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New HRC president lights up crowd at annual dinner

David announces transgender justice initiative

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Alphonso David, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David speaks at the 2019 HRC National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Alphonso David energized the room at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual national dinner Saturday night, receiving thunderous applause as he announced new initiatives for LGBT people facing challenging times.

As much of Washington reels from the Ukraine-call scandal that has landed President Trump at the center of an impeachment inquiry in Congress, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign made himself a beacon of hope for the estimated 3,500 people in attendance at the 23rd national dinner.

A key component of David’s speech was identity. He began his remarks with the question, “Who are you?” then listed several identities, including immigrant, gay, transgender and straight as individuals in attendance cheered when he mentioned their identities.

But David’s speech took a turn when he said those identities “will either serve as a tool to achieve liberation and as a tool to further oppress us.”

Blaming Trump for a “moral recession,” David said Trump uses identity “as a sword and to create false hierarchies to force us into believing that we lose something by simply recognizing someone else as a human being.”

“We have witnessed a dramatic rollback of our democracy at the hands of this president, who holds the rule of law in contempt, as we learned this week,” David said. “And as we saw recently, he even holds weather reports in contempt, and you can tweet all of that.”

David said Trump wants people to believe recognizing others make them lose something, but the loss isn’t what Trump wants you to think.

“By adopting or acquiescing to Trump’s baseless factionalism, we’re losing something much larger and something much more significant than what Trump tells you,” David said. “We’re losing our souls, losing our government as a place that respects and represents all of us, losing our democracy as we know it.”

Lighting a way forward to “weather the storm, this existential crisis that we face in this country,” David announced a trio of new initiatives the Human Rights Campaign would undertake under his new stewardship of the organization.

The first was a new transgender justice initiative, which David described before reading the names of transgender people who were killed this year.

“For too long, our system has failed the transgender community,” David said. “And by depending on that system, we have also failed the transgender community. We must look outside of the existing paradigm to support transgender people in the community they call home.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the effort will focus on economic empowerment; capacity-building programs; targeted task forces in communities hardest hit hard by the epidemic of anti-trans violence; and expanded public education campaigns.

Decrying voter suppression efforts, David also announced a new partnership with the “Fair Fight” voter-initiative led by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whom he called “the rightful governor of Georgia.”

Voter suppression efforts, David said, also “often target members of the community, young people and transgender people.”

“With his partnership, we fight to protect and support our right to vote,” David said. “And in so doing, we can elected a pro-equality Senate that will follow the House’s lead and pass the Equality Act. We can elect a president that will sign the Equality Act into law.”

Finally, David pledged to expand the footprint of the Human Rights Campaign — both by opening offices in New York and Los Angeles and extending legal efforts by filing lawsuits and advancing cases by national and internationally.

“Equality does not stop at our borders, Mr. Trump, and we cannot allow ourselves to be affected by your hypo-nationalism,” David said. “And as the world’s largest LGBT organization, it is imperative that we stand and stand tall with our partners in nations around the world.”

The audience, which had cheered David throughout his speech, gave him a standing ovation when he pointed out he’s the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign.

“As I stand before you as the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign in its nearly 40 year history, I promise you that I will fight as hard and as long as necessary to make the dream of full equality a reality for all us,” David said. “All I ask in return is that you make that same promise.”

David concluded his speech the way it began with the question, “Who are you?” But the second time around, he asked his audience to consider it differently.

“I say that whoever you are, however you identify, see yourself in the person who looks nothing like you,” David said. “Our next greatest achievement is realizing the dream of full equality for all of us, and let it begin tonight, right here in this room with each and every one of us.”

Massah David and Miatta David Johnson, the younger sisters to Alphonso David, introduced Alphonso David after a video played describing their experience in Liberia and having to flee amid conflict.

Ricky Martin accepts the national visibility award at the 2019 HRC National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The star of the night was gay singer Ricky Martin, who accepted the HRC national visibility award after taking part in the Puerto Rico protest that led to resignation of former Gov. Ricardo Rosello over his leaked anti-gay and misogynistic text messages.

“Some of the residents of the islands wanted to impeach the governor of Puerto Rico,” Martin said. “But the majority said, ‘No. We don’t want to impeach. We want him out, and we want him out now! Not once in 15 days was a drop of blood shed, but we got rid of him.”

With Trump restricting the number of refugees who can be admitted into the United States to a cap of 18,000 a year, Martin dedicated his award to LGBT refugees “leaving their countries because they feel threatened.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the political speaker for the dinner, received thunderous applause when he said he supports the impeachment inquiry set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

“Congress has a serious job ahead of us,” Schumer said. “We are in rare constitutional waters. You have my word that Speaker Pelosi and I will treat this matter with the gravity and seriousness and dignity and demands.”

Mixing both the political and personal, Schumer talked about his experience with former Rep. Barney Frank, who’s gay, and his daughter, Allison, recalling the time she came out to him before she married.

“At dinner, my daughter Allison told my wife Iris and me that she was gay,” Schumer said. “After dinner Iris asked me, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Whoa, sort of brand new. Ask me again in the morning.’ You know, sometimes your mind processes things overnight and you wake up and it’s resolved. Well, the next morning, here’s how I felt. I said to myself, ‘She’s the same person love so much the day before, but now I love her even a little more because she carried the knowledge of her sexuality, and carried it with such strength and grace and dignity.”

Leading the audience in a chant in which he asked “What will we do?,” and they responded, “Ditch Mitch,” Schumer pledged to support LGBT people if Democrats win a majority in the Senate.

“As majority leader, one of the first things I will do is put the Equality Act on the floor, and I believe it will pass,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks on Sept. 28, 2019 at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ryan Russell, a football player who recently came out as bisexual, also delivered remarks at the dinner on his experience of coming out.

“Visibility is essential in my life,” Russell said. “There won’t be any until there’s a first. I’m lucky that people in my life, the higher power above and the man in the mirror allowed me to be that person.”

Ryan Russell, on right, with boyfriend Corey O’Brien at the HRC National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Transgender actor Dominique Jackson, who stars on “Pose,” was honored onstage with the HRC national equality award.

“As a trans women of color, we face violence, we face brutality, we face so much,” Jackson said.

Talking about her experience as a transgender woman of Caribbean descent, Jackson said people “talk about love, but we forget about humanity.”

“I’m a human being, just like each and every one of you,” Jackson said. “It’s time that we stop with the aesthetic, it’s time that we stop with the privilege, it is time that we realize that if one man has a billion dollars, and an entire community can can benefit. If you just give up that billion dollars a million and help that community survive, then you’re really doing something, you’re part of the community.”

Making quips the audience was “spending money you don’t have” at the dinner, likening that to the expensive shoes she buys herself, Jackson forcefully insisted several times she rejected any offering of tolerance and demands their respect.

HRC President Alphonso David and ‘Pose’ star Dominique Jackson at the 2019 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nik Harris, a Florida-based gay activist, told a moving story about being closeted as a young adult, but watching her teenager brother — who is also gay — being sent to conversion therapy.

“I often wonder how different my baby brother’s experience would be if I had the courage to come out first,” Harris said. “If I had tackled some of the difficult conversations so may baby brother didn’t have to. My brother survived, but he still carries the painful scars. Even now, at 33 years old, this successful stylist in Hollywood questions his very existence.”

Hudson Young, a board member of the Human Rights Campaign, urged his audience “particularly those of us who are cisgender and white, to speak out and do more to give more, to be willing to be uncomfortable, and to use our privilege to benefit others.”

Sherie Hughes, another Human Rights Campaign board member, won resounding applause when as she listed intersectional movements, including support for Black Lives Matter, denunciation of anti-Semitism and believing survivors of sexual misconduct.

“We know that there is no success in the movement for the LGBTQIA equality without our voices joining in the demand for fairness and inclusion for all people,” Hughes said.

The dinner paid tribute to Cathy Nelson, senior vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, who is departing the organization after 30 years of service. The Gay’s Mens Chorus of Washington and Grammy-nominated singer Alice Smith performed at the start of the event. Singer Thelma Houston concluded the dinner.

Among those recognized at the dinner were Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims, Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin, founder of Freedom to Mary Evan Wolfson, Dennis and Judy Shepard, Jane Clementi of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Earl Fowlkes of the Center for Black Equity and National Transgender Visibility March organizer Marissa Miller.

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Kansas

Laws against gay sex ruled unconstitutional- but Kansas won’t drop ban

A bill pending in the Kansas Legislature would remove language in the state’s criminal sodomy law that targets LGBTQ people. Advocates say action is decades past due.

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Photo by Blaise Mesa / Kansas News Service

By Blaise Mesa | TOPEKA — Intercourse between same-sex couples technically remains a crime in Kansas even though the provision in state statute was ruled unconstitutional 19 years ago.

Since then, multiple attempts to remove the outdated language have failed.

The latest legislation to change the law has languished in a Statehouse committee without a hearing for over a year.

That bill would remove a line from the Kansas criminal sodomy law that makes sex a crime for “persons who are 16 or more years of age and members of the same sex.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that such laws were unconstitutional.

“When it comes to something that’s just blatantly unconstitutional, there should be agreement that we follow the law,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “We need to repeal it.”

The bill doesn’t change other portions of the sodomy law, and Carmichael says law enforcement has been supportive of the changes for years, yet nothing has happened.

Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican who chairs the committee scrutinizing the latest legislation, said he hadn’t reviewed its details or decided whether to hold hearings on the bill. Owens said the committee will deal with other, higher-priority bills first.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says nobody has been convicted of same-sex criminal sodomy for at least five years. Still, Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the provision has been used to discriminate against LGBTQ people even if they weren’t convicted.

Witt said Kansans were arrested for same-sex relations even after the Supreme Court’s ruling, but the last time he heard that happened was in 2013. The criminal sodomy law also prevented LGBTQ law enforcement officers from being sworn in because violating the statute was a violation of their professional standards. Those standards were later amended to allow LGBTQ officers.

“It is an insult that my life is criminalized,” Witt said. “It is a further insult that people in (the Legislature) think it should stay that way.”

Justice Horn, vice chair of the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, said the laws could also make people leave for cities with better civil rights protections. Horn, who is gay, said that hurts the community by hindering economic development while depriving it of diversity.

“I’ve thought plenty of times I could uproot and go to a place where I don’t have to deal with these issues,” Horn said. “I want our kids to grow up, and our youth and the generation coming up to not have to deal with this.”

Witt said the issues have subsided, but as long as it remains codified in state statute the issues could quickly become relevant again if the Legislature’s opinion of LGBTQ people grows worse, which he said is happening. He pointed to the bill last session that limited how transgender people could play sports as evidence of this.

Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said outdated state laws are common, but anti-LGBTQ laws send a message to people that they aren’t welcomed in the state.

“It’s a deliberate decision not to amend the code,” Brett said, “to get rid of these provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional.”

Republican Sam Brownback created the Office of the Repealer when he was governor to remove outdated and unconstitutional statutes, but changes to the criminal sodomy law weren’t recommended.

The committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, where the bill is bottled up, has a full set of hearings next week. Bills preventing shackling of youth in court, allowing people convicted of felonies to receive food stamps and adding new requirements for officers serving search warrants are currently scheduled for discussion.

“Given the opportunity, we might look at” the legislation to rewrite the state sodomy law, said Owens, the committee chair. “I wouldn’t say that is a priority for us to look at this time just because of all the other corrections and juvenile justice matters.”

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Blaise Mesa is the Social Services and Criminal Justice reporter for The Kansas News Service.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Kansas News Service and is republished by permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court will hear challenges to affirmative action at Harvard & UNC

Six years ago, a divided court upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process

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U.S. Supreme Court (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By Amy Howe | WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider the role of race in college admissions. In a brief order, the justices agreed to take up two cases asking them to overrule their landmark 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, holding that the University of Michigan could consider race as part of its efforts to assemble a diverse student body. The decision to grant review in the two new cases suggests that the court’s conservative majority is poised to do just that.

The cases are Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The court consolidated them for oral argument, and they likely will be argued early in the 2022-23 term, which begins in October.

Six years ago, a divided court upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 4-3 majority in Fisher v. University of Texas, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The composition of the court has changed significantly since then: Although Justice Elena was recused from the Texas case because she had been involved in it as the solicitor general of the United States, Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett succeeded Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

It was therefore a much more conservative court that considered the latest petitions asking the justices to revisit the issue. Both petitions arose from long-running lawsuits filed by a group called Students for Fair Admissions. Founded by Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who also backed the challenger in Fisher (as well as the challengers in Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that narrowed the Voting Rights Act), the group describes its mission as helping to “restore colorblind principles to our nation’s schools, colleges and universities.”

The first case, filed against Harvard University, contends that the university’s race-conscious admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants. According to the group, Asian Americans are significantly less likely to be admitted than similarly qualified white, Black, or Hispanic applicants. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld Harvard’s policy, prompting SFFA to come to the Supreme Court in February 2021. The group urged the justices to take up the case and overrule Grutter, describing the 2003 ruling as a decision that was “grievously wrong” and now “sustains admissions programs that intentionally discriminate against historically oppressed minorities” – in the past, Jewish students, and now Asian Americans. The group also asked the justices to weigh in on whether Harvard’s policy violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination by entities receiving federal funding.

Harvard told the justices that there is no reason for them to intervene in the dispute. Its policy is consistent with the Supreme Court’s precedents, the university stressed, and SFFA’s allegations to the contrary rely on a “thoroughly distorted presentation of” the facts in the case. Harvard takes race into account “in a flexible and nonmechanical way” for the benefit of “highly qualified candidates.” And there is certainly no reason for the court to “overrule more than 40 years of decisions regarding the limited consideration of race in university admissions,” Harvard concluded.

The justices did not act on SFFA’s petition immediately. Instead, in June they sought the federal government’s views – a maneuver that had the effect  of delaying the case’s progression. In a brief filed in December, the Biden administration acknowledged that the Trump administration had supported SFFA in the lower courts, but it explained that it had “reexamined the case” and now recommended that the justices deny review.

The second case, filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the state’s flagship public university, argues that the university’s consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process violates both Title VI and the Constitution. (Unlike Harvard, UNC is a public university and is therefore covered by the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.) After a federal district court in North Carolina rejected SFFA’s arguments, the group came straight to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to take up the case, alongside the Harvard case, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit could rule.

UNC defended its admissions policy in the Supreme Court, telling the justices that it has also implemented programs to increase diversity without considering race – for example, by actively recruiting low-income and first-generation college students. But it concluded, it wrote, that there is no alternative that would create a student body “about as diverse and academically qualified as its holistic, race-conscious admissions process.” And although it acknowledged that the question at the center of the case is “indisputably important,” it stressed that there was no reason for the Supreme Court to take the “extremely rare” step of bypassing the court of appeals.

The justices considered both cases together at three consecutive conferences – on Jan. 7, Jan. 14, and Jan. 22 – before granting review on Monday and consolidating them.

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Amy Howe is the former editor and a reporter for SCOTUSblog and still is a contributor. She primarily writes for her eponymous blog, Howe on the Court.

Before turning to full-time blogging, she served as counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there.

Amy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in Arab Studies and a law degree from Georgetown University.

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The preceding article was previously published by SCOTUSBlog and is republished by permission.

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Ohio

Heavy accumulation of snowfall makes clearing it a ‘fabulous’ effort

Winters in Cleveland can be a dreary time, but now we can hopefully at least look forward to another visit….

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Photo by Bethany Staley via Facebook/Twitter

LAKEWOOD, Oh. – As an Arctic air mass moved across the Midwest and into the Northeastern U.S. this past weekend, drawing in precipitation that led to several inches of snow falling with upwards of a foot or more in some areas and temperatures hovering in the teens to mid twenties, residents in this suburban Cleveland city were greeted with the sight of one person apparently untroubled by the weather.

The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com reported that a magical being appeared on Lakewood’s Wagar Avenue this weekend, snow blowing the sidewalk after Northeast Ohio got hit with inches of snow on Sunday.

A person dressed in an inflatable unicorn costume grabbed neighbors’ attention, working their way down Wagar Avenue, snow blowing the sidewalk for the entire street.

Local Lakewood resident, Bethany Staley took a couple of photos and a video and posted them to the Lakewood Community Facebook group, with the caption “Such an awesome community!!! The Wagar Ave. Unicorn was back this year and just made my night!!! My family and I loved watching him plow on by!!! Thank you, neighbor.”

The pictures were then shared on Twitter Sunday by SuzyLeeInCLE aka @WeThePeopleCLE which was then taken viral by appreciative users since its initial posting.

John Corlett replied to the tweet with a photo taken of the unicorn on Christmas Day in 2020.

“I was actually kind of sad when it didn’t snow this year on Christmas. I thought we might see him again,” Corlett said. “I remember that he even snow-blowed the driveway of someone who lived across the street.”

The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com noted; “Winters in Cleveland can be a dreary time, but now we can hopefully at least look forward to another visit from the mystical Lakewood snow-blowing unicorn, the next time it snows.”

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