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Utah senator blocks lesbian EEOC appointment

In rare bipartisan move, Trump nominated LGBT rights attorney Chai Feldblum

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Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is facing lone opposition from Sen. Mike Lee in her bid for a third term on the EEOC. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Wednesday continued his one-man effort to block the nomination of lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum to a third term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In a Dec. 19 Senate floor discussion on the Feldblum nomination, Lee invoked a longstanding Senate rule that gives a single senator the ability to indefinitely hold up and potentially kill a presidential nomination for a non-judicial appointment by declaring an objection to the nominee.

In keeping with another longstanding tradition of bipartisan cooperation in approving nominees to the five-member EEOC, President Donald Trump earlier this year agreed to a request by Senate Democrats that he nominate Feldblum for a third term on the EEOC. At the same time, Trump nominated two others to the EEOC at the request of Senate Republicans.

Trump was following a tradition carried out by nearly every U.S. president since the EEOC was created by Congress in 1965 to enforce the employment nondiscrimination provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since that time three of the five commissioners have been selected for a four-year term by the party that holds the presidency while the other two have been selected by the minority party.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has led efforts in support Feldblum’s nomination, pointed out in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday that the Senate has approved nearly all EEOC nominees by a unanimous consent. When she asked for unanimous consent for the confirmation of Feldblum along with GOP nominees Janel Dhillon and Daniel Gade, Lee objected.

Among other things, Lee accused Feldblum of being a strong and unreasonable opponent of “religious freedom” and claimed Feldblum has stated openly that in employment discrimination cases, an employer cannot cite religious beliefs as a legal ground for refusing to hire someone.

“Ms. Feldblum has written that she sees a conflict between religious belief and LGBT liberty as ‘a zero-sum game’ where ‘a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side,’” Lee quoted Feldblum as saying.

“These are not the words of an open-minded lawyer,” he continued. “These are the words of an activist intent on stamping out all opposition to her cause.”

Lee also said he opposes Feldblum’s nomination because of her longstanding and active role in pushing for legalizing same-sex marriage, something Lee said he strongly opposes because it’s at odds with his religious beliefs.

Murray disputed Lee’s interpretation of Feldblum’s statements pertaining to the issue of employment discrimination. She also pointed out that by blocking a resolution for the joint approval of Feldblum and the other two nominees, Lee’s action would result in the lack of a quorum on the EEOC because there would be just two of the five commissioners in office beginning on Jan. 1.

Such a development could prevent the EEOC from deciding on important employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases expected to be brought before the commission in 2019, Murray said.

“I come to the floor today to raise concerns about the unprecedented and partisan obstruction of a highly qualified nominee to a critical agency,” Murray said in her remarks on the Senate floor.

“In this country it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of the traits that make them who they are – their race, religion, sex, disability, and more – and it is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s responsibility to enforce those laws and give every person the opportunity to make a living for themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment,” Murray said.

She and others supporting Feldblum’s nomination have also noted that Feldblum played a key role in persuading the EEOC to interpret existing federal laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lee has cited Feldblum’s actions along those lines as among the reasons why he’s opposing her nomination for a third term on the commission.

“Right now, a single Republican senator is threatening to derail the confirmation of Ms. Feldblum for another term on the EEOC,” Murray said. “Ms. Feldblum has served two terms on the EEOC, where she has earned the respect of her professional colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Murray said. “She has strong support from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and she has been confirmed by this Senate twice.”

The New York-based national LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD is among the organizations and individuals supporting Feldblum that are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use his authority to release the Feldblum nomination from Lee’s hold and bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Commissioner Feldblum has served the EEOC with integrity and is experienced and highly qualified for the job,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “With many Americans seeking justice and surviving discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s imperative that the country’s top political reporters cover this alarming problem,” said Ellis, who was referring to GLAAD’s concern that mainstream media outlets have not reported the holdup of Feldblum’s nomination.

“One anti-LGBTQ activist should not silence many people seeking justice under the law,” Ellis said.

Also expressing support for Feldblum’s nomination this week was Jerri Ann Henry, who earlier this month assumed the role of executive director of the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans.

“Log Cabin Republicans is disheartened to hear that Republican Senator Mike Lee is delaying the bipartisan confirmation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) nominee Chai Feldblum over her support for same-sex marriage,” Henry said in a statement.

“Marriage equality is the law of the land, and a right supported by the vast majority of Americans,” Henry said. “Members of the EEOC have an obligation to uphold established law to ensure no American faces wrongful workplace discrimination for their gender, race, religion, or the gender of their spouse,” she said. “In this regard, Ms. Feldblum has carried out her role with distinction,” added Henry.

“If Sen. Lee wants to better represent Republicans on this issue, he should do so by supporting marriage, not by playing politics over settled law,” she said.

When asked by the Blade at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday for further comment on his opposition to the Feldblum nomination, Lee declined to comment and referred the Blade to his remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Biden’s ability to enforce immigration laws

In its 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld President Biden’s broad presidential powers to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and policies. In a 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, which barred most Central American migrants from entering the United States to seek asylum.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh rejected arguments by Republican-led states in the case known as Biden v. Texas that were seeking to force the administration to keep the policy enacted under former President Trump.

The Chief Justice writing for the majority held that the decision to end it did not violate a 1996 migrant detention law and that a second memo terminating the program should have been considered by lower federal courts. 

In his opinion, Roberts overturned the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that forced border officials to revive the Remain in Mexico rules, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols this past December. The Chief Justice noted that the 1996 law which authorizes the program does not mandate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to return migrants to Mexico, but allows them the option to do so. Roberts referenced use of the word “may” in the statute.

If Congress meant for the law to require asylum-seekers to be returned to Mexico, Roberts wrote, “it would not have conveyed that intention through an unspoken inference in conflict with the unambiguous, express term ‘may.'”

Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett filed separate dissenting opinions, parts of which were joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.

This is a developing story.

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Federal Government

Risk of monkeypox infection not high, but ‘numbers may increase’

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases & Chief Medical Advisor to the President (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, who has been at the forefront of the battles against the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 epidemics, downplayed Wednesday the idea gay and bisexual men are at high risk of contracting monkeypox as the outbreak begins to spread, but cautioned “the numbers may increase.”

“Given the numbers I would not say right now at this particular point, that it is a quote, high risk, but the numbers may increase, which means we just have got to be careful and pay attention,” Fauci said.

Fauci made the remarks in a conference call with reporters from LGBTQ news outlets on the heels of the Biden administration’s announcement that it would ramp up efforts to confront the emerging spread of monkeypox.

On Monday, the Department of Health & Human Services, announced a nationwide vaccination strategy against monkeypox, which consists of providing nearly 300,000 vaccines with priorities for individuals at risk and areas with high rates of infection. An estimated 750,000 vaccines are expected for delivery by the end of summer, according to HHS.

In response to a Blade question about the risk of gay and bisexual men contracting monkeypox, Fauci said that was difficult to quantify and he “wouldn’t say low, because then…that can be taken out of context,” but went on to express there’s a minimal risk of infection if precautions are taken.

“What we’re seeing given the number of cases and the rate in which they’ve accelerated, it’s clearly out there,” Fauci said. “But when you talk about the large number of gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, that on any given individual contact I think if one is careful, and make sure that both parties in a sexual interaction are aware of lesions that might go unnoticed, then you can go a long way in pure prevention to prevent that from happening, but I think it would be risky to classify it as low, medium or high.”

The U.S. has confirmed 306 monkeypox cases across 27 states and Washington, D.C., the Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday. That represents a surge of 63 cases from the previous week.

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact. Monkeypox is technically not a sexually transmitted disease, Fauci said, because it’s spread through skin-to-skin contact, but “because of the close skin to skin interaction that occurs in sexual contact, that appears to be the modality spread.” Monkeypox, Fauci said, is “not fundamentally a lethal infection.”

Raj Panjabi, senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council, was also on the call and said the Biden administration’s monkeypox plan consists of “three pillars” of testing, vaccines, and outreach.

“In terms of outreach, there is no effective response to an outbreak without a community based response,” Panjabi said. “And so we’ve worked to ensure an open dialogue with leaders and stakeholders in the LGBTQIA+ community. What we’ve been doing is to try to understand from those most affected by this outbreak, learn from them, help them stay vigilant within the community to protect themselves from the disease and try to adjust our response according to the gaps that they’ve raised.”

The rise in monkeypox infections comes during Pride month, a time when LGBTQ community is engaged in celebrations and oftentimes in close contract and intimate settings, including sexual activity.

Asked by a reporter with NBC News whether this weekend’s Pride celebrations may have fueled the spread, Fauci said in theory “the risk is probably increased” in Pride activities “because people tend to get involved in sexual networking there,” but precautions at the end of the day would mitigate new infections.

“You don’t want to panic people but you want to get people to appreciate, particularly with the Pride activities that are going on now, to be aware and to just be careful,” Fauci said. “And being careful can be very practical, but making sure that you’re aware of things like skin lesions or lesions around areas of the body, particularly when you’re having a sexual encounter. Those are the things we’re trying to do.”

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Illinois

Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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