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Will GOP moderate its anti-LGBTQ platform in 2020?

Trump has opportunity to call for lifting opposition to same-sex marriage

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Republican Party, Grand Old Party, GOP, gay news, Washington Blade
President Trump has the opportunity to call for removing opposition to same-sex marriage in the Republican Party platform.

With the start of a new decade and another presidential election at hand, the time has come for the quadrennial event of crafting the platforms for the major U.S. political parties, but 2020 presents a unique situation for Republicans because President Trump’s position on marriage equality is at odds with previous platforms.

Starting last year, the White House has repeatedly stated Trump, despite his administration’s anti-LGBTQ record, supports marriage equality. That stands in contrast to every recent iteration of the Republican Party platform, including the 2016 version, which calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage nationwide.

If the 2020 platform were to maintain the party’s call for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the document would defy the position of the Republican standard-bearer in the election, who is also the incumbent U.S. president. That would be a striking contrast.

The upcoming drafting process for the 2020 document would be an opportunity for Trump finally to put his money where his mouth is on same-sex marriage and call on the Republican platform committee to drop its opposition.

The Log Cabin Republicans, which in 2016 bucked the party to dub the Republican platform the most anti-LGBTQ in history, are sensing the possibility for change in 2020.

“In 2016, the RNC platform slid backwards on LGBTQ issues and it is not in line with the president’s beliefs or agenda for our community,” said Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans. “The 2020 convention is a time to bring the platform up to speed.”

A potential divergence between Trump and the platform wasn’t an issue in 2016, when both he and the party opposed same-sex marriage.

Prior to his presidential run, Trump on CNN in 2015 just after the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges said he’s “just for traditional marriage,” a position maintained through his 2016 campaign. In a Fox News interview just before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, he said he’d “strongly consider” appointing justices as president to reverse the decision.

Log Cabin, which issued an early endorsement for Trump for re-election in 2020, may now be in a better position to effect change than in 2016, when the organization kept to its tradition of waiting to make an endorsement decision until after the Republican convention. Log Cabin ended up declining to endorse Trump.

Key to changing the platform in 2020, Moran said, will be the selection of delegates to the Republican National Convention, which this year will take place in Charlotte, N.C.

“Log Cabin will have a presence at the convention and has already started conversations within the party about what the platform needs to look like,” Moran said. “But we’re still early in the process — we need to see what the delegations look like from each state, and that’s our focus now — getting our folks teed up to be selected as delegates. It’s different in every state so lots of moving pieces, but we’ll come up with a strategy once we know what the field of delegates looks like.”

Any effort to remove the anti-LGBTQ language in the platform would be a David-and-Goliath effort against anti-LGBTQ groups like the Family Research Council, which dominate the Republican Party and have a significant hand in influencing the quadrennial platform.

In 2016, the Republican platform was peak anti-LGBTQ, condemning both the Obergefell decision and the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. One plank sought to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, either through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment.

“In Obergefell, five unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” the platform says. “The Court twisted the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment beyond recognition.”

The platform also objected to use of federal law to ensure transgender people can use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, indicated support for widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy and endorsed the First Amendment Defense Act, a religious freedom bill that would enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Jennifer Victor, an associate professor of political science at George Mason University and co-author of “Competing for the platform: How organized interests affect party positioning in the United States,” cast serious doubt on any change happening in 2020.

“The core groups in the Republican coalition, especially those involved with drafting the party platform, are socially conservative,” Victor said. “It seems likely there will be a strong movement to maintain the party’s explicit position against same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights issues.”

It’s probably unrealistic to think the Republican platform will endorse same-sex marriage, which the Democrats have done in their 2012 and 2016 platforms. Instead, a more achievable goal might be removing the anti-LGBTQ language, including support for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

The American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBTQ Republican group supported by GOP philanthropist and donor Paul Singer, undertook a previous effort in 2016 to keep anti-LGBTQ language, including a call to ban same-sex marriage, out of the platform.

The effort, however, didn’t succeed in the face of anti-LGBTQ members of the platform committee despite pleas from members like lesbian delegate Rachel Hoff, who called for a platform more accepting of LGBTQ people. The American Unity Fund didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment on whether a similar effort will be underway in 2020.

Something big would be needed for a change in the Republican platform in terms of LGBTQ rights. A call from Trump to remove the anti-LGBTQ language, which would be unprecedented for any Republican nominee, would be huge and might just be the ticket.

In 2019, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump was the first president to come into office “approving of gay marriage.” The White House has echoed that position in comments that have mostly appeared in articles on the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ record, including the implementation of a transgender military ban and religious freedom regulations allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Trump, however, isn’t known for standing up to base elements of the Republican Party on LGBTQ rights, or any other issue. Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether Trump would call for removing support for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in the 2020 platform.

Moreover, skeptics have good reason to take Trump’s alleged support for same-sex marriage with a grain of salt — and not just because of his administration’s general anti-LGBTQ record.

Breaking records on judicial appointments, Trump has stocked the courts with judicial picks approved by the Federalist Society and the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation, which are against interpreting the U.S. Constitution to guarantee marriage rights for same-sex marriage as the U.S. Supreme Court found in Obergefell v. Hodges.

One of Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court, U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote a stinging dissent when the issue of same-sex marriage came back to the court in 2017 in an Arkansas birth certificate case known as Pavan v. Smith. The majority ruled Obergefell granted the right for lesbian parents to place both of their names on their child’s birth certificates, but Gorsuch disagreed.

Even though Obergefell guaranteed the “constellation of benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples and was adjudicated in part on the basis of birth certificates, Gorsuch wrote “nothing in Obergefell indicates that a birth registration regime based on biology, one no doubt with many analogues across the country and throughout history, offends the Constitution.” 

Essentially, Gorsuch was encouraging lower courts to see how far they could go in disrupting the protections guaranteed under Obergefell. It’s not exactly a judicial appointment one would expect from a president who supports same-sex marriage.

The basis for the White House saying Trump supports same-sex marriage seems to be an interview he gave to Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” after his 2016 election in which he said he’s “fine” with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling for same-sex marriage and he considered the matter “settled.” Trump never said he backs the decision or marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Victor, recognizing Trump’s reluctance to push on the Republican base that fueled his rise to the presidency, expressed considerable skepticism Trump would urge the platform drafting committee to drop its opposition to same-sex marriage.

“It would be surprising for President Trump to push back on that, since he seeks to court that constituency, or to the extent he’s already courted it, he seeks to maintain their support,” Victor said. “It’s very unlikely that is the type of issue he would go to the mat on. In other words, I don’t see how he would gain a political advantage by bucking the party on this issue.”

If the 2020 platform keeps the same language it had before, it wouldn’t be the first time a platform espoused different views than the Republican presidential nominee, although that would certainly raise eyebrows.

One instance, Victor pointed out, was in 1996 when Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, who refused to support a constitutional ban on abortion, had “a decidedly more liberal position on abortion than core groups that were crafting the party platform that year.” Media reports at the time indicated Dole’s position infuriated social conservatives in the Republican Party.

“In the end, Dole bent to the will of the party, and the platform leaned more to the right — at least on that issue — than the candidate did,” Victor said.

It remains to be seen whether Trump would distance himself from a 2020 platform that contains opposition to same-sex marriage. In 2016, Trump wholeheartedly endorsed the platform, putting no distance between himself and the anti-LGBTQ language.

Victor predicted the same thing would happen in 2020.

“It seems likely to me that Trump will either adjust his position on same-sex marriage to match the platform, or avoid and downplay the issue altogether,” she said. “The Democratic Party is the political party increasingly associated with civil rights and social justice issues, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.”

The Republican National Committee didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment for this article.

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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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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Alex Padilla, wife Angela talk LGBTQ mental health

Couple to receive award from Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles on Sunday

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U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and his wife, Angela Padilla, spoke with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview last week ahead of their receipt of Voice Awards from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles at a ceremony on June 30. 

“I’ve known members” of the organization “off and on over the years, going back to my days on the city council in Los Angeles,” when battles were waged over California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, Padilla said. 

“I was proud to be an ally for a long time, but especially in those moments, really, as a public official, as an elected official, knowing how important allyship was,” he said, stressing “the tremendous talent of the chorus” and “what they represented individually and as a group” serving as allies for “young people who may not necessarily grow up in a supportive environment or in supportive families.”

“I work very closely with Joseph Guardarrama,” a board member for GMCLA, “for many years now on my nonprofit, and it’s all in support of mental health and wellness and educating people on how to get help, why they should get help, and why it’s important to take care of your brain,” Mrs. Padilla said by phone. 

“I started FundaMental Change in 2017,” she said, to push for “the mental change that I feel that we have to have as a society when it comes to how we look at [and] how we treat mental health conditions.” 

The senator’s wife added that LGBTQ people are twice as likely to have a mental health condition while dealing “with so much more social stigma and discrimination” than their straight and cisgender counterparts. 

“This month we’re going to have a table for June 30 working with the [California] Department of Mental Health at the Pride parade,” she added. FundaMental Change also operates an LGBT Youth TalkLine and Trans Lifeline. 

Padilla noted the organization’s work combatting stigma. “One thing that we recognize both coming from Latino families is the need to overcome stigma,” he said. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding or misperceptions about mental health.” 

The effort is also central to the senator’s work as a policymaker, he said, referencing the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus that he founded alongside U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to serve as “a forum for us to share stories.”

“It’s been fascinating, there are more than 30 members of the caucus now, so about a third of the United States Senate,” he said. “It’s 50/50 Democrats and Republicans,” and when approached, every member had a story to share, whether about “something that they’ve been through [or] somebody in their family, a colleague, a neighbor who can relate.”

Padilla said his decision to announce the formation of the caucus concurrently with his visit to the San Francisco LGBT Community Center “was very intentional.”

When it comes to mental health, “We’ve really prioritized trying to develop bipartisan solutions,” he said, “because those are more sustainable here in Congress.” 

The first bill backed by the caucus was Padilla and Tillis’s Local 9-8-8 Response Act of 2023, which “was to require the FCC to move to implement the geolocation technology to the 988 system.” 

Unveiled by the Biden-Harris administration in 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The program provides the option for callers to reach specialized LGBTQI+ affirming counselors by pressing “3.” 

On the importance of geolocation technology, Padilla said “if I’m here in Washington, and have a need to call 988, my area code on my phone is Los Angeles — so, I’d be passed through to the Los Angeles providers.” 

The senator noted that the FCC “is moving forward with those improvements” independently of his bill’s path forward in Congress. 

More broadly, some of the policy challenges concern supply and demand problems. “From a bigger picture, longer term perspective, we’re talking about the workforce needs,” Padilla said. “So, what’s the game plan for [getting] more psychologists or psychiatrists or counselors, more therapists, more everybody in the field to better serve people across the country?”

Padilla also discussed the importance of “cultural competence” as a means of guaranteeing the best possible treatment. “When we ask people to go get help, if there’s somebody that they can relate to or that they know gets them, the better quality experience in treatment is going to come,” he said. 

“We’re not quite there yet with the Republican colleagues, but I have faith that in time we will get them there,” the senator added. “And again, the LGBTQ community is a prime example. You’ve got to feel comfortable going to somebody when you need help.”

Padilla said, “not everybody comes from a supportive environment; not everybody lives in a city or a state that is supportive. And at this particular time politically, they’re really under attack. They’re being targeted acutely. And that’s more reason and urgency to speak up and stand up.”

On Sunday, the Padillas will share the stage with the recipients of the third GMCLA Voice Award, from the critically acclaimed HBO series “We’re Here,” which follows drag queens as they travel the country to perform in one-night-only performances in small towns. 

Mrs. Padilla celebrated the ways in which drag has brought communities together, recalling when RuPaul’s Drag Race “was first airing and it was like everyone was so interested in watching the show” and “it just brought people from everywhere.”

“I have a lot of frustrations, as a Latina, with the misrepresentation of our community and our culture in television and movies,” she said. “And I feel like every opportunity that you get to see something that’s just authentic — it’s such a benefit to everyone. It really helps us understand that we have more in common than not.” 

“Drag is not new,” the senator said. “It goes back generations in the United States and I think for the LGBTQ+ community it can be can be very empowering, as an outlet for performers, but also participants in an audience to see on stage what you may not see in other places.” 

Republican-led efforts to restrict access to drag performances, especially by young people, “feels like it’s an act of desperation,” Mrs. Padilla said. 

“I think they’re resisting something that they don’t understand. I just think it’s really coming from a place of fear. And really not understanding the human behind it,” she said, adding that the reactionary forces are a product of the LGBTQ movement’s success and “that feeling of it’s out of their control.”

“The diversity of our communities, the diversity of our country, is a big source of strength,” Padilla said. “It’s just not always been embraced. I think a lot of people either misinterpret it or frankly exploit it to cause divisions in society.” 

“We can’t ignore the political climate that we’re living in,” the senator said, “heightened only by the fact that it’s a presidential election year and we see who the Republican nominee is going to be.”

Looking ahead to November’s elections, he said, “as with so many other issues, LGBTQ+ rights and opportunity in the future — It’s a 180-degree difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s not take it lightly. Let’s get out and vote.”

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National

Supreme Court to consider challenge to Tenn. law challenging gender-affirming case for minors

Volunteer State lawmakers approved ban in 2023

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

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a challenge to a Tennessee law that bans health care providers from offering gender-affirming care to transgender minors.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the law in 2023.

A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary injunction against portions of the statute before it was to have taken effect on July 1, 2023. The 6th U.S. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September rejected a request to block the law the Justice Department has also challenged.

“The future of countless transgender youth in this and future generations rests on this court adhering to the facts, the Constitution, and its own modern precedent,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, on Monday in a press release. “These bans represent a dangerous and discriminatory affront to the well-being of transgender youth across the country and their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. They are the result of an openly political effort to wage war on a marginalized group and our most fundamental freedoms.” 

“We want transgender people and their families across the country to know we will spare nothing in our defense of you, your loved ones, and your right to decide whether to get this medical care,” added Strangio.

The Associated Press reported Tennessee is among the more than two dozen states that have enacted laws that either restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans minors.

The ACLU notes the Supreme Court “is not expected to hear arguments” in the case until the fall.

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The White House

Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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