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Chechnya fundraiser on Facebook goes viral

Facebook user raises $256,000 to help gay men flee Chechnya

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Fred Erick took the initiative and raised $256,000 on Facebook. (Photo courtesy Fred Erick

BY Honey LaBronx and Rebekah Sager  | A Russian LGBT advocacy group has confirmed reports that gay men in Chechnya have been sent to secret prisons that have been described as ‘concentration camps.’ Over 200 LGBTQ citizens in Chechnya have been abducted, detained, tortured, and even killed so far in 2017.

Federick Erick, who immigrated to the United States with this family from the Soviet Union in 1987, seeking asylum as a Jewish refugee, simply couldn’t look away. He responded by creating a Facebook fundraiser that raised over $200,000.

“I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, when I read an article about Rainbow Railroad and their Underground Railroad network in Russia,” Erick told the Los Angeles Blade.

Erick says he saw an ad on Facebook about fundraising campaigns. He decided to see if he could raise money for Rainbow Railroad and help those suffering in Chechnya.

He wrote on his post:

“After the Holocaust people asked why didn’t anyone do anything? Well here’s your chance. Or will future generations ask the same of us?”

He set a goal of $10,000 in one month, launching on April 22, but didn’t really think he’d hit more than $1K. Within days he made his goal, then reset to $20K, then $50k, then $100k, then finally, $200k, and by the end of the campaign on May 17 at midnight, it was over $256k.

“It was a miracle how it all came together.  I think everyone was frustrated and didn’t know what to do.  All we could do was give.  People who couldn’t afford to donate asked what they could do.  I said the most powerful weapon against genocide besides liberation is information.  They were all saying this isn’t happening; that they haven’t opened up four modern day Concentration Camps — but overwhelming evidence showed they had.  I told them to share [the post] and invite friends. Actor George Takei shared with his millions of followers and money started pouring in,” Erick said

Based in Canada, Rainbow Railroad is a volunteer-run charity that helps LGBTQ individuals escape countries where they are persecuted. Since its founding in 2006, the organization has funded travel for over 200 people.  The majority of the cases funded have been from Jamaica, Nigeria, and Uganda, but requests for help are increasingly coming from other regions of the world.  In 2016 alone, they raised $833,000 to help rescue a record 81 individuals from life-and-death situations.

Chechnya, a small country with just over a million people, became a federal state of Russia when they lost their independence in early 2000.

Distributing any positive information about LGBTQ life is already illegal under Russia’s “gay propaganda laws,” but in Chechnya the homophobia is even more extreme.

According to Human Rights Watch, on April 1, the leading independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reported that law enforcement and security agency officials, under the control of the Chechen Republic head, Ramzan Kadyrov, rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay. Some of them were forcibly “disappeared.” Those who were fortunate enough to be returned to their families, were left barely alive from beatings, and at least three men have died since the brutal campaign began.

Even those who manage to escape the modern day concentration camps live in fear of being hunted down by their own families.  As the government shames individuals for their sexuality, they place equal shame on the families for allowing what they call “filth” to grow within the family.

Families are told to kill their gay relatives or the government will do it for them. The honor killings have become commonplace throughout Chechnya.  Gay and bisexual men are left with nowhere to hide.  So even when some manage to escape to Russia, they still live in fear of being hunted down by their families who see no other way to undo the shame brought on them by their loved one.

Rainbow Railroad has been working closely with the Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental organization currently leading the campaign to rescue those facing danger in Chechnya.  By now, they have already helped 37 individuals escape into safe houses in Russia, awaiting transport out of the country.  Rainbow Railroad is providing direct travel assistance and has already negotiated safe travel for two individuals with and is committed to supporting every one of them.

This includes working with the Canadian government to provide direct assistance to LGBTQ people who need help fleeing Chechnya and other countries by way of emergency visas, as the U.S. has since denied visas for roughly 40 gay Chechens.

Mario Diaz of Los Angeles has taken up the mantel where Erick left off. Creating a Facebook fundraiser, which is already very close to meeting its fundraising goal of $35,000 by May 23rd at midnight – Diaz’s campaign will also benefit Rainbow Railroad.

Those wishing to donate directly to Rainbow Railroad can do so at www.AmericanRainbowRailroad.org.

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District of Columbia

Founder of now-defunct D.C. LGBTQ group pleads guilty to wire fraud

Reduced charge says Ruby Corado stole at least $150,000 in COVID-relief funds

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Ruby Corado in El Salvador (Photo via Facebook)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of the now-defunct LGBTQ community services organization Casa Ruby, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charge to which she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for D.C. says she diverted at least $150,000 “in taxpayer-backed emergency COVID relief funds to private off-shore bank accounts for her personal use,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Court records show that U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who is presiding over the case, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2025.

Corado’s guilty plea came a little over six weeks after prosecutors on May 31 filed a one-count criminal information charge of wire fraud against her that replaced an earlier criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud, money laundering, monetary transactions in criminally derived proceeds, and failure to file a required report of a foreign bank account.

The earlier complaint was filed at the time the FBI arrested Corado on March 5 of this year at a hotel in Laurel, Md., shortly after she returned to the U.S. from El Salvador. The initial complaint, like the new criminal information that replaced it, accused Corado of diverting at least $150,000 of federal pandemic relief funds to her own bank accounts in El Salvador. The charges say the funds were intended for use by Casa Ruby to support indigent LGBTQ clients in need of housing and other support services.

At the request of Corado’s court-appointed attorney and against the wishes of federal prosecutors, who said Corado would be a flight risk, another judge agreed to release Corado into the custody of her niece in Rockville, Md., under a home detention order. The release order came seven days after Corado had been held in jail since the time of her arrest on March 5.

In addition to a prison sentence, the charge of wire fraud also includes a possible penalty of financial forfeiture for which Corado could be required to pay restitution to the government. The plea agreement filed in court includes this statement to Corado’s attorney: “Specifically, your client agrees to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment in an amount ordered by the court, which is equal to the value of any property which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense in Count One of the Information in which your client is pleading guilty.”

However, legal observers have said that under a plea agreement like the one offered to Corado, prosecutors most likely will ask the judge for a lesser sentence. Corado’s attorney is also expected to point out that this is a nonviolent, first-time offense for Corado, which merits a lesser sentence.

Corado has denied wrongdoing in her operation of Casa Ruby in response to a separate civil complaint filed against her and Casa Ruby by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. That complaint is still pending in D.C. Superior Court.

In its July 17 statement the U.S. Attorney’s office refers to court documents showing that Corado, “on behalf of Casa Ruby, received more than $1.3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.” The statement adds, “Instead of using the funds as she promised, Corado stole at least $150,000 by transferring the money to bank accounts in El Salvador, which she hid from the IRS.”

The statement says that in 2022, “when financial irregularities at Casa Ruby became public, Corado sold her home in Prince George’s County and fled to El Salvador.” It says FBI agents arrested her at the hotel in Laurel, Md. on March 5 “after she unexpectedly returned to the United States.”

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National

FBI investigates failed assassination attempt on Donald Trump

LGBTQ groups have condemned the shooting that took place in Pa.

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(Screen capture via CNN)

Authorities are investigating a failed assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump at a rally Saturday in Butler, Pa., where a bullet pierced the ear of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

One attendee was killed, along with the suspected shooter. Two others were critically injured in the attack.

The gunman was identified as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, a registered Republican from Bethel Park, Pa., who gave to Democratic donation platform ActBlue in January 2021.

“I want to thank The U.S. Secret Service, and all of law enforcement, for their rapid response on the shooting that just took place in Butler, Pennsylvania,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social.

Former first lady Melania Trump wrote on Sunday that “When I watched that violent bullet strike my husband, Donald, I realized my life, and Barron’s life, were on the brink of devastating change.”

“A monster who recognized my husband as an inhuman political machine attempted to ring out Donald’s passion — his laughter, ingenuity, love of music, and inspiration,” she wrote.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on Sunday at the White House with homeland security and law enforcement officials while the Republican-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee said it would be investigating the assassination attempt and had asked U.S. Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle to testify at a hearing on July 22.

“I’ve been thoroughly briefed by all the agencies in the federal government as to the situation, based on what we know now,” Biden said in remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Del., just after the assassination attempt on Saturday night.

“I have tried to get a hold of Donald,” the president said, “He’s with his doctors.” (The two would talk later on Saturday.)

“There is no place in America for this kind of violence,” Biden said. “It’s sick. It’s sick. It’s one of the reasons why we have to unite this country. We cannot allow for this to be happening. We cannot be like this. We cannot condone this.” 

“We are shocked by tonight’s apparent assassination attempt on President Trump in Pennsylvania and relieved that he is safe and in good condition,” Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran said on X.

“Our prayers are with President Trump, his family, and our country while we wait to learn further details,” he said. “We are also praying for the family of the innocent bystander who was killed. Our movement will not be deterred.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said on X, “Political violence has no place in America. The attack at today’s rally in PA is an affront to our democracy, and our thoughts are with the former president and all those affected. As a nation, we must unite to condemn political violence in all its forms.”

Congressional leaders from both parties issued statements condemning political violence.

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Congress

Garcia discusses why he’s standing behind Biden

HRC: ‘We are proud to stand by our endorsement’ of the president

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) (YouTube/MSNBC screen capture)

After congressional Democrats emerged from closed-door meetings on Tuesday, House and Senate leaders reassured the media of their continued support for President Joe Biden in his bid for reelection.

As lawmakers returned from the July 4 break this week, a handful of Democrats publicly urged the president to step aside, following a debate performance last month that worsened concerns regarding the candidate’s age, signs of a potential decline in his mental acuity, and questions over his ability to bring the vigor necessary to lead the ticket.

However, speaking with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) shared his thoughts on why “it is time to move forward” from Biden’s debate performance and “focus on attacking Donald Trump and the dangers that he poses.”

The congressman was clear that colleagues who have a different opinion should feel free to express their concerns — and, to that end, he said leadership has “been incredible in hearing members who have sought out input” from them.

“The president had a rough debate, and I think he recognizes that, and I think we all recognize that it was not a great moment,” he said. “I respect the people that have had those concerns and the conversation that’s happened since, so, I get that.”

“Personally, I’ve known from day one that Joe Biden is going to be our nominee,” Garcia said. “He reinforced that with everyone, and it is time to move forward. I’ve been behind the president and the vice president. I continue to be.”

Every day the Democratic Party continues having these conversations internally, “we’re not out there defeating Donald Trump,” the congressman added. “I think for some folks it’s going to take some time for them to feel comfortable, and that’s OK [but] I’m ready to go. I’m fired up and ready to go.”

Garcia, who’s gay, serves as a vice-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, alongside some LGBTQ Democratic members who agree with his position, like Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), and others who do not, like Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.), who have called for Biden to step aside.

When it comes to LGBTQ voters, “from our perspective, I think we’ve just got to understand that we have the most pro-LGBTQ+ administration in the history of politics in front of us, and we have Donald Trump on the other side,” Garcia said. “Those are our choices.”

“You don’t have to love every choice you make, but we have to understand the stakes, and we have to understand that there is a binary choice,” he said. “Every person that’s not voting, or not voting for Joe Biden, is certainly empowering Donald Trump. That’s the reality of the moment we’re in.”

Asked how the Biden-Harris campaign can outrun the speculation about the president’s age and the calls from some Democrats for him to step aside, Garcia said “the president has to continue what he’s been doing for the last couple of days. And I think what you’ve seen in the last few days is a fighting Joe Biden.”

“Joe Biden is proving that if he’s going to get punched in the nose, he’s going to punch back twice as hard,” the congressman said. “And I think that is where the campaign is headed, and what needs to continue to happen.”

Weathering the moment in which “the president did have this really bad debate night,” Garcia said, has “also invigorated the campaign and him” with Biden and his team realizing “this is serious, we have a real challenge, here. And let’s get this done.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ rights organization and a group that has made major investments in Biden’s reelection effort, also reaffirmed her support for the president in a statement to the Blade on Tuesday.

“Donald Trump and his Project 2025 agenda pose an existential threat to our rights, freedom, and democracy itself,” she said. “Our job remains the same: defeat him. Biden-Harris is the ticket to do it and we are proud to stand by our endorsement.”

Asked for comment, a GLAAD spokesperson said “as a [501]C3 nonprofit org, we focus on voter and reporter info and resources, to inform about elevate facts on the candidates’ records and statements about LGBTQ people.”

The spokesperson referred the Blade to a statement by the group’s president, Sarah Kate Ellis, which was issued shortly after Biden’s televised debate against Trump.

“Media must do their job to ask questions of candidates about their records and plans for and against LGBTQ people. Our community is enduring an onslaught of attacks on our lives and fundamental freedoms. Everything from our marriages to our ability to have children to keeping schools safe for LGBTQ youth is on the ballot.

“The candidates’ records are very clear, and voters need to be informed about this history to make the best decisions. Reporters and moderators must challenge candidate rhetoric for facts about abortion, immigration, inflation, and the security of each person’s vote.

“CNN failed to find time in 90 minutes to ask about Project 2025, the fascist fever dream that is laying a path for anti-LGBTQ zealots to weaponize the government to fully eliminate abortion access and LGBTQ people from equal access in American life.

“Accurate information is essential for voters to choose a leader who values the truth, decency, and who will work to ensure freedom and equality for all Americans.”

The GLAAD accountability project includes detailed entries for Trump and Biden, detailing the candidates’ records on and rhetoric concerning LGBTQ matters.

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Congress

House Republicans propose steep cuts in federal AIDS budget

Advocacy groups say move would eliminate ‘Ending HIV Epidemic’ initiative

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The Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative was launched during the administration of President Donald Trump. (Public domain photo)

The Republican-controlled U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies approved a spending bill on June 26 that calls for cutting at least $419 million from federal AIDS programs that AIDS activists say would have a devastating impact on efforts to greatly reduce the number of new HIV infections by 2030.

The subcommittee’s proposed bill, which includes billions of dollars in cuts in a wide range of other federal health, education, and human services related programs, is scheduled to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 10. Officials with AIDS advocacy groups say they are hopeful that the full committee, like last year, will refuse to approve the proposed cuts in the AIDS budget.

The proposed GOP cuts would eliminate $214 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV prevention programs, $190 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and $15 million from the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Minority HIV/AIDS Program.

Activists say the impact of those cuts would kill the federal government’s Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which among other things, calls for reducing the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. by 75 percent by 2025 and by 90 percent by 2030. The activists point out that ironically the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative was launched during the administration of President Donald Trump.

 “Instead of providing new investments in ending HIV by increasing funding for testing, prevention programs, such as PrEP, and life-saving care and treatment, House Republicans are again choosing to go through a worthless exercise of cutting programs that the American people depend on and will never pass,” said Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute.

“While we vigorously fight these cuts, we look forward to working with the entire Congress in a bipartisan fashion on spending bills that can actually become law,” Schmid said in a statement.

 Schmid noted that the bill also includes provisions known as “policy riders” that would take away rights and protections from women, such as access to birth control and abortion, and for minorities, including LGBTQ people.

According to a statement released by the office of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the policy riders would “block the Biden administration’s policies to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.’  The statement says another policy rider would “prevent policies or programs intended to promote diversity, equality, or inclusion.”

Most political observers believe the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate would also kill the GOP proposed policy riders and cuts in the AIDS budget if the full Republican-controlled House were to approve the budget bill passed by the appropriations subcommittee.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves as chair of the full House Appropriations Committee, released a statement on June 27 defending the  subcommittee’s bill and its proposed spending cuts. “The bill provides appropriate and fiscally responsible funding to ensure these departments can continue to perform their core missions while also acknowledging the fiscal realities facing our nation,” he said.

“Importantly, the bill pushes back on the Biden administration’s out-of-touch progressive policy agenda, preventing this White House from finalizing or implementing controversial rules or executive orders,” Cole said in his statement. “It also preserves long standing bipartisan policy provisions protecting the right to life.”

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The White House

HRC slams White House over position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors

‘Biden administration is flat wrong on this’

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson issued a strong rebuke on Tuesday of the Biden-Harris administration’s position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors.

The New York Times reported on June 28 that the White House, which broadly supports making medical interventions available for transgender youth, had expressed opposition to surgeries for patients under 18, having previously declined to take a specific position on the question.

“Health care decisions for young people belong between a patient, their family, and their health care provider. Trans youth are no exception,” Robinson responded. 

“The Biden administration is flat wrong on this. It’s wrong on the science and wrong on the substance. It’s also inconsistent with other steps the administration has taken to support transgender youth. The Biden administration, and every elected official, need to leave these decisions to families, doctors and patients—where they belong,” she added. “Although transgender young people make up an extremely small percentage of youth in this country, the care they receive is based on decades of clinical research and is backed by every major medical association in the U.S. representing over 1.3 million doctors.”

Robinson said the “administration has committed to fight any ban on healthcare for transgender youth and must continue this without hesitation—the entire community is watching.” 

“No parent should ever be put in the position where they and their doctor agree on one course of action, supported by the overwhelming majority of medical experts, but the government forbids it,” she added.

HRC is a prominent backer of Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign, having pledged $15 million to support efforts in six battleground states. The organization has a strong relationship with the White House, with the president and first lady headlining last year’s National Dinner.

A White House spokesperson declined to respond to Robinson’s statement.

Campaign for Southern Equality President Allison Scott also issued a statement.

“This is a cowardly statement from an administration that promised to support transgender people. It is a troubling concession to the right-wing assault on transgender Americans, falling for their false narratives about surgical care and betraying a commitment to equality and trust in the medical community,” said Scott.

“Let’s be very, very clear: Government has no business inserting itself into private medical decisions that should be exclusively between patients, their providers, and the patients’ parent or guardian,” Scott added.

“It is dangerous to begin endorsing categorical bans or limits on healthcare, and there is no justification for restricting transgender youth’s access to the very same care that many cisgender youth receive every year — that’s literally the definition of discrimination,” Scott concluded. “We demand the Biden administration retract this thoughtless statement and work to undo its damage.” 

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State Department

State Department hosts meeting on LGBTQ rights and foreign policy

Event took place before Pride Month reception

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department Pride event on June 27, 2024. (Screen capture via Forbes Breaking News YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday hosted a group of LGBTQ activists and politicians from around the world at the State Department.

The event — described as a “Convening on U.S. Foreign Policy: National Security, Inclusive Development, and the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons” — took place before the State Department’s annual Pride Month reception. Participants included:

• Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights

• U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield

• U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai

• U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti

• Suzanne Goldberg, senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights

• Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya

• U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam

• USAID Counselor Clinton D. White

• National Security Council Senior Director for Democracy and Human Rights Kelly Razzouk

• Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health Adm. Rachel Levine

• National Security Council Human Rights Director Jess Huber

• U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brandt Kehris

• Icelandic Ambassador to the U.S. Bergdís Ellertsdóttir

• Council for Global Equality Co-Executive Director Mark Bromley

• Outright International Senior Advisor for Global Intersex Rights Kimberly Zieselman

• Essy Adhiambo, executive director of the Institute for Equality and Non Discrimination in Kenya

• Pau González, co-chair of Hombres Trans Panamá and PFLAG-Panamá

“Forty-five years ago, thousands gathered in D.C. in what became the first national march for LGBTQI+, demanding their voices be heard,” said Thomas-Greenfield in a post to her X account that showed her speaking at the event. “We must continue to carry forward the spirit of these pioneers and fight for equal rights and dignity for all.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

“LGBTQI+ rights are human rights,” said Blinken. “Our government has a responsibility to defend them, to promote them — here and everywhere.”

Blinken noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 64 countries, with the death penalty in 11 of them.

He specifically highlighted Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government’s “smearing scapegoating, stigmatizing LGBTQI+ persons — vilifying them with degrading labels, denying them equal rights, normalizing violence against them.” (Gay U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman this month marched in the annual Budapest Pride parade.)

Blinken noted Iraqi MPs earlier this year “passed legislation that punishes same-sex relations with up to 15 years in prison.” He also pointed out that Indonesian lawmakers approved a new criminal code banning extramarital sex.

“In a nation where same-sex couples cannot marry, these laws effectively make all same-sex conduct illegal and they undermine privacy for all Indonesians,” said Blinken.

“We’re defending and promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world,” he said.

Blinken noted seven countries — Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Namibia, Singapore, the Cook Islands — have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations over the last two years. He also highlighted Greece, Liechtenstein, and Thailand this year extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, and other countries are banning so-called “conversion therapy.”

“These achievements are possible because of incredibly courageous human rights defenders and government partners on the ground, but I believe America’s support is indispensable,” said Blinken. “When we engage — sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, sometimes both — when we share our own knowledge and experience, we can and we do achieve change.”

Blinken also announced the U.S. now considers sexual orientation and gender identity are part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that took effect in 1976.

“This is one of the key treaties committing nations to upholding universal rights,” he said. 

“In our regular reporting to the council on human rights, we will continue to include incidents of discrimination or abuse committed against LGBTQI+ persons, now with the clear framework of this well-supported interpretation,” added Blinken. “That will further empower our efforts.”

Blinken reiterated this point and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad when he spoke at the State Department’s Pride Month event.

“Defending, promoting LGBTQI+ rights globally is the right thing to do, but beyond that, it’s the smart and necessary thing to do for our country, for our national security, for our well-being,” he said.

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Congress

Members of Congress introduce resolution to condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Joyce Beatty spearheaded condemnation

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U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 20 members of Congress on Thursday introduced a resolution that condemns Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Gay California Congressman Mark Takano and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) spearheaded the resolution that U.S. Reps. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mark Pocan (D-Wash.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) co-sponsored.

“The House of Representatives condemns the government of Uganda’s criminalization and draconian punishments regarding consensual same-sex sexual conduct and so-called ‘’promotion of homosexuality,’” reads the resolution.

The resolution, among other things, also calls upon the Ugandan government to repeal the law.

“It is difficult to overstate the gross inhumanity of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Takano in a press release.

President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court in April refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ activists appealed the ruling.

“Instead of focusing on rooting out corruption or ending extrajudicial killings, the Ugandan Parliament, president, and Constitutional Court have chosen to mark LGBTQ+ Ugandans as less than human,” said Takano. “Congress must not be silent in the face of such systematic, state-sponsored discrimination.”

“To all those LGBTQ+ people and your allies in Uganda — we see you,” added the California Democrat. “We and the Biden administration will not allow this terrible violation of basic dignity to go unchallenged.” 

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The White House

Jill and Ashley Biden headline White House Pride celebration

First lady celebrated historic pardons of LGBTQ veterans

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First lady Jill Biden speaks at the White House Pride event on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden and the president and first lady’s daughter, Ashley Biden, headlined the White House Pride celebration on the South Lawn on Wednesday, followed by a performance by singer and actress Deborah Cox.

“My dad has built the most pro-equality administration” in history, Ashley Biden said, crediting the work of LGBTQ people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, as well as “so many of you [who] have continued to lead their fearless fighting against against injustice here and around the world.”

She introduced her mother as “the woman who taught me to be myself up showed me in so many ways how I can make a difference” and who “works every single day, tirelessly, to ensure that all people have the opportunities and freedoms that they deserve.”

“I hope that all of you feel that freedom and love on the South Lawn today,” Jill Biden said.

Her remarks were briefly interrupted by a protestor’s chants of “no Pride in genocide,” which was drowned out by chants of “four more years.”

The first lady noted how many of the attendees came “here from states that are passing laws targeting LGBTQ Americans.”

“There are those who see our communities and our families and wish to tear them down,” she said, “those who can’t see that the world is so much bigger and [more] beautiful than they know — but when our homes are threatened, when they strip away our rights, and deny our basic humanity, we say, ‘not on our watch.'”

“Pride is a celebration, but it is also a declaration,” the first lady said, highlighting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges nine years ago, which established marriage equality as the law of the land.

She then credited the accomplishments of the Biden-Harris administration on matters of LGBTQ rights, including the repeal of the previous administration’s ban on military service by transgender servicemembers and the FDA’s loosening of restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The first lady also celebrated the president’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that he will pardon LGBTQ veterans who were discharged and court martialed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We will never stop fighting for this community,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden and daughter, Ashley Biden, attend the White House Pride celebration on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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The White House

HISTORIC: Biden pardons discharged LGBTQ veterans

Announcement coincided with annual White House Pride event

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President Joe Biden (Screen capture/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued historic pardons for military service members who were discharged over their sexual orientation or gender identity under discriminatory policies of the past, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Our nation’s service members stand on the frontlines of freedom, and risk their lives in order to defend our country,” he said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades,” the president said.

“As commander-in-chief, I am committed to maintaining the finest fighting force in the world. That means making sure that every member of our military is safe and respected — so they can focus on their mission,” he said.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said. “We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members — including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home.”

“Today we are making progress in that pursuit.”

The president also issued a Proclamation on Granting Pardon for Certain Violations of Article 125 Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which specifies that “the Military Departments (Army, Navy, or Air Force), or in the case of the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, shall provide information about and publicize application procedures for certificates of pardon.”

Veterans who were discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity are barred from accessing benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senior administration officials explained during a call with reporters on Tuesday that veterans who obtain certificates of pardon will be able to petition for a change in their discharge status, which can facilitate their access to benefits.

Officials on Tuesday’s call said they will proactively reach out to these service members to make them aware of the president’s clemency action and to connect them with pro-bono attorneys who can help them navigate the process.

“We intend, and have intended, to design this process in a way where people do not need attorneys to go through it, and we think it is easily accessible, but we also recognize that for some people, that would be beneficial, and so are busy at work trying to make those connections happen,” an official said.

The officials did not address a question from the Washington Blade about whether LGBTQ groups including those representing LGBTQ veterans were involved in the administration’s work leading up to the president’s issuance of the pardons, but several organizations celebrated the announcement on Wednesday.

“We applaud President Biden for taking action today, and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address this historic injustice that impacted thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the military for decades, with the effects still felt by many to this day,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.

“This move to rightfully restore reputations lost and gratitude owed to service members who were punished for who they loved is long overdue, and a significant step in the right direction,” she said.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on social media, “Today’s move by President Biden to pardon LGBTQ service members who were unfairly forced out of the military under the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is his administration’s 343rd pro-LGBTQ action. It is an important signal not only to the thousands of brave LGBTQ Americans who deserved better for defending our country but to all who understand that diversity, respect, and inclusion are American values.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus released a statement from the chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.): “I thank President Biden for taking this important step to right the wrongs of the past and restore honor to LGBTQI+ Americans who bravely served their nation in uniform.” 

“This is an important step forward in addressing the wrongs of anti-equality policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I urge the Military Departments to ensure these pardons are processed as swiftly as possible,” the congressman said. “I am committed to building upon this important action, including by passing my Restore Honor to Service Members Act into law to ensure that the service and sacrifice of every veteran is honored, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

“PFLAG families have advocated for the dignity and respect due our LGBTQ+ heroes in uniform since the dark days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the shadow discharges that predated that discriminatory policy,” said PFLAG National CEO Brian K. Bond.

“As someone who worked on repeal during the Obama-Biden administration I met incredible patriots that just wanted to serve their country,” he said. “Thank you to the Biden-Harris administration and those who continue to fight for military families’ freedom to serve. This welcomed day is long overdue for thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans and their families.”

Lawyers for a group of LGBTQ veterans who are plaintiffs in Farrell v. Department of Defense also released a statement:

“We applaud President Biden and his administration for today’s announcement pardoning approximately 2,000 LGBTQ+ veterans who were court-martialed under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and similar policies. This is a necessary and important step in recognizing and remediating the harms — that still exist today — caused by these policies, despite their repeals.

“While the pardons represent an important milestone, we must emphasize that there is still critical work to be done. Those pardoned will still need to obtain new discharge papers from the Department of Defense, which are essential for accurately reflecting their service and accessing veterans’ benefits. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of other veterans who continue to suffer the ongoing stigma of their discriminatory discharge. 

“We will continue to vigorously litigate our case, Farrell v. Department of Defense, to ensure that all LGBTQ+ veterans who were wrongfully discharged from the military based on sexual orientation receive upgraded discharge papers with all indicators of sexual orientation removed. This remains a critical step for these veterans to receive the honor and status they rightfully deserve, having served our country with dignity and integrity.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Alex Padilla, wife Angela talk LGBTQ mental health

Couple to receive award from Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles on Sunday

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U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and his wife, Angela Padilla, spoke with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview last week ahead of their receipt of Voice Awards from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles at a ceremony on June 30. 

“I’ve known members” of the organization “off and on over the years, going back to my days on the city council in Los Angeles,” when battles were waged over California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, Padilla said. 

“I was proud to be an ally for a long time, but especially in those moments, really, as a public official, as an elected official, knowing how important allyship was,” he said, stressing “the tremendous talent of the chorus” and “what they represented individually and as a group” serving as allies for “young people who may not necessarily grow up in a supportive environment or in supportive families.”

“I work very closely with Joseph Guardarrama,” a board member for GMCLA, “for many years now on my nonprofit, and it’s all in support of mental health and wellness and educating people on how to get help, why they should get help, and why it’s important to take care of your brain,” Mrs. Padilla said by phone. 

“I started FundaMental Change in 2017,” she said, to push for “the mental change that I feel that we have to have as a society when it comes to how we look at [and] how we treat mental health conditions.” 

The senator’s wife added that LGBTQ people are twice as likely to have a mental health condition while dealing “with so much more social stigma and discrimination” than their straight and cisgender counterparts. 

“This month we’re going to have a table for June 30 working with the [California] Department of Mental Health at the Pride parade,” she added. FundaMental Change also operates an LGBT Youth TalkLine and Trans Lifeline. 

Padilla noted the organization’s work combatting stigma. “One thing that we recognize both coming from Latino families is the need to overcome stigma,” he said. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding or misperceptions about mental health.” 

The effort is also central to the senator’s work as a policymaker, he said, referencing the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus that he founded alongside U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to serve as “a forum for us to share stories.”

“It’s been fascinating, there are more than 30 members of the caucus now, so about a third of the United States Senate,” he said. “It’s 50/50 Democrats and Republicans,” and when approached, every member had a story to share, whether about “something that they’ve been through [or] somebody in their family, a colleague, a neighbor who can relate.”

Padilla said his decision to announce the formation of the caucus concurrently with his visit to the San Francisco LGBT Community Center “was very intentional.”

When it comes to mental health, “We’ve really prioritized trying to develop bipartisan solutions,” he said, “because those are more sustainable here in Congress.” 

The first bill backed by the caucus was Padilla and Tillis’s Local 9-8-8 Response Act of 2023, which “was to require the FCC to move to implement the geolocation technology to the 988 system.” 

Unveiled by the Biden-Harris administration in 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The program provides the option for callers to reach specialized LGBTQI+ affirming counselors by pressing “3.” 

On the importance of geolocation technology, Padilla said “if I’m here in Washington, and have a need to call 988, my area code on my phone is Los Angeles — so, I’d be passed through to the Los Angeles providers.” 

The senator noted that the FCC “is moving forward with those improvements” independently of his bill’s path forward in Congress. 

More broadly, some of the policy challenges concern supply and demand problems. “From a bigger picture, longer term perspective, we’re talking about the workforce needs,” Padilla said. “So, what’s the game plan for [getting] more psychologists or psychiatrists or counselors, more therapists, more everybody in the field to better serve people across the country?”

Padilla also discussed the importance of “cultural competence” as a means of guaranteeing the best possible treatment. “When we ask people to go get help, if there’s somebody that they can relate to or that they know gets them, the better quality experience in treatment is going to come,” he said. 

“We’re not quite there yet with the Republican colleagues, but I have faith that in time we will get them there,” the senator added. “And again, the LGBTQ community is a prime example. You’ve got to feel comfortable going to somebody when you need help.”

Padilla said, “not everybody comes from a supportive environment; not everybody lives in a city or a state that is supportive. And at this particular time politically, they’re really under attack. They’re being targeted acutely. And that’s more reason and urgency to speak up and stand up.”

On Sunday, the Padillas will share the stage with the recipients of the third GMCLA Voice Award, from the critically acclaimed HBO series “We’re Here,” which follows drag queens as they travel the country to perform in one-night-only performances in small towns. 

Mrs. Padilla celebrated the ways in which drag has brought communities together, recalling when RuPaul’s Drag Race “was first airing and it was like everyone was so interested in watching the show” and “it just brought people from everywhere.”

“I have a lot of frustrations, as a Latina, with the misrepresentation of our community and our culture in television and movies,” she said. “And I feel like every opportunity that you get to see something that’s just authentic — it’s such a benefit to everyone. It really helps us understand that we have more in common than not.” 

“Drag is not new,” the senator said. “It goes back generations in the United States and I think for the LGBTQ+ community it can be can be very empowering, as an outlet for performers, but also participants in an audience to see on stage what you may not see in other places.” 

Republican-led efforts to restrict access to drag performances, especially by young people, “feels like it’s an act of desperation,” Mrs. Padilla said. 

“I think they’re resisting something that they don’t understand. I just think it’s really coming from a place of fear. And really not understanding the human behind it,” she said, adding that the reactionary forces are a product of the LGBTQ movement’s success and “that feeling of it’s out of their control.”

“The diversity of our communities, the diversity of our country, is a big source of strength,” Padilla said. “It’s just not always been embraced. I think a lot of people either misinterpret it or frankly exploit it to cause divisions in society.” 

“We can’t ignore the political climate that we’re living in,” the senator said, “heightened only by the fact that it’s a presidential election year and we see who the Republican nominee is going to be.”

Looking ahead to November’s elections, he said, “as with so many other issues, LGBTQ+ rights and opportunity in the future — It’s a 180-degree difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s not take it lightly. Let’s get out and vote.”

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