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DOJ seeks time to argue for anti-gay baker in Supreme Court case

DOJ is seeking a time slot of 10 minutes before the Supreme Court to argue for an anti-gay baker who wants to deny wedding cakes to same-sex couples

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Title IX, gay news, Washington Blade

The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking time to argue before the Supreme Court on behalf of an anti-gay baker. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking a time slot of 10 minutes before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue on behalf of a Colorado baker who wishes to refuse the sale of make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed the two-page request Wednesday before the Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The request says the Justice Department “has a substantial interest” in the case because the U.S. government has an interest in “the preservation of federal constitutional rights of free expression.”

Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker, bases the argument that he can defy Colorado’s non-discrimination law and refuse wedding cakes to same-sex couples based on the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The request also argues the U.S. government has an interest in the case because the scope of Colorado non-discrimination law, which bars anti-gay discrimination in public accommodations, is similar to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The United States is thus well positioned to address the reconciliation of content-neutral public accommodations laws with federal constitutional freedoms of speech and expression,” the request says. “Participation by the United States in oral argument would therefore materially assist the Court in its consideration of this case.”

As noted in the request, the Justice Department has already filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case arguing that baking a wedding cake is inherently an act of expression protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, the ability of a baker to deny a wedding cake to same-sex couples for religious reasons should trump any state non-discrimination law.

The case came about after Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a Colorado same-sex couple, in 2012 for their wedding in Massachusetts. An administrative judge ruled in favor of the same-sex couple — a decision the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld in 2015.

Although the Colorado Supreme Court had declined to review these decisions and let them stand, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari, or agreed to take up the case, in June.

Oral arguments are set for Dec. 5.

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Africa

South Sudan refugee camp is ‘not a safe haven’ for LGBTQ+ residents

Gorom Refugee Settlement is outside country’s capital of Juba

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Michael Adler visits the Gorom Refugee Settlement on Oct. 25, 2023. The camp's LGBTQ+ residents remain marginalized. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan)

GOROM REFUGEE SETTLEMENT, South Sudan — LGBTQ+ people who live at a refugee camp in South Sudan say the mistreatment they are suffering because of their sexual orientation and gender identity has left them even more marginalized.

The U.N. Refugee Agency runs the Gorom Refugee Settlement, which is roughly 16 miles from Juba, the country’s capital, in partnership with ACROSS and other South Sudanese NGOs.

UNHCR says more than 20,000 refugees live at Gorom, with the Anyuak people from Ethiopia making up the largest group. They have been there since 2011 when South Sudan became its own country after it broke away from Sudan.

Although this is not the first time the plight of LGBTQ+ people has been raised; the challenges seem to continue unabatedly and grow worse as each year passes. They are denied employment opportunities, with some of their children unable to access education.

Yaga Piuson, an LGBTQ+ activist for Gorom, says the situation has become even more dire.

“The immediate challenges faced by LGBT persons within the camp are severe and pervasive,” said Piuson. “They endure daily attacks, lack of police assistance, death threats, stoning, abuses, discrimination, bullying, denial of medical care, and the inability for their children to access education. Many are also deprived of proper shelter, leading to health risks such as pneumonia.” 

Piuson added UNHCR and ACROSS have done little to address these challenges, while the South Sudanese government has turned a blind eye.

“As of now, both the UNHCR and ACROSS have not provided a durable solution,” said Piuson. “While they have initiated interviews with LGBTQIA+ individuals, the options presented, relocation to other camps within South Sudan or urban areas, pose significant risks due to the country’s stance against homosexuality.”

“Unfortunately, the South Sudanese government and civic organizations have yet to offer any substantial assistance in alleviating these challenges,” added Piuson.

Piuson added some of the refugees have fled Gorom because of the continued persecution they face. Piuson said the settlement was no longer safe for LGBTQ+ refugees who include Anyuak, Darfurians from Sudan, Congolese and Burundians.

“Many of these nationalities have fled because of wars,” noted Piuson. “However, LGBTQIA+ individuals have fled solely due to persecution based on their sexual orientation.”

“Resolving the plight of LGBTQIA+ persons within the settlement requires providing them with a safe environment to freely exercise their rights, including freedom of movement and access to basic needs such as shelter and education for their children,” added Piuson. “It’s crucial to emphasize that the Gorom Refugee Settlement is currently not a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

ACROSS Executive Director Elisama Daniel in response to the Washington Blade’s request for comment said the organization did not have the mandate or jurisdiction to answer questions on the plight of LGBTQ+ people at Gorom, and directed questions to UNHCR. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations in South Sudan remain criminalized with up to 10 years in prison, although there is little to no evidence that anyone has been charged with homosexuality. The South Sudanese government, however, is contemplating an anti-homosexuality bill that is similar to those pending in neighboring Kenya and other countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that prompted worldwide outrage.  

South Sudanese Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Postal Services Michael Makuei Leuth ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the country last year said marriage is between a man and a woman and added any form of same-sex marriage violates the constitution. The government spokesperson also emphasizes there would not be any discussions around LGBTQ+-specific issues. 

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Canada

Canada ends ban on gay sperm

Because Canadian law bans paying donors for sperm samples, Canada sources most of its sperm samples from the United States

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Health Canada offices in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo Credit: Government of Canada - Gouvernement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada – Health Canada issued new guidance this month that effectively ends the ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, ending more than three decades of legal discrimination.

Regulations barring tissue donations from men who have sex with men were put in place in Canada and many other countries during the early days of the AIDS crisis as a means of reducing the likelihood of spreading HIV through donations. In Canada, the regulations included a blanket ban on blood, semen, organs, and other tissues from any man who had ever had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.

As the testing process and treatment and prevention efforts for HIV improved, these bans proved to be scientifically unnecessary barriers to allowing gay and bisexual men to donate.  

But as Health Canada began removing donor restrictions on blood from men who have sex with men, the restriction on sperm and other tissues persisted. That discrimination is finally over.

Going forward, would-be sperm donors in Canada will be screened on a behavior-based risk assessment, rather than on whether or not they have had a same-sex partner.

The move comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced that it is also moving to end its ban on gay and bisexual sperm donors by the end of this year.

A gay man had also filed a suit against the Canadian government, alleging the sperm donation ban violated his right to equal treatment.

Because Canadian law bans paying donors for sperm samples, Canada sources most of its sperm samples from the United States.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ+ news from Europe & Asia

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Albania, and South Korea

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UNITED KINGDOM

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet work session.
(Photo Credit: Office of the Prime Minster/UK Gov)

LONDON, United Kingdom – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a long-anticipated election this week, sending UK voters to the polls July 4 and potentially spelling the end of thirteen tumultuous years of Conservative Party rule in the UK. 

Polls have long indicated that the UK Tories are deeply unpopular, putting them more than twenty points behind the left-leaning UK Labor Party, who are favored to win the election with a sweeping majority. 

The last several years of UK politics under a succession of Tory Prime Ministers – five since 2011 – have been rocky, as the government has tried to manage pulling the UK out of the European Union, a growing migrant crisis, and a succession of worsening domestic issues, not least of which has been the government’s handling of LGBTQ+ and particularly trans issues.

The UK Tories have failed to bring in a long-promised conversion therapy ban, amid a growing moral panic around the existence of trans people, driven as much by UK celebrities like JK Rowling as by a Tory caucus that’s grown increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ issues over its time in power.

In fact, it was Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who introduced same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales in 2013 – although it only passed Parliament with the support of Labour, as the issue split the Conservatives.

Just a few years later, Tory politicians would be racing to declare themselves opposed to even recognizing the existence of trans people. The government has shelved a long-promised conversion therapy ban, and vetoed a law passed by the Scottish government that would have allowed trans people to self-determine their legal gender, as is the emerging norm in many countries.

The UK has even slipped from first to fifteenth place on ILGA-Europe’s ranking of European countries’ legislated LGBTQ+ rights during this time. 

The UK Labour party has not yet released a specific party manifesto as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. However, leader Keir Starmer has pledged to introduce a “no loopholes” trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy and has discussed reforming the UK’s gender recognition system to make it easier for trans people to update their legal gender – although the party no longer supports self-identification.

Starmer’s more recent statements on trans issues have caused concern for some activists. He recently came out in support of the findings of the National Health Service’s Cass Review on gender care for minors, which recommended a more cautious approach to prescribing care for trans youth. 

He also recently voiced support for bans on trans women participating in women’s sports or accessing women’s medical centers, and for regulations requiring schools to out trans children to their parents.

“It’s[a] betrayal, a Judas move by Keir Starmer,” trans journalist India Willoughby told PinkNews. They have thrown us under the bus purely because they don’t have the stomach to fight.”

Sunak was required to call the election by the end of the year, but calling it early has put some of the opposition parties in a tight situation – most have not yet recruited a full slate of candidates to stand in all 650 electoral districts or drafted a complete party manifesto.

GERMANY

The Lesbian and Gay Association Berlin-Brandenburg eV and the Charité Queer Network, raised the rainbow flag at the Charité – University Medicine Berlin, June 2022. (Photo Credit: LSVD/Facebook)

BERLIN, Germany – The Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD) has launched a new campaign to amend Germany’s Basic Law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.

The German Basic Law was enacted 75 years ago, in the shadow of WWII and was intended to protect freedoms from the evils that had been inflicted by the Nazi regime. Accordingly, Article 3.1 declares that “All persons shall be equal before the law,” while Article 3.3 expands that to list specific criteria that cannot be used to discriminate between individuals. 

“No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavored because of disability,” the Article says.

LSVD says that the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity from that list exposes queer people to discrimination. As an example, they point to Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, a Nazi-era law that criminalized same-sex intimacy that remained on the books until 1994.

“In 1949, homosexuals and bisexuals were the only group of victims of the National Socialists who were deliberately not included in Article 3.3. This is because men who loved people of the same sex were also subjected to the often life-destroying persecution under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code in democratic post-war Germany,” LSVD says in a press release.

In recent years, the Federal Constitutional Court has begun to read LGBT rights into the Basic Law, ruling that “sex” includes “gender identity” and that “sexual orientation” is akin to the other traits listed in Article 3.3. But LSVD says that without explicit inclusion in the Basic Law, discrimination has persisted.

“Many people from the queer community say that they experience discrimination by the police and authorities,” LSVD’s statement says. “Because the Basic Law also applies to state bodies, the extension of Article 3.3 could finally make discrimination against LGBTIQ* by state bodies and their employees legally punishable. Anyone who is not explicitly mentioned there runs the risk of being ignored in political and social reality.”

The LSVD says there are already plenty of examples of constitutions that protect LGBTQ+ rights, including in the German states of Berlin, Brandenberg, Bremen, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

LGBTQ+ activists in Germany have become particularly concerned to secure their rights as the far-right Alternative for Germany party has climbed in the polls and could become part of a future government.

“Making our constitution storm-proof is more urgent than ever. If right-wing extremists in Germany return to a position of power in future elections, we LGBTIQ* people face gradual disenfranchisement, social marginalization and, with it, a massive increase in hate violence and state discrimination,” LSVD says. “Without explicit protection against discrimination in the constitution, we would be largely defenseless against an authoritarian or post-fascist government such as those we are currently experiencing in Hungary or Italy.”

To pass into law, the constitutional amendment would require a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of the German parliament. While the current government has expressed support for the amendment, it would need the support of the Christian Democrats to reach the required majority.

SWITZERLAND

Matthias Reynard, (right) head of the Valais Department of Health featured as the Canton of Valais unveils its new annual advertising campaign against homophobia titled “Bien en Valais.”
(Photo Credit: Government of the Swiss Canton of Valais)

VALAIS, Switzerland – The Swiss canton of Valais passed a law banning conversion therapy by a vote of 106-21 in the cantonal parliament May 16. 

The discredited practice, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by exposing them to aversion methods that have been called torture by experts, has also been banned in the canton of Neuchatel since 2023.

The conversion therapy ban was included in a new Health Act that was supported by all parties in the Valais parliament except for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

“We are sending out a clear signal that these conversion therapies are unacceptable and have no place in Valais,” says Matthias Reynard, head of the Valais Department of Health.

A nationwide ban on conversion therapy has been under consideration by the federal parliament for several years. The lower house passed a resolution calling for a ban in December 2022, but the motion has stalled in the upper house. 

Last month, the federal parliament voted to wait for the government to present its own conversion therapy bill, rather than push ahead with bills that had been submitted by two cantons to ban the practice.

But Switzerland’s cantons aren’t waiting for federal lawmakers. Local bills to ban conversion therapy are also under consideration in the cantons of Geneva, Zurich, Bern, and Vaud.

“Conversion therapy affects a significant part of our community. The latest figures from the Swiss LGBTIQ panel show that 9.5% of people who belong to a sexual minority and 15.5% of people who belong to a gender minority are affected,” Sandro Niederer, Managing Director of TGNS told the news site Mannschaft. “The psychological consequences of such practices are undisputed – the ban is a positive signal for all LGBTIQ people!”

Many of Switzerland’s European neighbors already ban the practice. France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Greece, Iceland, Norway, and Cyprus all ban conversion therapy, while neighboring Austria has had a ban under consideration for several years.

ALBANIA

Edlira Mara and her wife Alba Ahmetaj on the terrace of Tirana Municipality crowned their 14-years of love through a symbolic religious ceremony. (Photo Credit: Edlira Mara/Facebook)

TIRANA, Albania – A lesbian couple held a symbolic wedding ceremony at on the roof of city hall overlooking the heart of the Albanian capital city Tirana May 19, in a protest against the country’s lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples. 

The couple, Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara, applied for a legal marriage at the municipal office on Friday May 17, asserting their right under Article 53 of the Albanian constitution, which states that “Everyone has the right to marry and have a family.” However, the current Family Code restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

Mara posted on her Facebook account that the restriction violates the constitution.

“Our request for a declaration of marriage symbolizes the first link in a long and difficult, but above all just, struggle. We are determined to follow the legal path and respect the procedures and institutions of our country, challenging the discriminatory content of the Family Code, to seek the recognition of our right to marry, equally with every other couple in Albania,” she wrote.

The ceremony has caused outrage in Albanian society. The couple have reported receiving death threats for appearing in public both before and after their public wedding.

Mara and Ahmetaj wanted to hold a religious ceremony but could not a find a religious official willing to bless the union in Albania. Instead, they flew in two priests from the United Kingdom to perform the ceremony.

The Albanian Catholic Church criticized the ceremony and distanced itself from the priests involved.

“Even though he appears as a Catholic clergyman, [he] has no connection with the Catholic Church and represents nothing of us,” Mark Pashkia, a spokesperson for the Church, told Balkan Insight.

The couple involved in the suit are also raising twin daughters born through IVF three years ago. They have struggled to legally register the girls as their daughters because Albanian law only recognizes opposite-sex parents. They were forced to register Mara as the girls’ single mother, meaning Ahmetaj would have no rights over the girls if Mara dies or becomes seriously ill.

They sued the government for the right to be recognized as equal parents, but lost at the High Court. The couple are appealing the decision, and say they will fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if they have to.

Local LGBTQ+ activists have filed cases against the government seeking same-sex relationship recognition, but the cases have not progressed in local courts. 

Years ago, the government had floated the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage, but the proposal was scrapped amid pushback from religious leaders in the Muslim-majority country.

In neighboring Kosovo, which is also an Albanian-speaking country, prime minister Albin Kurti has pledged to reintroduce a new draft Civil Code that would legalize civil unions and open the door to same-sex marriage, but he has faced pushback from Muslim lawmakers in his own party, who voted down the draft code in 2022. 

Neighboring Greece legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year.

SOUTH KOREA

Los Angeles Blade graphic

SEOUL, South Korea (Human Rights Watch) – South Korea’s National Health Insurance Service should extend benefits to same-sex partners, Human Rights Watch said in an amicus brief filed before the country’s Supreme Court on May 16, 2024. The agency extends dependent benefits to heterosexual couples who are deemed to be in a de facto marriage, but has refused to extend those benefits to same-sex couples in a similar position.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the agency has impermissibly discriminated against a same-sex couple that was refused dependent benefits. In 2023, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the couple, concluding that the refusal to extend benefits constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation. The health agency appealed to the Supreme Court.

“The Seoul High Court correctly observed that the health agency’s refusal to recognize same-sex couples is discrimination,” said Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the Supreme Court will affirm the principle that nobody should be denied benefits solely because of their sexual orientation.”

The couple who brought the case had held a symbolic wedding ceremony in 2019, and one of the men registered his partner with the National Health Insurance Service as his spouse in 2020. The agency later revoked the partner’s dependent benefits following media attention to its effective recognition of a same-sex couple.

Human Rights Watch’s brief examines international and regional precedents for state recognition of same-sex partnerships, the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in South Korea, and the growing recognition of same-sex partnerships elsewhere in Asia.

South Korea has not created any framework for recognizing and supporting same-sex couples. The absence of any legal framework or protections for same-sex partners leaves LGBT people with few avenues to protect their relationships with partners and children, to safeguard their shared finances and property, and to access state benefits designed to support couples and families.

The government’s failure to recognize same-sex partnerships falls short of its human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that UN member states “have a positive obligation to provide legal recognition to couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as to their children,” and to extend those benefits offered to heterosexual couples without discrimination.

Among regional human rights bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has said that states must extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, while the European Court of Human Rights has said that states must create some form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex relationships.

As Human Rights Watch and others have noted, South Korea also lacks comprehensive protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite strong public support for a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to enact basic protections that would prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other areas.

In failing to protect LGBT rights, South Korea is out of step with trends elsewhere in the region. In 2019, Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in Asia to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, and Australia and New Zealand have subsequently recognized the right to marry as well.

Courts in Japan and Thailand have expressed concern about the lack of partnership recognition in those contexts, and Nepal’s supreme court has extended interim recognition of the right to marry while it considers a marriage equality case.

A growing number of states in the region also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Australia, Fiji, Macao, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Thailand, Tuvalu have prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in employment and other fields.

“South Korea’s lawmakers have failed to provide basic protection for same-sex couples by dragging their feet on nondiscrimination and partnership bills,” Yoon said. “South Korea’s courts now have the chance to uphold the state’s human rights obligations by ensuring that the state does not discriminate in the material benefits it does offer to committed couples.”

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno with additional reporting from Human Rights Watch

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The White House

Biden delivers Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery

In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington National Cemetery

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President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Screenshot/YouTube White House Livestream)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Under grey clouds and occasional rainfall, President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the wreath laying the President, introduced by Secretary Austin delivered his Memorial Day address in the amphitheater. In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington. He then said: “Everyone has lost and loved someone in the service of our country.”

“I know how hard it can be. It can reopen that black wound in your chest. … I know.  … This week marks nine years since I lost my son Beau.”

He noted his loss wasn’t the same those who lost someone in combat as Beau died of cancer. He repeated his belief the cancer was from burn pits in Iraq. 

WATCH:

Full text of President Biden’s address:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
AT THE 156TH NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
One hundred and sixty years ago this month, in the midst of the Civil War, the first American soldier was laid to rest at these hallowed grounds.  Private William Christman, a farmworker from Pennsylvania, had enlisted just seven weeks before.  There was no formal ceremony to consecrate this new sanctuary, no fanfare.  

It came at a turning point in the war.  As fighting shifted east, the casualties quickly mounted in the bloody, grinding campaign.

Over the next year, William would be joined in death, as he was in life, by his brother-in-arms in this final resting place.  And these hills around us would be transformed from a former slave plantation into a national strine — shine for those American heroes who died for freedom, who died for us.

My fellow Americans, Jill, Vice President Harris, the Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Austin, General Brown; most importantly, the veterans and service members, families, and survivors — we gather at this sacred place at this solemn moment to remember, to honor — honor the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who’ve given their lives for this nation.  

Each one, literally, a chain in the link — a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days.  Each one bound by common commitment — not to a place, not to a person, not to a President, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America.   

Today, we bear witness to the price they paid.  Every white stone across these hills, in every military cemetery and churchyard across America: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a neighbor — an American.

To everyone who has lost and loved someone in the service of our country, to everyone with a loved one still missing or unaccounted for, I know how hard it can be.  It can reopen that black hole in the middle of your chest, bringing you back to the exact moment you got that phone call, heard that knock on the door, or held the hand when the last breath was taken.  I know it hurts.  The hurt is still real, still raw.

This week marks nine years since I lost my son, Beau.  Our losses are not the same.  He didn’t perish on the battlefield.  He was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the Army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit — a major in the U.S.  National — Army National Guard, living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit.  

And as it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you — still sharp, still clear.  But so is the pride I feel in his service, as if I can still hear him saying, “It’s my duty, Dad.  It’s my duty.”  

Duty.  That was the code of — my son lived by and the creed all of you live by, the creed that generations of service members have followed into battle.  

On the grounds around us lie fallen heroes from every major conflict in history to defend our independence, to preserve our Union, to defeat fascism; built powerful alliances, forged in fires of two world wars.  

Members of the Greatest Generation, who 80 years ago next week, took to the beaches of Normandy and liberated a continent and literally saved the world.  

Others who stood against communism in Korea and Vietnam.  

And not far from here, in Section 60, lie over a thousand — a thousand — 7,054 women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, who signed up to defeat terrorists, protect our homeland after 9/11.   

Decade after decade, tour after tour, these warriors fought for our freedom and the freedom of others, because freedom has never been guaranteed.  Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many.  It matters.  

Our democracy is more than just a system of government.  It’s the very soul of America.  It’s how we’ve been able to constantly adapt through the centuries.  It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge stronger than we went in.  And it’s how we come together as one nation united.  

And just as our fallen heroes have kept the ultimate faith with our country and our democracy, we must keep faith with them.

I’ve long said we have many obligations as a nation.  But we only have one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into battle and to pr- — take care of them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.  

Since I took office, I’ve signed over 30 bipartisan laws supporting servicemen, veterans and their families and caregivers, and survivors.  

Last year, the VA delivered more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history.  And the PACT Act, which I was proud to have signed, has already guaranteed one million claims helping veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service — one million.  

For too long, after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right healthcare, to get the benefits they had earned.  Not anymore.  

Our nation came together to ensure the burden is no longer on them to prove their illness was service-related, whether it was Agent Orange or toxic waste, to ensure they protected them — they just have to protect the United States — because it’s assumed that their death was a consequence of the exposure. 

On this day, we came together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future they fought for — a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity, and equality.  Not just for some, but for all.

America is the only country in the world founded on an idea — an idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.  

We’ve never fully lived up to that, but we’ve never, ever, ever walked away from it.  Every generation, our fallen heroes have brought us closer.   

Today, we’re not just fortunate heirs of their legacy.  We have a responsibility to be the keepers of their mission.  That — that truest memorial of their lives: the actions we take every day to ensure that our democracy endures, the very idea of America endures.

Ladies and gentlemen, 160 years ago, the first American solider was laid to rest on these hallowed grounds.  There were no big ceremonies, no big speeches, no family mour- — family members to mourn their loss, just the quiet grief of the rolling green hills surrounding them.  

Today, we join that grief with gratitude: gratitude to our fallen heroes, gratitude to the families left behind, and gratitude to the brave souls who continue to uphold the flame of liberty all across our country and around the world.

Because of them, all of them, that we stand here today.  We will never forget that.  We will never, ever, ever stop working for — to make a more perfect Union, which they lived and which they died for.  

That was their promise.  That’s our promise — our promise today to them.  That’s our promise always.  

God bless the fallen.  May God bless their families.  And may God protect our troops.

Thank you.  
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California

Governor Newsom launches resources website: ready.ca.gov 

With the unofficial start of summer, Newsom today is highlighting how the state is preparing for summer emergencies, extreme heat, and fires

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Governor Newsom with emergency managers at Cal OES. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – With seasonal challenges on the horizon as temperatures increase and Californians head outside, Governor Gavin Newsom visited the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) today to announce ready.ca.gov – a new, one-stop shop for Californians to prepare for emergencies and extreme weather.

The new website is part of Listos California, which is a state effort that connects communities with resources before, during and after emergencies. 

During his visit to Cal OES, the Governor was briefed by emergency managers on the administration’s preparedness for summer and peak wildfire season, including progress made in building forest resilience to catastrophic wildfires, firefighter staffing levels and firefighting fleet readiness, and the administration’s Extreme Temperature Response Plan that was developed to coordinate an all-hands response by government to mitigate the state’s most deadly natural weather event.

“California is prepared for summer and peak wildfire season — with a surge in firefighters and equipment, better forest management, and one of the most tried and tested emergency management systems in the world. Make sure your family is prepared too. Visit ready.ca.gov — a new resource to help keep Californians safe this weekend and all summer long,” said
Governor Newsom.

Combined with a comprehensive suite of translated messaging and materials, Listos California at Cal OES continues to uplift life-saving messages through interactive, community-based tactics, including peer-to-peer phone banking efforts, in-person events, and door-to-door engagements. 

Preparing for Memorial Day weekend & summer

Extreme heat preparation: Listos California recently kicked off its summer season campaign efforts, beginning with its Wildfire Awareness Campaign in rural communities. Community leaders are encouraged to sign up for local emergency alerts and share these resources with family, friends and neighbors to build resiliency and help communities stay safe this summer.

Snowmelt & swift water preparedness: California’s waterways can conceal dangers below the surface. With a melting snowpack, the volume and speed of the water are creating hazardous conditions. Across the Administration, state departments and agencies are promoting swift water safety and drowning prevention messaging in honor of the summer season. Water safety messages in more than a dozen languages can be found at Listos California.

Wildfire & emergency preparedness: CAL FIRE has worked to reduce the risk of fires all year round, including increased fire prevention efforts, better firefighting technology and resources, and community preparedness initiatives. In 2023, there was a 93.87% reduction in structures destroyed compared to 2022. Potential mega-fires were kept small, protecting communities and limiting smoke impacts and CAL FIRE met its 100,000-acre goal for fuel reduction activities for the fourth straight year. Through the Ready for Wildfire initiative, Californians can learn the necessary steps to prepare their homes to be better prepared if a wildfire strikes.

Roadway safety: Heading into Memorial Day, the California Highway Patrol is initiating a statewide Maximum Enforcement Period from Friday to Monday to address the expected surge in holiday travelers on California roads. In 2023 over the holiday weekend, 46 people were killed in crashes and more than 1,100 arrested for driving under the influence throughout the state.

ready.ca.gov

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West Hollywood

WeHo City kicks off WeHo Pride with José Sarria Drag Pageant

The City kicked off WeHo Pride festivities with the annual Harvey Milk Day events celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community

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City of West Hollywood kicks off WeHo Pride with José Sarria Drag Pageant for Harvey Milk Day. (Photo: Mike Pingel/WEHO TIMES)

By Mike Pingel | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood kicked off WeHo Pride festivities with the annual Harvey Milk Day events celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community.

Organized by the City of West Hollywood and West Hollywood Drag Laureate Pickle and is co-sponsored by the Imperial Court and by Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath, Third District, the second annual José Sarria Drag Pageant took place on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, West Hollywood Park Aquatic and Recreation Center Respite Deck.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES
West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

José Sarria was the first openly gay person to run for office in the United States, helped pave the way for Harvey Milk’s successful run for office, was a well-known drag performer under the name the Window Norton, and founded the International Imperial Court System, which is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ organizations in the world. The Drag Pageant competition will be hosted by West Hollywood Drag Laureate Pickle, and several drag icons will be honored. Judges will include Queen Mother Karina Samala and Emperor Eugene Maysky of the Imperial Court, Landon Cider, Anil Patel, Nyx, and Kyra Jete.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

Pageant contestants included Queen Angelina, Bilella Fierce, Cruella Brazil, Bych Nastee, and Linda Recessionista. They were judged on presentation, talent and personality.

Pickle announced the winner at the end of the pageantry. And that winner is… Queen Angelina!

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

In addition to the Drag Pageant, the event will include a voter registration table, a Harvey Milk photo opportunity, and typewriter poetry provided by Pride Poets. Pride Poets is a cohort of LGBTQ poets who create custom poetry for the public on typewriters. Pride Poets was founded by former West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace for the City’s LGBTQ Arts Festival in 2019. The participation of Pride Poets in this event is funded by a City of West Hollywood Arts Grant.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

WeHo Pride Weekend will take place from Friday, May 31, 2024 to Sunday, June 2, 2024 and, in addition to the WeHo Pride Parade, will include the free WeHo Pride Street Fair; WeHo Pride Presents Friday Night at OUTLOUD; the OUTLOUD Music Festival; the Women’s Freedom Festival; the Dyke March; and more.

The WeHo Pride Arts Festival will take place from Friday, June 14, 2024 to Sunday, June 16, 2024. WeHo Pride celebrations will include a diverse array of LGBTQ community group programming from May 22 to June 30 as part of visibility, expression, and celebration.

The WeHo Pride Arts Festival is organized by the City’s Arts Division. The City of West Hollywood is committed to providing accessible arts programming for residents and visitors and the City’s Arts Division delivers a broad array of arts programs including Art on the Outside (temporary public art), Urban Art Program (permanent public art), Summer Sounds, Winter Sounds, the WeHo Reads literary series, Free Theatre in the Parks, Arts Grants for Nonprofit Arts Organizations, Library Exhibits and Programming, the City Poet Laureate Program, Drag Laureate, Drag Story Hour, Human Rights Speakers Series and the WeHo Pride Arts Festival Weekend. For additional information, please visit www.weho.org/arts.

For nearly four decades, the City of West Hollywood has been home to one of the largest Pride celebrations in the nation. Hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and allies from around the world traditionally make West Hollywood their regular destination during Pride season.

OUTLOUD Music Festival information is posted at www.weareoutloud.com.

Additional information about WeHo Pride 2024 is posted at www.wehopride.com.

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Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel has written six books, Channel Surfing: Charlie’s Angels & Angelic Heaven: A Fan’s Guide to Charlie’s Angels, Channel Surfing: Wonder Woman, The Brady Bunch: Super Groovy after all these years; Works of Pingel and most recently, Betty White: Rules the World. Pingel owns and runs CharliesAngels.com website and was Farrah Fawcett personal assistant. He also works as an actor and as a freelance publicist.

His official website is www.mikepingel.com

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty plea in Grindr cyberstalking, sextortion & id theft of gay men

He targeted young gay men on Grindr to obtain their sexually explicit photographs & videos consensually & used them to extort money or sex

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Joseph P. Kinneary United States Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio is home to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo Credit: The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Omoruyi O. Uwadiae, 28, of Chicago, offered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, May 22 to cyberstalking, sextortion and identity theft crimes. His scheme involved dozens of victims in multiple states, including Ohio, Colorado and Washington.

According to his plea documents, Uwadiae admitted to obtaining sexually explicit photographs and videos from potential victims and then using the content to threaten them. Uwadiae threatened to distribute the explicit material widely on the internet and specifically to victims’ friends, family members, employers and others.

The defendant demanded money from some victims. From others, he demanded they meet him, have sex with him, or make damaging admissions such as admissions that they were racist. On multiple occasions, Uwadiae carried through with his threats. He sent sexually explicit photographs and videos to the victims’ friends, family members (including at least one victim’s mother, at least one victim’s brother, and at least one victim’s sister), employers and acquaintances, and also posted sexually explicit photographs and videos widely on the internet.

Multiple victims had not publicly disclosed their sexual orientation, which Uwadiae’s actions disclosed, contrary to their wishes. The defendant also used victims’ identifications to create false accounts on social media and post personal information about the victims online.

Uwadiae targeted young gay men on Grindr and other online sites. He would obtain their sexually explicit photographs and videos consensually and then use them to extort. In some cases, he posted their nude images on Male General without their consent and then demanded money or other things of value to take down the images. Male General is a blog marketed to gay men containing, among other things, boards where users can post images and text.

For example, one victim was a student at The Ohio State University who communicated with Uwadiae on Grindr. Uwadiae ultimately demanded that the victim either pay him $200 or have sex with him. When the victim did not comply, Uwadiae created false social media accounts using true photos of the victim, stating, “this guy is gay, see pics for evidence.” The victim had not disclosed his sexual orientation to his family and had told Uwadiae he was concerned that his family would react negatively if they learned he was bisexual.

Uwadiae was charged in the Southern District of Ohio in April.

As part of his plea, Uwadiae pleaded guilty to 22 total counts. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of cyberstalking (punishable by up to five years in prison), seven counts of making interstate communications with the intent to extort (up to two years in prison) and seven counts of unlawfully using a means of identification (up to five years in prison).

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the guilty plea offered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Columbus, Ohio Police Department.

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California Politics

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry Prop 8 Repeal

California voters will vote to take the defunct ban on same-sex marriage out of the state constitution in November

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Speakers at Thursday's press conference included: Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California; Eddie Martinez, Executive Director of Latino Equity Alliance & Huntington Park Council Member; Mario Trujillo, Mayor of Downey; Terra Russell-Slavin, Esq., Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center; Mark Gonzalez, LACDP Chair Em. and Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition. (Photo Credit: Click Strategies)

By Rob Salerno | LOS ANGELES – Leaders of a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups hosted a rally at the Mi Centro LGBT Community Centre in Los Angeles Thursday to launch the Southern California referendum campaign to repeal the discriminatory definition of marriage in the state constitution in November.

“California is a beacon of equality. Our state should always protect fundamental civil rights for all people and fight discrimination wherever it exists,” Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, told the launch rally. “The bottom line is that your freedom to marry is on the ballot in November. Let’s show the rest of the country that Californians stand up for freedom and equality.”

California voters narrowly affirmed Proposition 8, which added a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution, in 2008. The ban was eventually struck down under the due process clause of the US Constitution in decisions between 2010 and 2013, but the unenforceable ban remains in the state constitution.

But many observers are nervous that the extremely right-wing Supreme Court could reverse previous rulings that supported same-sex marriage, which could enable the ban to snap back into effect. These fears became acute when the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision reversed decades of precedent by ending the right to abortion. 

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas openly suggested that the ruling implied that the Supreme Court should overturn previous decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and intercourse.

“We know that there is a well-funded, well-organized group of extremist people who want to chip away the gains we have gotten over the last few years,” Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition told the rally. “This freedom to marry initiative isn’t just for gay or lesbian people. It’s for all of us.”

Terra Russell-Slavin, Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center, recalled how her organization campaigned the last time marriage equality was put to voters.

“We’re having many of the same conversations today we had in 2008, but this time, with Californians who are on the right side of history. With the majority of Angelenos and Californias who understand that we share a special bond as caretakers of our community. That’s what makes us family, and that’s what will make us win in November,” Russell-Slavin said. 

Speakers at the rally acknowledged that equality activists have had to do more outreach to minority communities in the years since Proposition 8 passed. 

Eddie Martinez, a Huntington Park city councilor and executive director of the Latino Equity Alliance, reflected on how queer Latinos reached out to parents, neighbors, and community leaders to build common cause after exit polling revealed that Latinos mostly supported the marriage ban.

“Latine LGBT activists and organizations knew it was time to be united and to educate our community about marriage equality,” he said. “We went to communities that voted up to 60% [for Prop 8] to have one-on-one conversations on marriage equality and other issues of importance to the Latine community, such as immigration and workers’ rights. Our fight was intersectional.” 

State legislators unanimously agreed to put a repeal question before voters last summer. 

Last week, the state Democratic Party announced it is supporting passage of the Freedom to Marry ballot measure.

California isn’t the only state considering a freedom to marry ballot question in November. Voters in Hawaii and Colorado will also be deciding on propositions to repeal their constitution’s marriage bans. 

“This is going to set the precedence for others to understand the importance of including these initiatives in their state constitutions,” Salcedo says. “We invite you to talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors, around your dinner table, to bring this issue to light because this is important to all of our communities.”

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry campaign for Prop 8 Repeal

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Louisiana

Louisiana Legislature passes ‘Don’t Say Gay or trans’ bill  

Horton’s bill also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events

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State Rep. Dodie Horton, (R-Haughton), debates her bill on the House floor. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGE, La. – Discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Louisiana’s K-12 public schools could soon be restricted after the state Senate approved a far-reaching anti-LGBTQ+ bill Thursday. 

Senators sent House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools, to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law. It passed on a 28-7 vote, with Democratic Sens. Katrina Jackson-Andrews of Monroe and Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge joining Republicans in support of the bill.

The Legislature approved the same bill last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed it, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action 

Horton’s bill restricts discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, except for topics in approved curricula. This would allow discussion of a romantic relationship in a book but not mentions of a teacher’s family, for example. Horton said in committee her bill would also block discussion of heterosexuality and cisgender identity. Cisgender refers to anyone whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. 

The measure is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Horton’s proposal is much broader and would apply to K-12 grades, whereas Florida’s law applies only to early-grade students. 

Florida recently settled a lawsuit over the law filed by civil rights activists. As part of the agreement, students and teachers are permitted to discuss gender and sexuality as long as it is not part of classroom instruction. 

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students. 

“Having sexualized personal discussions between educators and students in our classrooms are not appropriate, and they can rob our children of their innocence while imposing suggested influence over their developing young minds,” Horton said when her bill came up in committee. 

When asked whether the bill would have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students, Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who was tasked with carrying the bill in the Senate, said that was not the intent of the proposal. 

“It’s good to have a safe place where parents can have some confidence, for instance, if there is an LGBTQ employee, I think letting parents know ‘OK, I’m fine with that person, because I know they can’t talk to my child about their sexual orientation, no more than I would want a promiscuous male or female teacher to talk to my child about their sexual partners,’” Mizell said. 

Horton’s bill would not just apply to classroom instruction. It also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events, meaning it could potentially hinder student chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance and other LGBTQ+ student organizations. 

The Senate rejected a series of amendments Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, proposed that would have restricted the bill’s limitations to only K-8 grades, defined the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” excluded extracurricular activities, and limited the effect to only classroom instruction rather than discussion between teachers and students. Jackson-Andrews also sided with Republicans in rejecting the amendments. 

A separate proposal, House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, is slated to be discussed by the Senate next week. It prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished by permission.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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