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Surprise! Trump global plan to decriminalize homosexuality has fans at CPAC

But attendees give differing answers to trans military ban

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President Donald Trump’s plan to decriminalize homosexuality had support at CPAC. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Conservative Political Action Conference isn’t known for being a confab for supporters of LGBT rights, but this year brought surprise support for the Trump administration’s recently announced global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality.

Attendees at last weekend’s 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference who spoke with the Washington Blade — many of whom were wearing business suits and “Make America Great Again” hats as they moved from event to event — were uniformly in favor of the plan.

One such attendee, who wore a MAGA hat as well as a button on his lapel with the phrase “Socialism sucks” in a style mocking Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo, was Charlie Honkonen, president of the University of Maine College Republicans.

Honkonen told the Blade he “absolutely support[s]” the initiative, which was announced last month by U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Trump administration.

“I love gay rights,” Honkonen said. “I think gay people are great. I have no problem with them.”

Asked by the Blade how he could support the initiative while backing Trump and deriding Sanders, Honkonen said he sees no conflict with those positions.

“I think socialism has nothing to do with gay rights,” Honkonen said. “I think Donald Trump has always been a proponent of gay rights…You see the picture of him back in the campaign with the LGBTQ flag?…I don’t think he’s ever said anything that he’s led for me to believe that he’s against gay rights and I think this initiative proposed by his office shows exactly that.”

In an exclusive report last month to NBC News, Grenell announced the Trump initiative, which seeks to decriminalize homosexuality in the 71 nations where it is illegal.

The initiative seems focused on Iran, a longtime adversary of the United States where homosexual acts are punishable by death. The Jerusalem Post, a conservative publication in Israel, reported recently Iran executed a gay man in a public hanging.

Mike Cernovich, a conservative activist and filmmaker closely associated with the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory against Hillary Clinton, told the Blade he supports the Trump initiative “in the abstract,” but has questions about it.

“How do you make Iran or nations decriminalize homosexuality?” Cernovich said. “What do you do? So yeah, but is it a good idea? How are you going to tell Qatar quit killing gay people, right? I agree that it should be done, but what the plan looks like, we’ll see.”

Asked whether he’s generally in support of gay rights, Cernovich said opposing them has “never been a thing” for him as a libertarian.

“If you just start from the fundamental proposition that people ought to be able to live their lives largely unmolested by the government, then you would realize most things just aren’t your concern,” Cernovich said. “So, whatever consensual activities you’re engaged in, I’ve never in my whole life cared about that. To me, if I say, gay rights, that means the same thing as can I watch the TV I want to watch? It’s a question that never really made much sense to me. Of course, you ought to be able to.”

Theodore Milk, a 21-year-old student at the University of Jamestown, North Dakota, also said he supports the Trump administration global initiative.

“I don’t think gays should be persecuted,” Milk said. “At this point, I think it’s almost a human right to kind of be supportive and what your sexual preferences are. I don’t think that should be something that should be persecuted around the world.”

Asked whether he thinks being in support of the initiative is inconsistent with being a conservative, Milk said younger conservatives are changing the movement.

“It’s funny because I think there’s a branch of younger conservatives that are a little bit more socially liberal, a little bit more libertarian,” Milk said. “I think that’s just a fact of the times are changing. I think the Republican Party is changing a little bit, especially from my more youthful standpoint, conservatives are kind of shifting to be a little bit more socially liberal.”

Milk admitted “not all” conservatives are ready to accept gay rights, but insisted a sect of younger Republicans are coming into the movement with a different mindset as a result of the “changing of the times.”

James Dorsey, who’s 22 and from Hampton Roads, Va., said he “absolutely” supports the Trump administration global initiative.

“I don’t think that any human being should have to live in fear or live in shame of who they are,” Dorsey said. “I’m not a homosexual myself. I can’t say that I have many homosexual friends or family members, but, frankly, I think it’s a very archaic belief that people should be…persecuted for who they are and that’s about the most un-American thing I can think of.”

Dorsey said “there’s a breed of conservatism that would agree” the movement is anti-gay, but that represents a misunderstanding of conservative principles.

“True conservatism I think, is ideologically opposed to those kinds of misconceptions about people,” Dorsey said. “I think that investing in a person and not the group is more conservative. I think that looking at someone based on the content of their character and not by the color of their skin and what they belong to, what their sexual preferences are, things like that. That’s about the most conservative thing I can think of, and that’s about the most American thing.”

The most prominent attendee at CPAC after President Trump — Vice President Mike Pence — has previously indicated through a spokesperson he supports Trump’s global initiative, even though Pence is notorious for his anti-LGBT record. (During his speech at CPAC, Pence again defended his wife and second lady Karen Pence for teaching at a Christian school that refuses to employ LGBT teachers or admit LGBT students on religious grounds.)

Things got trickier when the Blade asked attendees about the Trump administration initiatives criticized for being anti-LGBT, including the transgender military ban and “religious freedom” initiatives seen to enable to discrimination against LGBT people.

Last year, the Trump administration interceded in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, siding with Colorado baker Jack Phillips who asserted a First Amendment right to refuse to make custom-made wedding cakes for same-sex couples on religious grounds. The U.S. Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court and sent U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco to argue before the Supreme Court on Phillips’ behalf.

Honkonen said he doesn’t think either the transgender military ban or the religious freedom issue are gay rights issues.

On the transgender military ban, Honkonen said the issue is “about having the fullest level of service you can.”

“To be able to serve in that capacity to a high level that you need to in the military, a lot of times folks who are transgender don’t have that ability to serve,” Honkonen said. “They can be hormonal, they can have struggles to achieve the same levels, so I don’t think that’s an issue about gay rights at all.”

The House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee recently held a hearing on Capitol Hill where five transgender service members testified about their commitment to service and having no impediments to their ability to perform their duties. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both concluded there are no medical or mental health reasons to ban transgender people from the military.

Honkonen said refusing services to LGBT people for religious reasons is “not a gay rights issue, that’s a First Amendment issue.”

“I think that there’s so many places in the United States where a gay person can go to get their wedding cake made,” Honkonen said. “I don’t think they should worry about mom and pops who run a nice Christian bakery and maybe don’t agree with them. I think there are many places for them to go and they shouldn’t focus on the negativity, they should focus on the people who want to support them, and there’s going to be people who disagree with them. I think that’s OK, that’s what made America so great is that everyone can have their own opinion.”

Cernovich, when asked about the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT policies, reiterated his general support for LGBT rights, including transgender rights.

In contrast to the Trump administration, Cernovich said he supports allowing transgender people in the military.

“People should be able to live how they want to live,” Cernovich said. “So if you’re trans, you’re trans, you ought to be able to live your life without being fucked with. That’s just my general outlook.”

“If you can meet physical requirements and everything, then sure, yeah, of course,” Cernovich said.

Milk had a complicated response when asked about the other Trump administration anti-LGBT policies, including the transgender military ban.

“A lot of it has to do with when you don’t want the military funds going towards transgender problems and different things like that,” Milk said. “So, I think it’s a little bit deeper than I can give you a simple answer towards, but at the same time, I don’t think that’s overly persecuting against someone who’s transgender, but at the same time, I’m not someone that believes there’s five different genders or something like that.”

Quinton Zimmer, a 16-year-old high school student from Columbus, Ohio, also said he supports the Trump administration plan to decriminalize homosexuality, which he said builds on previous advancements of LGBT rights in the United States.

“I think we had a really big win for gay rights and homosexual rights in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges, and that victory in America has really shown that we’re committed and Trump is definitely through his policies very supportive of the LGBT community,” Zimmer said.

Asked about other anti-LGBT policies in the Trump administration, Zimmer said he was unaware of them. He had no comment on the transgender military ban.

“I’m not really well versed in particular efforts on his behalf, but I have kind of read up on his effort to decriminalize homosexuality in other countries, and I definitely support at least that part of his administration,” he said.

Zimmer also disputed being conservative is at odds with supporting LGBT rights.

“I think that the true meaning of being a conservative is valuing people based on their character rather than being in the group that may define them, so if we’re really looking at individual rights and the power of the individual, it really doesn’t matter, your sexual orientation,” Zimmer said.

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National

VP Harris and Second Gentleman join Pride walk to rally at Freedom Plaza

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event organized the intersectional LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

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Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff (Screenshot of coverage from WJLA 7 Washington DC)

WASHINGTON – To the shock of on-lookers who then burst into cheers Saturday afternoon, Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, joined in walking with the Pride marchers on 13th Street NW in the District by the Warner Theatre headed to Freedom Plaza.

Accompanying the Vice-President, White House Pool reporter Eugene Daniels noted the Vice President and second gentleman walked with crowd down 13th and stopped at the Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street NW intersection at the corner of the Freedom Plaza where she talked to the crowd for a bit. Daniels could not hear much but reported that she did say: 

“We still have so much to do. We celebrate all the accomplishments. Finally marriage is the law of the land. We need to make sure that our transgender community are all protected.”

“There is so much more work to do and I know we are committed.”

The crowd chanted her name over and over. She stayed for about ten minutes waving and talking. 

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event in the nation’s capital, because of the pandemic as the District was reopening, had set-up and organized the intersectional Pride Walk and Rally at Freedom Plaza, LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

At around 12:30, the march departed down P Street NW and traveled to Logan Circle and then headed south on 13th Street to Freedom Plaza. The march ended at Freedom Plaza where a 1:30 p.m. rally was held and where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was one of those who spoke.

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Orlando marks the fifth anniversary of the Pulse massacre

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy.”

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Pulse Nightclub (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ORLANDO, FL – On that morning five summers ago this date, survivors gathered, stunned and grieving over the horror that had been visited upon them and others frantically calling phones that would never be answered again while a community took stock of the mass murder that had claimed the lives of forty-nine innocents. June, 12, 2016 joined a litany of dates of death and suffering in American history this time impacting the LGBTQ community and beyond.

Saturday, survivors and community leaders gather in Orlando, Florida to commemorate and honor those 49 American lives lost in that act of senseless gun violence.

“Orlando was called to action on June 12, 2016. Our city was asked to find in ourselves the strength to respond with empathy when faced with an unthinkable act of violence. We are still working every day to honor the 49 angels and every person impacted by the Pulse tragedy with action. Together, we continue to make Orlando a more inclusive, welcoming and equitable community for all,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. ““Orlando United” was our call to action five years ago, but it is up to us all to ensure that this isn’t simply a slogan that we bring out annually as we mark the time that’s passed since the tragedy. Instead, it must be part of our core commitment to real change.”

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly half of the victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The massacre also sparked renewed calls for gun control.

Poma told the Blade that she expects construction will begin on a “Survivor’s Walk” at the site by the end of the year. A museum — which she described as an “education center” that will “talk about the history of the LGBT community and its struggles and stripes for the last century or so … about why safe spaces were important to this community” and what happened at Pulse and the global response to it — will be built a third of a mile away.

“We really feel it is important to never forget what happened at Pulse and to tell the story of that,” said Poma.

Poma noted the onePULSE Foundation of which she is the executive director met with representatives of the 9/11 Tribute Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to discuss the memorial. Poma when she spoke with the Blade acknowledged the plans have been criticized.

“This kind of opposition is not unique to these kind of projects,” she said. “It’s just important to know that really what we’re trying to do is make sure what happened is never forgotten and those lives were never forgotten,” added Poma.

In a rare bipartisan move, a bill that designates the former Pulse nightclub a national memorial was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate this past Wednesday.

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry. We’re proud of the bipartisan coalition of Florida Congressional leaders for leading the effort to recognize this hallowed ground as a national memorial site.,” Brandon J. Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and a Pulse survivor told the Blade. “Our visibility matters. May the 49 lives stolen never be forgotten. And may we always honor them with action.”

Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugging Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as Biden and President Obama meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Then U.S. President Barack Obama embracing Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as he and Joe Biden meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. ” Wolf added.

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy. The nation may have watched and grieved with us, but the pain that you may be feeling is personal. I want you to know that we embrace you with love, not as symbols but as yourselves. If you are struggling, there is help available, and I encourage you to reach out,” said U.S. House Representative Val Demings (D-FL)

“It can be hard to find the words, because the truth is that no words can make this right for the survivors and families of those we lost. That’s why five years ago we promised to ‘honor them with action,’ not just with words. As we move forward from this anniversary, it is my prayer that all of us will recommit ourselves to that mission, to ensure that every Pulse survivor—and every American—can live in a nation where each person is safe to go out to a nightclub or any other place, where our LGBTQ community is protected, where the highest-quality mental health support is available to those who need it, and where we treat gun violence as the threat that it is to our loved ones. I know that we can do better, and as we commemorate this sorrowful anniversary, I believe that we must do better.”

In Washington, California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, co-sponsor of legislation to make Pulse a National Memorial reflected,

“It is my hope that this memorial will serve as an enduring reminder of the pain and loss felt in Orlando five years ago and as a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also an important reminder of the need recommit ourselves to end the senseless cycle of gun violence that has touched too many families across the country and taken too many of our loved ones,” Padilla told the Blade in an emailed statement.

“It’s an epidemic that has claimed far too many LGBTQ+ lives, particularly in Black and Latino communities. We will never let the memory of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting fade away– and this memorial is an important part of their enduring legacy,” he added.

The White House on Saturday released a statement from President Biden who had traveled and met with survivors and the families of the victims 5 days after the massacre while he was the vice-president of the United States under President Barack Obama.

“Five years ago today in Orlando in the middle of Pride Month, our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQ+ community in American history, and at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman.

Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss. Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever – the victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino – our fellow Americans.

A few days later, I traveled with President Obama to pay respects to them and their families, to thank the brave first responders and the community who found strength and compassion in each other, and to pledge that what happened would not be forgotten. 

Over the years, I have stayed in touch with families of the victims and with the survivors who have turned their pain into purpose, and who remind us that we must do more than remember victims of gun violence and all of the survivors, family members, and friends left behind; we must act.

In the coming days, I will sign a bill designating Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial, enshrining in law what has been true since that terrible day five years ago: Pulse Nightclub is hallowed ground.

But there is more we must do to address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms – mass shootings and daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines.

It is long past time we close the loopholes that allow gun buyers to bypass background checks in this country, and the Senate should start by passing the three House-passed bills which would do exactly that. It is long past time we ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, establish extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws, and eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

We must also acknowledge gun violence’s particular impact on LGBTQ+ communities across our nation. We must drive out hate and inequities that contribute to the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women – especially transgender women of color. We must create a world in which our LGBTQ+ young people are loved, accepted, and feel safe in living their truth. And the Senate must swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation that will ensure LGBTQ+ Americans finally have equal protection under law.

In the memory of all of those lost at the Pulse nightclub five years ago, let us continue the work to be a nation at our best – one that recognizes and protects the dignity and safety of every American.”

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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California

Newsom signs orders to roll back coronavirus restrictions next Tuesday

The Governor’s Office established a timeline to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders.

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – Effective June 15, restrictions such as physical distancing, capacity limits and the county tier system will end as Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of executive orders Friday marking a return to normalcy after nearly 15 months of the ongoing battle to protect the state’s residents from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.  Additionally, those Californians who are fully vaccinated won’t be required to wear a mask — including indoors.

Newsom’s actions also include terminating the Stay-at-Home Order that was implemented early in the pandemic to protect Californians and retiring the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

“California is turning the page on this pandemic, thanks to swift action by the state and the work of Californians who followed public health guidelines and got vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities,” said Newsom. “With nearly 40 million vaccines administered and among the lowest case rates in the nation, we are lifting the orders that impact Californians on a day-to-day basis while remaining vigilant to protect public health and safety as the pandemic persists.”

The Governor’s Office today established a timeline and process to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders, which suspended statutes and regulations to help the state and businesses continue operations during the pandemic.

To ensure that impacted individuals and entities have time to prepare for the changes, the provisions will sunset in phases, beginning later this month, in July and in September. For example, the suspension of certain licensing requirements for manufacturers to produce hand sanitizer will end on June 30, as shortages are no longer a concern. By the end of September, nearly 90 percent of the executive actions taken since March 2020 will have been lifted.

The California Department of Public Health on Friday released a new state public health officer order that goes into effect on June 15. 

Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health officer, issued a new order that, among other things, puts in place new requirements for mask wearing that take effect Tuesday. The new rules say fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask in most places, either indoors our outdoors. But the state is still requiring people who have not been vaccinated to wear a mask in public places.

“We’ve met our metrics, we feel prepared,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Agency secretary, told reporters on Friday. “Things in California, from a COVID transmission perspective, are going reasonably well.”

These actions supports the full and safe reopening of the state, while maintaining focused public health requirements that address the risk posed by variants as some regions across the nation and world continue to experience high levels of transmission, Ghaly noted.

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