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Schiff takes on Trump and truth

New House Intelligence Committee chair poised to expose lies, corruption

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Adam Schiff, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is poised to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee in January. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

It’s come down to this: name-calling. Literally.

California Rep. Adam Schiff appeared on ABC’s “This Week” Nov. 18 explaining that Democrats intend to challenge President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general. A former federal prosecutor who becomes chair of the House Intelligence Committee in January, Schiff said the appointment is unconstitutional.

Trump responded like a spoiled five year old, calling Schiff “little Adam Schitt” in a tweet. “That’s a good one. Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?” Schiff tweeted back, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Even Trump ally Laura Ingraham called the name-calling “an unforced error” on her Fox News show, saying it detracted from his accomplishments. But it also caused real life pain. “Just want to point out all the kids in school with the last name #Schiff getting bullied and name called #Schitt today because of the president of the US. I know because my nieces are Schiffs. “#BeBest” film producer Laurie David tweeted.

Schiff recalls the spontaneous rally at the LA LGBT Center the night after the election where people were “despondent and fearful of what this meant for the future.” And in so many ways, Schiff tells the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview, “the reality of the next two years proved every bit as bad, in some ways worse, than what we feared. It really takes your breath away.”

Rep. Adam Schiff is a regular target of Donald Trump’s tweets, including an especially vulgar one last week. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

Schiff is keenly aware of Trump’s attacks on the LGBT community, including the “Twitter change in policy regarding transgender patriots serving in the military” and the proposal to redefine “transgender.”

“The administration’s efforts to define the transgender community out of existence is among its most pernicious acts,” Schiff says. “It’s just appalling. We are going to obviously fight this tooth and nail.”

Trump’s attacks helped create the coalition that won Democrats the House in the midterm elections. “People throughout the country recognized that an attack on the most vulnerable among us is an attack on all of us,” Schiff says. “And any one of us could be among the most vulnerable at some point in their life. And so we’ll fight this legislatively, we’ll fight this in the courts, and we’ll fight this until we succeed and we will succeed.”

Schiff adds forcefully: “The transgender community is not going away. It won’t be defined away. It won’t be intimidated away. It won’t be legislated away. And we’re going to be doing everything we can in the majority to protect the community.”

Schiff is “thrilled and grateful” that the House flipped convincingly to a Democratic majority “to provide a check on this president,” he says. “I think that this presidency and the threat that it presents to our democracy motivated people like I’ve never seen to be involved.”

From small group meetings in his district to fundraisers for candidates around the country, Schiff worked hard for that win. And he was impressed with the LGBT turnout.“Schiff has raised nearly $5.5 million for candidates and the Democrats’ House campaign arm this cycle, according to his campaign, more than any House member outside of the congressional leadership,” the LA Times reported last Oct. 16. “He’s stumped for candidates in 23 states this year, including Arizona, Massachusetts, Missouri and New Mexico, according to his campaign.”

And he was impressed with the LGBT turnout.

“One of the last events I did during the campaign was an event in North Carolina with [out California Rep.] Mark Takano in the LGBT community. I think it was perhaps the first LGBT DCCC fundraising event in that city in memory,” he says. “What we saw throughout the country was the extraordinary level of activism among all Americans—but particularly within the LGBT community. And I think both Chad [Griffin] and HRC [the Human Rights Campaign] and the broader community deserve a lot of credit for the results.”

Told Griffin was leaving HRC, Schiff was complimentary, having first met him in June 2012 at the “goodbye party” thrown by his friend Rob Reiner after Griffin was named the new HRC President.

“I just want to express my gratitude for the tremendous work that he has done over the years,” Schiff says about Griffin. “I think he has been a superb leader of HRC, a great organizer, a superb strategic thinker. And the contribution that HRC has made both legislatively as well as out in the precincts under his leadership was just phenomenal.”

Schiff says passage of the Equality Act “is going to be a top priority for us,” which he expects to be taken up early in the House of Representatives but will probably meet with “rough sledding” in the Senate.

“It’s very important that we establish our positive agenda, that we show the country what we want to accomplish when they give us the responsibility of fully governing and when they give us control of the White House and the Senate,” Schiff says. “And strong legislation to ensure equality is of paramount importance. So I would expect us to underscore what an important part of the Democratic agenda this is.”

The Equality Act is a top priority for Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is facing a rebellion from some Democrats who do not want her to return as House Speaker, despite having passed the Affordable Care Act, which she urged Democrats to run on in the midterms. The caucus vote happens after Thanksgiving with the floor vote in January.

“I believe Nancy is going to be successful and I’m helping to whip votes,” Schiff says. “I think that her policy priorities are in the right place. She’s a superb organizer—she gets the disparate members of our caucus all working together on the same page. And under her leadership, I’m confident that we will pass the Equality Act.”

Schiff finds the rebellion incomprehensible. “Are they prepared to have [California Republican Rep.] Kevin McCarthy be our Speaker? Because that would be the effect of [withholding support from Pelosi]. That seems to me a very perilous path they’re going down.”

Meanwhile, there’s the lame duck period before January, during which Whitaker could shut down the Mueller probe and throw the country into chaos. “We will fight Mr. Whitaker in every way we can to protect the integrity of the Muller investigation. I think were he to initiate his own Saturday Night Massacre, and certainly the president began that process by firing [former Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, it would prompt a constitutional crisis and where that would take us is very hard to tell.”

Schiff says the most powerful remedy House Democrats have to Trump “is the power to expose what the administration is doing. Exposure has a powerful impact. Exposure of Scott Pruitt’s malfeasance got him fired and has gotten others fired within the administration. It has also affected policy by preventing the administration from doing things that it wanted to do.”

In addition to investigating “the Russia bailiwick,” Schiff— cofounder of the House Caucus on Freedom of the Press—says he’s extremely concerned about Trump’s war on truth. He points to Trump’s secret meeting with the Postmaster General “to browbeat the Postmaster into raising postal rates on Amazon. Now I don’t believe the president cares about postal rates. This looks to me like an effort to punish Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post,” as well as his ongoing attacks on CNN. “Exposing wrongdoing, if indeed wrongdoing is going on, can be powerfully corrective.”

Schiff is also “deeply concerned” about “whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump organization and that is leverage the Russians are holding over the president of the United States. And looking into those allegations and if they’re true, exposing it, and if they’re not, telling the country that they’re not, is vitally important and potentially will have great consequences on U.S. policy. It will certainly cause the Congress of the United States to push back against the president’s pro-Russian policies if it is revealed that they are being driven by the president’s financial interest and not the national interest.”

More questions were raised Nov. 20 when Trump sided with Saudi Arabia’s denials that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) was responsible for the brutal death of journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia and critic of MBS.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said, positing U.S. economic and national security interests—billions of dollars in arms purchases he said the Saudis would make —over the need to investigate the brutal murder of a journalist.

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel said Trump just put all journalists, whom Trump has called “enemies of the people” at risk for similar murders.

And then there’s the new New York Times story says Trump took up another authoritarian trait—wanting to harm, investigate, prosecute or imprison his personal enemies, in this case Hillary Clinton and fired FBI Director James Comey.

And then there’s Trump’s corrosive license to lie. “This is probably one of the most cross-cutting and difficult problems of all,” says Schiff. Fox News, for instance, provides an “alternative universe” where “they traffic in conspiracy theories about the deep state that used to be relegated to only kooks and cranks.”

It’s perplexing. “We’re not going to legislate what they can say on Fox News. We’re not going to somehow publicly arbitrate what’s true and what’s not true,” Schiff continues. “This is a deeply distressing problem. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Already worse is the new “deep fake” technology that allows the production of fake audio or video that looks real, as recently demonstrated by director Jordan Peele who put fake words in the mouth of Barack Obama.

“You can imagine how much mischief the Russians could do with this technology,” says Schiff. “They could put out an audio or videotape of a candidate saying something unethical or illegal or otherwise damaging. And before it was disproven, you would have half the country believing it, and even if it could be disproven technologically, would people believe the proof?”

Conversely, says Schiff, “will we be able to tell what is real if the salacious videotape that has long been alleged involving the president in a hotel room in Moscow? If those allegations turned out to be true and the tape were produced tomorrow and it was 100 percent authentic, the president would simply call it a fake.”

Deep fakes are “one of the gravest threats to our democracy,” says Schiff. “And what makes it so much worse is you have an administration that is pushing out the idea that there is no truth. [Rudy] Giuliani said truth isn’t truth and Kellyanne Conway says we’re entitled to our own alternate facts. And as Sarah Huckabee Sanders does almost everyday she goes to the microphone, she takes fiction and weaves it into her own alternate version of fact.

“That’s the kind of administration the president has been running,” Schiff continues. “The president spouts falsehoods at an unprecedented rate, thousands and thousands since he took office. So there is literally a full-scale assault on the truth. It’s no wonder the president considers the press the enemy of the people since it’s so often the press that are pointing out what is true and what is not true.”

Meanwhile, childish name-calling exposes the malicious pettiness of this president.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Screenshot via CBSN Denver

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency rejecting LGBTQ families

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – In a ruling released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, determining the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, condemned the decision in a statement immediately after it was handed down.

“Today, the well-being of our country’s most vulnerable children has been sacrificed to preserve tax-payer funded discrimination for a powerful group of religious institutions,” Duddy-Burke said. “The Supreme Court just decreased the number of homes available to our youth in foster care, making what was already a crisis worse. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than straight couples to adopt or be foster parents and are more likely to have trans-racial families. This ruling means tens of thousands of children may never have a family to love and support them.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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