Connect with us

National

Guardian of veterans — and of LGBT rights

Mark Takano is just third out gay to chair a full congressional committee

Published

on

Rep. Mark Takano holding the gavel as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee (Photo courtesy House Creative Services)

Mark Takano couldn’t contain himself. Jubilant is too tame a word to describe how he felt that Friday, May 17 when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.   

Takano, the first openly gay man of color elected to Congress, likened it to the day that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.

“I remember being at the Supreme Court steps and being interviewed after the decision was handed down and I said, ‘You know, I feel fabulous. I feel every gay word I can think of. It’s a great day to be gay,’” Takano tells the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview.

He’s beaming through the telephone. “I feel very similar to that day. It’s a great day to be gay — passing the most comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation in the history of our country,” Takano says. “Of course I felt fabulous and every gay word I could think of. I didn’t understand how animated that I would become at the press conference.”

Takano, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, worked with out Rep. David Cicilline, who took the lead on the legislation, “talking to members of our caucus about making sure we refrain from amending the legislation that was very carefully crafted so as not to upset the delicate balance that it was. What we were doing was doing a very, very sensitive thing, which was to open up the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We did so with the cooperation and enthusiasm of the Congressional Black Caucus and we certainly didn’t want to do anything that undermined the sacredness of that important law. There was certainly potential for innocent amendments being introduced that would become poison pills for the legislation.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ranked passage of the Equality Act number five on her list of top 10 legislative priorities. Nonetheless, as someone who remembered the difficulty in getting the bill a hearing, Takano was somewhat surprised that it sailed through the Education and Labor Committee and Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the Financial Services Committee, actually waived having a hearing.

What Takano took away from the hearings in his committee and the Judiciary Committee was that the opposition was focused not on the validity of LGBT protections but “on things about trans athletes,” he says. “They were raising the specter of people manipulating sporting competitions and gaining unfair advantages through their trans identity. At times, it seemed to me that the Republicans were embarrassed or not even trying to put up an argument.”

Takano attributes the less-than-stellar opposition to the overwhelming acceptance by the American public “that LGBT people should have basic protections in the workplace. And they shouldn’t be discriminated against in housing and they should be able to go to school without being bullied.”

So on the House floor after defeating the final Republican amendment, “as we saw the ‘yes’ votes put up on the board and when the gavel came down declaring that the bill had passed—with eight Republican votes and no Democratic vote against it—when it passed the 218 mark, there was an unexpected jubilation and joy from members. There was hugging. There were tears coming down. Caroline Maloney of New York hugged and kissed me on the cheek. Our straight allies were so proud of what we had done.”

The joy of this civil rights victory was so strong, some ignored House protocol. 

“Maxine Waters, myself and David Cicilline said I want a picture with you,” Takano says. “We’re not supposed to take pictures on the floor. I’m admitting to a crime. But I said, ‘Take one quickly before the Sergeant of Arms looks.’ We can’t publish it because I would be subject to a fine. But I wanted it for history. Maxine, myself and David took a photo on the floor at that moment, and we captured the vote tally sign behind us.”

Takano noted that in addition to the eight Republicans who voted for the Equality Act, 16 Republicans didn’t vote at all. But since this was a bipartisan vote, all the more reason for Mitch McConnell, “The Grim Reaper,” as he calls himself, to bring it to the Senate for a vote.

Takano says the LGBT community should let the importance of this vote sink in that “the people’s House voted to affirm their dignity, our dignity.” But the task is now to move the bill to the Senate. “Public sentiment, the power of the people is what is going to get equality across the finish line,” he says. “What we can do is begin to marshal the power of the people,” because as momentous as passing the Equality Act is, it gets drowned out by the Mueller report,” and the miasma in Washington.

“As angry as people are about who’s in the White House, they need to take inspiration from this accomplishment and then use that to build the momentum to get it through the Senate, to affect senate elections,” he says.

Takano names vulnerable senators he thinks McConnell is protecting from having to vote on the Equality Act: “Sen. Gardner of Colorado is square one,” he says. “Sen. Collins of Maine would be another. Even Sen. Rubio when you think how mobilized South Florida could be. Sen. McSally from Arizona is another one.” And there are also vulnerable senators in states like North Carolina, there were efforts to pass statewide measures that really were discriminatory against trans people” or try to overturn LGBT equality.

“There are many states where I think it would be very, very unwise for the Republican incumbent senator to be anti-LGBT, anti-equality,” he says. “And now that it’s passed the House, our activists need to be out in those states, dogging these candidates if they’re running for re-election, asking: will you stand in the way or are you going to lead on LGBT inclusion?”

Rep. Mark Takano with then-congressional candidate Katie Porter at an Equality California event. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“Inclusion” isn’t just a political buzzword for Takano who uses his family history as inspiration and reminders of the cruel ease of injustice.

My immigrant grandfather and my American-born grandparents were forced into Japanese internment camps during World War II. I use their struggle as motivation to fight for humane immigration reform and be an advocate for justice,” Takano tweeted with a video about his own history for Asian Pacific American History Month.

His family fought, too. “Every generation in my family has had people who served in the military. My great uncles served in World War II as part of the well-known 442nd infantry battalion, with all segregated Japanese-Americans fighting in it. They stepped forward.”

Additionally, his brother served in the Army and at age 10, he was aware of a neighbor across the street who served in Vietnam and committed suicide when he returned. And as a teacher in Riverside County—which has the eighth largest population of veterans in the country—he saw many students in ROTC go off to war post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

That connection made him keenly aware that the Veterans Administration is “more than healthcare. It’s about education and the GI bill. And it really made me angry to see veterans who were defrauded out of their GI benefits by for-profit colleges,” Takano says. “So I wanted to be on the committee that could start to hold those for- profit colleges accountable. And I care about healthcare. So one of my big responsibilities will be to lead the efforts against privatization by ideological forces that seek privatization of medical care as their ‘reason for being.’ Plus, politically my district has March Reserve Base.”

Serving as chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee—the only LGBTQ chair of a full committee and the third LGBTQ chair in the history of the Congress—Takano gets to set agenda priorities, including steering the VA to adapt to serving an anticipated influx of a more diverse population of veterans, including more women, more LGBT vets, and greater numbers of people of color.

And Takano is taking hard issues head-on. “I’ve declared suicide prevention as my number one priority this Congress,” he says. “And of course I’m interested in knowing how many of our veterans—their LGBTQ status, how it’s affecting their likelihood of coming to crisis. That will be one of the things that I will insist that we look at and that the VA is taking into consideration.”

Serving as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee also answers a family call to military service that he had to stifle.

“I actually did take the ASVAB, (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test) and I did have the thought that I had this secret at the time as an 18 year old,” Takano says. “I was interested in serving. I did have offers from top universities—but it just goes to show you that the kinds of discrimination that occurred in the last several decades is not a good thing for our military. It deprives the military of the best possible people who want to serve.”

The experience makes him appreciate even more the struggle of transgender service members and veterans. “The Williams Institute had an interesting statistic: 135,000 veterans are estimated to be trans. I think that’s amazing. And we think that 15,500 trans individuals are currently serving in the military,” he says.

“So,” Takano concludes, “I’m going to do my utmost as the guardian of veterans—as the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee— to make sure that all veterans get healthcare, all veterans get benefits. I’m here to be the guardian.”

After the interview, Takano’s committee passed nine bills to help veterans:

Continue Reading
Advertisement

U.S. Federal Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States”

Published

on

Screenshot/YouTube SCOTUS TV via the Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In oaths administered by the Chief Justice John Roberts and outgoing Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 51 year-old Justice Jackson made history as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon Thursday (Eastern) after his nearly 28 years of service on the nation’s high court.

In the simple ceremony held at the Court, Jackson in the constitutional oath, given by Chief Justice Roberts, solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Breyer gave her the statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

The newly sworn-in Associate Justice was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s ceremony allows her to immediately begin work as the newest member of the nine-seat Supreme Court.

Nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, in April at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, addressing the audience of members of Congress, the Biden Cabinet, and White House staff along with family and invited guests, Justice Jackson noted;

“As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

As the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court which she noted in her remarks:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’ve made it, all of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible.“

Quoting Maya Angelou, an American author, poet and civil rights activist, “I am the hope and the dream of the slave,” Jackson said.

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

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.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision today in Biden v. Texas:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping, and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.

“I urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all. Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system. We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

This is a developing story.

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular