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Pro-Trump protestors storm U.S. Capitol Building- U.S. Senate & House evacuated Capitol on lockdown

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Editor’s Note: The following reporting was compiled and published in real time as the events unfolded on this historic day:

WASHINGTON – Protestors stormed the United States Capitol Building Wednesday afternoon disrupting the formal certification of the Electoral College vote results in a joint session of Congress.

Protestors had gained entrance to the building, after rushing the Capitol steps and as U.S. Capitol Police withdrew. Several dozen managed to gather in the lobby just outside the House chamber.

The Sergeant at Arms of both bodies have locked down their respective chambers and the Blade has learned that the Senators are being evacuated. Vice-President Mike Pence and Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley have been taken to a secure area by the U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police.

House members and staff are sheltering in place near the House Chamber, the Blade was told by a senior law enforcement source that Federal Protective Service, Secret Service are being deployed to the US Capitol to assist the Capitol Police. Lawmakers have also been given gas masks indicating potential deployment of chemical deterrents within the building.

Protesters breached inside the Senate chamber. One got up on the dais and yelled “Trump won that election.” A source tells the Blade that House members have been evacuated and security around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, third in line to the succession of the presidency, has tripled.

Televised footage from inside the House Chamber showed uniform and plainclothes Capitol Police officers with guns drawn pointing at the entrance to the House Chambers which was barricaded.

Screenshot via Dawn Ennis, Editor, Outsports Magazine

Shortly before gaining entrance to the Senate Chambers protestors displaying Confederate flags and U.S. flags were briefly confronted by Capitol Police officers.

Screenshot via Twitter

NBC News reported that a spokesperson for the D.C. Fire and EMS says there have been multiple injuries sustained as a result of the protests at the U.S. Capitol and there is an unconfirmed, at this time, report of one a gunshot victim. A source has confirmed to NBC News that two improvised explosive devices on the Capitol grounds were seized by police and have been safely disarmed.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam sent a tweet out regarding the situation in Washington:

My team and I are working closely with @MayorBowser, @SpeakerPelosi, and @SenSchumer to respond to the situation in Washington, D.C. Per the Mayor’s request, I am sending members of the Virginia National Guard along with 200 Virginia State Troopers.

The White House has released a statement that President Trump has now deployed the National Guard to assist Capitol Police and federal law enforcement. Numerous confirmed reports from journalists, members of Congress, Hill staff, and multiple sources are telling the Blade that several protestors are in fact armed.

Multiple local and Federal law enforcement agencies across the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area are now responding, a Metropolitan Police (DC) source tells the Blade. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has ordered a 6pm curfew for the city.

In Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday evening, President-Elect Joe Biden addressing reporters is calling the assault on the Capitol “an assault on our democracy.” He then calls on the situation to “end now.” Biden says Trump must go on national television to address what he termed an insurrection.

President-elect Joe Biden calls on Trump to end the Capitol building takeover.

“I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege.” Biden said.

The press pool reported that Biden spoke briefly about the events on Capitol Hill, quoting Lincoln and telling Donald Trump to appear on national television and call for an end to the chaos inside the Capitol. 

He walked off from the podium, ignoring shouted questions about whether he was concerned about the inauguration, then turned around and returned to stage to say:

“I am not concerned about my safety, security, or the inauguration. I’m not concerned. The American people are going to stand up, stand up now. Enough is enough is enough.”

(1:22 pm Pacific) President Trump has delivered a ‘taped’ message a few minutes ago that has been posted to his Twitter account saying “it is now time to go home.” Trump again calls it a ‘fraudulent’ election and says the election was stolen.

Protestors inside the Capitol Rotunda via Twitter

California Governor Gavin Newsom cancelled his COVID-19 press briefing and update today out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of Governor’s Office staff and issued the following statement in response to the events transpiring at the U.S. Capitol:

“Peaceful protest is an important mechanism of our democracy but what we are witnessing in our nation’s Capitol building is reprehensible and an outright assault to our democracy and Democratic institutions. 

“The people of California have spoken, and our congressional delegation should never have to fear for their lives to represent Californians. We are concerned for the safety of California’s congressional delegation and U.S. Capitol staff, and are reaching out to offer support in every way possible. President Trump must call for an end to this escalating situation, acknowledge the will of the people to bring President-Elect Biden to the White House and move immediately to a peaceful transition of power.”

CBS White House reporter Kathryn Watson tweeted referring to Trump’s video message:

The president does not condemn the violence once in this entire video. He does call the rioters “special” and says “we love you.”

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in a press conference said that she has ordered a city-wide curfew starting at 6pm Eastern. The mayor said that regional mutual-aid law enforcement agencies that will be assisting the Metropolitan and Capitol Police in restoring order to the Capitol building and grounds includes troopers from the Virginia State Police, Maryland State Police, and troopers from the New Jersey State Police.

DC Police Chief Robert Contee confirms that his officers will be vigorously enforcing the curfew and also assisting in clearing and securing the Capitol. The Chief also confirmed that there was a female gunshot victim inside the building who was transported to hospital. Contee said no further details were available. The Chief pointed out that the protests has crossed over from a protest to a riot which was declared once Capitol security was breeched. Contee tells reporters that these “are rioters.”

Pro-Trump rioter inside Capitol via Twitter

Capitol Police in riot gear have cleared the Capitol’s East Front stairs as the rioters begin to slowly disperse. The FBI’s SWAT & sniper teams were also deployed earlier to assist. As it grows dark in the early evening in Washington, multiple law enforcement agencies have now started to arrive.

The Blade was told by a law enforcement source at 5:20pm Eastern that police are retaking the Capitol initiating a room by room search and arresting any rioters still occupying rooms and spaces within the building.

NBC News reports Wednesday evening that law enforcement is actively deploying flash bang grenades and chemical riot control deices to clear the Capitol grounds.

The woman who was shot inside the Capitol near the U.S. House Chamber has died at a local hospital according to multiple sources. D.C. police chief Contee told the Associated Press that “three other people” died of medical complications at the U.S. Capitol grounds aside from the woman who was shot.

The New York Times reported that Vice President Mike Pence, not President Trump, approved the order to deploy the D.C. National Guard on Wednesday, defense and administration officials said. It was unclear why the president, who is still the commander in chief, did not give the order.

“Chairman [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley] Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation. We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly.” Statement by Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller on Full Activation of D.C. National Guard

Screenshot National Guard Troops arriving at the U.S. Capitol Building

Variety is reporting that social media platforms have taken action removing Trump’s video:

Facebook, in an unprecedented action, removed President Trump’s video post to D.C. rioters telling them to “go home” — while also fanning the conspiracy flames that the U.S. election was fraudulent.

“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” Facebook VP of integrity Guy Rosen wrote in a tweet. “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

Twitter, meanwhile, disabled the ability for users to retweet, comment on or like Trump’s video, but left the video accessible on the service. Trump posted it Wednesday at about 4:17 p.m. ET after a mob of pro-Trump rioters took over the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the tally of electoral votes in Congress.

Twitter said the president’s personal Twitter account would be locked for 12 hours – but only if he deleted the three posts that it had already removed from public view. If he refuses to delete those posts himself, his account will remain locked indefinitely, the company added.

On Facebook, Trump will be blocked from posting for 24 hours.

 In response to the violent disruption by supporters of President Trump as Congress was counting the electoral college votes, Lambda Legal’s CEO, Kevin Jennings issued the following statement: 

“At the core of our work at Lambda Legal is the belief that the United States is a nation committed to the rule of law.  Today’s unprecedented events are a betrayal of that fundamental American commitment, and any pretense to “patriotism” on the part of those who committed today’s acts of desecration of the temple of democracy that is our Capitol building are blasphemous. Our democratic processes must be defended, and we call upon our leaders to utilize any and all processes available to them, including the 25th Amendment, to ensure an orderly transition of power in accordance with the will of the American people as expressed freely at the ballot box in November.”

National Guard troops have now taken up positions around the Capitol complex as Congress prepares to return to work on the certification of the Electoral College Vote. In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Congress will continue once the Capitol and surrounding areas are secured.

The House will pick its work back up and the Senate will reconvene at 8 p.m., a source told the Blade.

“Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy. It was anointed at the highest level of government. It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden,” Pelosi said.

Reaction from world leaders was that of shock and dismay at the scenes that emanated from Washington today. Nearly all condemned the actions of President Trump for not taking immediate responsibility and action to stop the chaos. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted and called it “disgraceful,” and Germany’s foreign minister called on Trump to “stop trampling on democracy.”

Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said in a statement, “Canadians are deeply disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy in the United States, our closest ally and neighbour. Violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the US must be upheld – and it will be.”

First Minister of Scotland’s response to chaos in Washington Wednesday

At approximately 7pm Eastern, CNN’s White House reporter Jim Acosta speaking with CNN anchor Jake Tapper reported: “I will tell you, Jake, I talked to a source, a GOP source close to the president who speaks with him regularly, and I take no pleasure in reporting this, but this source tells me that he believes the president is out of his mind.”

Twitter has now locked President Trump out of his account for 12 hours following the tweeted video and several tweets that supported and emboldened the violent mob that stormed the Capitol.

The Senate reconvenes in its chamber at just after 8pm Wednesday with Vice President Mike Pence condemning the violence. Pence praises the response of law enforcement particularly the Capitol Police. His speech is met with a standing ovation by all Senators. McConnell calls the events of earlier in the day an “insurrection.” He adds that criminal behaviour will not dominate nor intimidate the Congress from doings its job.

Senate Democratic Minority leader Chuck Schumer called today’s riots and take-over of the Capitol a “stain on the heart of democracy.” He also labeled the people who invaded the Capitol extremists and rioters. He then thanked the U.S. Secret Service, Capitol Police, and others who kept lawmakers safe. He took aim at President Trump who he labels as bearing a good deal of the blame for the rioter’s actions Schumer said was incited by Trump’s lies and his penchant for allowing violence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the House back into session at 9pm Eastern Wednesday night as lawmakers resume debate over the certification of the Electoral College Vote.

U.S. House reconvenes after rioters disrupt a Joint Session of the Congress earlier Wednesday.

In a late night statement posted on Twitter, the ⁦@washingtonpost⁩ Editorial Board, echoing, what is now a growing call for action after the events of the day wrote; “The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security.”

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State Department

U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

WASHINGTON — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 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.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for Transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR shows ‘what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ+ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Minnesota

Minneapolis felon charged in Gay Bar brandishing incident

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm

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Booking Photo: Conell Walter Harris/Hennepin County Jail

MINNEAPOLIS – A Minneapolis resident is facing federal charges for illegal possession of a firearm during a criminal brandishing, uttering threats and homophobic slurs at a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the downtown area of the city.

According to U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, Conell Walter Harris, 29 has been charged with felony illegal possession of a firearm.

In court documents filed in Hennepin County, on November 28, 2022, Minneapolis Police officers responded to a call that a person at 19 Bar, located near downtown Minneapolis, had pulled out a gun after being asked to leave.

When officers arrived, several people pointed at a man, who was later identified as Conell Walter Harris, 29.  Harris resisted arrest and tried to reach into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Officers recovered a stolen .45 caliber Glock model 30 pistol from Harris’ pocket. Officers spoke to bar employees and customers and learned that Harris had become upset after an employee asked to see his identification, which Harris refused to show.

The employee then asked Harris to leave the bar. Harris became combative and pulled out a pistol. An employee attempted to deescalate the situation but Harris became more aggressive and made multiple threatening statements. Harris then left for a short time but returned to the bar before law enforcement arrived.

Screenshot/YouTube KARE 11

Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE 11 reported:

The complaint and affidavit outline the events that allegedly took place at Minneapolis’ 19 Bar the night of Nov. 28, claiming officers first responded to the bar around 11 p.m. on reports of a person with a gun.

When officers arrived, prosecutors say, bar patrons identified Harris. The complaint says Harris “resisted arrest and kept reaching into his hoodie pocket,” leading police to recover a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.

Court documents allege that based on eyewitness accounts, police were informed that Harris was “acting strangely” when he entered the bar and became upset when an employee asked to see his ID. A 19 Bar bartender then asked Harris to leave, according to the complaint, and Harris refused, telling the bartender, “I ain’t going nowhere,” while pulling out the firearm.

Prosecutors say Harris then began yelling profanities and slurs at the bartender before leaving for a short time and then returning.

When Harris later reentered the bar, court documents allege he began playing pool until officers arrived.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris is charged in a criminal complaint with felon in possession of a firearm. He made his initial appearance today in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung. Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing scheduled for December 5, 2022. 

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Minneapolis Police Department.

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history as new leader of House Democrats

Reps. Katherine Clark & Rep. Pete Aguilar become the new House Democratic Whip & House Democratic Caucus Chair

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New Democratic leadership team, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries)

WASHINGTON – With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) became the first ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in US. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

Jeffries is distinguished for his vocal support of the LGBTQ community

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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Congress

Rep. Raul Ruiz calls for ending IRS rule for same-sex couples 

The letter comes after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage

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Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) meeting constituents (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Ruiz)

WASHINGTON – In a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Thursday, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) led over 50 members of Congress in calling for the IRS to reverse current regulations that prevent some same-sex couples from receiving survivor benefits. 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act allows qualified retirement plans to establish a one-year marriage duration requirement for survivor’s benefits, and in 2014 the IRS issued guidance clarifying that these rules apply equally to same-sex couples — meaning if a same-sex couple was not married for the required length of time prior to one spouse’s death, the surviving spouse would not qualify for pension survivor benefits.  

However, in many cases, couples were not legally allowed to be married for long enough to meet that requirement, since unconstitutional laws barring same-sex couples from marriage remained in effect until 2015. For same-sex survivors for whom marriage equality came too late, the one-year marriage duration requirement poses a total bar to access their loved one’s benefits.

“It is imperative that the IRS clarify that a qualified retirement plan will be disqualified if it fails to provide these same-sex survivors barred from marrying with an equal path to survivor’s benefits despite their having been unable to meet the one-year marriage duration requirement before the employee’s death,” Dr. Ruiz and the members wrote. While plans would retain discretion regarding whether to have a marriage duration requirement at all, where they do so, such requirements should not be allowed to further penalize those same-sex survivors who already felt the sting of discrimination while their loved ones were still alive.”  

The letter comes after the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The legislation also safeguards against the denial of any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity – including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, grants, contracts, agreements, guarantees, educational funding, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditations, claims, or defenses – provided that the benefit, right, or status does not arise from a marriage. 

Dr. Ruiz’s letter was inspired by a Palm Springs constituent who has faced roadblocks from receiving his survivor benefits for years due to the IRS policy. 

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District of Columbia

Portrait of Matthew Shepard dedicated at National Cathedral

“It’s amazing how similar & what a great job [the artist] has done to make it look like and showing the essence of Matt,” said Dennis Shepard

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

WASHINGTON – Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., will be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced and he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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