Breaking faith with top generals and admirals, President Trump’s White House will issue guidance to the Department of Defense, per the Wall Street Journal, which would effectively purge anyone found to be transgender from the armed services. This policy would purge thousands of currently serving transgender troops over the coming months and years by denying them reenlistment; threatening to cut off their healthcare; and would make permanent a ban on recruiting transgender troops that was set to expire later this year.

The following can be attributed to OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn:

“The President’s order to remove transgender service members from the United States armed forces is nothing less than a purge. He is implementing this purge based on bigotry, motivated by agents of an ideology that has no concern for the national defense, and in blatant disregard of the experience of career officers who spent more than a year developing and implementing the current policy.

It is inconceivable that a man with a demonstrated incompetence in managing the small staff of the White House should have any credibility when it comes to making sound personnel decisions that will effect a fighting force of more than 1.8 million men and women.

We recognize this purge for what it is – a discriminatory attack on the people who have volunteered their lives for the defense of the country. It is arbitrary and capricious, a callous and questionable exercise of constitutional authority which is beneath the dignity of a Commander-in-Chief.

We condemn the actions of the White House in initiating this purge. We condemn the disregard that the President has shown to transgender men and women who wear the uniform. We condemn the intent of any person who would make it the mission of United States military to discriminate against the very citizens they are charged to defend. And we condemn the indifference of any elected official who does not now stand up for both military personnel and the LGBT community by opposing this purge.

OutServe-SLDN along with Lambda Legal will swiftly be filing a lawsuit in federal court to challenge this action.”

OutServe-SLDN’s legal team will provide any and all advocacy and legal assistance possible to ensure the transgender community is able to openly serve our country in its armed forces. Individuals seeking assistance may contact the legal department directly at 800-538-7418or [email protected]

###

OutServe-SLDN (OS-SLDN) is the largest non-profit, legal services, advocacy and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org.

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Michigan

Michigan teacher walks off job & resigns after told to remove Pride flag

“To me, the flag represents love and inclusion for everybody, not just whoever is of the LGBTQIA+ community”

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Three Rivers Community Schools administrative offices (Photo Credit: TRCS Facebook)

THREE RIVERS, Mi. – A middle school health teacher walked off the job Nov. 22, then resigned after the school district’s administration ordered LGBTQ+ Pride flags removed from classrooms.

Russell Ball, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, told local media outlets that “The rumors kind of floating around is that one or two parents that complained about the flags being in the classroom.” 

“To me, the flag represents love and inclusion for everybody, not just whoever is of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Ball said during an interview last week with NBC News affiliate WOOD TV 8 on Grand Rapids. “I felt very disheartened and saddened. The students losing that representation throughout the classrooms really hurt, losing my own representation in the classroom really hurt. It was just something I was not prepared to do.”

He told NBC 8 that, combined with burnout, caused him to resign from his position as a health teacher.

“It all comes down to having some open communication and building understanding that we’re not out to vilify anybody, but we are here and we do exist,” he said.

In a statement posted on its website, the school district’s Interim Superintendent Nikki Nash said officials were notified by what he referred to as an “an external party,” Nov. 18. According to Nash, the person questioned information shared within the school day, which also included an inquiry of the Gay Straight Alliance after-school club and pride flags within Three Rivers Middle School classrooms.

“We continue to work with the district’s legal firm and board of education to ensure we are providing a safe learning environment for all students,” the statement continued. “There is a board meeting on December 6th.”

Attorneys representing the district did not reply Tuesday to multiple requests for comment.

Comments on the school district’s Facebook page reflected anger over its decision, with one person writing; “It is disappointing Three Rivers Community Schools has decided to kick protections and support for LGBTQ+ students to the curb for some undisclosed reason. The district claims protection for all students but somehow figured LGBTQ+ students don’t fit in that category for all students and are now willing to show the students and their support network of teachers to the door.”

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Virginia

Virginia Tech Co. burns LGBTQ poster at company party- then apologizes

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC

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Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC

ASHBURN, Va. – The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

A customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds, made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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The White House

New virus variant stokes global alarms, flights banned from South Africa

The variant is classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the Delta variant

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:President Joe Biden (Blade file photo)

NANTUCKETT, Ma. – The World Health Organization declared a new variant of the mutated coronavirus it named Omicron as a variant of concern Friday. The variant is classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the Delta variant, the world’s most prevalent.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, [has shown] this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” the WHO noted.

The Omicron variant has already caused countries across Europe and Asia to implement travel restrictions.

President Joe Biden, spending the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with his family on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts off Cape Cod, on Friday issued a directive ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29.

Bloomberg reported that one of Biden’s top medical advisers said earlier Friday that officials would act after reviewing scientific data with counterparts in South Africa.

American health officials spoke with their South African counterparts midday New York time on Friday to gather medical and scientific data about the newly discovered variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Biden’s top health advisers, said they’d use that data in deciding whether to join the European Union, the U.K. and others in restricting travel.

The White House issued the President’s statement Friday afternoon:

“This morning I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. 

For now, I have two important messages for the American people, and one for the world community.

First, for those Americans who are fully vaccinated against severe COVID illness – fortunately, for the vast majority of our adults — the best way to strengthen your protection is to get a booster shot, as soon as you are eligible.  Boosters are approved for all adults over 18, six months past their vaccination and are available at 80,000 locations coast-to-coast.  They are safe, free, and convenient.  Get your booster shot now, so you can have this additional protection during the holiday season.

Second, for those not yet fully vaccinated: get vaccinated today.  This includes both children and adults.  America is leading the world in vaccinating children ages 5-11, and has been vaccinating teens for many months now – but we need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection. If you have not gotten vaccinated, or have not taken your children to get vaccinated, now is the time.

Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.   

In addition, I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally.  I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.”

Dr. Fauci Warns Americans To Take New Omicron Variant Seriously

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