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Prominent Jamaican bishop backs sodomy law repeal

Howard Gregory heads country’s Anglican Church

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Bishop Howard Gregory (Screen capture courtesy YouTube)

A prominent Jamaican bishop has called for the repeal of his country’s law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Jamaica Gleaner on Sunday reported Bishop Howard Gregory, who is the head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, expressed his personal opposition to the colonial-era statute in a letter he sent to a parliamentary committee that is studying the issue.

“Sexual activity engaged in public spaces is illegal and should continue to be so, whether of an heterosexual or homosexual nature,” wrote Gregory, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. “Beyond that, what happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the government.”

The Jamaica Gleaner also reported Gregory wrote the Jamaican government should not hold a referendum on whether to repeal the law.

Section 76 of Jamaica’s Offenses Against the Person Act of 1864 imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years of hard labor against anyone who is convicted of “the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal.”

The Jamaica Gleaner reported Prime Minister Andrew Holness said before his Jamaica Labor Party won last year’s general election that he would call a referendum on the sodomy law.

Maurice Tomlinson, a gay lawyer who lives in the resort city of Montego Bay and Toronto, alleges in a 2015 lawsuit the law violates the right to privacy and other provisions of the Jamaican constitution. Javed Jaghai in 2013 filed a separate lawsuit against the statute with the Jamaican Supreme Court, but withdrew it the following year because of what he described as concerns for his safety and that of his family.

A pastor who spoke with the Jamaica Gleaner described Gregory’s position on the sodomy law as “sad.” Mat Staver, chair of the Liberty Counsel, is among those from the U.S. who have traveled to Jamaica in recent years in order to attend events organized by groups that oppose efforts to repeal the law.

Glenroy Murray, policy and advocacy manager of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT and intersex advocacy group, welcomed Gregory’s position.

“It is always a welcome sight when we see members of the clergy show support for human rights protection, given their general sphere of influence,” Murray told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday in a statement. “While Bishop Gregory is not the first clergyman to take such a position, his position as head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands gives him a wider platform from which to air his views.”

Murray added Gregory made his arguments against the law from a “rights-based approach rather than the popular religious-themed ones.”

“We hope that more religious leaders and clergymen will, given the diverse communities they serve, recognize that the state has a responsibility to secure the rights of all Jamaicans regardless of the prevailing moral persuasion of members of the wider population,” Murray told the Blade. “Governance should be grounded in rights protection rather than appealing to the moral leanings of the masses.”

State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR shows ‘what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ+ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Transphobic Fox host: Trans people are “Deeply Anti-Human”

Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

By Media Matters Staff | NEW YORK – On her show last night, Fox news host Laura Ingraham launched into a transphobic rant claiming among other things that those on the political left are cheering on what she termed anti-humanism.

Then she pivoted to the transgender community:

“Crusaders for climate change, abortion, euthanasia, gender fluidity, they all lead — eventually, their thinking — to the devaluing of human life.

“At its core, being anti-human means being anti- truth because it involves the questioning or denying of objective facts, including those at the very heart of our existence. 

“The cult of gender deviancy collapses into meaningless slogans and blather. None of it makes any sense, but it’s deeply anti-human.” 

Watch the Media Matters for America video clip:

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Minnesota

Minneapolis felon charged in Gay Bar brandishing incident

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm

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Booking Photo: Conell Walter Harris/Hennepin County Jail

MINNEAPOLIS – A Minneapolis resident is facing federal charges for illegal possession of a firearm during a criminal brandishing, uttering threats and homophobic slurs at a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the downtown area of the city.

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm.

In court documents filed in Hennepin County, on November 28, 2022, Minneapolis Police officers responded to a call that a person at 19 Bar, located near downtown Minneapolis, had pulled out a gun after being asked to leave.

When officers arrived, several people pointed at a man, who was later identified as Conell Walter Harris, 29.  Harris resisted arrest and tried to reach into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Officers recovered a stolen .45 caliber Glock model 30 pistol from Harris’ pocket. Officers spoke to bar employees and customers and learned that Harris had become upset after an employee asked to see his identification, which Harris refused to show.

The employee then asked Harris to leave the bar. Harris became combative and pulled out a pistol. An employee attempted to deescalate the situation but Harris became more aggressive and made multiple threatening statements. Harris then left for a short time but returned to the bar before law enforcement arrived.

Screenshot/YouTube KARE 11

Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE 11 reported:

The complaint and affidavit outline the events that allegedly took place at Minneapolis’ 19 Bar the night of Nov. 28, claiming officers first responded to the bar around 11 p.m. on reports of a person with a gun.

When officers arrived, prosecutors say, bar patrons identified Harris. The complaint says Harris “resisted arrest and kept reaching into his hoodie pocket,” leading police to recover a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.

Court documents allege that based on eyewitness accounts, police were informed that Harris was “acting strangely” when he entered the bar and became upset when an employee asked to see his ID. A 19 Bar bartender then asked Harris to leave, according to the complaint, and Harris refused, telling the bartender, “I ain’t going nowhere,” while pulling out the firearm.

Prosecutors say Harris then began yelling profanities and slurs at the bartender before leaving for a short time and then returning.

When Harris later reentered the bar, court documents allege he began playing pool until officers arrived.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris is charged in a criminal complaint with felon in possession of a firearm. He made his initial appearance today in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung. Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing scheduled for December 5, 2022. 

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Minneapolis Police Department.

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Politics

Obama rallies for Warnock as Walker goes transphobic in latest ad

“Tomorrow is the last day for early voting and then we need to get people out to the polls on Tuesday, which means we still got work to do”

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Former President Barack Obama with Sen. Raphael Warnock (Pool photo via CNN)

ATLANTA – Former President Barack Obama held a rally with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) tonight in Atlanta as the Georgia election runoff for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Warnock enters its final week.

Speaking to the enthusiastic crowd in the historic Pullman Yard, Obama urged supporters to continue pressing to secure Warnock’s chances as early voting ends Friday ahead of next Tuesday’s election.

“Now I know a lot of folks have been voting early over the last few days, that is a good thing. That is an encouraging thing. But — you knew there was a but —plenty of folks haven’t voted yet. Tomorrow is the last day for early voting and then we need to get people out to the polls on Tuesday, which means we still got work to do,” Obama said.

A spokesperson for the the Georgia secretary of state’s office told the Blade that more than 1.1 million votes have been cast so far.

Warnock’s Republican challenger meanwhile focused on his opposition to transgender rights. In a recent campaign ad, Herschel Walker is featured alongside cisgender former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied with University of Pennsylvania trans female swimmer Lia Thomas.

In the ad Gaines says she “worked so hard” at competitive swimming but she was “forced to compete against a biological male.”  The ad also goes on to attack Warnock in the Chyron onscreen stating: “Raphael Warnock voted to allow biological men to compete in women’s sports.” That particular charge by Walker’s campaign is factually incorrect as the U.S. Senate has not held any votes on the subject of transgender women in sports.

Politico’s National political reporter Natalie Allison tweeted:

During the rally in Atlanta this evening Politico reported Warnock received roaring applause when he poked fun at Walker, something Obama also did, referencing a series of outlandish comments the retired football star has made over the course of his candidacy.

“We all know some folks in our lives who, we don’t wish them ill will, they say crazy stuff … but you don’t give them serious responsibility,” Obama said.

“He was an amazing running back,” Warnock said of Walker. “And come next Tuesday, we’re going to send him running back to Texas.”

Walker, who was raised in the Peach State and was a star player at the University of Georgia, lived the majority of his adult life in Texas before returning to run for Senate in 2021.

Politico also noted that Warnock, the pastor of the Atlanta church that Martin Luther King Jr. attended, tied the election to the long struggle of African Americans for equal rights, noting the crowd had gathered on the 67th anniversary of Rosa Parks refusing to get up from a bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. Walker is also African American.

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history as new leader of House Democrats

Reps. Katherine Clark & Rep. Pete Aguilar become the new House Democratic Whip & House Democratic Caucus Chair

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New Democratic leadership team, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries)

WASHINGTON – With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) became the first ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in US. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

Jeffries is distinguished for his vocal support of the LGBTQ community

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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Congress

Rep. Raul Ruiz calls for ending IRS rule for same-sex couples 

The letter comes after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage

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Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) meeting constituents (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Ruiz)

WASHINGTON – In a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Thursday, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) led over 50 members of Congress in calling for the IRS to reverse current regulations that prevent some same-sex couples from receiving survivor benefits. 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act allows qualified retirement plans to establish a one-year marriage duration requirement for survivor’s benefits, and in 2014 the IRS issued guidance clarifying that these rules apply equally to same-sex couples — meaning if a same-sex couple was not married for the required length of time prior to one spouse’s death, the surviving spouse would not qualify for pension survivor benefits.  

However, in many cases, couples were not legally allowed to be married for long enough to meet that requirement, since unconstitutional laws barring same-sex couples from marriage remained in effect until 2015. For same-sex survivors for whom marriage equality came too late, the one-year marriage duration requirement poses a total bar to access their loved one’s benefits.

“It is imperative that the IRS clarify that a qualified retirement plan will be disqualified if it fails to provide these same-sex survivors barred from marrying with an equal path to survivor’s benefits despite their having been unable to meet the one-year marriage duration requirement before the employee’s death,” Dr. Ruiz and the members wrote. While plans would retain discretion regarding whether to have a marriage duration requirement at all, where they do so, such requirements should not be allowed to further penalize those same-sex survivors who already felt the sting of discrimination while their loved ones were still alive.”  

The letter comes after the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The legislation also safeguards against the denial of any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity – including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, grants, contracts, agreements, guarantees, educational funding, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditations, claims, or defenses – provided that the benefit, right, or status does not arise from a marriage. 

Dr. Ruiz’s letter was inspired by a Palm Springs constituent who has faced roadblocks from receiving his survivor benefits for years due to the IRS policy. 

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