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Trump’s gay nominee Ric Grenell confirmed as ambassador to Germany

Sen. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein — voted “no” on the California LGBT natives confirmation

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The U.S. Senate invoked cloture on Richard Grenell to become U.S. ambassador to Germany.
(Screen capture public domain)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Grenell on Thursday as U.S. ambassador to Germany, making him the most high-profile openly gay appointee in the Trump administration.

Grenell — who has faced Democratic opposition for months over mean tweets he made about the appearance of women and other comments downplaying the significance of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election — was confirmed by a largely party line vote of 56-42.

Among the Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to confirm Grenell were Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-M0). All Republicans present voted for Grenell’s confirmation.

Both of the senators from Grenell’s home state of California — Sen. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein — voted “no” on his confirmation.

First nominated by President Trump in September, Grenell’s confirmation means an openly gay person high-profile seat in the administration and serve as U.S. envoy to the world’s fourth largest national economy.

But it’s a not a first or the most high-profile gay appointment of all time. The first openly gay U.S. ambassador was James Hormel, who served as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration. President Obama has no fewer than seven openly gay U.S. ambassadors who served at various times in his administration.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell’s confirmation was “historic,” dubbing him “the highest-ranking openly gay official ever in a Republican administration.”

“Despite the interminable delays of Democrats hell-bent on standing on the wrong side of history, today the United States Senate confirmed a gay nominee not ‘in spite of’ Republicans, or ‘with Republican support,’ but because of Republican support,” Angelo added.

Angelo said the vote on Grenell would have consequences in the upcoming congressional mid-term elections, noting Log Cabin stood alone among LGBT groups in pushing for his confirmation.

“Log Cabin Republicans will not forget the votes of the Democratic senators who voted against Grenell’s confirmation, nor the roaring silence from LGBT advocacy organizations who did nothing to achieve this tremendous milestone in LGBT history,” Angelo said.

Grenell is a foreign policy expert who has served in various roles as a public communications adviser and a Fox News commentator. Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell became the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, working under four U.S. ambassadors.

Grenell, who has described himself as a gay conservative Christian, has a same-sex partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey. Lashey himself is a conservative Christian who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on the nomination on Wednesday, the cloture vote was withdrawn on Thursday, paving the way for a confirmation vote that day.

The Democratic opposition holding up Grenell’s confirmation lasted for months. At one point, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed Democrats on the obstruction, blaming for the holdup on the nomination.

When McConnell tried to move forward with the nomination late last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the chief sponsor of the Equality Act, blocked the nomination from moving forward.

The primary reason for the hold on Grenell purportedly was comments he made years ago on Twitter about the appearance of women, including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Callista Gingrich and Rachel Maddow. Although Grenell years ago apologized and deleted those tweets, they stand out in the context of the #MeToo movement in which women are coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

One 2011 tweet directed at Maddow, a lesbian news anchor on MSNBC, said she “needs to take a breath and put on a necklace” and another compared her look to that of pop singer Justin Bieber. One tweet directed at Gingrich questioned whether she “snaps on” her hair. At around the same time, Grenell tweeted “Hillary is starting to look like Madeleine Albright.”

(Those tweets echo comments he reportedly made in 1992 as a young aide for the re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush, according to a Washington Post article in 1995. A fellow staffer recalled Grenell telling a female aide wearing a red shoes flowery dress, ‘Didn’t your mother ever tell you only whores and very small children wear red shoes?‘”)

Although Grenell deleted those tweets during his brief stint with the Romney campaign and apologized for them, the similar exchange years later. In a now deleted tweet, Grenell told MSNBC reporter Katy Tur in 2016 “calling yourself a journalist is offensive to real ones. Did u intern for @KeithOlbermann or date him? Either way doesn’t make u a reporter.” Grenell faced immediate criticism from other women on Twitter over the remarks.

Also cited as concerns over Grenell were tweets he made in 2016 downplaying the impact of Russian hacking on the election.

In one tweet, Grenell wrote, “There’s a difference between hackers from Russia and hackers from the Russian government.” In another, Grenell objected to the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s criticism of Wikileaks, stating, “McFaul tells Wikileaks to not publish?!”

Despite these concerns, Grenell had significant high-profile support from both the left and the right, including the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “Ellen” show executive producer Andy Lassner and conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt and Greta Van Susteren. (Ironically, McFaul expressed support for Grenell even though the new ambassador’s tweet mentioning him was cited as cause for concern.)

Another high-profile individual who expressed support for moving forward with the Grenell nomination was Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). However, Coons ultimately voted “no” on Grenell’s confirmation on the Senate floor. The Washington Blade placed a request for comment in with Coons’ office seeking an explanation for the vote.

Grenell is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Germany with just one week remaining before Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has a scheduled visit to the White House. Log Cabin’s Angelo said Merkel’s upcoming visit “seems to have put the fingers on the scale” to hold the confirmation vote.

Although Grenell is now the most high-profile openly gay appointee in the Trump administration, the Senate has confirmed others who aren’t as high-profile. Two were confirmed unanimously in the Senate: James Abbott, who was confirmed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority; and David Glawe, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.

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Florida

Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building (Photo Credit: State of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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Tennessee

Anti-LGBTQ+ foster agency discriminates against married Jewish couple

Holston said it “only provide[s] adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our [Christian] belief system” 

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Courtesy of Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram

GREENVILLE, Tn. – The Holston Home, which is affiliated with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church and operates as an orphanage, foster agency and adoption agency, was sued in state court Wednesday after a married cis-gender Knox County, Tennessee, couple were denied foster-parent training and a home-study certification by the state-funded agency.

The Rutan-Rams in early 2021 were excited to begin the process of fostering to adopt a male child from Florida. They were told they needed to complete Tennessee-mandated foster-parent training and a home-study certification.

The Rutan-Rams contacted the only agency in their area that was willing to provide those services for out-of-state placements – Holston United Methodist Home for Children, a state-funded agency that provides foster care placement, training, and other services on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

In court documents filed in the state of Tennessee’s 20th Judicial District Court, Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram allege that Holston initially told the couple that it would provide them with the services they needed.

But the day that the Rutan-Rams were scheduled to start Holston’s training class, Holston told the couple it wouldn’t serve them because they are Jewish. Holston said it “only provide[s] adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our [Christian] belief system.” 

Because there was no other agency in the Knox County area that would provide the foster-parent training and certification for the adoption of an out-of-state child, the Rutan-Rams were unable to adopt the boy from Florida.

“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” said Liz Rutan-Ram. “It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking. And it was very hurtful that the agency seemed to think that a child would be better off in state custody than with a loving family like us.” 

“It’s infuriating to learn our tax dollars are funding discrimination against us,” said Gabe Rutan-Ram. “If an agency is getting tax money to provide a service, then everyone should be served – it shouldn’t matter whether you’re Jewish, Catholic or an atheist. We’re all citizens of Tennessee, regardless of our religion.”

The religious discrimination experienced by the Rutan-Rams occurred almost exactly a year after Gov. Bill Lee signed into law House Bill 836, which authorizes taxpayer-funded foster-care agencies in Tennessee to deny services to prospective families who are the “wrong” religion or don’t follow an agency’s religious tenets.

State legislators were warned the law clearly violates religious freedom as outlined in both the state and U.S. Constitutions, but legislators passed the law despite public outcry.

“The Tennessee Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, promises religious freedom and equality for everyone. Tennessee is reneging on that promise by allowing a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against Liz and Gabe Rutan-Ram because they are Jews,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director at Americans United. “Laws like House Bill 836 must not stand when they allow religion to be used to harm vulnerable kids and people like Liz and Gabe who want to provide those children with safe and loving homes.”

Joining the Rutan-Rams as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are six Tennessee residents, four of them faith leaders, who object to their tax dollars being used to fund any child-placing agency that engages in religious discrimination. The plaintiffs include:

  • The Rev Jeannie Alexander, an interfaith pastor from Davidson County
  • The Rev. Elaine Blanchard, a Disciples of Christ minister from Shelby County
  • The Rev. Alaina Cobb, a Christian minister from Davidson County
  • The Rev. Denise Gyauch, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Davidson County
  • Dr. Larry Blanz of Davidson County, a retired psychologist with more than forty years of experience that includes working with foster parents and children
  • Mirabelle Stoedter, a Davidson County resident who serves as treasurer of the Tennessee chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The lawsuit, Rutan-Ram v. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, also names department Commissioner Jennifer Nichols as a defendant. The suit explains that the department and Nichols are violating the religious-freedom and equal-protection provisions in Articles I and XI of the Tennessee Constitution by funding religious discrimination in foster-care services. 

In December of this past year, the Holston Home filed a federal lawsuit alleging that its religious beliefs were violated by federal rules that it must place children with same-sex couples.

The Holston suit also claims; “The messages Holston Home recites in its child placing activities are consistent with Holston Home’s religious beliefs about cohabitation, and about
marriage being between a biological male and a biological female.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center listed anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Arizona far-right legal group is representing Holston in both cases.

The Holston president and CEO Bradley Williams could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Instead, a receptionist at Home for Children told Knox News and other media outlets to email the organization’s law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom which also did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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Federal Government

Federal Title IX inquiry of anti-LGBTQ bias by Christian university

Its Student Handbook prohibits same-sex romantic/sexual relationships as well as actions deliberately discordant with birth gender

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Clarks Summit University (Facebook CSU/EDU)

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. – The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) launched a Title IX investigation of Clarks Summit University, a Christian university located in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, just outside the city of Scranton.

The Portland, Oregon-based Religious Exemption Accountability Project, (REAP), submitted a complaint last July on behalf of Gary Campbell, an Out gay man and former CSU student. The Office for Civil Rights notified REAP on Tuesday that the agency will initiate a Title IX investigation.

The agency’s notification letter said it will investigate an allegation that “The University maintains a policy in its Student Handbook prohibiting students from engaging in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships, as well as from ‘cross-dressing or other actions deliberately discordant with birth gender.’”

REAP director, Paul Southwick, stated that “this action potentially affects hundreds of educational institutions and demonstrates that OCR has the power to investigate taxpayer-funded religious schools whose disciplinary or other policies discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.” 

But Southwick cautioned that: “Unfortunately, once an investigation is opened, these Title IX complaints will likely ultimately be dismissed once the school asserts a religious exemption. That’s why our Title IX lawsuit challenging the validity of the religious exemption is so important.”  

Gary Campbell was expelled from Clarks Summit University (CSU) in 2019 and barred from reapplying with just a few credits left before graduation. His sexual orientation was the stated reason for the school’s actions. 

Upon learning of the Title IX investigation, Campbell commented, “I am crying, because for a while I thought what happened at Clarks Summit was my fault, that I was the one who messed up by going to this school. Now I have the REAP attorneys believing that I was being discriminated against and standing up for me, when nobody stood up for me during those 11+ years I went to that school.”

Campbell further states that “Now the Office for Civil Rights is saying they are diving in deep, that there is value in this investigation. They’re saying there are red flags here, and that helps me rid my mind of a lot of self-gaslighting and doubt, brainwashing that I was at fault. This whole process is therapeutic for me.”

Campbell is one of approximately 40 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed by REAP against the DOE in March 2021 challenging the constitutionality of the religious exemption to Title IX, a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex by schools receiving Federal financial assistance. REAP has filed Title IX complaints on behalf of most of the plaintiffs.

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