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Congressional hearing spotlights use of religious liberty against LGBTQ people

Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ policy highlighted in testimony



Ernesto Olivares and Evan Minton testified about the discrimination they endured as LGBTQ people. (Blade photo by Michael Key).

When religious liberty — a right afforded fundamental protection in the United States — is used to assault LGBTQ rights was the focus of a congressional hearing Thursday drawing attention to faith-based adoption agencies denying child placement into LGBTQ homes.

Chairing the three-hour hearing before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee was Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who in her opening statement assailed the Trump administration’s use of religious liberty as a weapon to attack LGBTQ rights.

“Let me make something crystal clear: I am a strong supporter of religious liberty,” Maloney said. “But it should not be distorted and twisted into a weapon to enable discrimination. Scrubbing the White House website of references to gay people has nothing to do with religious freedom. It has everything to do with the Trump administration’s assault on the LGBTQ community.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Among the Trump administration’s actions highlighted during the hearing were regulatory moves allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse child placement in LGBTQ homes and a “conscience rule” allowing medical practitioners to decline to offer procedures they find objectionable, including gender reassignment surgery. (Courts have since enjoined the administration from enforcing the “conscience rule.”)

Although the title of the hearing was the Trump administration using religious liberty to assault LGBTQ rights, the scope was more expansive and covered anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the board.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in his opening statement the “big question” is whether businesses engaged in commerce or federally funded institutions, such as hospitals and adoption agencies, can refuse services to LGBTQ people — and the answer should be easy.

“I am sure there will be a handful of close calls in harmonizing individual religious freedom and equal rights under law, but the vast majority of cases are, in fact, easy,” Raskin said. “Yet, alas, the Trump administration has been working zealously to turn the government into an instrument of hostility towards LGBTQ rights across the executive branch.”

At times, the hearing seemed more like two distinct conversations taking place, with Democrats asking their witnesses about LGBTQ rights, Republicans asking theirs about religious liberty and no attempt to reach a focus for common ground.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) was at the forefront of calls from Republicans to call for protections of religious liberty, even if those protections were at the expense of allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination, based on language in the First Amendment.

“So we see that Congress cannot mandate a national religion. We get that,” Hice said. “But we also understand from this that neither can Congress prevent Americans from practicing their faith in the public square, and fundamentally, the First Amendment protects Americans from an ideological coercion from government. And this is the rub for me.”

Disputing the notion the Trump administration was assaulting LGBTQ rights, Hice insisted the United States is still “a world leader in guaranteeing the civil rights of all, including the LGBTQ community,” noting the appointment of Richard Grenell, acting Director of National Intelligence and now the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee in U.S. history.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House and a witness before the committee, disputed Grenell’s appointment as evidence of Trump’s support for LGBTQ rights, saying that alone doesn’t cut it.

“The appointment of one person who’s LGBTQ,” Takano said, “does not compensate for the fact that last fall, the Trump administration made legal arguments before the Supreme Court that would limit non-discrimination protections under Title VII, which exists to prevent people from being fired for their sexual orientation. The want to give employers the power to fire you based on who you are or who you love. I say religious liberty does not extend to firing people based on who are they are.”

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

One of the Republican members of the committee asked to have entered into the record a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing displeasure over Congress holding a hearing that has framed religious liberty as an assault.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign and one of the witnesses at the hearing, told the Blade afterward the Republican preoccupation with religious liberty and disregard for LGBTQ rights was off-base.

“I think, unfortunately, a number of the Republican Congress members today really misrepresented what religious liberty is,” Warbelow said. “Religious liberty, it means an ability for people to hold their sincerely held religious belief, to practice their faith, but it doesn’t mean that you get to engage in discrimination.”

Among the witnesses were LGBTQ people who had suffered discrimination and came to the congressional hearing to tell their stories.

Evan Minton, a transgender resident of Livermore, Calif., told the story of going to the Mercy San Juan Medical Center in the Dignity Health chain for a hysterectomy, then being told the surgery was cancelled because it was related to gender transition.

“I was fortunate in that I was able to undergo a hysterectomy at a different hospital,” Minton said. “But the experience was scarring. I had no idea prior to my hysterectomy that my local community hospital was a Catholic hospital, or that they would argue that religious doctrine permits them to prevent doctors from providing patients with medically necessary care just because those patents are transgender.”

The experience was so degrading, Minton said, he refused to return afterward when he had a medical emergency and needed to remove his catheter and needed assistance when his pharmacist accidentally gave him a drug overdose.

“I needed to go to the emergency room,” Minton said. “In my drug stupor and even in my inability to talk, I was able to make out the sound, ‘No. Not that.’ And they took me to an emergency room farther away.”

Ernesto Olivares, a gay man who lives in San Antonio, Texas, recounted the bullying and harassment he encountered as a youth growing up in the foster care system.

“I remember one day, we were getting ready to go on a family vacation and I went to grab my bag, the big bright blue one they give us to put all our things in when it’s time to move placements,” Olivares said. “Someone had scratched out my name and written ‘faggot’ in its place. I cried and kept it to myself until we got back from vacation.”

Olivares said he told his therapist about the incident, and even though he asked her not to tell his foster parents, she told anyway. Even though he showed them the tag as proof, they denied anyone in the house would do that and nothing was ever done about that incident.

A key focus of the hearing was the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, federal legislation introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating LGBTQ families in child placement or discrimination against LGBTQ children, such as forcing them to undergo widely discredited conversion therapy.

Championing the legislation was Rev. Stan Sloan, an Episcopal priest and CEO of the pro-LGBT Family Equality Council, who said the bill was needed to ensure children in adoption agencies and foster care have access to families.

“There are currently over 440,000 children in our child welfare system,” Sloan said. “Over a quarter of those children are able to be adopted at this moment, and yet over 20,000 of those kids will graduate out of the system this year alone without ever finding parents.”

Sloan said LGBTQ people in America are seven times more likely to become foster parents or adopt a child, and yet 11 states, most recently Tennessee, now have laws on books permitting adoption agencies to refuse placement to LGBTQ families.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, Sloan said, would “overturn those bad laws nationwide, and if you care about kids in need you will support that act.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), another openly gay member of Congress, testified before the committee as a witness in favor of same-sex adoption by telling the story of raising children with his husband.

“When you allow people to discriminate against those couples, you deprive children of good moms, dads, families who are going to love them, and you dress it up as religious liberty, you simply sanction discrimination and deprive those children of a home they deserve,” Maloney said.

At the opposite end of that legislation is the Child Welfare Inclusion Act, legislation Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) promoted as a witness during the hearing that would prohibit adverse action against child welfare agencies for declining to provide services based on religious beliefs, such as declining placement into LGBTQ families.

“The faith community has deeply held religious beliefs,” Kelly said. “The LGBTQ community has deeply held beliefs. We do not discriminate against those beliefs, and we say if that’s what you choose, that is fine. All we ask is that we don’t discriminate against somebody…because they don’t hold those same beliefs.”

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of committee, spoke out against the use religious belief to justify bias against anti-LGBTQ people, saying that offends her as a woman of faith.

“It is very difficult to sit here and listen to arguments in the long history in this country of using scripture and weaponizing it and using scripture to justify bigotry,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “White supremacists have done it, those who justified slavery did it, those who fought against integration and we’re seeing it today.”

The title of the hearing was the Trump’s administration using religious liberty to assault LGBTQ rights, but no representative of the White House was present before the hearing. A committee spokesperson didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether the Trump administration was invited to send a witness. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Federal Government

Risk of monkeypox infection not high, but ‘numbers may increase’

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact



Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases & Chief Medical Advisor to the President (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, who has been at the forefront of the battles against the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 epidemics, downplayed Wednesday the idea gay and bisexual men are at high risk of contracting monkeypox as the outbreak begins to spread, but cautioned “the numbers may increase.”

“Given the numbers I would not say right now at this particular point, that it is a quote, high risk, but the numbers may increase, which means we just have got to be careful and pay attention,” Fauci said.

Fauci made the remarks in a conference call with reporters from LGBTQ news outlets on the heels of the Biden administration’s announcement that it would ramp up efforts to confront the emerging spread of monkeypox.

On Monday, the Department of Health & Human Services, announced a nationwide vaccination strategy against monkeypox, which consists of providing nearly 300,000 vaccines with priorities for individuals at risk and areas with high rates of infection. An estimated 750,000 vaccines are expected for delivery by the end of summer, according to HHS.

In response to a Blade question about the risk of gay and bisexual men contracting monkeypox, Fauci said that was difficult to quantify and he “wouldn’t say low, because then…that can be taken out of context,” but went on to express there’s a minimal risk of infection if precautions are taken.

“What we’re seeing given the number of cases and the rate in which they’ve accelerated, it’s clearly out there,” Fauci said. “But when you talk about the large number of gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, that on any given individual contact I think if one is careful, and make sure that both parties in a sexual interaction are aware of lesions that might go unnoticed, then you can go a long way in pure prevention to prevent that from happening, but I think it would be risky to classify it as low, medium or high.”

The U.S. has confirmed 306 monkeypox cases across 27 states and Washington, D.C., the Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday. That represents a surge of 63 cases from the previous week.

Fauci said the current outbreak is predominantly among men who have sex with men among individuals who have had sexual contact. Monkeypox is technically not a sexually transmitted disease, Fauci said, because it’s spread through skin-to-skin contact, but “because of the close skin to skin interaction that occurs in sexual contact, that appears to be the modality spread.” Monkeypox, Fauci said, is “not fundamentally a lethal infection.”

Raj Panjabi, senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council, was also on the call and said the Biden administration’s monkeypox plan consists of “three pillars” of testing, vaccines, and outreach.

“In terms of outreach, there is no effective response to an outbreak without a community based response,” Panjabi said. “And so we’ve worked to ensure an open dialogue with leaders and stakeholders in the LGBTQIA+ community. What we’ve been doing is to try to understand from those most affected by this outbreak, learn from them, help them stay vigilant within the community to protect themselves from the disease and try to adjust our response according to the gaps that they’ve raised.”

The rise in monkeypox infections comes during Pride month, a time when LGBTQ community is engaged in celebrations and oftentimes in close contract and intimate settings, including sexual activity.

Asked by a reporter with NBC News whether this weekend’s Pride celebrations may have fueled the spread, Fauci said in theory “the risk is probably increased” in Pride activities “because people tend to get involved in sexual networking there,” but precautions at the end of the day would mitigate new infections.

“You don’t want to panic people but you want to get people to appreciate, particularly with the Pride activities that are going on now, to be aware and to just be careful,” Fauci said. “And being careful can be very practical, but making sure that you’re aware of things like skin lesions or lesions around areas of the body, particularly when you’re having a sexual encounter. Those are the things we’re trying to do.”

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Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest



Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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The White House

White House says U.S. made clear WNBA’s Griner ‘unjustly detained’

The U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” the White House said



Air Force One arrives at Torrejón Air Base outside Madrid, Spain June 28, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube VOA)

MADRID, Torrejón Air Base, Spain – White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday he has spoken in the last few days with the wife of Brittney Griner as part of a larger effort within the Biden administration to secure the release of the Out lesbian basketball player in Russia whom supporters say is being unlawfully detained.

Sullivan made the comments speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One during President Biden’s trip to Europe in response to a question about efforts within the Biden administration to bring Griner home ahead of her expected trial in Russia.

“So first, Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan said. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

Sullivan added he — as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken — have spoken with Griner’s wife Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, to convey that, you know, we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney — what Brittney must be going through.”

Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury within the Women’s National Basketball Association, was detained in February by Russian Customs on allegations that cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had gone to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.

Sullivan said the U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” but added he’s constrained in what he could say because of confidentiality about the sensitive issue.

“But I will tell you it has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team,” Sullivan said. “And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case, and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.”

The Biden administration, Sullivan added, is additionally working to return all unjustly detained Americans and hostages being held overseas,” including detainees in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Venezuela, and China.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the State Department for a readout on Blinken’s role in the Biden administration’s talks with Griner.

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