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Soaring hits and dramatic misses at the HRC/CNN LGBTQ Town Hall

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Living history. That’s what it felt like inside The Novo theatre at the HRC/CNN LGBTQ Town Hall last Thursday night as nine Democratic presidential candidates showcased their commitment to LGBTQ issues and their plans to advance full equality and end the scourge of AIDS and conversion therapy. Gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and gay CNN moderator Anderson Cooper were well aware they were living history on stage, but, to borrow from The Shirelles, will they all still love LGBTQs tomorrow?

The CNN stage Tuesday night is crowded with 12 Democrats who aspire to topple Donald Trump and live in the White House. The moderators are asking about impeachment, the new Trump-caused war in Northern Syria, immigration, climate change and gun violence.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has returned to campaigning after a heart attack and former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have readied their flak jackets for all the incoming grenades tossed by candidates hoping to breakout of single digit poll numbers. Out Mayor Pete Buttigieg is hoping to capitalize on all the thumbs-up, while Sen. Kamala Harris, once considered the female Barack Obama shoe-in, is struggling – she seems to know everything but her message.

Ratings for the Democratic Party’s fourth official debate in Westerville, Ohio are expected to be high, given the near certainty of Trump’s impeachment by the House – but there is also a nauseating feeling that Trump could still turn ashes into confetti and win re-election in 2020. Who on that stage can defeat him?

CNN’s production of the LGBTQ town hall, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, reached 1,430,000 viewers during Buttigieg’s third segment at the peak of the four-and a half-hour program. He was preceded by Biden, who brought in 1,336,000 viewers, and followed by Warren with 1,398,000 viewers. The audience started dipping after that with 1,174,000 viewers watching Harris.

“These are pretty good ratings for the town halls. They are not gangbusters like a debate, but they are better than some that CNN has had earlier in the cycle,” Ted Johnson, Washington correspondent for Deadline, tells the Los Angeles Blade. “The network also emphasizes that it has these not for the audiences but to show their commitment to covering the campaign.”

A ratings junkie, Trump offered a little counter programming on Fox TV with a 102-minute rambling, incoherent and racist campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota – the heavily Somali district represented by Trump nemesis, Ilan Omar.  And while the Democrats appealed to LGBTQ voters and allies, Trump unleashed a bombastic sideshow that roused his supporters and left others questioning his mental stability, including acting out “a truly terrible imitation of [FBI employees] Peter Strzok and Lisa Page achieving orgasm,” as Esquire described it.

Saturday Night Live devoted their cold open spoof to the HRC/CNN Equality Town, with a cryptic Anderson Cooper should shrug acknowledging “we’ll never do this again.” But it was former HUD Sec. Julián Castro (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who best nailed the subliminal message of the event: “Well, first of all, gracias. As a Democrat, I want to apologize for not being gay, but I promise to do better in the future.”

What is not a joke is that 11,046,000 LGBTQ adults are still officially second class citizens – the result, the town hall helped underscore – of institutionalized and systematic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Additionally, since 2016, HRC has identified more than 57 million “Equality Voters” nationwide who “prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies, including marriage equality, equitable family law and laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” says HRC.

In 2018, LGBTQ voters counted for 6% of the entire electorate and cast more than 7 million ballots — a turnout of roughly 70%, compared to a turnout of 50% among the general population.

In 2020, the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ people are at stake. The town hall occurred two days after the Supreme Court heard three job discrimination cases on whether the firing and harassment of an employee based on that worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act? According to an Associated Press analysis,“a ruling that says the federal law doesn’t protect workers targeted because they’re gay or transgender could leave millions vulnerable in more than half of U.S. states.”

An analysis released Oct. 9 by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law based on a poll conducted with Reuters/Ipsos of candidate preferences found that nearly 9 million LGBT adults are registered to vote, with half registered as Democrats, 15% registered as Republicans and 22% Independents and the remaining respondents picking another party or demurring on identifying one.

And yet, as Marketwatch extrapolated from the Williams Institute report, around 21% of LGBTQ adults are not registered to vote. That means there are roughly two million more LGBTQ adults still to be registered to vote in the 2020 election.

Two million. And that’s not counting those who want to vote but are shut out or dissuaded or uninspired.

“Voter suppression has primarily targeted voters of color, who also happen to include LGBTQ Americans, who far too often face disproportionate barriers in accessing their right to vote,” HRC President Alphonso David told the Washington Post after HRC backed a voting-rights effort organized by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Some states, for instance, have voter-ID laws where the person is required to show documentation that matches their birth-assigned gender, which could impede a transgender person from voting. The National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund has a project to help with that – Transform the Vote that explains #VotingWhileTrans.

One hope was that the HRC/CNN town hall would engage voters, as well as get the candidates on the record about specific LGBTQ issues and introduce non-LGBTQ Americans to the human beings behind those issues. Buttigieg and Warren put out detailed, comprehensive LGBTQ plans and Harris pledge to create a White House advocate for LGBT affairs. Beto O’Rourke put out his LGBT plan last June.

Numerous intersectional issues were addressed such as trans military service, HIV/AIDS, suicide and mental health, youth homelessness, gun violence and education and school safety, as well as civil rights and full equality under the Constitution.

Some new details emerged about some of the candidates. For instance, when CenterLink’s Tanya Tassi asked Harris about the three Title IX employment discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, the California Senator noted that she had joined in a friend of the court brief to “stand in solidarity with all of the folks who are fighting for equality in those three cases.”

And when LA-based HIV-positive dancer and choreographer Thomas Davis asked Harris how she would combat high HIV rates in minority communities, she not only talked about high rates for Black gay men and access to PrEP but shared a personal story about sitting at the bedsides of men who died from AIDS, including Jim Rivaldo, her campaign manager when she ran for San Francisco DA – he was also Harvey Milk’s campaign manager.

“He would always talk about the need to recognize that within the community there are real hierarchies based on race and income and we need to recognize and deal with that,” Harris said. “And since those days to today, we know that in terms of HIV-AIDS rates among black men in particular, it is still much higher because the hierarchy still exists within the community around access to health care, housing, employment, and things of that nature.” She then committed to end HIV/AIDS “within a generation.”  (JavonTae Wilson, an HIV counselor and tester for In the Meantime Men, asked a similar question of Sen. Klobuchar).

Contrast that with billionaire Tom Steyer who was asked by Nia-Malika Henderson about living in San Francisco in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS crisis. He noted that no one knew how broad the epidemic would become but research and the response from the community was strong.

“So I look at this as a place where there was something very scary and out of control, that Americans — and don’t forget, President Reagan would never admit to the AIDS crisis or do anything about it,” Steyer said. “But the country responded itself.  Researchers responded.  People in the community responded. People in churches responded.  Actually, there was a great deal of caring that went out.  And as devastating as it was in San Francisco, it wasn’t nearly as bad as people were worried about, Nia, and that was really as a result of the work and caring that people put in.”

Henderson didn’t follow up to ask him to clarify what he meant by “it wasn’t nearly as bad as people were worried about.”

In another instance, Anderson Cooper asked Joe Biden what he would do if the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBTQ workers. Biden said he’d pass the Equality Act “right off the bat.” He thinks such protections are constitutional because “I taught constitutional law for 21 years in law school as a constitutional professor, I believe it clearly is covered, clearly is covered.”

Some eyebrows went up. Biden – a constitutional law professor? Actually yes, Jamal Brown, Biden’s National Press Secretary, tells the Los Angeles Blade, except for 17, not 21 years, at Widener University. He points to an Aug. 27, 2008 article reporting that “Biden has been an adjunct law professor at the school for 17 years, co-teaching a class, ‘Special Studies in Constitutional Law.’” One of the proud students watching then-Democratic vice presidential contender Biden speak said: “”I thought it was amazing…,I thought it was very true. He’s a straight guy.”

There were some other confusing moments. In off the record conversations during and after the event, many thought Warren “won” the night, especially after her hysterical take on same sex marriage that caused such an uproar, it distracted from a Buttigieg press availability backstage.

When asked how she would respond to someone saying they believe marriage is between one man and one woman, Warren said: “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that. And I’m going to say, ‘just marry one woman.’ I’m cool with that.” She turned, took a comic beat, then added: “Assuming you can find one.”

It was one of the biggest hits of the evening, one that continues to be cited by news outlets reporting on Warren. But there were some dramatic missed opportunities to display cultural competence, too.

For instance, when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo asked Warren about her 2012 comment regarding a judge’s ruling that granted transition-related surgery to a transgender inmate. During her Senate campaign, she said: “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“Do you regret that?” Cuomo asked.

“Yep.  No, it was a bad answer.  And I think it was a bad answer.  And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need, and that includes people who are transgender, who — it is the time for them to have gender-affirming surgery.  I just think that’s important and the appropriate medical care,” Warren said.

Though not an explicit apology for her Senate campaign remark, many took it as the equivalent of Harris “taking full responsibility” for her office’s refusal to grant transition healthcare to a trans prisoner when she was DA. But it was the next response that threw people.

“So if you help people get to where they want to be, you also have to protect them as what they are,” Cuomo said. “Do you think that a crime against somebody who is transgender should be charged as a hate crime in statute?”

“You know, I think we could if we think that’s going to be the most effective way to make change.  So I’m certainly — I’m open to this,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what I really want.  I want a Justice Department that takes this seriously.  I want to create a Justice Department that says these crimes matter.

“And when they’re not federal crimes,” Warren continued, “when they are state crimes, in the same way that our Justice Department is empowered to step in if a state is failing to enforce laws and as a result it’s leaving women unprotected, it’s leaving people of color unprotected, the same should happen for LGBTQ people.  We need a Justice Department that is on the side of the people, all of the people.”

Did Warren just say she didn’t back a federal hate crime law that included transgender people—with Judy Shepard in the audience? The Los Angeles Blade reached out to her campaign for clarification.

“Gender identity is currently covered by federal hate crime laws and a Warren Administration will use this statute to prosecute,” spokesperson Saloni Sharma told the Los Angeles Blade. “Elizabeth was making the point that hate crimes prosecutions are not a sufficient answer – we need to go further to make addressing this issue a priority for the Department of Justice, attack the roots of the crisis, and prevent violence. She has also co-sponsored the NO HATE Act to strengthen hate crime reporting as one of the ways to do that.”

What viewers did not know was the backstage drama that happened before the event. Roughly a half hour before showtime, CNN pulled a scheduled question from LA-based trans personality Ashlee Marie Preston. Though Preston described the withdrawn invitation to Out Magazine as being “an act of erasure,” a reliable source with knowledge of the incident told the Los Angeles Blade that the question was pulled because Preston was supposed to ask it of Warren but had not disclosed to CNN that she was a paid campaign surrogate, which made her a “plant” questioner and therefore, an ethical conflict of interest to the news production.

CNN only learned about Preston’s financial association with the campaign after a video in which she appeared was posted by Team Warren on Twitter. CNN later learned of the racist and homophobic tweets Preston posted over the years, for which she has somewhat apologized.

Warren’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Preston’s tweets.

But Preston’s absence was part of a felt vacuum for trans representation, especially the need to elevate Black trans women of color who, with 19 or 20 murders in 2019, are experiencing an epidemic of violence and hatred, about which HRC is well aware.

There were a number of trans people who were able to briefly share their stories through the questions they asked.

 

The very first question of the night was for Sen. Cory Booker from Rachel Gonzalez, mother of a 9-year old trans daughter from Dallas and a member of the Human Rights Campaign Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Jacob Lemay, an elementary school student from Massachusetts who identified as “a 9-year-old transgender American, asked Warren a question about school safety.  And Gavin Grimm, now 20, told Booker how he sued his high school in 2015 to use the boy’s restroom – a case that went on a legal roller coaster for four years until he finally won on Aug. 9, 2019.

Also representing the trans community were U.S. Air Force combat vet Shannon Scott; Khloe Perez-Rios, a community organizer from Rancho Cucamonga who works at Bienestar; Mariana Marroquin, program manager for the LA-based Trans Wellness Center; and fabulous Black trans singer/songwriter Shea Diamond (who made sure Nia-Malika Henderson pronounced her name correctly); and Black trans activist Carter Brown who was fired from his job in Texas. Andrea Jenkins, the first trans member of the Minneapolis City Council, was Klobuchar’s guest and HRC National Press Sec. Sarah McBride, a candidate for Delaware State Senate, got a shout out from Biden.

But despite the diversity among the questioners and the respectful understanding that one of these Democrats could become the next President of the United States, there was a painful sense of the lack of urgency to the ongoing crisis of the murder and violence toward Black and Brown trans women.

TransLatin@ Coalition founder Bamby Salcedo, along with Maria Roman-Taylorson, and and Michaé Pulido decided to do something about it, chanting and waving a trans flag with the message about trans murders, disrupting Buttigieg’s segment of the HRC/CNN Equality Town Hall.

“The reason we decided to do it when Pete Buttigieg was onstage is because he is a member of the LGBT community and we wanted for him to see first-hand the violence where at least 20 trans women have been killed,” Salcedo told the Los Angeles Blade.

“We needed to show him the importance of addressing the violence against trans women as a priority and to really make sure he understands what needs to happen in order for us to have better life within our broader LGBT community and the broader society,” she said. “We wanted the national mainstream audience to get the broader message.”

Salcedo also noted how roughly they were treated by security. “The way security handled us was inappropriate, even violent, simply because we were trans women,” Salcedo said. “Honestly, I think law enforcement has the mentality to be rough toward trans women, period. That has to change.”

Anderson Cooper was a little thrown but remained calm.

“People are dying,” the TransLatin@ Coalition protesters yelled.

“It’s OK.  It’s OK.  Be cool.  It’s OK.  It’s OK.  Hey, hey, hey, hey, guys, guys, guys,” Cooper said to the trans women.  “Yo, guys, chill out.  Guys, relax, relax.”

Cooper then tried to explain the disruption to the million-plus viewers.

“Let me just point out there is a long and proud tradition and history in the gay, lesbian, and transgender community of protest, and we applaud them for their protest,” he said to applause. “And they are absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media, on the lives of transgendered….”

After the protesters were led away, Buttigieg got his question.

“And before turning to it, I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

“And I believe or would like to believe that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up its visibility and speaking to it.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

It’s also a reminder of something at stake in your question, which is just how much diversity there is within the LGBTQ+ community.  And I’m very mindful of the fact that my experience as a gay man, but as a white, cisgender gay man, means that there are dimensions, for example, of what it’s like to be a black trans woman that I do not personally understand.

 

But I also think the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community is part of what we have to offer right now.  Our community, our country is so torn apart, we’re so fragmented, and here we have the LGBTQ+ world that is everywhere.  We are in every state, every community.  Whether folks realize it or not, we’re in every family.  And that means we can also have the power to build bridges.

 

And when somebody’s weighing whether to come out or just coming to terms with who they are, it’s really important for them to know that they’re going to be accepted.  There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans.  And I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in a way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”

After Salcedo was taken away and the televised questioning resumed, it was up to Blossom C. Brown to raise the stakes again.

Lizette Trujillo, from Tucson, Arizona, was about to ask about her transgender son when she suddenly stopped. “I just want to take a moment before I ask my question to validate the pain of our transgender siblings that demonstrated earlier and that have spoken up today, especially black trans women, she said.

Then came Blossom C. Brown, who swiped Trujillo’s microphone. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

“I don’t want to take this away from you but let me tell you something – Black trans women are being killed in this country.  And CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time.  Let me tell you something.  Black trans women are dying.  Our lives matter.

 

I am an extraordinary Black trans woman, and I deserve to be here.  My Black trans sisters that are here.  I am tired.  I am so tired of just sitting there.  And it’s not just my Black trans women…

 

LEMON:  Ma’am.  Ma’am.

 

BROWN: It’s my Black trans brothers, too.  And I will say what I’m going to say.  I’m going to say what I’m going to say.

 

LEMON:  No, no, no, just come here.  No, I just want to ask you something.  Come here.  Tell me.  I want you to talk — what’s your name?

 

BROWN:  Blossom C. Brown.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, let me ask…

 

BROWN:  Google me.  Please Google me.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, thank you.  Let me tell you something.  No, don’t come on the stage.  And can I — may I have the mic?

 

BROWN:  OK.

 

LEMON:  May I have the mic?  Blossom, let me tell you something.  The reason that we’re here is to validate people like you.  That is why we’re giving — but that is why we’re here.

 

BROWN:  (OFF-MIKE) your actions do not say that.

 

LEMON:  OK, but…

 

BROWN:  Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight.  Not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight.

 

LEMON:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Hang on.  We can’t hear you.  Blossom, we can’t hear you.  Here.  Blossom, we can’t hear you.

 

BROWN:  Baby, your actions have to speak louder than words.  Because guess what?  Not one Black trans woman has taken the mic tonight.  Not one Black trans man has taken the mic tonight.  Show me.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, Blossom…

 

BROWN:  (OFF-MIKE)

 

LEMON:  OK, thank you, I appreciate it.  Blossom, you’re a Black trans woman.  You have the mic in your hand.  I’ve given — I’ve taken it and given it back to you.  We want to hear from you. We have had trans people of color.  We have all people here.  And you’re welcome — but we — but we are proud and happy that you’re here.  We’re proud and happy that you’re here.  Yes, but, remember, we’re under a time constraint.  All right.  Thank you, Blossom, and I appreciate it.

 

BROWN:  Yeah, that’s how anti-Blackness works, amongst people of color.  That’s what anti-Blackness looks like, the erasure of Black trans people.

 

LEMON:  All right.

 

BROWN:  I’m here.  We are here in this room.  Please give us that opportunity.

 

LEMON:  Blossom, thank you so much.  And we appreciate it.  Thank you very much.  Yes, no, I got it.  There we go.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Congressman, please address that.  Do you want to address that?

 

O’ROURKE:  I’d be happy to.  Yeah.

 

LEMON:  Thank you, Blossom.

 

BROWN:  I just want to remind everyone that Stonewall was led by transgender women of color, and it’s 15 years later, and we’re still failing you as a community.  But there are mothers like me and other community members that are committed to change.  And so thank you for allowing that.

 

LEMON:  Thank you.

 

(APPLAUSE)

O’Rourke commended Don Lemon:  “And then I want to commend you, because after Blossom took the microphone from you, and then returned it after what she said, you acknowledged that she did not grab the mic to speak out against anybody, or to put down anybody.  She grabbed the mic to stand up for herself and other trans women of color and trans men of color that she talked about, as well.  That’s what democracy looks like in America.”


Brown later told the Los Angeles Blade that she is hoping to organize a forum specifically tackling the issues of significance to Black trans women. (Go to her Facebook page to watch for developments)

HRC President Alphonso David later tweeted an apology:

What has not been addressed is the lack of attention to lesbian, bisexual and non-binary people.

Lesbian pioneer Karla Jay, PhD, Professor Emerita of English and Women’s & Gender Studies at Pace University in New York, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Blade in which she laments the missing lesbians.

“When the CNN/HRC (Human Rights Campaign) televised LGBT Town Hall ended at midnight on the East Coast, I felt more like I had survived an entire Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy (OK, this dates me) rather than an informative interchange between Democratic candidates and a lively audience.  When I unscientifically polled “Friends” on Facebook afterwards, not one of perhaps 700 lesbians admitted to having watched the event. My bluest of the blue lesbian friends visiting from Florida confessed that they had fallen asleep not far in,” she wrote.  “But it wasn’t Lesbian Nation’s fault for conking out at the remote when HRC’s questions totally ignored us.”

Yes, towards the ends, in one question “asking about medical coverage for her spouse, one woman referred to herself and her wife, and there was one bisexual and one nonbinary person,” she wrote. “For some reason, the general public and even many gay men seem to think that lesbians have no specific issues except to worry about which half of a couple will get custody of the cat after a divorce, who will win the lesbian softball tournament, and what should be brought to the vegan potluck. However, not being seen is not the same as being well off or content.”

Like straight women lesbians tend to live into old age and become victims of elder abuse, denial of services, forced to separate from a partner when seeking assisted living or at a homeless shelter. And what about reproductive health and creating a family by having “access to alternative insemination in every state, and justice for both biological and nonbiological parents in the event of a separation or divorce.

According to The Washington Post, “there are 5.5 million lesbians in the United States—most of them presumably of voting age. The robust lesbian communities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania could turn those states blue,” Jay writes. “Reaching out to lesbians is an uncomplicated strategy that could pay big dividends.  But suggesting by omission that our lives don’t matter is a strategic error.”

Non-binary people got really short-changed. Oscar Buckland, an LA-based community college student who identifies as non-binary asked Amy Klobuchar: “In California, I am able to change my gender to X.  However, on the federal level, there is no such option.  Will you recognize third gender markers on a federal level?

“Yes.  Thank you.  I will,” she said. “And I think there’s also — you know, I think that there is a lot of work we need to do, all over the country, with driver’s licenses, as you know.  Not every state has some of the provisions that California have in place and just work on a state-by-state basis to make those changes.  So, thanks for asking the question.”

Bisexuals also received scant notice. Julian Castro said bisexuals would be included in his administration’s LGBTQ policies.

Actor/activist Sara Ramirez fumed on Twitter.

But the LGBTQ civil rights movement, which claims to seek social and economic justice, barely notices that there are more bisexuals than gay men, lesbians and trans people, according to the Williams Institute, and bisexuals are also at huge risk for poverty.

It is incumbent upon the LGBTQ community itself to raise and help solve these issues – including finding those 2 million LGBTQ unregistered voters and educating them about the historical significance of the 2020 elections.

See HRC highlights here. See CNN Live blog highlights here. Find CNN transcripts of all the town halls here.

All photos, except screen grabs, are by Daniel Sliwa for the Los Angeles Blade.

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Trans experiences with the internet range from ‘harrowing’ to ‘powerful’

New survey provides insights into the stakes of web use for LGBTQ adults

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(Image courtesy of LGBT Tech)

Alex, 29, would not have met their friends without the internet. While living in a small city surrounded by farmland, finding community was not always easy.

Alex tried out one of those apps for adults seeking to make friends. It turned out to be a remarkable success. “I’ve made my friend group as a direct result of using the internet,” they said, explaining that even though all the friends are trans, due to their diverse interests, “we would have been hard-pressed to have ever really run into each other by happenstance.”

Making friends online is also safer for Alex. Before they pursued HRT and surgery and looked more “visibly queer,” they were in scary situations. “I’ve had pickup trucks chase me while driving, people call out slurs while driving by me, and I’ve been shot at,” they said. 

Having the internet available for appointments, work, and social activities is fundamental to their life.

But the web was not always such a friendly place for Alex. “There’s so much hate and falsehoods out there about trans people,” they said. “It’s why it takes so long for some of us to learn about who we are.”

This dissonance is widespread within the LGBTQ community. A recent report—”ctrl+alt+lgbt: Digital Access, Usage, and Experiences of the LGBTQ+ Community”—by LGBT Tech and Data for Progress provides insight into that phenomenon. 

Shae Gardner, director of policy at LGBT Tech, explained that most of the research about the LGBTQ community’s internet use historically has focused on youth. The project aimed to fill the gap. From surveys with 1,300 people across the country, the report found that while the internet is a foundational space for LGBTQ community building and self-expression, it also comes with a high risk for bullying and harassment.  

These findings intensify when looking specifically at the data for underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ population like the transgender community, who are by far the group that faces the most harassment online, per the Anti-Defamation League. Gardner explained that the survey was over-sampled for transgender individuals intentionally. “We really wanted to understand that specific experience,” Gardner said.

The Blade interviewed five trans people about their experiences to gain insight into how different community members felt while navigating the web and specifically identified sources who do not have public platforms and therefore do not face heightened public scrutiny. Due to concern for backlash, all sources for this story spoke on condition of anonymity with gender-ambiguous names and they/them pronouns.

Four out of five of the people interviewed emphasized that the internet is a vital resource for accessing healthcare. 

Riley, 24, explained, “I have such immense dread about transitioning because I don’t want to have to interact with doctors around my identity. I feel like I don’t have access to providers who are able to understand me.”

The internet, for many, provides a safe location to access health information and care without the judgment of doctors. Kai, 23, and Cameron, 27, both shared that the internet was an important place for them to learn specifics around trans healthcare and seek out trans-friendly providers. Alex agreed and added that they have made it so all of their doctors’ appointments through tele-health.

These experiences are consistent with the larger trans community. LGBT Tech’s survey found that 70% of transgender adults use the internet to find LGBTQ-friendly healthcare. By comparison, only 41% of cisgender LGBTQ adults use the internet to find the same friendly care.

All the sources interviewed said they sought LGBTQ community online with varying degrees of success. 

Jordan, 24, said that not only is social media a good way to stay connected with people they know, but it also helps them find a broader community. “It’s nice to follow other trans and queer people whose experiences can inspire me or make me feel seen.”

Cameron emphasized that the internet provides connections to activities and communities around town. “Social media has facilitated my in-person queer and trans community,” they explained. “I learn a lot about what queer events are happening around town via social media. I have a wonderful community playing queer sports that I wouldn’t have found without the internet.”

Kai shared that it hasn’t been a successful pursuit for them: “I wish it did more than it does.” 

Per Trans Tech’s survey, transgender adults “often” use social media to connect with existing LGBTQ friends and family 41% of the time (as opposed to “sometimes” “rarely” or “never”). This is 21% more than the LGBTQ community at large. The survey also reveals that transgender adults are 20% more likely to “often” use social media to connect with new LGBTQ community than the LGBTQ community at large.

Everyone but Cameron has experienced some form of direct bullying or harassment for being transgender, either online or in person. The survey found that 83% of transgender adults have faced bullying online. By comparison, 59% of the cisgender LGBTQ community faced bullying online. 

“Technology is only as good as its application. And this is the other side of the dual-edged sword,” said Gardner. 

Gardner explained that the online and in-person harassment was mirrored. “The experiences of anti-LGBTQ bullying were very high, both for LGBTQ+ individuals and especially for trans individuals, but those numbers were nearly equitable to the experiences that that they have in the real world with anti-LGBTQ+ bullying,” she said. The survey found that 82% of transgender adults faced bullying in person.

The survey found despite the comparable levels of harassment and high levels of misinformation (93% of transgender adults saw anti-LGBTQ misinformation online), respondents overwhelmingly felt safe online—67% of trans adults and 76% of cisgender LGBTQ adults. 

When she compared this phenomenon to her life, Gardner wasn’t surprised. “The harassment that I have faced online has certainly felt less immediately threatening than what I’ve faced in person. The mental toll it takes is significant, but I would argue individuals probably have an easier time getting away from it.”

That doesn’t stop Gardner from noting, “We need to be fighting [harassment] in both places.” 

She explained that, “when we are staring down the barrel of record-setting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation yet again, it is so integral to keep fighting for digital spaces to be as safe as possible.”

Regardless of its safety, it is a space that is a constant for many. “I use the internet constantly,” said Alex. “I use the internet a lot at work since I have a desk job,” said Jordan.

When reflecting on the internet, Riley summed up the tensions they experience. “It can be harrowing often but simultaneously it’s where I feel a sense of community and access.”

(This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.)

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District of Columbia

Founder of now-defunct D.C. LGBTQ group pleads guilty to wire fraud

Reduced charge says Ruby Corado stole at least $150,000 in COVID-relief funds

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Ruby Corado in El Salvador (Photo via Facebook)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of the now-defunct LGBTQ community services organization Casa Ruby, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charge to which she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for D.C. says she diverted at least $150,000 “in taxpayer-backed emergency COVID relief funds to private off-shore bank accounts for her personal use,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Court records show that U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who is presiding over the case, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2025.

Corado’s guilty plea came a little over six weeks after prosecutors on May 31 filed a one-count criminal information charge of wire fraud against her that replaced an earlier criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud, money laundering, monetary transactions in criminally derived proceeds, and failure to file a required report of a foreign bank account.

The earlier complaint was filed at the time the FBI arrested Corado on March 5 of this year at a hotel in Laurel, Md., shortly after she returned to the U.S. from El Salvador. The initial complaint, like the new criminal information that replaced it, accused Corado of diverting at least $150,000 of federal pandemic relief funds to her own bank accounts in El Salvador. The charges say the funds were intended for use by Casa Ruby to support indigent LGBTQ clients in need of housing and other support services.

At the request of Corado’s court-appointed attorney and against the wishes of federal prosecutors, who said Corado would be a flight risk, another judge agreed to release Corado into the custody of her niece in Rockville, Md., under a home detention order. The release order came seven days after Corado had been held in jail since the time of her arrest on March 5.

In addition to a prison sentence, the charge of wire fraud also includes a possible penalty of financial forfeiture for which Corado could be required to pay restitution to the government. The plea agreement filed in court includes this statement to Corado’s attorney: “Specifically, your client agrees to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment in an amount ordered by the court, which is equal to the value of any property which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense in Count One of the Information in which your client is pleading guilty.”

However, legal observers have said that under a plea agreement like the one offered to Corado, prosecutors most likely will ask the judge for a lesser sentence. Corado’s attorney is also expected to point out that this is a nonviolent, first-time offense for Corado, which merits a lesser sentence.

Corado has denied wrongdoing in her operation of Casa Ruby in response to a separate civil complaint filed against her and Casa Ruby by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. That complaint is still pending in D.C. Superior Court.

In its July 17 statement the U.S. Attorney’s office refers to court documents showing that Corado, “on behalf of Casa Ruby, received more than $1.3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.” The statement adds, “Instead of using the funds as she promised, Corado stole at least $150,000 by transferring the money to bank accounts in El Salvador, which she hid from the IRS.”

The statement says that in 2022, “when financial irregularities at Casa Ruby became public, Corado sold her home in Prince George’s County and fled to El Salvador.” It says FBI agents arrested her at the hotel in Laurel, Md. on March 5 “after she unexpectedly returned to the United States.”

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National

FBI investigates failed assassination attempt on Donald Trump

LGBTQ groups have condemned the shooting that took place in Pa.

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(Screen capture via CNN)

Authorities are investigating a failed assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump at a rally Saturday in Butler, Pa., where a bullet pierced the ear of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

One attendee was killed, along with the suspected shooter. Two others were critically injured in the attack.

The gunman was identified as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks, a registered Republican from Bethel Park, Pa., who gave to Democratic donation platform ActBlue in January 2021.

“I want to thank The U.S. Secret Service, and all of law enforcement, for their rapid response on the shooting that just took place in Butler, Pennsylvania,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social.

Former first lady Melania Trump wrote on Sunday that “When I watched that violent bullet strike my husband, Donald, I realized my life, and Barron’s life, were on the brink of devastating change.”

“A monster who recognized my husband as an inhuman political machine attempted to ring out Donald’s passion — his laughter, ingenuity, love of music, and inspiration,” she wrote.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on Sunday at the White House with homeland security and law enforcement officials while the Republican-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee said it would be investigating the assassination attempt and had asked U.S. Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle to testify at a hearing on July 22.

“I’ve been thoroughly briefed by all the agencies in the federal government as to the situation, based on what we know now,” Biden said in remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Del., just after the assassination attempt on Saturday night.

“I have tried to get a hold of Donald,” the president said, “He’s with his doctors.” (The two would talk later on Saturday.)

“There is no place in America for this kind of violence,” Biden said. “It’s sick. It’s sick. It’s one of the reasons why we have to unite this country. We cannot allow for this to be happening. We cannot be like this. We cannot condone this.” 

“We are shocked by tonight’s apparent assassination attempt on President Trump in Pennsylvania and relieved that he is safe and in good condition,” Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran said on X.

“Our prayers are with President Trump, his family, and our country while we wait to learn further details,” he said. “We are also praying for the family of the innocent bystander who was killed. Our movement will not be deterred.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said on X, “Political violence has no place in America. The attack at today’s rally in PA is an affront to our democracy, and our thoughts are with the former president and all those affected. As a nation, we must unite to condemn political violence in all its forms.”

Congressional leaders from both parties issued statements condemning political violence.

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Congress

Garcia discusses why he’s standing behind Biden

HRC: ‘We are proud to stand by our endorsement’ of the president

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) (YouTube/MSNBC screen capture)

After congressional Democrats emerged from closed-door meetings on Tuesday, House and Senate leaders reassured the media of their continued support for President Joe Biden in his bid for reelection.

As lawmakers returned from the July 4 break this week, a handful of Democrats publicly urged the president to step aside, following a debate performance last month that worsened concerns regarding the candidate’s age, signs of a potential decline in his mental acuity, and questions over his ability to bring the vigor necessary to lead the ticket.

However, speaking with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) shared his thoughts on why “it is time to move forward” from Biden’s debate performance and “focus on attacking Donald Trump and the dangers that he poses.”

The congressman was clear that colleagues who have a different opinion should feel free to express their concerns — and, to that end, he said leadership has “been incredible in hearing members who have sought out input” from them.

“The president had a rough debate, and I think he recognizes that, and I think we all recognize that it was not a great moment,” he said. “I respect the people that have had those concerns and the conversation that’s happened since, so, I get that.”

“Personally, I’ve known from day one that Joe Biden is going to be our nominee,” Garcia said. “He reinforced that with everyone, and it is time to move forward. I’ve been behind the president and the vice president. I continue to be.”

Every day the Democratic Party continues having these conversations internally, “we’re not out there defeating Donald Trump,” the congressman added. “I think for some folks it’s going to take some time for them to feel comfortable, and that’s OK [but] I’m ready to go. I’m fired up and ready to go.”

Garcia, who’s gay, serves as a vice-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, alongside some LGBTQ Democratic members who agree with his position, like Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), and others who do not, like Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.), who have called for Biden to step aside.

When it comes to LGBTQ voters, “from our perspective, I think we’ve just got to understand that we have the most pro-LGBTQ+ administration in the history of politics in front of us, and we have Donald Trump on the other side,” Garcia said. “Those are our choices.”

“You don’t have to love every choice you make, but we have to understand the stakes, and we have to understand that there is a binary choice,” he said. “Every person that’s not voting, or not voting for Joe Biden, is certainly empowering Donald Trump. That’s the reality of the moment we’re in.”

Asked how the Biden-Harris campaign can outrun the speculation about the president’s age and the calls from some Democrats for him to step aside, Garcia said “the president has to continue what he’s been doing for the last couple of days. And I think what you’ve seen in the last few days is a fighting Joe Biden.”

“Joe Biden is proving that if he’s going to get punched in the nose, he’s going to punch back twice as hard,” the congressman said. “And I think that is where the campaign is headed, and what needs to continue to happen.”

Weathering the moment in which “the president did have this really bad debate night,” Garcia said, has “also invigorated the campaign and him” with Biden and his team realizing “this is serious, we have a real challenge, here. And let’s get this done.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ rights organization and a group that has made major investments in Biden’s reelection effort, also reaffirmed her support for the president in a statement to the Blade on Tuesday.

“Donald Trump and his Project 2025 agenda pose an existential threat to our rights, freedom, and democracy itself,” she said. “Our job remains the same: defeat him. Biden-Harris is the ticket to do it and we are proud to stand by our endorsement.”

Asked for comment, a GLAAD spokesperson said “as a [501]C3 nonprofit org, we focus on voter and reporter info and resources, to inform about elevate facts on the candidates’ records and statements about LGBTQ people.”

The spokesperson referred the Blade to a statement by the group’s president, Sarah Kate Ellis, which was issued shortly after Biden’s televised debate against Trump.

“Media must do their job to ask questions of candidates about their records and plans for and against LGBTQ people. Our community is enduring an onslaught of attacks on our lives and fundamental freedoms. Everything from our marriages to our ability to have children to keeping schools safe for LGBTQ youth is on the ballot.

“The candidates’ records are very clear, and voters need to be informed about this history to make the best decisions. Reporters and moderators must challenge candidate rhetoric for facts about abortion, immigration, inflation, and the security of each person’s vote.

“CNN failed to find time in 90 minutes to ask about Project 2025, the fascist fever dream that is laying a path for anti-LGBTQ zealots to weaponize the government to fully eliminate abortion access and LGBTQ people from equal access in American life.

“Accurate information is essential for voters to choose a leader who values the truth, decency, and who will work to ensure freedom and equality for all Americans.”

The GLAAD accountability project includes detailed entries for Trump and Biden, detailing the candidates’ records on and rhetoric concerning LGBTQ matters.

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Congress

House Republicans propose steep cuts in federal AIDS budget

Advocacy groups say move would eliminate ‘Ending HIV Epidemic’ initiative

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The Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative was launched during the administration of President Donald Trump. (Public domain photo)

The Republican-controlled U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies approved a spending bill on June 26 that calls for cutting at least $419 million from federal AIDS programs that AIDS activists say would have a devastating impact on efforts to greatly reduce the number of new HIV infections by 2030.

The subcommittee’s proposed bill, which includes billions of dollars in cuts in a wide range of other federal health, education, and human services related programs, is scheduled to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 10. Officials with AIDS advocacy groups say they are hopeful that the full committee, like last year, will refuse to approve the proposed cuts in the AIDS budget.

The proposed GOP cuts would eliminate $214 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV prevention programs, $190 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and $15 million from the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Minority HIV/AIDS Program.

Activists say the impact of those cuts would kill the federal government’s Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which among other things, calls for reducing the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. by 75 percent by 2025 and by 90 percent by 2030. The activists point out that ironically the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative was launched during the administration of President Donald Trump.

 “Instead of providing new investments in ending HIV by increasing funding for testing, prevention programs, such as PrEP, and life-saving care and treatment, House Republicans are again choosing to go through a worthless exercise of cutting programs that the American people depend on and will never pass,” said Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute.

“While we vigorously fight these cuts, we look forward to working with the entire Congress in a bipartisan fashion on spending bills that can actually become law,” Schmid said in a statement.

 Schmid noted that the bill also includes provisions known as “policy riders” that would take away rights and protections from women, such as access to birth control and abortion, and for minorities, including LGBTQ people.

According to a statement released by the office of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the policy riders would “block the Biden administration’s policies to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.’  The statement says another policy rider would “prevent policies or programs intended to promote diversity, equality, or inclusion.”

Most political observers believe the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate would also kill the GOP proposed policy riders and cuts in the AIDS budget if the full Republican-controlled House were to approve the budget bill passed by the appropriations subcommittee.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves as chair of the full House Appropriations Committee, released a statement on June 27 defending the  subcommittee’s bill and its proposed spending cuts. “The bill provides appropriate and fiscally responsible funding to ensure these departments can continue to perform their core missions while also acknowledging the fiscal realities facing our nation,” he said.

“Importantly, the bill pushes back on the Biden administration’s out-of-touch progressive policy agenda, preventing this White House from finalizing or implementing controversial rules or executive orders,” Cole said in his statement. “It also preserves long standing bipartisan policy provisions protecting the right to life.”

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The White House

HRC slams White House over position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors

‘Biden administration is flat wrong on this’

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson issued a strong rebuke on Tuesday of the Biden-Harris administration’s position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors.

The New York Times reported on June 28 that the White House, which broadly supports making medical interventions available for transgender youth, had expressed opposition to surgeries for patients under 18, having previously declined to take a specific position on the question.

“Health care decisions for young people belong between a patient, their family, and their health care provider. Trans youth are no exception,” Robinson responded. 

“The Biden administration is flat wrong on this. It’s wrong on the science and wrong on the substance. It’s also inconsistent with other steps the administration has taken to support transgender youth. The Biden administration, and every elected official, need to leave these decisions to families, doctors and patients—where they belong,” she added. “Although transgender young people make up an extremely small percentage of youth in this country, the care they receive is based on decades of clinical research and is backed by every major medical association in the U.S. representing over 1.3 million doctors.”

Robinson said the “administration has committed to fight any ban on healthcare for transgender youth and must continue this without hesitation—the entire community is watching.” 

“No parent should ever be put in the position where they and their doctor agree on one course of action, supported by the overwhelming majority of medical experts, but the government forbids it,” she added.

HRC is a prominent backer of Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign, having pledged $15 million to support efforts in six battleground states. The organization has a strong relationship with the White House, with the president and first lady headlining last year’s National Dinner.

A White House spokesperson declined to respond to Robinson’s statement.

Campaign for Southern Equality President Allison Scott also issued a statement.

“This is a cowardly statement from an administration that promised to support transgender people. It is a troubling concession to the right-wing assault on transgender Americans, falling for their false narratives about surgical care and betraying a commitment to equality and trust in the medical community,” said Scott.

“Let’s be very, very clear: Government has no business inserting itself into private medical decisions that should be exclusively between patients, their providers, and the patients’ parent or guardian,” Scott added.

“It is dangerous to begin endorsing categorical bans or limits on healthcare, and there is no justification for restricting transgender youth’s access to the very same care that many cisgender youth receive every year — that’s literally the definition of discrimination,” Scott concluded. “We demand the Biden administration retract this thoughtless statement and work to undo its damage.” 

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State Department

State Department hosts meeting on LGBTQ rights and foreign policy

Event took place before Pride Month reception

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department Pride event on June 27, 2024. (Screen capture via Forbes Breaking News YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday hosted a group of LGBTQ activists and politicians from around the world at the State Department.

The event — described as a “Convening on U.S. Foreign Policy: National Security, Inclusive Development, and the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons” — took place before the State Department’s annual Pride Month reception. Participants included:

• Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights

• U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield

• U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai

• U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti

• Suzanne Goldberg, senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights

• Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya

• U.S. Agency for International Development Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam

• USAID Counselor Clinton D. White

• National Security Council Senior Director for Democracy and Human Rights Kelly Razzouk

• Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health Adm. Rachel Levine

• National Security Council Human Rights Director Jess Huber

• U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brandt Kehris

• Icelandic Ambassador to the U.S. Bergdís Ellertsdóttir

• Council for Global Equality Co-Executive Director Mark Bromley

• Outright International Senior Advisor for Global Intersex Rights Kimberly Zieselman

• Essy Adhiambo, executive director of the Institute for Equality and Non Discrimination in Kenya

• Pau González, co-chair of Hombres Trans Panamá and PFLAG-Panamá

“Forty-five years ago, thousands gathered in D.C. in what became the first national march for LGBTQI+, demanding their voices be heard,” said Thomas-Greenfield in a post to her X account that showed her speaking at the event. “We must continue to carry forward the spirit of these pioneers and fight for equal rights and dignity for all.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

“LGBTQI+ rights are human rights,” said Blinken. “Our government has a responsibility to defend them, to promote them — here and everywhere.”

Blinken noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 64 countries, with the death penalty in 11 of them.

He specifically highlighted Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government’s “smearing scapegoating, stigmatizing LGBTQI+ persons — vilifying them with degrading labels, denying them equal rights, normalizing violence against them.” (Gay U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman this month marched in the annual Budapest Pride parade.)

Blinken noted Iraqi MPs earlier this year “passed legislation that punishes same-sex relations with up to 15 years in prison.” He also pointed out that Indonesian lawmakers approved a new criminal code banning extramarital sex.

“In a nation where same-sex couples cannot marry, these laws effectively make all same-sex conduct illegal and they undermine privacy for all Indonesians,” said Blinken.

“We’re defending and promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world,” he said.

Blinken noted seven countries — Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Namibia, Singapore, the Cook Islands — have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations over the last two years. He also highlighted Greece, Liechtenstein, and Thailand this year extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, and other countries are banning so-called “conversion therapy.”

“These achievements are possible because of incredibly courageous human rights defenders and government partners on the ground, but I believe America’s support is indispensable,” said Blinken. “When we engage — sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, sometimes both — when we share our own knowledge and experience, we can and we do achieve change.”

Blinken also announced the U.S. now considers sexual orientation and gender identity are part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that took effect in 1976.

“This is one of the key treaties committing nations to upholding universal rights,” he said. 

“In our regular reporting to the council on human rights, we will continue to include incidents of discrimination or abuse committed against LGBTQI+ persons, now with the clear framework of this well-supported interpretation,” added Blinken. “That will further empower our efforts.”

Blinken reiterated this point and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad when he spoke at the State Department’s Pride Month event.

“Defending, promoting LGBTQI+ rights globally is the right thing to do, but beyond that, it’s the smart and necessary thing to do for our country, for our national security, for our well-being,” he said.

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Congress

Members of Congress introduce resolution to condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Joyce Beatty spearheaded condemnation

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U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 20 members of Congress on Thursday introduced a resolution that condemns Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Gay California Congressman Mark Takano and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) spearheaded the resolution that U.S. Reps. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mark Pocan (D-Wash.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) co-sponsored.

“The House of Representatives condemns the government of Uganda’s criminalization and draconian punishments regarding consensual same-sex sexual conduct and so-called ‘’promotion of homosexuality,’” reads the resolution.

The resolution, among other things, also calls upon the Ugandan government to repeal the law.

“It is difficult to overstate the gross inhumanity of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Takano in a press release.

President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court in April refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ activists appealed the ruling.

“Instead of focusing on rooting out corruption or ending extrajudicial killings, the Ugandan Parliament, president, and Constitutional Court have chosen to mark LGBTQ+ Ugandans as less than human,” said Takano. “Congress must not be silent in the face of such systematic, state-sponsored discrimination.”

“To all those LGBTQ+ people and your allies in Uganda — we see you,” added the California Democrat. “We and the Biden administration will not allow this terrible violation of basic dignity to go unchallenged.” 

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The White House

Jill and Ashley Biden headline White House Pride celebration

First lady celebrated historic pardons of LGBTQ veterans

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First lady Jill Biden speaks at the White House Pride event on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden and the president and first lady’s daughter, Ashley Biden, headlined the White House Pride celebration on the South Lawn on Wednesday, followed by a performance by singer and actress Deborah Cox.

“My dad has built the most pro-equality administration” in history, Ashley Biden said, crediting the work of LGBTQ people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, as well as “so many of you [who] have continued to lead their fearless fighting against against injustice here and around the world.”

She introduced her mother as “the woman who taught me to be myself up showed me in so many ways how I can make a difference” and who “works every single day, tirelessly, to ensure that all people have the opportunities and freedoms that they deserve.”

“I hope that all of you feel that freedom and love on the South Lawn today,” Jill Biden said.

Her remarks were briefly interrupted by a protestor’s chants of “no Pride in genocide,” which was drowned out by chants of “four more years.”

The first lady noted how many of the attendees came “here from states that are passing laws targeting LGBTQ Americans.”

“There are those who see our communities and our families and wish to tear them down,” she said, “those who can’t see that the world is so much bigger and [more] beautiful than they know — but when our homes are threatened, when they strip away our rights, and deny our basic humanity, we say, ‘not on our watch.'”

“Pride is a celebration, but it is also a declaration,” the first lady said, highlighting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges nine years ago, which established marriage equality as the law of the land.

She then credited the accomplishments of the Biden-Harris administration on matters of LGBTQ rights, including the repeal of the previous administration’s ban on military service by transgender servicemembers and the FDA’s loosening of restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The first lady also celebrated the president’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that he will pardon LGBTQ veterans who were discharged and court martialed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We will never stop fighting for this community,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden and daughter, Ashley Biden, attend the White House Pride celebration on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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The White House

HISTORIC: Biden pardons discharged LGBTQ veterans

Announcement coincided with annual White House Pride event

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President Joe Biden (Screen capture/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued historic pardons for military service members who were discharged over their sexual orientation or gender identity under discriminatory policies of the past, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Our nation’s service members stand on the frontlines of freedom, and risk their lives in order to defend our country,” he said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades,” the president said.

“As commander-in-chief, I am committed to maintaining the finest fighting force in the world. That means making sure that every member of our military is safe and respected — so they can focus on their mission,” he said.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said. “We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members — including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home.”

“Today we are making progress in that pursuit.”

The president also issued a Proclamation on Granting Pardon for Certain Violations of Article 125 Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which specifies that “the Military Departments (Army, Navy, or Air Force), or in the case of the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, shall provide information about and publicize application procedures for certificates of pardon.”

Veterans who were discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity are barred from accessing benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senior administration officials explained during a call with reporters on Tuesday that veterans who obtain certificates of pardon will be able to petition for a change in their discharge status, which can facilitate their access to benefits.

Officials on Tuesday’s call said they will proactively reach out to these service members to make them aware of the president’s clemency action and to connect them with pro-bono attorneys who can help them navigate the process.

“We intend, and have intended, to design this process in a way where people do not need attorneys to go through it, and we think it is easily accessible, but we also recognize that for some people, that would be beneficial, and so are busy at work trying to make those connections happen,” an official said.

The officials did not address a question from the Washington Blade about whether LGBTQ groups including those representing LGBTQ veterans were involved in the administration’s work leading up to the president’s issuance of the pardons, but several organizations celebrated the announcement on Wednesday.

“We applaud President Biden for taking action today, and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address this historic injustice that impacted thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the military for decades, with the effects still felt by many to this day,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.

“This move to rightfully restore reputations lost and gratitude owed to service members who were punished for who they loved is long overdue, and a significant step in the right direction,” she said.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on social media, “Today’s move by President Biden to pardon LGBTQ service members who were unfairly forced out of the military under the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is his administration’s 343rd pro-LGBTQ action. It is an important signal not only to the thousands of brave LGBTQ Americans who deserved better for defending our country but to all who understand that diversity, respect, and inclusion are American values.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus released a statement from the chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.): “I thank President Biden for taking this important step to right the wrongs of the past and restore honor to LGBTQI+ Americans who bravely served their nation in uniform.” 

“This is an important step forward in addressing the wrongs of anti-equality policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I urge the Military Departments to ensure these pardons are processed as swiftly as possible,” the congressman said. “I am committed to building upon this important action, including by passing my Restore Honor to Service Members Act into law to ensure that the service and sacrifice of every veteran is honored, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

“PFLAG families have advocated for the dignity and respect due our LGBTQ+ heroes in uniform since the dark days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the shadow discharges that predated that discriminatory policy,” said PFLAG National CEO Brian K. Bond.

“As someone who worked on repeal during the Obama-Biden administration I met incredible patriots that just wanted to serve their country,” he said. “Thank you to the Biden-Harris administration and those who continue to fight for military families’ freedom to serve. This welcomed day is long overdue for thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans and their families.”

Lawyers for a group of LGBTQ veterans who are plaintiffs in Farrell v. Department of Defense also released a statement:

“We applaud President Biden and his administration for today’s announcement pardoning approximately 2,000 LGBTQ+ veterans who were court-martialed under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and similar policies. This is a necessary and important step in recognizing and remediating the harms — that still exist today — caused by these policies, despite their repeals.

“While the pardons represent an important milestone, we must emphasize that there is still critical work to be done. Those pardoned will still need to obtain new discharge papers from the Department of Defense, which are essential for accurately reflecting their service and accessing veterans’ benefits. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of other veterans who continue to suffer the ongoing stigma of their discriminatory discharge. 

“We will continue to vigorously litigate our case, Farrell v. Department of Defense, to ensure that all LGBTQ+ veterans who were wrongfully discharged from the military based on sexual orientation receive upgraded discharge papers with all indicators of sexual orientation removed. This remains a critical step for these veterans to receive the honor and status they rightfully deserve, having served our country with dignity and integrity.”

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