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Military Special

Military Special: LGBT patriotism from gay ban to trans ban

Commemorating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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Gay vet in the 1993 March on Washington military contingent. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Dec. 22 marks the 8th anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” law banning lesbians and gay men from serving openly in the US Armed Forces. Normally, 8th anniversaries are not particularly noteworthy. But normality died during the 2016 presidential campaign and now, with Donald Trump and Mike Pence appearing so eager to erase LGBT progress, it is imperative to recall from whence the LGBT community came and the obstacles overcome.

On Dec. 14, Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed three separate briefs urgently asking the Supreme Court to ignore the nationwide injunction imposed by three lower courts in the ongoing legal battles over the Twitter-announced transgender military ban. He wants the Court to allow enforcement of the ban during the appeals process. Fortified with banal superiority, Francisco said the injunction caused “direct, irreparable injury to the interests of the government and the public” and complained that open trans service “threatens to undermine, disrupt unit cohesion and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.”

The rhetoric is familiar, used in numerous lawsuits since the original ban against homosexuals was imposed in 1953 and after President Bill Clinton reneged on lifting the ban in 1993 and agreed to the horrific DADT “compromise.” Some courts upheld the ban and DADT, others ruled for the individual, ordering reinstatement. 

But it was the 2004 lawsuit filed by the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) that sent the Defense Department and the Pentagon into a tizzy in 2010. By then, the DoD had discharged more than 14,000 servicemembers, including a slew of Arabic-speaking translators despite America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Straight LCR attorney Dan Woods, an unsung hero, was David to the DOJ’s Goliath at trial in the Riverside, California District Court. Discharged translator Alex Nicholson, then-executive director of Servicemembers United, was a plaintiff, buttressed by witnesses including scholars Aaron Belkin, director of the research-based Palm Center, and Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America; discharged servicemembers: former petty officer 3rd class Joseph Christopher Rocha, former Air Force officer Mike Almy, and former Air Force Staff Sergeant Anthony Loverde.

Woods also had President Obama’s opinion that DADT “weakens our national security” and eloquent support for a congressional repeal from Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. “We have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Mullen said before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2, 2010. “For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: Theirs as an individual, ours as an institution.”

Assistant U.S. attorney Paul Freeborne presented no witnesses, questioned LCR’s standing to bring the case, treated Judge Virginia A. Phillips rudely, and argued that DADT was constitutional because it was passed by Congress, with Republican Sen. John McCain’s firm support. “In my view, and I know that a lot of people don’t agree with that, the policy has been working and I think it’s been working well,” he said in that Feb. 2 Armed Services Committee hearing.

The LCR lawsuit proceeded virtually unnoticed—until Sept. 9, 2010 when Judge Phillips ruled that DADT violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. She found the “sweeping reach” of DADT restrictions is “far broader than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest at stake.” Additionally, DADT violates LGBT personnel’s right of association and due process.

“As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ statute violates the Constitution,” LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper told the Los Angles Times. “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican service members, but all American service members.”

A month later, on Oct. 12, 2010, Phillips issued a permanent worldwide injunction ordering the military to immediately “suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced” under DADT. “The order,” Woods said, “reaffirms the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians in the military who are fighting and dying for our country.”

Chaos ensued. The Pentagon said it would abide by the ruling but the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) cautioned personnel not to come out as they had in 1993 believing Clinton would lift the ban. The DOJ appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit and asked Phillips for an emergency stay until the appeal was adjudicated. Phillips said no. DOJ asked the Ninth Circuit for a stay, which it got. LCR appealed to the Supreme Court to vacate the stay. But on Nov. 12, Justice Kennedy said no—without explanation—and DADT was back on.

The chaos of the briefly lifted DADT so shook the military, they started advocating for a controlled repeal. McCain continued to stubbornly block passage but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Patrick Murphy, with Sen. Joe Lieberman pushing Republican Sen. Susan Collins, brilliantly maneuvered the bill through the lame duck Congress and got the DADT repeal to Obama. Before his death, McCain came out supporting openly gay DOD civilian professional Eric Fanning as Sec. of the Army and opposing Trump’s trans ban.

This special issue is just a glimpse of the long battle for LGBT full patriotic equality—from gay World War II vets enjoying the freedom of authenticity during the 1993 March on Washington to trans plaintiffs riding in LA’s 2017 CSW Pride Parade. 

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Military Special

National Trans military advocacy group elects new president

Fram is a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF

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Lieutenant Colonel Bree Fram, U. S. Air Force (Photo Credit: SPARTA)

WASHINGTON – SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new Board Chair and President of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the Board of Directors since April 2018, most recently as Vice President. Fram is also a Lieutenant Colonel and astronautical engineer in the US Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the US Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past 8 years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 Executive Order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·         Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·        Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·         Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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Military Special

Pentagon sweeps away Trump policies on Trans service

This guidance is a welcome reprieve for the thousands of individuals whose lives and careers have been disrupted

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Bigstock photo by icholakov

ARLINGTON, Virginia – The Pentagon said Wednesday that it was reversing policies set in place by the Trump administration that barred Transgender Americans from serving in uniform.

The Defense Department also is updating and expanding wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition for service members. The rule changes come after a two-month review ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had enacted immediate orders to finalize detailed regulations that all branches of the military services will follow.

Austin’s actions immediately followed President Joe Biden’s Executive Order that overturned former President Trump’s ban on Trans service. The new rules also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Their expected release Wednesday coincides with International Transgender Day of Visibility, the Associated Press reported.

The AP also noted that Secretary Austin has also called for a reexamination of the records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment because of gender identity issues under the previous policy. Results of that review have not been released.

SPART*A, the nation’s leading transgender military service organization reacted to the changes being implemented Wednesday.

“We applaud this step to ensure the Department of Defense provides inclusive policy to attract and retain the best and brightest our nation has to offer,” said Vice President of SPART*A Bree Fram, a U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.

“Military personnel reach maximum effectiveness when they have access to all medically necessary care and we are excited that this policy extends that access to transgender service members. Additionally, opening recruitment to transgender individuals ensures an extremely talented and motivated pool of people that this country needs have the opportunity to serve in uniform,” Fram added.

The revised policy is a close mirror of the previous 2016 guidance, which first enabled open service by transgender individuals in the United States Military under the Obama Administration. The new guidance includes expanded information on transition while on duty, updated roles and responsibilities for DoD personnel, and other administrative and functional updates.

The Defense Department in April 2019 approved a policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to serve in what the Trump administration called their “birth gender,” the AP reported.

Individual branches are expected to release service-specific guidance in the near future including the United States Coast Guard which operates as a component of the Department of Homeland Security.

“This guidance is a welcome reprieve for the thousands of individuals whose lives and careers have been disrupted during the tumultuous transition from the 2016 open service policy to the 2017 implementation of the transgender ban,” Fram noted in an emailed statement.

“Now, they are excited for this opportunity that allows for open service once again. Additionally a new accessions policy allows for the recruitment of new transgender service members,” she added.

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Military Special

VA Secretary orders greater LGBTQ inclusivity in agency care for veterans

“My goal as secretary is to make sure VA is welcoming to all veterans, including our transgender veterans,” he said.

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Veterans Administration Secretary Denis McDonough (Photo Credit: Official VA Photo)

WASHINGTON – Veterans Administration Secretary McDonough issued a memorandum Tuesday directing his agency to review its policies and procedures as it relates to the care of LGBTQ veterans, their families, caregivers, survivors, and employees.

McDonough told reporters in a briefing that he expected the policy review would be finished by March 30.

“My goal as secretary is to make sure VA is welcoming to all veterans, including our transgender veterans,” he said.

McDonough stressed that he and his agency would focus on inclusivity, diversity and equity under his tenure as VA secretary following  President Biden’s recently signed Executive Orders (Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform, signed on January 25, 2021, and Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, signed on January 20, 2021)

The Secretary told reporters that as he chooses his leadership team he will ensure that there would be full compliance with the president’s executive orders. He didn’t volunteer any further information on potential candidates for those positions.

“That will be a really important piece of demonstrating my seriousness about diversity and inclusion,” he said. “Our political appointees to date reflect that, and that’s intentional.”

Under the terms of the memo VA Under Secretaries and Staff Offices directed to execute the following:

Conduct a policy review to determine whether any regulations, directives, policies and procedures promote equity for and inclusion of LGBT Veterans, families, caregivers, survivors or employees. Design and implement a remediation plan if the review identifies discriminatory policies towards LGBT beneficiaries and employees.  

Perform an assessment of the necessary steps to eliminate the exclusion of “gender alterations” as currently stated in the medical benefits package, more commonly referred to as gender affirmation care and services, to include assessment of statutory and regulatory requirements as well as funding, staffing, technology and other resources required to provide all medically necessary services. 

Develop means to measure the experience of LGBT beneficiaries and employees and to include their perspectives in the development of future guidance and any barriers that LGBT beneficiaries and employees may face in accessing the full range of VA care, benefits and services are identified and addressed. 

Develop a plan to ensure that employees are trained on inclusive, respectful and welcoming interaction with LGBT beneficiaries and implement an enterprise plan to enhance data and information systems with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, such that beneficiaries and employees may independently and securely self-identify and be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns.

Stars and Stripes reported that McDonough also promised to address racial inequity at the agency during the news briefing. Last year, a group of Black VA employees organized to voice their experience with racism, which they said was made worse by leaders who refused to address it.

“Confronting this question of racial inequity will be a fundamental part of my tenure here, not least because the president is demanding it,” he said.

The VA currently provides LGBTQ specific care to veterans. California, the most populous state in the nation, has the largest veteran population (1.56 million) including LGBTQ vets.

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