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10 years later, firestorm over gay-only ENDA vote still informs movement

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Ten years ago, a firestorm ignited in the LGBT community over a vote in the U.S. House that many transgender people remember vividly because it excluded them in favor of advancing employment non-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The vote on the “gay-only” version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Nov. 7, 2007, rocked the LGBT movement and prompted protests against the Human Rights Campaign and gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who backed the bill, arguing it was the best that could be done at the time. The 10th anniversary of the vote is Tuesday.

But the omission galvanized transgender rights advocates to such an extent that for the next 10 years the LGBT movement committed to moving forward only legislation that included the full community — both at the state and federal level — and today advancement of a sexual-orientation only bill is impossible to imagine.

Dana Beyer, a Chevy Chase, Md.-based transgender activist who’s running for state Senate in Maryland, said the vote on the gay-only version of ENDA was “a landmark” for trans inclusion in the LGBT movement.

“Whenever I discuss the progress that we’ve made, which has been remarkable, I begin there because that was basically the first real battle for the trans community on the national stage and over the succeeding decade, we’ve made incredible progress,” Beyer said.

Beyer added from that time forward after the creation of United ENDA — an unprecedented coalition of more than 400 organizations that emerged to fight against trans exclusion —there have been with few exceptions “no instances of any gay activism or legislation that did not include trans people.”

Rebecca Juro, a New Jersey-based transgender activist and radio show host, said the reaction to the vote on the sexual-orientation only version of ENDA was a significant turning point.

“The reason why Barney Frank was able to introduce and get the kind of support he did in Congress was because there was a feeling [of] who cares, nobody knows about these people,” Juro said. “What that did was it said, ’No, no, no,’ you’re wrong.’ and people are going to call you out and it’s going to cost you politically and people are going to show up at the Human Rights Campaign galas and make it difficult for you to solicit money for your campaign.”

In the year Democrats assumed control of the U.S. House after more than a decade of Republican majorities, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) brought the gay-only version of ENDA to the floor after Frank determined an initial version of the bill that included protections based on gender identity wouldn’t get a majority vote in the chamber.

That version of ENDA would pass on the House floor by a vote of 235-184. (Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), although he also voted in favor of a motion to recommit that would have killed the legislation.)

Voting “no” on the legislation were 25 Democrats, many of whom — such as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), former Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) and former Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine) — rejected the measure on the basis it lacked protections for transgender people. Then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), now a U.S. senator and still the only out lesbian in Congress, proposed an amendment to insert gender identity, but withdrew the measure before it could come to a vote.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign at the time of the vote, backed ENDA and 10 years later stood by his decision as a means to develop the legislation, citing “no hope of passing any legislation into law” with George W. Bush as president.

“It was a tactical decision to take a step in the direction of getting what we ultimately wanted, which was maybe a non-inclusive bill in the House, and inclusive bill in the Senate that would end up as a fully inclusive bill or that would end up as a fully inclusive bill by the time Obama became president,” Solmonese said.

Recalling a “great deal of debate within the community and the House” about whether sufficient votes for transgender inclusion were present, Solmonese said lawmakers pledged to LGBT activists support for a trans-inclusive bill before, then told Pelosi not bring such a measure to the floor.

“They sort of wanted it both ways,” Solmonese said. “They knew what they were supposed to do, but they didn’t want to do it.”

Frank said the vote on ENDA was “very important” because it paved the way for legislative victories on hate crimes protections and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“One of the problems we’ve had historically — we don’t have it anymore — is members being afraid to vote for us because they thought they could be defeated, that it would be a tough vote,” Frank said. “So, here we had members voting for a bill that was a broad protections for LGB people and nobody lost because of it. That was very helpful in setting the foundation.”

In his book “A Life in Politics,” Frank recounts the deliberative process that went into bringing the gay-only version of ENDA to the House floor, maintaining Republicans would have sought to amend the bill to remove the transgender protections.

Baldwin disagreed with moving forward without transgender inclusion, Frank wrote, even though she ultimately voted for the bill. (Baldwin’s office didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.)

“As we approached the final vote, Tammy did her own informal whip count and concluded we would have enough Democratic votes,” Frank wrote. “Speaker Pelosi, a strong supporter of the bill, asked Tammy for her count, checked it herself with the members, and decided that Tammy had been too optimistic — a conclusion that [former Rep. George Miller and I, based on our own work, fully agreed with. We did not have the votes for the inclusive-bill. It was sadly but unmistakably clear to Pelosi, Miller and me that we could pass ENDA only in its earlier form, covering only lesbian, gay and bisexual workers.”

Backing that move was the Human Rights Campaign, which continued to support the gay-only measure as one of five co-signers in a letter to Congress dated Nov. 6, 2007 organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

“With each significant step toward progress, the civil rights community has also faced difficult and sometimes even agonizing tradeoffs,” the letter said. “We have always recognized, however, that each legislative breakthrough has paved the way for additional progress in the future. With respect to ENDA, we take the same view.”

That vote sent a shockwave through the transgender community, which quickly marshaled opposition to the bill and protested any further advancement without their protections. Many angrily accused the Human Rights Campaign and Frank of abandoning the transgender community.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the vote was “one of the most important things that happened in the movement in the last 20 years.”

“We wanted everything to be about setting up for what the movement was after this vote happened, after the bill died for the year,” Keisling said. “What were the lessons the movement was going to learn, what was the lesson HRC was going to learn, what was the lesson Barney Frank was going to learn?”

The night before the vote, Keisling said, she received a call from Frank’s office and was informed “it was over” a for trans-inclusive version of ENDA. Together with Dave Noble, then policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Keisling said she planned to write a letter to Baldwin in hopes she could influence the vote, but was told the gay-only ENDA would move forward.

That night, Keisling and Noble reached out to the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other groups to form a coalition against the trans omission. By morning more than 60 organizations had joined United ENDA, Keisling said, a coalition that refused to support the gay-only bill and pledged to work with lawmakers to support a trans-inclusive measure.

Keisling said other groups “were calling up slightly annoyed that they hadn’t been asked to sign on” and soon the coalition grew to several hundred members.

“It essentially was because Barney Frank and HRC had totally lost touch with what the community was,” Keisling said. “So they did not understand that this would not be alright with the community and we all found out very quickly in a matter of hours that it really was not, that the movement had really become an LGBT movement and it wasn’t going to fly to take trans people out. So not only were we against the vote happening, we were the leaders of being against the vote happening.”

The gay-only version of ENDA never reached Bush’s desk for his veto, nor did any version of the bill — trans-inclusive or otherwise — come up in the U.S. Senate even though Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Had ENDA been brought to the floor for a vote in the Senate, the sponsor would likely have been the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was one of the rare champions of LGBT rights at the time.

Solmonese said he didn’t immediately remember why ENDA never came up in the Senate and said it “may have had to do with timing,” but said Kennedy would only have moved forward with a trans-inclusive bill, not a gay-only ENDA, as part of the strategy for the House vote.

“He understood and supported the rationale of having an overarching strategy,” Solmonese said. “George Bush is the president. This thing’s not going to get passed into law. You do one version in the House, an inclusive version in the Senate, the leadership of both chambers is such that the conference committee would likely end up with something that was fully inclusive, right?”

Keisling, however, said “there was no Senate plan” because the Democratic majority in the chamber was seen as too marginal to advance ENDA, nor did Kennedy ever express an aversion to the gay-only version of the bill.

“The plan was that Barney Frank and HRC thought that it was worth passing the gay-only bill through the House, just move the ball forward and get members on the record as Barney said many times,” Keisling said. “Everyone else believed that since it would never become law that year, we shouldn’t exclude anyone.”

Do the backers of the bill at that time have any regrets? Solmonese acknowledged a few even though he stood by his decision to support ENDA in 2007.

“I regret that I saw it one way, which was a step in building towards what all of us ultimately wanted and by no means a signal that that was the legislation that anybody would ultimately support, but the fact that many people didn’t see it that way and many people simply saw the symbolism around the act as one that was divisive to the community, that was never the intention of HRC or my intention, but I certainly regret that that’s the way that it unfolded,” Solmonese said.

Frank said his “regret was we didn’t have the votes” when asked about his approach and blustered at the suggestion anything else could have been done.

“I think to do nothing at all — that was the argument, if you can’t include everybody, you can’t include anybody — in the first place, that’s not the history of the civil rights movement,” Frank said. “I voted to help protect African Americans and immigrants and women. The civil rights movement…you move as much as you can as soon as you can and you build on that. So do I regret not trying hard to get votes? No, I tried as hard as I could to get the votes.”

‘The pendulum is all the way the other way’

Over the course of 10 years since that vote, it’s hard to imagine Congress — or any other legislative body — passing legislation that excluded transgender people. Each successful version of ENDA introduced and advanced in Congress has been trans inclusive and its supporters have defended that language against any objection it. The Equality Act, the successor to ENDA that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and in all aspects of civil rights law, has consistently been trans inclusive.

Keisling said the commitment to trans inclusion among LGBT groups is “almost total.”

“Most of the big LGBT organizations, including the legal organizations, the lion’s share of their work now is trans work and, no, I don’t think any of them would intentionally do work to cut trans people out. In fact, there are times that we have to talk people into doing things because they’re afraid trans people will think it means cutting them out when it doesn’t. So, yeah, the pendulum is all the way the other way, and then probably some extra.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, pointed to enactment of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and his boss’ support for the Equality Act as evidence of her support for trans inclusion.

“Leader Pelosi was proud to lead the Congress as speaker in passing a fully inclusive hate crimes bill signed into law by President Obama in October of 2009,” Hammill said. “A top priority for the leader is the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to amend the Civil Rights Act and protect LGBT Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex. The leader believes that this legislation would pass the Congress now should Speaker Ryan allow a vote.”

Times have changed for the Human Rights Campaign as well. In 2014, Chad Griffin, the current president of the Human Rights Campaign, apologized on behalf of his organization at the Southern Comfort transgender conference for having “done wrong by the transgender community in the past.”

Transgender work has become a major component of the LGBT group’s work. In recent years, the organization has opposed a gay-only non-discrimination bill in Michigan, worked to thwart the anti-trans House Bill 2 in North Carolina and successfully blocked an anti-trans bathroom bill in Texas. The organization has also opposed non-discrimination measures in Pennsylvania and Charlotte, N.C., without public accommodations protections, which were seen as a backdoor way of leaving out transgender people because of controversy over bathroom use.

Sarah McBride, who’s transgender and press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said in the past 10 years the organization is “proudly and unequivocally continuing to fight for trans-inclusive protections” and will only back legislation that is fully inclusive.

“From Michigan to North Carolina to Birmingham, HRC has forcefully and aggressively blocked laws and policies that don’t protect every LGBTQ person from discrimination while fighting to extend robust protections across the country,” McBride said. “We are also working to accelerate the pace of progress in other ways, from raising the visibility of the transgender community, to incentivizing trans-inclusive healthcare through our Corporate Equality Index, to shining a spotlight on the epidemic of anti-transgender violence which is taking the lives of so many trans women of color.”

But 2007 wasn’t the last time there would be fighting within the LGBT community over ENDA. In 2013, major LGBT groups (again with the exception of the Human Rights Campaign) dropped support from a version of ENDA over the scope of its religious exemption, which would have provided leeway for religious institutions, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions even if the bill were to become law. In a reversal from 2007, the Senate passed the legislation, but it didn’t come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Although ENDA has never become law, a growing consensus has emerged in the courts that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to anti-trans discrimination. Four federal appellate courts — the First, Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuit courts of appeals — have determined employment discrimination against transgender people is barred under Title VII, as has the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Keisling cautioned against too much reliance on laws against sex discrimination because “things are in flux,” noting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ withdrawal of support for transgender protections under Title VII and President Trump’s appointment of anti-LGBT judges.

“We’re still convinced that the courts are on our side, cases and decisions have been building up to support us and actually [the idea] trans people are supported by sex discrimination is better supported than that gay people are,” Keisling said. “We just don’t exactly know how that’s going to maintain. We do know that there’s a handful of both sexual orientation and gender identity cases moving up through the court system, so what I say now might not be true a month from now and certainly will be changed somewhat in a year.”

Confidence in the legal landscape for trans protections under Title VII is at such a point that a pending petition filed by Lambda Legal before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a nationwide ruling for gay protections under the law, but not explicit trans protections, hasn’t registered as trans exclusion. The petition was filed on behalf of lesbian plaintiff Jackie Evans after the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her.

Beyer said she’s not bothered by the petition and it should only upset transgender activists “who don’t bother to parse the specifics” and recognize the transgender victories in lower courts.

“We could have easily won [trans protections] nationwide first,” Beyer said. “In this case, sexual orientation has been viewed differently and most courts haven’t wanted to touch it until the Hively case in the 7th Circuit took it, and now we’ve got Evans. That’s beginning to change. I’m certainly not at all offended by that because this is the way you go. You have a case and the case can’t equally be broadened to include different classifications simply because the community would like it.”

The social scene, in contrast to advocacy groups and the legal landscape, may not be as advanced in accepting transgender inclusion despite the explosion over ENDA 10 years ago. Transgender rights advocates noted a distinction between the LGBT community at large in accepting transgender people and advocacy groups.

Beyer said she doesn’t see transgender inclusion at the social level “anywhere near as advanced” as the current legal landscape.

“Acceptance, affirmation in the general culture is one thing, but the fact that, say, 35 percent of Americans do know a trans person, doesn’t mean that people are that much more comfortable with trans people,” Beyer said. “I think on balance they are, but not overwhelmingly so.”

Efforts to resist trans inclusion in the movement on occasion still emerge, although they’re rare and don’t represent mainstream LGBT views. In 2015, a petition was posted on Change.org titled “Drop the T” urging major LGBT organizations to “disassociate themselves from the transgender movement and return to representing their base support of gay men and lesbians.” The petition, signed by 3,227 people, had no impact on transgender advocacy at LGBT groups.

But transgender advocates also saw a generational divide in the approach to trans inclusion on the social scene that meets what is now seen at the advocacy level.

Juro said college-aged LGBT activists just beginning to come into the movement have a much different view of trans inclusion than their LGBT elders.

“They’re all like, no, you cannot separate, we’re all in this together and trying to say we’ll get rights for gay people without trans people is unacceptable,” Juro said. “And our youth, let’s be honest, are the ones who are driving the community. There the ones who get out there with the signs and the marches. People my age, 55, and old farts, we’re not always as active as we used to be and these are the kids who are driving the movement.”

In some respects, the transgender movement has evolved in strength to take on challenges on its own. Just recently, the National Center for Transgender Equality formed a 501(c)(4) political arm and the Breakthrough Fund, a political action committee and offshoot of the Trans United Fund run by transgender activists, launched with the goal of electing transgender people to public office.

Beyer said the transgender movement is rising to the occasion now that transgender issues have become the focus after many victories on gay rights.

“I think the grassroots trans community has seized the initiative simply because after marriage, after Obergefell, it seemed like the air went out of the gay balloon,” Beyer said. “On a local level, there are still black trans women being murdered. There’s still difficulty getting jobs for many trans people, particularly the younger ones. So, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

With the LGBT movement changing dramatically, Keisling said “the LGBT movement is quickly becoming a trans movement,” and now she’s concerned “we’re sending signals to the gay community that trans work is more important than gay work.”

Nonetheless, Keisling cited concerns about insufficient trans presence in places where existing infrastructure is based on gay rights, such as states that have state LGBT equality groups, but no trans groups.

“That’s fine as long as the LGBT movement is strong, but after marriage, if the movement’s weakening…that means trans people don’t have enough support from the LGBT group because it’s weakening but they don’t have the ability to have a strong trans group because there’s an LGBT group,” Keisling said. “I think that’s a conversation we have to start having more explicitly.”

Congress

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act with 61 votes

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and LGBTQ groups celebrated Tuesday’s victory

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U.S. Senate floor vote on Nov. 29 2022 for the Respect for Marriage Act (Screen capture via CSPAN)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed – in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the U.S. House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority – including votes from 47 Republican members – the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that – per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break – were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The President celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory. “Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats – including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over ten years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President and CEO Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Dept. of Energy official replaced after felony charges

Extreme right-wing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) published an offensive tweet yesterday targeting their nonbinary identity

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Sam Brinton addressing Trevor Project gathering in 2018. Screenshot/YouTube The Trevor Project

WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy replaced a nonbinary senior official who had served as the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition after they were charged with a felony over an incident at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Sam Brinton, whose departure from the Energy Department was confirmed by a spokesperson to the New York Post, did not immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment via Facebook Messenger.

Brinton, who has dual degrees from MIT and years of experience in nuclear waste management and climate change work, is also an LGBTQ activist who made history this year with their appointment as the first openly gender-fluid person to serve in a senior government post.

A 2018 column in the Los Angeles Times argued there was a cultural shift afoot towards greater acceptance of transgender and gender fluid people — using, as an introductory anecdote, Brinton’s appearance at the Academy Awards. According to the author, Brinton spoke passionately about their suicide prevention work for the Trevor Project and was embraced by Hollywood icons like Jane Fonda.

They also encountered some hateful backlash from anti-LGBTQ figures on the right, which was renewed on Monday with the news about Brinton’s dismissal pursuant to the felony charges filed against them, which conservative-leaning outlets were among the first to report.

Extreme right-wing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) published an offensive tweet yesterday targeting Brinton and their nonbinary identity:

According to reporting in the New York Post, during an initial conversation with police, Brinton allegedly denied that they had stolen another passenger’s suitcase. Subsequently, Brinton told investigators they accidentally grabbed the wrong bag at the luggage carousel by mistake out of exhaustion.

Court filings indicate that Brinton, upon realizing they had mistakenly taken someone else’s bag, emptied its contents into dresser drawers in their hotel room, anxious about the prospect of facing accusations of property theft.

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Congress

U.S. Senate vote sets up passage of same-sex marriage act

Coordinated campaign by anti-LGBTQ groups fails to weaken support among GOP Senators as the bill sees clear path to near-certain passage

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Rev. Brandan Robertson)

WASHINGTON – Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act became all but certain with the U.S. Senate’s procedural 61-35 vote on Monday night to forego additional debate in the chamber over the landmark legislation.

From here, the bill will return to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will consider — and is expected to approve — an amendment that was added by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Then, it will reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill so he can sign it into law. His administration, along with Congressional Democratic leadership, has made the Respect for Marriage Act a top legislative priority in the weeks before the new Congress is seated in January.

Today’s move by the Senate came on the heels of a coordinated campaign by conservative and anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups that wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill and marshaled their efforts to peel off support from Republican senators in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), who were among the 12 Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation in a procedural vote taken before Thanksgiving, cast the final two votes on Monday allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote majority threshold to pass. Axios reports the two lawmakers faced particular pressure from conservative activists who sought to erode their support for the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, adding legal protections for same-sex couples, many of whom would otherwise face devastating consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially weakens the constitutional right to marriage equality.

Notwithstanding criticism from some progressives who feel the bill is too conservative in scope, the Respect for Marriage Act — along with the bipartisan amendment that was introduced in the Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberty — is supported by major LGBTQ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN and PFLAG National, among others.

The bill’s aim, narrowly tailored, was to gird against the possibility that the high court would revisit its precedential decisions in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his intention to do so with his concurring opinion earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that revoked Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, overturning the Court’s historic rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Over the summer, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority, including votes from 47 Republican members. Dozens of religious denominations and groups that represent a broad spectrum of beliefs have endorsed the legislation, including the Mormon church, which took pains to reaffirm its position that same-sex relationships are sinful. Scholars representing a similarly diverse range of opinions on germane legal questions have also publicly backed the bill.

Still, the opposition remained steadfast.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a statement opposing the legislation as written and proposing an additional amendment to the bill.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, echoed Lee’s concerns about the Respect for Marriage Act vis-à-vis protections for religious liberty. Others, like the Liberty Counsel, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, peddled outrageous arguments including the lie that the Respect for Marriage Act would normalize or facilitate child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Even in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Nov. 19 at a Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ nightclub, these attacks from conservative groups continued apace and even increased as the Senate’s vote on Monday drew nearer.

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U.S. State Department

Negotiations to release Griner stalled for now diplomat says

“We have made a serious proposal to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal”

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Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow (Photo Credit: Embassy of the United States, Russia)

MOSCOW – In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status Rood answered; “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the US Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines – a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by “serious response” from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels… What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.

By “serious answer” do you mean consent? RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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Colorado

USN’s Club Q hero who helped tackle gunman issues statement

“I simply wanted to save the family I found- If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world”

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U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy Public Affairs)

COLORADO SPRINGS – One of the three persons who charged and then disarmed the suspect in the LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs last weekend issued a statement Sunday.

“I simply wanted to save the family I found,” James said. “If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person.”

“To the youth, I say be brave. Your family is out there. You are loved and valued. So when you come out of the closet, come out swinging,” U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James said through a Centura Penrose Hospital spokesman Sunday.

This the first public comments by James since he, U.S. Army veteran, Major Richard Fierro, and another Club Q patron, a trans woman, all joined in the courageous takedown, disarming the 22-year-old suspect and holding him until the arrival by responding Colorado Springs police.

James is recovering from unspecified injuries at Centura Penrose, where a number of the Club Q shooting victims were sent. The hospital spokesman releasing the statement added that James is now in stable condition.

In a statement released this past Tuesday, the U.S. Navy confirmed that James was in hospital but added that “is currently in stable condition and we remain hopeful he will make a full recovery.”

CBS Colorado reported Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers had called out and identified James as one of the heroes whom had charged and helped subdue the shooter. Details as to each person’s role in subduing the shooter are still under investigation.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said that James was one of two people who helped to stop the suspected shooter who walked into Club Q late on Nov. 19 with multiple firearms and is accused of killing five people. At least 17 others were injured.

James reportedly pushed a rifle out of the suspect’s reach while Fierro repeatedly struck the shooter with a handgun they brought into the bar, officials have said.

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New York

New bills to prevent hate crimes in New York signed by Gov. Hochul

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters”

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – On the same day that a 34-year-old man was arrested for allegedly throwing bricks at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) announced new measures to stop hate crimes in the Empire State.

Speaking to reporters last Tuesday at an emotional press conference, the governor called on New Yorkers to reclaim the state from “bigots who have butchered communities’ sense of security.”

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists,” Hochul said.

The governor’s actions comes after comes after the NYPD arrested two men for allegedly plotting to shoot synagogues and wreak havoc on the Jewish community, targeted attacks on the Asian community, and the recent mass-shooting at an LGBTQ nite club in Colorado Springs.

NYPD detectives arrested Sean Kuilan Tuesday afternoon and charged him with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment for allegedly throwing bricks and a rock at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen three times last week in what a NYPD spokesperson characterized as a potential hate crime.

Hochul, who led the state through the racist Buffalo massacre last spring, said that a horrifying mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado and a sinister anti-Semitic plot foiled in New York over the weekend offered “painful reminders that there is a rising tide of hate in our country,” the New York Daily News reported.

“This is our defining moment, New Yorkers,” the governor declared.

“Every one of us has a role to play,” Hochul said. “From this day forward, ask yourself: Did I do something to help spread the love that should be part of who we are as New Yorkers?”

After delivering her remarks, Hochul then signed two bills, Senate/Assembly Bill (S.6570/A.1202) to “Require individuals convicted of hate crimes to undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education.”

Legislation (S.6570/A.1202) amends the penal law to establish that in addition to other penalties, individuals convicted of hate crimes shall undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education as part of their sentence. The programs, training sessions, or counseling sessions must be authorized by the court or local agencies in cooperation with organizations serving the affected community.

The second measure, (S.123A/A.5913A) establishes a statewide campaign, developed and run by the New York State Division of Human Rights to promote the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of the diversity of the people of New York.

Legislation (S.123A/A.5913A) amends the executive law to establish and implement a statewide campaign for the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of diversity. The campaign, which will be developed and implemented by the Division of Human Rights, will coordinate and cooperate with public and private organizations, including, but not limited to, local governments, community groups, school districts, places of worship, charitable organizations, and foundations and will develop educational materials to be published on the internet, social media, and other platforms to reach the public.

“Our hearts are broken after a weekend during which LGBTQ Americans were massacred and Jewish New Yorkers were targeted in horrific acts of hateful violence,” Hochul said. “New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists. Domestic-based violent extremism is the greatest threat to our homeland security, and that is why we continue to remain laser-focused on combatting hate and keeping New Yorkers safe.”

Governor Hochul Announces Actions to Prevent Hate Crimes and Protect New Yorkers:

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