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Activists: State Department ‘has abandoned full support of LGBTI people’

Letter notes lack of Pride month, IDAHOBiT statements

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Dozens of activists in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say the State Department under his leadership “has abandoned full support of LGBTI people within its global human rights policy.”

Dozens of activists in a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say the State Department under his leadership “has abandoned full support of LGBTI people within its global human rights policy.”

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley, Preston Mitchum of Advocates for Youth, American Jewish World Service President Robert Bank, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Margaret Huang, Sharon Nazarien of the Anti-Defamation League, Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress, Center for Health and Gender Equity President Serra Sippel, Bishop Joseph W. Tolton of the Fellowship Global, GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker, Rev. Jim Merritt of the Metropolitan Community Church’s Global Justice Institute, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy, Human Rights First Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris, InterACT Executive Director Kimberly Zieselman, International Women’s Health Coalition President Françoise Girard, Darrel Cummings of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights Executive Director George Ayala, National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce President Justin Nelson, OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern, PFLAG Executive Director Brian Bond, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy and Synergía-Initiatives for Human Rights Executive Director Stefano Fabeni signed the letter that was sent to Pompeo on June 20.

The letter, which they made public on Monday, specifically notes the State Department has not publicly acknowledged Pride month and did not issue a statement on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The activists also wrote the State Department ” has refused requests from a number of diplomatic facilities to fly the Pride flag during celebrations this month — a notable reversal of instructions provided in previous years.”

“To be clear, both IDAHOTB and Pride fit squarely into the Department’s efforts to combat hate crimes, violence and human rights violations around the world,” reads the letter. “We find it particularly disappointing that your choice to pull back has come on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, an important milestone in our country’s civil rights history which Pride commemorates.”

“Taken together, these actions amount to an irrefutable effort by the administration to distance itself from the American tradition of affirming human rights as part of our country’s foreign policy — an effort that we flatly condemn,” it adds.

The activists in their letter to Pompeo also criticize the State Department over its plans to create a new human rights advisory commission, the Commission on Unalienable Rights, that will stress “natural law and natural rights.”

“We recognize this formulation, which is used by a variety of organizations as code words for denying human and civil rights to LGBTI citizens — a significant deviation from the comprehensive approach that long has guided the human rights diplomacy, programming and reporting of the State Department,” reads the letter.

The activists also note President Trump has refused to support the Equality Act, has banned openly transgender people from the military and has moved to “strike references to LGBTI persons and gender from multilateral documents.”

“We cannot but conclude that you and the president have embarked on a clear-cut effort to undermine LGBTI progress at home and disavow LGBTI populations abroad,” reads their letter.

The activists ask Pompeo to “issue a robust clarification of policy to encourage embassies around the world to show support for LGBTI communities and inclusion during the remaining weeks of LGBTI Pride season.” They also request that he “dismantle the proposed commission and instead invest in the work already underway at” the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

“Failure to take such actions will only encourage the view that, contrary to the president’s previous expressions of support for the rights of LGBTI people, the administration is in fact purposefully distancing itself from American principles of human rights and from the protection of LGBTI people around the world,” reads the letter.

A State Department spokesperson on Monday told the Blade in response to the activists’ letter that “protecting and advancing universal human rights, including for LGBTI persons, has long been and remains the policy of the United States.”

“The department is focused on deterring and responding to violence against LGBTI persons, supporting efforts to decriminalize LGBTI status or conduct, and working to prevent and combat severe official discrimination,” added the spokesperson.

Embassy staff participate in Pride parade, acknowledge IDAHOBiT

The State Department in previous statements to the Blade insists it continues to defend LGBTI rights around the world.

The State Department in recent months has publicly criticized the anti-LGBTI crackdown in Chechnya and a provision of Brunei’s new penal code that sought to impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. The White House in March announced openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell will lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize homosexuality.

Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the U.S. Embassy in Havana on its Twitter page acknowledged IDAHOBiT, which took place less than a week after police in the Cuban capital arrested several people who participated in an unauthorized LGBTI march. A State Department spokesperson told the Blade last week in response to a request for comment about the postponement of the Tbilisi Pride parade in Georgia that “senior U.S. officials have and will continue to urge the government of Georgia to protect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms for all — including LGBTI individuals.” The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv on Twitter said “dozens of U.S. Embassy Kyiv members participated” in Sunday’s Pride march in the Ukrainian capital.

Pompeo on Monday arrived in Saudi Arabia, a country in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.

The department has in place standing policy guidance that U.S. embassies and consulates should use all diplomatic, assistance and public diplomacy tools at their disposal to protect and defend human rights for all, including LGBTI persons,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade.

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Michigan

Governor & Michigan lawmakers recognize June as Pride month

House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people

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Michigan Pride at the Capitol in Lansing, June 25, 2023 (Photo Credit: Angela Demas/Michigan Advance)

By Lucy Valeski | LANSING, Mich. – It’s Pride month in Michigan, an annual recognition of the LGBTQ+ community marked by parades and celebrations in every corner of the state

In Lansing, House lawmakers passed a resolution Wednesday recognizing June 2024 as Pride month and acknowledging the push for equality for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, past and present. 

The LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride month since June 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The month was first recognized in the United States in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. The Michigan legislature did not formally recognize Pride month until 2021. 

“Resolutions like this aren’t policy, obviously,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance. “But it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that folks in Michigan, and particularly our LGBTQ residents, know that they’re welcome and that they have a government that recognizes them and appreciates them and respects them.”

Pohutsky, a member of the House LGBTQ+ Caucus, sponsored the resolution. She said the resolution is especially important this year, as GOP lawmakers previously blocked the recognition of Pride month.

In 2022, the then-GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote on a resolution recognizing Pride month. Republican lawmakers wanted to add language reflecting that not every Michigander “agrees with the lifestyle of the LGBT community.” The resolution passed the previous year in 2021, but not in 2019 or 2020.

“There was such a long time where we couldn’t even get the bare minimum of a Pride resolution passed,” Pohutsky said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also formally recognized the Pride month with a proclamation on June 1. Whitmer was the first governor to march at the Motor City Pride parade and fly a Pride flag on a state building in 2019. 

“Michigan will always be a place where everyone has the freedom to be who they are and love who they love,” Whitmer said in a release. “Our work is not done, but every year, we make progress to move Michigan forward. Let’s keep getting it done.”

LGBTQ+ legislation in Michigan

During this session, Michigan’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed several bills aimed at protecting the LGBTQ+ community in the state. Whitmer, a Democrat, signed legislation expanded Michigan’s anti-discrimination law to include LGBTQ+ people last year and banned conversion therapy for minors.

These bills had languished in the Legislature for years when it was led by Republicans.

Lawmakers are also working on a bill that would ban gay and trans panic defenses. The defense excuses crimes, like assault, of an LGBTQ+ person because it lets the perpetrator blame their identity. 

But Pohutsky said it is important to think about how any bill will impact the LGBTQ+ community. Laws relating to legal name changes or reproductive rights can affect queer Michiganders in unique ways, she said. 

“I think one of the really wonderful things that has happened as a positive consequence of us electing more LGBTQ leaders is that we are more apt to recognize how policies impact the community, and that’s been really important,” Pohutsky said. 

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Lucy Valeski

Lucy Valeski is a States Newsroom fellow for the Michigan Advance. She is currently a student at the University of Missouri, where she studies journalism and political science. She previously covered local government for the Columbia Missourian, statewide news for Missouri Business Alert and technology policy for MLex in Brussels.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Michigan Advance and is republished with permission.

Corporate media aren’t cutting it. The Michigan Advance is a nonprofit outlet featuring hard-hitting reporting on politics and policy and the best progressive commentary in the state.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Politics

Oregon U.S. Senator & trans advocates: renewed Equality Act push

“Our rights & freedoms are on the ballot. I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely & freely as their authentic self”

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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Political commentary & analysis

Family Research Council falsely claims Pride events ‘scaled back’

“Pride is a time to celebrate all the progress that has been made; especially within sports over the past decade”

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Suzanne Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer at the FRC’s outlet, The Washington Stand, made that claim in a June 4, 2024 online column and in an appearance on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins. (Screenshot/YouTube Washington Watch with Tony Perkins)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Borrowing a tactic from former president and convicted felon Donald Trump, the Family Research Council’s in-house propaganda machine published a lie in hopes it will be accepted by the uninformed as truth. In this case, the false claim is headlined “Major Sports Leagues Dump Pride, as Biden Fights to Fill the Void.” 

Suzanne Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer at the FRC’s outlet, The Washington Stand, made that claim in the form of an online commentary

“…Not just major brands but major leagues are making the conscious decision to sit this month out, desperate to protect their profits from the consumer outrage that’s burned down brands like Bud Light and Target,” she wrote. “…America’s five major sports leagues pushed the LGBT holiday to the sidelines. Unlike past years, the rainbows that used to color the logos of the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLS for the month are gone.

“Only Major League Baseball dipped its toes into the 2024 Pride waters — a brief experiment that they abandoned when fans went berserk. After its ‘Baseball is everyone’s game’ post on the morning of June 1, users exploded in the comments…” 

Exploded? Well, maybe, as the typical homophobic trolls were met with glitter and glee and anticipation of hate messages so typical for X these days. 

And some others just admired the rainbow logo

To verify Bowdey’s claims, the Los Angeles Blade reached out to media representatives for a wide range of sports leagues and checked the social media pages for the MLB, NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL teams like the Edmonton Oilers, the Philadelphia Flyers and the league’s players association, MLS and NASCAR to see if they had indeed “dumped” Pride.

Nope, although as Pink News reported, there are several NFL teams that did not rebrand their logos with rainbow colors, despite the league’s Instagram post, including Harrison Butker’s Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

Contrary to reports in right-wing media, the Green Bay Packers are one of the 20 teams that support Pride Month on its social media, and even the teams that aren’t on board still sell Pride merch on their websites. 

The Blade also reached out to public relations specialist Paulo Senra, who founded PushPull PR nearly a decade ago and for nearly a year has been Canada Soccer’s Chief Communications and Content Officer. Senra called Bowdey’s op-ed “way off base.” 

“Just look to what U.S. soccer is doing with its Pride jerseys. We would know, as we are partners working with them on their Pride game and jersey auction. Any suggestion to the contrary is just simply factually incorrect,” Senra told the Blade. “All the major sports leagues are celebrating Pride this year. One just has to quickly search social media posts to see that leagues and individual teams are sharing their Pride stories and support for the community in many ways from games, donations, parade participation and engaging with training resources we provide.” 

Some examples: 

As the Blade has reported, the NHL reversed course last year and dropped a ban on rainbow-colored Pride tape on players’ hockey sticks to honor the LGBTQ+ community at Pride games, which the NHL celebrates on its website.

The NBA, which could see the Celtics crowned champions tonight, is also a big supporter of Pride, both as a league and through its individual teams, like the Dallas Mavericks.

The league provided the Blade with a statement of its “core values” of equality, respect and inclusion.” 

“As part of our ongoing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, the NBA and WNBA family works in partnership with leading LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations — including Athlete Ally, GLAAD and GLSEN — to support a variety of programs and initiatives designed to promote LGBTQ+ equality and create a more inclusive environment in our leagues and across sports year-round,” the NBA said in its statement to the Blade. 

“The NBA and WNBA are engaging players, teams, and fans through a variety of activations that celebrate the league’s year-round commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and inspire all to be more inclusive,” said the NBA through its statement. The league also boasts a Pride employees resource team: “Started in 2015, NBA Pride aims to bring together the league office’s LGBTQ+ employees and allies to foster an environment in which LGBTQ+ employees feel empowered and encouraged to bring their whole selves to work each day.  The Pride ERT was the first LGBTQ+ employee resource team in a major professional sports league, and hosts regular programming for league employees.” 

The NBA had a float in last year’s New York City Pride March and in its statement to the Blade, the league promised it will do so again this year. 

“Pride is a time to celebrate all the progress that has been made; especially within sports over the past decade,” said Senra. “We’re proud of work we have done to make the world of sports more inclusive and a safe space for all. Pride is also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities where we can continue to have a lasting impact and continue the work year-round to ensure that anyone connected to sport as a player, fan, coach, official or executive can be a part of it authentically and welcomed by their organization.”

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Indiana

‘You will lose access’: Pornhub says as age verification takes effect

Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law

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Starting July 1, Hoosiers wanting to access adult content websites, like PornHub, will be required to upload age-verification documents online thanks to a new Indiana law aimed at protecting minors. (Screenshot from website)

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz | MONTREAL, Canada – Pornography video-sharing website Pornhub says it’ll block access to Hoosier users as Indiana prepares to enact a recently approved age verification requirement. Its exit is planned for June 27.

And it’s warning users directly.

“You will lose access to Pornhub in 13 days,” a website pop-up read Thursday.

“Did you know that your government wants you to give your driver’s license before you can access Pornhub?” it continued. “As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.”

It comes days after Pornhub — joined by other explicit content providers and a free speech group — sued the state in an attempt to block the law.

Pornhub parent company Aylo said it has publicly supported age verification for “years” but added, “the way many jurisdictions worldwide have chosen to implement age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous.”

Senate Bill 17 requires that “adult-oriented websites” hosting explicit materials — such as pornography or other “material harmful to minors” — verify a user’s identity before allowing access. That could be by scanning a driver’s license or registering with a third-party verification service.

 The user notice pop-up on Pornhub. (Screenshot of website)

Lawmakers tussled over the legislation in committee and on the floor. Despite that, they overwhelmingly voted to pass the law, according to the Legislature’s bill action tracker.

“We have children who have seen hardcore content before they have their first kiss,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, said in January.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis — the bill’s most outspoken opponent — held that the legislation lacked information privacy “guardrails.” He raised concerns about how securely the proof of age documents will be handled.

That’s an argument Pornhub is making directly to its users.

In its pop-up, Pornhub said it doesn’t want minors accessing its website, but that “putting everybody’s privacy at risk won’t achieve that.”

Rather than attempt to verify Hoosier users’ ages, Pornhub plans to close up shop in Indiana.

Parent company Aylo said Pornhub was “one of the few sites” to comply with Louisiana’s age verification law when it took effect in early 2023.

“Since then, our traffic in Louisiana dropped approximately 80%. These people did not stop looking for porn,” Aylo said. “They just migrated to darker corners of the internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content.”

“In practice, the laws have just made the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” Aylo continued.

The company has instead advocated for “device-based” age verification, and said it was “happy to collaborate” with government, technology companies and other partners to work on a “solution.”

Critics have said the approach, which uses a device’s built-in features to verify a user’s age, doesn’t protect children who use a parent’s phone or other device. Aylo also suggested people use existing parental control features.

“The safety of our users is our number one concern,” Aylo concluded. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments around the world will implement laws that actually protect the safety and security of users.”

Indiana’s law goes into effect July 1 — unless a judge blocks it.

Pornhub and the other plaintiffs filed suit on Monday, alleging that the law is unconstitutional — violating the First Amendment — and unenforceable. They asked a federal judge in Indianapolis to issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita defended it Tuesday as a “commonsense” way to protect children.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle and is republished with permission.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Florida

Openly gay Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to Florida State Senate

He is the second gay man elected to the Florida Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat

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Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL10) congratulates Florida state Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith. (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith officially won his race for the Florida State Senate (District 17), becoming the second openly LGBTQ member elected to the chamber in state history.

“He’s making history AGAIN as the 1st LGBTQ+ Latino in the Florida Senate. Together, we’re growing the multi-racial, multi-generational, working-class movement in Central Florida. Let’s go!” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost who represents Central Florida in the House.

In 2022, while seeking reelection to the Florida House, Guillermo Smith was targeted by the Florida State Republican Party, who invested millions campaigning to defeat him. Now less than two years after losing his re-election, Guillermo Smith won election unopposed to succeed Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart.

In a statement to reporters, Senator-elect said:

“My heart is full of gratitude for this community who has entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as their state Senator,” Smith said.

“Since last year, our campaign has knocked on over 10,000 doors in Senate District 17. We know that voters are frustrated with the direction our state has been heading and they’ve had enough. Rents and property insurance premiums are soaring, over a million Floridians have recently lost health care, and Tallahassee has turned our classrooms into political battlefields.”

Florida Politics noted:

Smith served in the House for six years, where he was among the most outspoken progressive activists in the Democratic minority. He was also the first openly gay Latino LGBTQ member of the House, and will soon hold the same distinction in the Senate.

He is the second gay man elected to the Senate, after Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

During his time in the House, Smith developed a reputation both as a progressive champion and a scorn of conservatives. The onetime Orange County Democratic Party Chair represented a University of Central Florida-centric district for three terms, first elected in 2016.

Stratton Pollitzer, Chair of Equality Florida Action PAC, said in a press release:

“We’re thrilled that voters are sending Carlos back to Tallahassee to continue the fight in the Florida Legislature. Carlos is an unflinching progressive and one of the governor’s sharpest critics. He consistently exposes the governor’s lies, hypocrisy, and agenda to strip away our rights and freedoms. When the governor hid public information from voters, Carlos took him to court and won. Carlos is on the front lines, working to ensure the safety and well-being of all Floridians.”

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Congress

House Republicans pass NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)


WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”

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Federal Government

Administration officials visit LGBTQ-owned dental, medical offices

“There’s a surge in small businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community”

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Second from left, Dr. Robert McKernan, co-founder of Big Gay Smiles, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, Big Gay Smiles Co-Founder Tyler Dougherty, and SBA Washington Metropolitan Area District Director Larry Webb. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)


WASHINGTON — The Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Isabel Guzman of the U.S. Small Business Administration toured two LGBTQ-owned small businesses on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — Big Gay Smiles and Price Medical, accompanied by the Washington Blade.

The event provided an “amazing opportunity” to “talk about the different synergies in terms of small businesses and the SBA, and health equity for many communities,” including the LGBTQ community, Levine told the Blade.

Representation matters, she said, adding, “that’s true in dental care and medical care,” where there is a tremendous need to push for improvements in health equity — which represents a major focus for HHS under her and Secretary Xavier Becerra’s leadership, and in the Biden-Harris administration across the board.

“Small businesses identify needs in communities,” Guzman said. With Big Gay Smiles, Dr. Robert McKernan and his husband Tyler Dougherty “have clearly identified a need” for “dentistry that is inclusive and that is respectful of the LGBTQIA community in particular.”

She added, “now that they’re a newly established business, part of the small business boom in the Biden-Harris administration, to see their growth and trajectory, it’s wonderful to know that there are going to be providers out there providing that missing support.”

The practice, founded in 2021, “is so affirming for the LGBTQIA community and we certainly wish them luck with their venture and they seem to have a great start,” Levine said. “They’re really dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, providing excellent dental care, as well as oral cancer screenings, which are so important, and they’re really providing a real service to the community.”

Big Gay Smiles donates 10 percent of its revenue to national and local HIV/AIDS nonprofits. McKernan and Dougherty stressed that their business is committed to combatting homophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and practices within the dental field more broadly.

“We try to align our practices here within this dental office to align with the strategic initiatives being able to help reduce HIV transmission, reduce stigma, and help to ensure people have the knowledge and [are] empowered to ensure that they’re safe,” Dougherty said.

McKernan added, “With the Academy of General Dentistry, we’ve done a lot of discussions around intersex, around trans affirming care, in order to help educate our fellow dental providers. It’s very important that every dentist here in the [D.C. area] provide trans affirming care and gender affirming care because it’s very important that someone who comes to a medical provider not be deadnamed, not get misnamed, and have an affirming environment.”

Trans and gender expansive communities face barriers to accessing care and are at higher risk for oral cancer, depression, and dental neglect. Levine, who is the country’s highest-ranking transgender government official, shared that she has encountered discrimination in dental offices.

After touring the office, Levine and McKernan discussed the persistence of discrimination against patients living with HIV/AIDS by dental practices, despite the fact that this conduct is illegal.

“I’ve traveled around the country,” the assistant health secretary told the Blade. “We have seen that many FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] or community health centers as well as LGBTQIA community health centers have had dentists, like Whitman-Walker, to provide that care because many people with HIV and in our broader community have faced stigma and have not been able to access very, very important dental care.”

Prior to opening his practice, McKernan practiced dentistry at Whitman-Walker, the D.C. nonprofit community health center that has expertise in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV/AIDS. Big Gay Smiles is a red ribbon sponsor for the organization’s Walk & 5K to End HIV.

After their visit with Big Gay Smiles, Levine and Guzman headed to Price Medical, a practice whose focus areas include internal medicine/primary care, HIV specialty care, immunizations, infectious disease treatment, and aesthetics like Botox.

There, the officials talked with Dr. Timothy Price about his office’s work advancing health equity and serving LGBTQ patients including those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the ways in which small businesses like his have benefitted from access to electronic health records and telemedicine.

Levine, Dr. Timothy Price of Price Medical, and Guzman 
(Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

“People being able to access medical care from the comfort of their home or workplace can be very important,” Price said, with technology providing the means by which they can “ask questions and get an answer and have access to a health care provider.”

Often, LGBTQ patients will have concerns, including sexual health concerns, that need urgent attention, he said. For instance, “we’ve had patients need to access us for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” in some cases when “people are vacationing and they have something that might be related to their health and they can reach us [via telemedicine] so that’s the way it’s really helped us and helped the patients.”

Access to technology for small businesses is an area in which the SBA can play a valuable role, Guzman noted.

“The Biden-Harris administration has focused on a whole-of-government approach to making sure we can support the community, and that includes in entrepreneurship,” she told the Blade.

“There’s a surge in [small] businesses starting and that includes” those founded by members of the LGBTQ community “and so you see that there’s products and services that need to be offered,” and the administration is “committed to making sure that we can fund those great ideas.”

Guzman said she sees opportunities for future collaboration between her agency and HHS to help encourage and facilitate innovation in the healthcare space. “Small businesses are innovators creating the future of health tech,” she said.

Levine agreed, noting “we have been talking about that, about different ways that we can work together, because as we think about the social determinants of health and those other social factors that impact health, well, economic opportunity is absolutely a social determinant of health,” and small businesses are certainly a critical way to broaden economic opportunity.

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New York

WABC’s Up Close | Stonewall Inn’s revival & NYC’s equity efforts

WABC-TV Channel 7 is showcasing stories of Pride with a special edition of the Up Close podcast with host Bill Ritter

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WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli & co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly. (Screenshot WABC)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As the 55th anniversary of the queer uprising at the Stonewall Inn in West Greenwich Village, WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli, the director of the NYC Unity Project, Mayor’s Office of Equity & Racial Justice, and the co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly.

According to Ritter on his podcast WABC Up Close, Lentz and Kelly share the stories of what inspired them to buy the Stonewall Inn 18 years ago, what the process of reviving it entailed, the challenges they face and what the future holds for this institution, while sharing their own stories of embracing their identities and living their truths.

Porcelli gives listeners and viewers a rare look into how City Hall is working with diverse communities to make New York a more equitable and fair place for all of its people during a time of heightened societal polarization.

Watch:

For readers & viewers in the Tri-State area watch Up Close on Sunday mornings at 11:00 on Channel 7, WABC-TV.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

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A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

The Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN) is the first community-driven support network serving veterans and their families in the U.S. Led by veterans for veterans, VPAN connects L.A. County Departments, nonprofits, the V.A., and L.A. City Programs to help veterans navigate often complicated systems to connect to resources. VPAN prioritizes hiring veterans as “battle buddies” and systems navigators to connect assist their fellow veterans.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

Arts Internship Program – Apply Today!

LA County Arts and Culture Internships - Positions now open!

Positions for the 2024 Arts Internship Program are now available! This program will provide 228 university and community college students with paid on-the-job experience in the arts at over 160 nonprofit organizations across the LA region. What’s more, all Arts Internship Program internships provide 400 hours of work experience at $17.28 an hour.

Positions will continue to be posted on a rolling basis through July 2024. Visit the LA County Arts & Culture website to learn more!

At Your Service

The Works App

From reporting potholes to finding critical services, it’s LA County at your fingertips.

The Works App empowers you to report:

  • Issues like potholes, graffiti, overgrown trees, and blocked storm drains
  • Property-related concerns and suspected violations
  • Illegal dumping activities affecting our streets and environment
  • Maintenance needs of trails and facilities in County parks

Keep up to date with the County’s latest news on upcoming events. Locate the nearest LA County offices, libraries, shuttle buses, and other services.

Download The Works for iPhone or Android today and transform how you connect with LA County!

Out and About

Celebrating Juneteenth

Join LA County in celebrating Juneteeth at Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell’s 4th Annual Juneteeth Celebration and Resource Fair on Friday, June 21, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This event features music, food trucks, live performances, access to County services, resources, fun activities, and more! All residents are welcome to attend this FREE event. We encourage you to register and forward this email to your friends and neighbors! Register here

To learn more about Juneteeth and find events and programming in your community, click here.

Photo Finish

Levitated Mass at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Photo: Los Angeles County)

Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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