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Marielle Franco’s widow elected to Rio city council

Mônica Benício honored murdered fiancée during campaign

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Rio de Janeiro City Councilwoman-elect Mônica Benício. (Photo via Twitter)

RIO DE JANEIRO — The widow of a bisexual Rio de Janeiro councilwoman who was murdered in 2018 was elected to the city’s council on Sunday.

Brazilian media reports indicate Mônica Benício ran for the Rio City Council as a member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party.

Benício finished 11th among the candidates who ran with 22,999 votes. She noted her support of LGBTQ rights ahead of Sunday’s election.

“We are elected,” proclaimed Benício in a tweet after she won. “The City Council will have an openly lesbian councilwoman! I am very grateful to the more than 22,000 people who voted for a future feminist and anti-fascist mandate for the Rio City Council! Let’s transform this city together!”

Benício’s fiancée, Marielle Franco, a woman of African descent who identified as bisexual, was a member of the Rio City Council when she and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered on March 14, 2018.

Franco’s murder sparked outrage throughout Brazil and around the world. The Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Watch are among the organizations that condemned the killing.

Brazilian authorities in March 2019 arrested two former policemen in connection with Franco’s murder.

One of the men was arrested at his home in the same condominium complex in which President Jair Bolsonaro lived when he represented Rio in Brazil’s Congress.

Bolsonaro—a former Brazilian Army captain who took office as the country’s president nearly two years ago—continues to face widespread criticism over his rhetoric against LGBTQ Brazilians, women and other underrepresented groups.

Bolsonaro last fall strongly denied Brazilian media reports that linked him to the two suspects in Franco’s murder. Bolsonaro’s sons, Flávio and Carlos Bolsonaro, who are members of the Brazilian Senate and the Rio City Council respectively, have also faced questions over their potential involvement in the killing.

Marielle Franco (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
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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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India

Transgender Indian parliamentary candidate vows to continue fight for equality

Rajan Singh, 26, is from New Delhi

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Rajan Singh ran for India's parliament (Photo courtesy of Rajan Singh)

The storm that was India’s general elections has finally settled, leaving behind a landscape transformed by democratic choice. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clinched a decisive victory with a majority in parliament with 293 seats. The daily hum of life is returning to normal as the country resumes its rhythm amid the sweltering heat of summer.

Beneath the surface of political triumph and routine, however, there lies an overlooked narrative: The story of the transgender community. In the vibrant tapestry of this election, trans people remained a subtle but significant thread. A few trans people for the first time boldly stepped into the political arena, running for office and asserting their right to representation.

Rajan Singh, 26, was the youngest trans candidate.

She hails from New Delhi, the bustling heart of the nation. Singh secured 300 votes and lost the election, but as the first and youngest independent candidate to run in the recent general elections, her story is one of ambition and audacity. In a political landscape dominated by well-established parties and seasoned politicians, Singh’s decision to enter the fray as an independent was both bold and inspiring.

With her soft and humble voice, Singh told the Washington Blade that even after 75 years of independence, India still lacks even 75 public restrooms dedicated to the trans community. She highlighted a stark reality: There is no platform available for trans people who want to raise their voice on important issues.

Singh expressed her frustration and disappointment, pointing out the irony in India’s highly regarded constitution. 

“Our constitution begins with ‘We, the people of India,'” she said, “Yet in these 75 years, that ‘we’ has never truly included us.” Her words shed light on the ongoing struggle for recognition and equality faced by the trans community in a country that prides itself on its democratic values and inclusive ethos.

“That was the main reason I decided to fight in the 2024 general election,” said Singh. “I am the first, youngest candidate from India’s capital, New Delhi. When I was born in 1997, my identity was male. In 2022, the government certificate indicated I was transgender, and in 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a certificate stating me as third gender. When I apply for a government job, I become ‘others.’ so one person has four identities. Most strikingly all these identities are not mine. I identify as a trans woman and no one recognizes my feelings and identity.”

Singh told the Blade that when she filed her nomination for the election, her primary goal was to bring the real identity of the trans community to the center stage of the country. She explained her candidacy was a means to breathe life into the identity of her community, asserting that if people had acknowledged the trans community’s presence over the past 75 years, they would have been granted the same rights as other citizens.

With a voice tinged with pain, Singh told the Blade that if the trans community had been truly recognized as alive, there would have been moments when people saw the community speaking out. 

“There would have been a time when we had a leader to represent us, a chief minister, and even a prime minister,” she said. “But there is no one for the transgender community.”

During her interview with the Blade, Singh shared a slogan she coined for her election campaign: “Sauchalay se Sansad Tak” or “From the toilet to parliament.” This slogan encapsulated her mission to elevate the trans community from the margins of society to the heart of the nation’s decision-making process.

Singh told the Blade only a few trans people voted in the last election. However, this time, however, 228 trans individuals cast their votes in Delhi, a significant increase fueled by the community’s belief that someone was finally standing up for them.

“I was manhandled and threatened on the streets just for announcing my candidacy in the 2024 General Elections,” said Singh. “I was told ‘Chakka’ (a slang word for trans people), I was told how could we fight in election. When I went to the cops to file a First Information Report, they did not file my report. On April 29, Delhi High Court provided me heavy police protection and with that I went to file my nomination for election. If High Court would not have given me the police protection, I would not have been able to file my nomination.”

She told the Blade that society has been conditioned to view the trans community as only beggars and prostitutes, a misconception that is far from the truth. Singh emphasized these stereotypes have long overshadowed the diverse and significant contributions of trans people. Her campaign sought to challenge these harmful narratives and showcase the true potential and worth of the trans community. 

While talking to the Blade, Singh said India’s trans community has not seen much progress in the last 75 years. She acknowledged Modi has taken some steps for the community, notably with the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, which has increased awareness among ordinary citizens.

Singh, however, emphasized these efforts are not enough and much more work needs to be done. With great hope and determination, she called on the prime minister to establish a National Transgender Commission. This, she argued, would provide the necessary platform and resources to address the ongoing challenges faced by the trans community, ensuring their rights and dignity are fully protected and promoted.

“The world has seen for the first time in the last 75 years, that during the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony this year three transgender people were invited,” said Rajan. “I was one of them.”

With immense pride and positivity, Singh stated this is not a loss for her or the community. She views it as a significant victory. For the first time, the trans community voted for one of their own. It marked the historic moment when a trans individual’s name appeared on the Electronic Voting Machine, an integral part of India’s voting system. This election symbolized a newfound self-respect and empowerment, as members of the trans community proudly pressed the button on the EVM, voting for representation and a brighter future.

“We will prepare and fight for the establishment of National Transgender Commission in the country,” said Singh. “We will pressure those political parties who will support the creation of the National Transgender Commission and basic services for the community, we will support them. I will again fight the election.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ+ news from Europe & Asia

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Thailand, France, United Kingdom, Philipines & Namibia

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THAILAND
Thailand Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Becomes 39th Country to Do So

The Thai senate approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption Tuesday, making Thailand the 39th country worldwide and the first in Southeast Asia to do so.

The vote passed 130-4 with 18 abstentions. The bill now awaits royal assent from King Maha Vajiralongkorn and will take effect 120 days after publication.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin celebrated on social media, changing his profile picture to include a rainbow background. He wrote, “We celebrate another significant milestone in our Equal Marriage Bill journey. We’re proud to be a Pride Friendly Destination and look forward to hosting World Pride in 2030.”

The new law grants same-sex couples equal rights to heterosexual married couples. The government plans to amend other laws to be gender-neutral and expand surrogacy and IVF access for same-sex couples, though only for Thai nationals.

Thailand is the third Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage after Taiwan and Nepal, and the largest country to do so since Germany in 2017.

FRANCE

Macron’s Anti-Trans Comments Spark Controversy Ahead of French Elections

French President Emmanuel Macron faced backlash after describing pro-trans policies proposed by his political rivals as “ludicrous” during a World War II commemoration on June 18.

Macron criticized the left-wing New Popular Front’s proposal to simplify legal gender changes, saying, “There are completely ludicrous things, like going to change sex in town hall.”

Opposition leaders quickly condemned Macron’s remarks. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left-wing party leader, called the comments “outrageous” on social media.

The controversy comes as France prepares for national elections on June 30, with Macron’s Renaissance party facing pressure from both far-right and left-wing coalitions.

UNITED KINGDOM

UK Labour Party’s LGBTQ+ Manifesto Disappoints Trans Advocates

The UK Labour Party, favored to win the July 4 election, released a manifesto with limited LGBTQ+ commitments, disappointing trans rights advocates.

Labour pledges to strengthen hate crime laws and ban conversion therapy, including for trans individuals. However, the party will maintain requirements for medical diagnosis in legal gender changes and support single-sex spaces that may exclude trans people.

The manifesto reflects ongoing debates in British politics over trans rights, fueled by activist groups and high-profile figures like author J.K. Rowling.

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s attempts to balance competing views have drawn criticism from both trans rights supporters and opponents.

PHILIPINES

Filipino Student Challenges Pope on LGBTQ+ Language

During a virtual synod, Jack Lorenz Acebedo Rivera, a Filipino student, urged Pope Francis to stop using offensive language against the LGBTQ+ community.

The request came after Pope Francis reportedly used a derogatory Italian term translated as “faggotry” in closed-door meetings, criticizing its prevalence in Catholic institutions.

The Pope’s reported language sparked protests, including at Rome’s Pride March on June 16. The Vatican issued an apology for the first instance but hasn’t addressed subsequent reports.

NAMIBIA

(Bigstock photo)

Namibia Decriminalizes Homosexuality in Landmark Ruling

Namibia’s High Court struck down laws criminalizing homosexuality on June 21, reducing the number of countries with such laws to 64.

The ruling declared the common-law crimes of “sodomy” and “unnatural sexual offences” unconstitutional, continuing a trend of decriminalization in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gay activist Friedel Dausab, who filed the case, testified about the laws’ personal and professional impact. The court also affirmed that the constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The government hasn’t responded to the ruling. A bill banning same-sex marriage and LGBT rights advocacy, passed last year, awaits the president’s decision.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno 

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Los Angeles County

Downey official who banned Pride flag elected to lead influential national Latino political group

Claudia Frometa elected president of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials

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Defiantly raising the Rainbow Flag in Downey after Council Votes 3-2 to Ban It On City Property

Claudia Frometa, a Downey city councilmember who ardently defended her vote to end the city’s policy of flying the rainbow flag during Pride Month, was elected president of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials during the group’s national conference on June 21.

NALEO, which represents more than 6,800 Latino elected and appointed officials, is an influential political group that was previously led by gay California State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who was president of the group in 2020.

Frometa’s election has raised concerns among LGBTQ Latino politicians, including Downey’s gay mayor, Mario Trujillo, who opposed the flag ban.

HONOR PAC, the prominent LGBTQ group that supports Latino candidates, expressed “deep disappointment” in the election of Frometa and posted a statement to Instagram:

“The 2024 NALEO Conference concluded with a clarion call about the importance and power of diversity, equity and inclusion. Ironically, it also just elected @claudiafrometafordowney,
who recently voted to never again allow the city of Downey, (Calif.) to fly the Pride flag, as its newest president,” the statement Mario Ceballos, President of HONORPAC wrote.

“NALEO is an important national leader committed to creating visibility, protecting, and defending justice and equality for all.”

“Many of us at HONOR PAC are naturalized citizens because of NALEO. Our community is better because of NALEO: For these reasons, HONOR PAC is deeply disappointed with the appointment of @claudiafrometofordowney to this important national role.”

“The Pride flag,” the HONOR PAC statement reads, “is a symbol of pride, inclusion, safety, and hope. Ms. Frometa’s vote on a motion disguised as a ‘neutral flag’ policy was nothing more than an attempt to silence and ignore the voices and lives of all LGBTQ+ Downey residents and those who love them.”

HONOR PAC further declared, “Ms. Frometa’s vote on this motion a shameless and violent act against our LGBTQ+ brethren whether they are out of the closet or still struggling to come out of what many know to be a dark and lonely place.”

Downey in May voted in favor (a 3-2 vote) of restricting flag flying on city property to only U.S., California and prisoners-of-war flags. The decision reversed a 2021 policy that allowed the Pride flag to be displayed throughout June.

Trujillo maintains the vote was part of an organized political attack on the LGBTQ community, lobbied for by MassResistance, an anti-LGBTQ group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

MassResistance has allegedly played a role in opposing and, in some cases reversing LGBTQ supportive programs policies in schools across the nation.

The vote shook the community and sparked a regional backlash, prompting Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn to organize an Pride flag raising ceremony outside the Los Angeles County Office of Education in Downey on June 3.

LA County Department of Education defiantly raises Pride in Downey. (Photo by Bryan Chan for the LA County Board of Supervisors)

Frometa denied anti-LGBTQ sentiment motivated her vote. 

At a June 11 council meeting, Frometa doubled down, “For any individual to say we are anti-LGBTQ community is incorrect,” citing continued funding for the city’s Pride festival.

Supporters of the new flag policy argued that restricting it to official state flags promotes neutrality.

Other Southern California areas have implemented similar flag restrictions, including Huntington Beach, Temecula, and Redlands.

The Los Angeles County LGBTQ+ Elected Officials Association at the time expressed disappointment, stating the Pride flag promotes inclusivity, especially for LGBTQ+ youth.

HONOR PAC’s statement denouncing Frometa’s elevation to the presidency of NALEO concluded with a forceful denouncement which it hopes resonates with the membership of NALEO: “Shame on you @claudiafrometafordowney for not upholding full and equal rights for all so each can pursue his/her/their happiness as our U.S,” the statement concludes.

NALEO plays a critical role in Latino participation in American politics. As its new president, Frometa will lead efforts in leadership development, policy research and advocacy for Latino issues.

Some LGBTQ advocates worry Frometa’s election could indicate gains by anti-LGBTQ groups within Latino political leadership.

“Attending my first NALE0 conference, it was disappointing to learn that the organization’s leadership selected an individual to lead the board after she publicly voted to ban a flag that symbolizes hope for our LGBTQ youth and families in a predominantly Latine/x community. NALEO needs to address this issue with its LGBTQ membership,” noted City of Huntington Park Councilmember Eddie Martinez.

“It is hurtful and disappointing that NALEO, an organization promoting Latino participation in the political process should elevate a member who has disenfranchised LGBTQ+ members of their community, many of whom are Latinx. 

“The “neutral flag policy” she helped to pass in her city is nothing more than the dog whistle politics of anti-LGBTQ hate. Such an act is inconsistent with NALEO’s values,” said Martin Herrera, Councilmember, City of El Monte & Secretary of the LA County Lgbtq+ Elected Officials (LACLEO)

“I’m disheartened to see NALEO elect a President that doesn’t stand with the LGBTQ+ community.  The actions of their new President do great harm to members of our community and NALEO should be a welcome and opening space for all and not just for some but the actions of their new leader make me doubt their commitment to inclusivity and equality for all,”  said West Hollywood Mayor John M Erickson, Ph.D. & LACLEO Boardmember

I am surprised to learn that NALEO chose a president who has a track record of opposing the LGBTQ+ community. NALEO has been a proven partner and ally in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt in assuming they were unaware of her anti-LGBTQ+ actions when they elected her. I urge my friends at NALEO to revisit this decision., said Jeff Prang, Assessor, Los Angeles County & President, LACLEO

An unnamed LGBTQ politician from Downey told the Los Angeles Blade, “I’m very concerned about the development with NALEO. It’s important that her gaslighting not be forgotten and that it ends. She rode tearing our flag down to national prominence, buoyed by our enemies, and she will continue to blame us for being upset about it. “

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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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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Africa

Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Markey bill would offer additional support to LGBTQ elders

Measure would create Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within HHS

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U.S. Capitol Dome
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce a bill on Friday to support LGBTQ elders and older adults living with HIV by establishing an Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among other responsibilities, the office would advocate, coordinate activities, issue policy recommendations, and oversee the collection of data from these communities.

A major piece of the work to improve health equity at HHS under the leadership of Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been data collection initiatives for LGBTQ and other populations that can encounter barriers accessing care.

The Elder Pride Act will also “establish a rural grants program to serve the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ older adults, including through education and training, community outreach and creation of community spaces, and improved cultural competency,” according to a press release announcing the legislation, which the senator’s office previewed exclusively with the Washington Blade.

“After years of exclusion and discrimination from health care settings, workplaces, and their local communities, LGBTQ+ older Americans deserve the protections their neighbors are afforded,” Markey said.

“Queer and trans elders should be able to age with dignity, grace, and surrounded by community,” he added. “The Elder Pride Act will ensure that all older adults are able to have access to the care and services they need.”  

Cosponsoring senators include Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D- Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The legislation’s provisions were included in a pair of bills introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus’s Aging Issues Task Force.

The press release from Markey’s office also highlights several of the challenges faced by LGBTQ older adults vis-a-vis their cisgender and heterosexual peers: Fewer sources of support. higher poverty rates, poorer healthcare, poorer health access, and poorer health outcomes.

At the city and county level, older adults are served by local area agencies on aging (AAAs), which receive services and activities from HHS. Fewer than half of these organizations report that they will be able to provide LGBTQ-specific activities by the time the population of LGBTQ elders reaches 7 million, which is expected by 2030.

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United Nations

US ambassador to UN: LGBTQ+ community ‘has shown remarkable bravery and resilience’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted Pride Month reception on Tuesday

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. on June 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. criticized those in the U.S. and elsewhere who continue to crackdown on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield noted in the U.S. “a small, but threatening group of people continues to garget the LGBTI+ community, and especially trans individuals.” She specifically pointed out the increase of hate crimes in schools, especially in states with laws that target LGBTQ+ students. 

Thomas-Greenfield described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act — which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” — as “draconian.” She also cited the case of a Russian woman who authorities jailed because she wore rainbow earrings.   

“Despite these challenges, the LGBTI+ community has shown remarkable bravery and resilience,” said Thomas-Greenfield. 

Lawmakers in Greece, Estonia and Thailand since Thomas-Greenfield hosted her 2023 Pride Month reception extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who are both gay, took office in July 2023 and in January 2024 respectively.

Dominica’s High Court of Justice in April struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. German lawmakers the same month approved a statute that will make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to legally change their name and gender.

The U.N. has faced criticism over its response to Hamas’s surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7. The Washington Blade, which attended Tuesday’s reception, saw at least one person wearing a keffiyah, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

“Since day one, the Biden administration has made it a priority to prevent and combat discrimination, hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “I’m proud of the many, many ways … that U.S. U.N. has led on this front.”

Thomas-Greenfield in 2023 chaired a meeting that examined ways the U.N. Security Council can integrate LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into its work. 

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday noted the U.S. continues to work with the U.N. Economic and Social Council to include LGBTQ+-specific language in resolutions that focus on elections and democracy. She also referenced the group of activists who gathered in Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza, which is across the street from the U.N., in April 1965 to “protest the treatment of gay individuals at home and abroad.”

“We’re following in the footsteps of those marchers outside in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza all those years ago,” she said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, also spoke at the reception. The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the West Point Benny Havens Band performed.

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Politics

Rollins’ campaign- more than gunning for anti-LGBTQ Rep. Calvert

In this election cycle, the Democratic challenger believes he is better positioned to win the seat, which could tip control of the U.S. House

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Will Rollins and his partner, Paolo at the 2022 Palm Springs Pride Parade. (Photo courtesy of Will Rollins for Congress)


RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Two years ago, openly gay prosecutor Will Rollins launched his first bid for public office and nearly defeated incumbent Republican Congressman Ken Calvert, who has represented California’s 41st Congressional District since the presidential administration of George H.W. Bush.

In this election cycle, the Democratic challenger believes he is even better positioned to win the seat, which could tip control of the U.S. House of Representatives to his party now that Republicans have only a feeble five-member majority in the chamber.

And if accurate proxies can be found in the results of recent polls, quarterly fundraising metrics, and extra muscle deployed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, it appears Rollins’s confidence is shared by critical masses of voters, donors, and party leaders.

On the one hand, Rollins said he is buoyed by flagging support for his opponent. He argued that instead of working to deliver results for his constituents like “high paying jobs, better wages, and better benefits for workers,” Calvert has instead spent much of his time in Congress helping to fuel costly culture wars and embracing right-wing extremism while enriching himself through “legalized corruption” schemes and undermining the justice system and rule of law.

At the same time, Rollins said that his background in law enforcement, his political orientation as a moderate, and his policy agenda, which includes a focus on popular and often populist reforms, has proven to be a winning formula on the campaign trail from the westernmost parts of Southern California’s Inland Empire to the Colorado Desert town of Palm Springs.

The city, home to a thriving LGBTQ community, helped make the 41st district far purpler after congressional maps were redrawn to include the region in 2022. Rollins said the redistricting helps to explain “part of why people are so bullish on flipping the seat.”

He explained, “Calvert has historically [represented] deep red parts of southern California, and that used to include Murrieta and northern Temecula,” Rollins said. When the new maps were drawn, “he lost those two cities and he gained the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indian Wells, all of which had previously been represented by a Democrat, Raul Ruiz.”

Rollins is well positioned at this point in the race

Congressional Candidate Will Rollins during the 2022 campaign.
(Photo Credit: Rollins for Congress campaign)

Reflecting on his performance in the midterm elections, Rollins noted that 2022 saw higher turnout among Republican voters and lower turnout among Democratic voters, a hurdle made more difficult by the advantages Calvert exercised by virtue of his 32-year incumbency.

By contrast, as a first-time candidate, “when you go from a job as a federal prosecutor, where it’s the antithesis of self-promotion, to suddenly needing to build an entire brand and raise your name I.D. and self promote and campaign, that’s a steep learning curve, and I had basically six months after a primary to do it,” Rollins said.

As November approaches, the presidential race is expected to even out the disparities in voter turnout, and by now Rollins has now spent nearly three years introducing his candidacy and his campaign to residents across CA-41.

For the first time in either cycle, Rollins was ahead of his opponent (by one point) in an internal poll last month that provided respondents with no additional information about the candidates, a sign that “more people are getting to know me, and our name I.D. is increasing, and more people are also hearing our message,” he said.

The Democratic hopeful also noted his campaign out-raised Calvert’s in the third consecutive quarter, Q1 2024, and by more than $1 million, thanks to “voters and our grassroots supporters [who] know that this seat is primed to flip.”

The DCCC seems to agree with their assessment. As one of the organization’s “Red to Blue” candidates, a highly competitive distinction awarded to those with the best odds of unseating Republicans in their districts, Rollins receives “strategic guidance, staff resources, training, and fundraising support” to ensure the best possible odds for his victory in November.

Additional help from the organization responsible for fundraising and organizing on behalf of Democratic House candidates could be decisive in a race as close as this one, but Rollins also stressed his appeal among center and center-right constituents.

Building coalitions in a purple district

For example, the campaign recently secured high-profile endorsements from the likes of Stan Sniff, retired Republican sheriff of Riverside County, and California State Assemblymember Chad Mays, who previously served as the elected Republican leader.

Additionally, last month, the Palm Springs Police Officers Association, which had supported Calvert in 2022, announced it would back Rollins this year. Asked how he managed to win over the organization, Rollins pointed to his ability to relate to law enforcement officers along with his tenacious approach to engaging with the group.

“For cops in Riverside County, having somebody represent them who has worked alongside them, prosecuting MS-13, the Sinaloa Cartel, murderers, rapists, terrorists, that’s really powerful for the line officers who want somebody that understands what it is like every single day to do an important job that they do, putting their lives on the line to keep us safe,” he said.

Rollins added that he was now cowed by the group’s endorsement of his opponent during the midterms and was persistent in reaching out to facilitate a dialogue. “I refuse to give up on trying to persuade people that I would do a better job of representing them in Congress than Ken Calvert, ” as well as his ability to relate to law enforcement officers.

The campaign’s efforts to engage with the Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative LGBT group, were less successful. Rollins said that during both election cycles “we reached out to [chapters located in CA-41] repeatedly, and all of our outreach was ignored.”

It is easy to imagine areas in which the organization could find common ground with the Democratic candidate. Rollins would be the first LGBTQ member of Congress with a law enforcement background, a candidate who has worked for a Republican governor and deliberately engaged with and courted support from other individuals and groups that are right-of-center.

He also questioned why conservative LGBTQ+ Californians would ally themselves with his opponent. “What is Ken Calvert done for you? He’s voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. He’s voted against letting you serve in the military. It makes no sense to go out and support somebody like that.”

Rollins said it seems Log Cabin “is increasingly used by elected Republicans to try to maintain the appearance of support and to conceal some of their actual record on our rights” and their refusal to engage with him is likely a sign of the extent to which the GOP has become mired in partisanship.

Drawing the contrast


Rollins attributes much of his success in winning major endorsements and contributions to the many contrasts voters are seeing between his campaign and his opponent’s, perhaps starting with the professional backgrounds and records on which they are running.

In recent months, Calvert’s campaign has sought to portray Rollins as “soft on crime” because of his opposition to a criminal justice initiative, California’s Proposition 47, but the former prosecutor told the Blade he welcomes the chance to frame their race around these issues.

Rollins pointed out that while his career was spent “going after drug cartels, terrorists and violent criminals across southern California,” Calvert “is somebody who has voted to defund the FBI, who voted to defund Border Patrol, who said that the FBI has been infiltrated, [that] the Department of Justice has become a political weaponization tool,” and “called for dropping charges against people who assaulted the U.S. Capitol” on January 6.

Further undermining Calvert’s effort to position himself as the “law and order” candidate is the encounter he had with police who found him consorting with a sex worker shortly into his first term in Congress, Rollins said.

He added the incident also shows the hypocrisy of his opponent’s legislative record, considering the Republican’s habit of “voting to get the government into our bedrooms and into our exam rooms, and to prevent gay people from getting married, from serving in the military.”

Rollins, who has prosecuted cases involving white collar crime, also accused his rival of exploiting “a system of legalized corruption” in Congress through which members from both parties have been allowed to exploit the powers and privileges of their office for personal financial gain with loopholes and loose oversight protecting them from consequences.

Specifically, he said Calvert has enriched himself to the tune of $20 million over his 17 terms in office “by using earmarks to benefit his own personal real estate investments,” Rollins said, “a form of insider trading in real estate.”

Rollins said that his opponent has earned a reputation for self-dealing and topped lists of the most corrupt members of Congress, with California’s 41st district taking notice. “When people have seen their own rent and gas and groceries skyrocket while their member of Congress makes $20 million since 1992, that is a major red flag for voters,” he said.


The corruption problem is bigger than Calvert, which is why Rollins said he has made reforms and policy solutions in this area a cornerstone of his campaign.

If elected, the Democrat said he will push for “a ban on members trading stock across the board” as well as “a ban on [members] using inside information to benefit their real estate investments” and “a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress.”

Rollins said he will also work to implement term limits for members of Congress and to fix the problems created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which allowed for unlimited spending by corporations and outside groups on political campaigns.

He said that even more modest reforms like establishing “disclosure rules for members” would go a long way toward mitigating concerns about the flow of dark money “into these competitive congressional races through independent expenditures.”

Each of these proposals “have been tied into our own theme of the campaign around public service and protecting our communities, and law enforcement service versus self-enrichment, self-dealing,” Rollins said. “There’s no movement to police ourselves, and yet that is what the public craves most,” he added.

Polls have long shown the overwhelming popularity of measures designed to improve the functioning of Congress along with mechanisms requiring more accountability and transparency from its members, which should perhaps come as little surprise considering that 66.7 percent of Americans disapprove of the institution according to FiveThirtyEight.

Rollins said audiences from across the political spectrum have responded enthusiastically whenever he has discussed his anti-corruption proposals, whether before a chamber of commerce or a meeting of the Stonewall Democratic Club.

Generally speaking, rather than “angertainment and click-bait politics,” most Americans want to see policy solutions aimed at addressing real problems, he said. “They want money out of politics. They want common sense solutions to traffic problems in their district. They want safer streets. They want clean energy. They want term limits.”

Likewise with their elected representatives, Rollins said. Voters “want people in the middle, not necessarily on the far left or the far right,” especially in purple districts where “you can run a successful campaign just being on what I call ‘team normal.'”

“The challenge for Democrats,” particularly those running for competitive seats, “is to make it really clear that the current MAGA majority [in the House] is different from the moderate, regular Republican voters in your district,” Rollins said.

Democrats should embrace populism


One way to reassure conservative-leaning voters is for Democrats to talk openly about the problems that helped facilitate the ascent of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing populist movements, Rollins said.

Americans, regardless of their politics, are right when they say “government is broken,” or “The system is corrupt,” but solutions are not going to come from elected Republicans, least of all “the former host of Celebrity Apprentice,” Rollins said.

The more Democrats elected to the House who “are focused on those reforms, the better the party will do,” he said. “Because our brand can become an anti-corruption brand, and we should try to to cultivate that as much as possible, because certainly the GOP isn’t about that right now.”

Rollins added, “Right now, there’s only one political party that cares about getting money out of politics,” meaning that Democrats have the opportunity to campaign on an issue that “is supported by 90 percent of Americans.”

When it comes to more divisive matters, “a lot of it is tied to kitchen table issues, and I think that’s where we as a party are our strongest, where we’re talking about how it affects your wallet and why the far-right’s focus on culture wars is actually a massive waste of your tax dollars,” Rollins said.

Of course, it is important to call out the ways in which women, LGBTQ communities, and other groups are harmed when elected Republicans endeavor to restrict their rights, freedoms, and protections, but there is also an opportunity to explain why all Americans suffer as a result, he said.

For instance, after noting that Calvert and Congressional Republicans support “a national [abortion] ban with no exceptions,” along with restrictions on access to the abortion medication mifepristone and measures to make it more difficult for women in the military to access reproductive healthcare, Rollins stressed how these moves could damage the economy and threaten national security.

Likewise with LGBTQ rights. “I would be remiss if I didn’t also state the obvious,” Rollins said, “which is Calvert has one of the most horrible anti-LGBTQ rights voting records of any member in Congress, and started his political career by outing Mark Takano,” the gay congressman who ran against him in 1992 and now represents California’s 39th Congressional District.

Rollins said that when the subject comes up on the campaign trail, “I also talk about the way that his votes don’t just impact the LGBTQ community, because obviously they have hurt our community over the years, but they’ve actually hurt every American.”

For instance, he said, “when you try to make it harder for openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, you deprive us of qualified pilots, snipers, Marines, Navy SEALs, Arabic linguists,” thereby weakening America’s military and security interests.

Rollins also noted the widely reported story last year about pediatric cardiologist Jake Kleinmahon, who ultimately decided to relocate out of Louisiana with his husband and daughter when conservative state lawmakers in Baton Rouge advanced a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills last year.

Following the family’s move to Long Island, Kleinmahon told CNN the only two remaining physicians in Louisiana who manage heart transplants would be expected to serve the same number of patients as they did before his departure.

“That is going to affect care,” he said, adding that “the absolute hardest part is me saying goodbye to my patients.”

“I believe the kids in Louisiana should have the same world class health care as any other part of the United States.”

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