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President Biden endorses Trans Virginia lawmaker for re-election

Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the nation

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday endorsed Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) for re-election. Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the nation.

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is among the other Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates who Biden backed. Biden in his tweet also stressed his support of Terry McAuliffe, who is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Building back better starts in the states,” tweeted Biden. “Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect Terry McAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot.”

Biden called Roem on the night she defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall and congratulated her. A Washington Post picture that showed Roem crying moments later went viral.

The Manassas Democrat who represents the 13th District in 2019 easily won re-election. Christopher Stone, the Republican who is running against Roem in this cycle, opposes marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

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Anti-LGBTQ Rep. Devin Nunes announces he is leaving Congress

Nunes stated that he will be joining the newly formed former president Donald Trump’s Trump Media & Technology group

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Screenshot via CNBC (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents California’s 22nd Congressional District announced Monday that he would be retiring from the U.S. House at the end of the year. Nunes additionally stated that he will be joining the newly formed former president Donald Trump’s Trump Media & Technology group.

The company announced in a separate statement that Nunes would serve as chief executive officer, beginning in January 2022. “Devin understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great,” Trump said in a statement.

The company is preparing to launch a social media platform which it claims will rival Twitter, which had blocked the former president as a result of some of his tweets during and after the insurrection and attempted take over of the U.S. Capitol last January.

“The time has come to reopen the Internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship. The United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream,” Nunes said.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is tasked with redrawing district boundaries has released draft maps, in the once every ten years realignment of congressional districts, that could have caused Nunes severe headache in a reelection bid had he decided to run again.

One of the former president’s ardent loyalists, Nunes has repeatedly been at the center of controversy during his entire career on the Hill. In addition to his support of Trump, he has been openly antagonistic towards the LGBTQ community.

In 2010, Nunes voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that prohibited gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. He also consistently received a “0” rating on LGBT issues from the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, which has a rating scale of 0 to 100.

He opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriage, and he also refused to back any LGBTQ+ legislation.

Over the years he has also been involved in a series of high-profile lawsuits, including a 2019 $435 million defamation lawsuit in which he claimed CNN libeled him by reporting he was digging up dirt on Joe Biden and Ukraine.

U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan dismissed the suit against CNN on a technical ground: She found California law applied to the case and Nunes had failed to request a retraction as required under the laws of the Golden State. Nunes’ lawyer had argued that the laws of Virginia or Washington, D.C., should apply, but the judge said it made the most sense to apply the laws of Nunes’ home state to the dispute, Politico reported.

In 2019, Nunes also sued Twitter over two parody accounts that he claimed harassed him, @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow. That lawsuit brought on merciless ribbing from late night show hosts and other comedians. The Late Show host Stephen Colbert mocked the Republican congressman explaining how Nunes’ lawyers arrived at the $250 million amount for the lawsuit: “You take the value of Devin Nunes’ reputation and you add $250 million dollars.”

This week the Washington Post reported that the publicly traded company that plans to merge with former president Trump’s social media company is under investigation by two federal regulators, which have asked for stock trading information and communications.

Digital World Acquisition Corp. disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it had received “certain preliminary, fact-finding inquiries” from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in late October and early November regarding stock trading tied to the merger agreement announced Oct. 20 the Post reported.

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Devin Nunes leaving Congress to head Trump’s media company

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Does a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade imperil LGBTQ+ rights?

Alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision, would be in danger

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Protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court December 1, 2021 (Photo by Cathy Renna)

WASHINGTON – The oral arguments before the justices of the United States Supreme Court had barely ended in the case brought by the state of Mississippi defending its law banning abortion after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision, would be in danger should the high court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler, appearing on NPR’s ‘Heard on All Things Considered,’ told host Mary Louise Kelly that there was a basis for concern on whether the court would actually overrule its precedents in other cases based on the questions and statements raised during the hearing by the conservative members of the court.

Asked by Kelly if she saw a legal door opening Ziegler affirmed that she did. Kelly then asked her; “Them taking up cases to do with that. What about same-sex marriage?”

Ziegler answered, “Yeah, same-sex marriage is definitely a candidate. Justices Alito and Thomas have in passing mentioned in dicta that they think it might be worth revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision.

And I think it’s fair to say that in the sort of panoply of culture war issues, that rights for same-sex couples and sexual orientation are still among the most contested, even though certainly same-sex marriage is more subtle than it was and than abortion was.

I think that certainly the sort of balance between LGBTIQ rights and religious liberty writ large is a very much alive issue, and I think some states may try to test the boundaries with Obergefell, particularly knowing that they have a few justices potentially willing to go there with them.”

As almost if to underscore the point raised by Professor Ziegler, during the hearing Wednesday, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor pointed out that the high court has taken and “discerned” certain rights in cases from the Constitution.

Along with abortion, the court has “recognized them in terms of the religion parents will teach their children. We’ve recognized it in their ability to educate at home if they choose,” Sotomayor said. “We have recognized that sense of privacy in people’s choices about whether to use contraception or not. We’ve recognized it in their right to choose who they’re going to marry.”

In following up the cases cited by Justice Sotomayor, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who was defending the state’s abortion law, whether a decision in his favor would affect the legal precedents in those cases cited by Justice Sotomayor.

In his answer to Justice Barrett, the state’s Solicitor General said cases involving contraception, same-sex marriage and sodomy wouldn’t be called into question because they involve “clear rules that have engendered strong reliance interests and that have not produced negative consequences or all the many other negative stare decisis considerations we pointed out.”

However, Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Sharon McGowan had a different take and interpreted remarks by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to mean that the decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized private sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down remaining bans on the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, would actually justify overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a publicly released media statement McGowan noted:

During today’s argument, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that two key Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ civil rights—Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—support overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

To that we say, NOT IN OUR NAME. LGBTQ people need abortions. Just as important, those landmark LGBTQ decisions EXPANDED individual liberty, not the opposite. They reflected the growing societal understanding of our common humanity and equality under law.

Just as the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the lie of ‘separate but equal,’ the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Obergefell appropriately overruled precedent where it was clear that, as was true with regard to race, our ancestors failed properly to acknowledge that gender and sexual orientation must not be barriers to our ability to live, love, and thrive free of governmental oppression.

Abortion rights are essential not only because abortion is basic healthcare, but because without access to abortion, people who need that healthcare cannot determine the course of their own lives and participate equally in society. They cannot decide how to structure their families, protect their own health, determine their educational and financial futures, and secure the futures of existing children.

These landmark LGBTQ cases, which Lambda Legal litigated and won, and on which we rely today to protect our community’s civil rights, were built directly on the foundation of Casey and Roe. Our interests in equal dignity, autonomy, and liberty are shared, intertwined, and fundamental.” 

On Sunday, the Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBTQ+ legal organization which represented three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.

Minter is urging caution in how people interpret Wednesday’s arguments and remarks made by the justices.

We should be cautious about taking the bait from anti-LGBTQ groups who falsely argue that if the Supreme Court reverses or undermines Roe v. Wade, they are likely to reverse or undermine Obergefell or Lawrence. In fact, that is highly unlikely, as the argument in Dobbs itself showed,” he said.

The only reason Justice Kavanaugh mentioned Obergefell and Lawrence, along with Brown v. Board of Education, was to cite them as examples of cases in which the Supreme Court clearly did the right thing.  All of those decisions rely at least as strongly on equal protection as on fundamental rights, and even this extremely conservative supreme court has not questioned the foundational role of equal protection in our nation’s constitutional law,” Minter stressed.

During an interview with Bloomberg magazine, David Cortman, of the Scottsdale, Arizona based anti-LGBTQ+ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group because of its anti-LGBTQ+ stance and public utterances, said “two things in particular distinguish abortion from those other privacy rights: the right to life and the states’ interest in protecting a child.”

Cortman, whose group urged the justices to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, said those other rights may be just as wrong as the right to an abortion. “But the fundamental interest in life that’s at issue in abortion means those other rights are probably not in any real danger of being overturned.”

But Cortman is of the opinion that there is little impetus among the Court’s conservatives to take up challenges to those cases.

However, the fact that the six to three make-up of the high court with a conservative majority which can imperil the rights of women in regards to their ability to render decisions over their healthcare and well-being has progressives’ clamoring for the public to pay closer attention and be more proactively engaged.

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in an emailed media public statement to the Blade underscored those concerns:

Reports and analysis coming out of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are extremely disturbing and represent a threat to our individual constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy. There is no ‘middle ground’ on what the Constitution guarantees and what was decided decades ago with the Roe v Wade decision

This is about liberty, equality, and the rule of law, not the political or partisan views of those sitting on the bench. The unprecedented decision to remove a constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court 50 years ago would set back civil rights by decades. They cannot take this country back to a time when lives were destroyed or lost because women lived in a state without access to reproductive healthcare or bodily autonomy.

Abortion access is essential, and a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Bans on abortion are deeply racist and profoundly sexist – the harshest impacts fall on Black and Brown women and pregnant people and on our families and communities.

If you think this decision will not affect you, think again: a wrong decision by the Supreme Court means you, too, will lose your bodily autonomy, your ability to own your own personal and community power. This is not just about abortion; it is about controlling bodies based on someone else determining your worthiness. This is a racial justice issue. This is a women’s issue. It is an LGBTQ issue. It is a civil rights issue. These are our fundamental rights that are at stake.”

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Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy

The tributes to Dole poured in from every segment of government, political, public & personal reflecting his lifelong career of public service

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U.S. Senator Bob Dole via 60 Minutes archival interview with Steve Kroft 1993 (Screenshot YouTube)

WASHINGTON – In a tweet Sunday morning the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced the death of former Kansas U.S. Senator Robert J. “Bob” Dole at the age of 98. Reaction was immediate from longtime friends, political allies of the Senator and others including President Joe Biden who served with him in the U.S. Senate.

In a statement released by the White House, the president said of his friend and former Senate colleague; “Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves. […] Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor. May God bless him, and may our nation draw upon his legacy of decency, dignity, good humor, and patriotism for all time.”

The tributes to Dole that poured in Sunday from every segment of government, political, public and personal reflected his lifelong career of public service to Americans including his championing the rights of disabled Americans playing a key role in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Dole himself was disabled, having been grievously wounded in combat while serving in the U.S. Army in the Italian campaign during World War Two.

Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service, but doctors weren’t sure he’d survive. He was hospitalized for three years. He suffered infections, grueling therapy, several operations and in one instance developed a blood clot that nearly killed him.

He spent the rest of his life struggling with disabilities caused by his war injuries, most noticeably loss of the use of his right arm.

After his recovery and convalescence he enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson on the GI Bill, and later transferred to Washburn University in his home state of Kansas. He graduated in 1952.

After college and while still in law school, Dole became active in local politics in his hometown of Russell, Kansas. In his first run for elected office he won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served from 1951 to 1953 until he ran and was elected Russell County Attorney. He remained in that position until 1961, when he was first elected to the U.S. Congress as a Republican.

In what he later said publicly were the two most important votes while serving in Congress, in1964 he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act.

During the turbulent era of the 1960’s marked by the Civil Rights movement and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Dole ran for the United States Senate in 1969 and was was elected after defeating his fellow Republican, former Kansas Gov. Bill Avery in the primary race.

From January 3, 1969 until his departure from the Senate on June 11, 1996, Dole built a career that established his place as a power broker and deal maker in Republican politics with considerable influence across both parties garnering the respect of Democratic leaders including the late Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

In the early 1970s, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973 including during the 1972 election and Watergate break-in and he resided at the Watergate apartments at the time of the break-in.

An ardent supporter of then-President Richard Nixon, Dole stood by him during the Watergate scandal often clashing with other Republicans leaders who ultimately convinced Nixon to resign the office. In later years Dole still praised Nixon’s record as president, serving as a eulogist at the former president’s state funeral in 1994.

In a commentary for Politico magazine on April 27, 2017, Dole wrote; “I can say with confidence that the beginning of the 21st century is still the Age of Nixon; we’re still living in a world he played a role in shaping. Though our country has changed in many ways in the 43 years since Nixon’s resignation and 23 years since his death, the basic domestic policies and international order that he brought to fruition remain in place.”

While Dole was often seen as a moderate by some, in practice he was a hard nosed partisan Republican sometimes echoing Nixon’s attack impulses. In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford selected him as his running mate at the Republican National Convention.

During the Ford-Dole campaign run he blamed the deaths and injuries of 1.7 million American soldiers on “Democrat wars,” and derided the Democratic Party challenger, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter as no more than a “Southern-fried McGovern.”

“I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit,” Dole said.

In a bit of political irony, he had partnered with Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senator George McGovern, who Nixon defeated in a landslide election in 1972, to help pass legislation making food stamps more accessible.

In 1980 he made a run for the White House on his own, ultimately deciding to withdraw after a poor showing in the Republican primary in New Hampshire against former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Dole was re-elected to his third term as Senator that year.

Dole went on to serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985, and in November of 1984, he was elected Senate Majority leader. He then made another attempt for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, during that campaign his reputation as a political hardliner was cemented during an interview with then-NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

Dole exploded in apparent anger over a question posed about a television advert being run by the campaign of then Vice-President George H.W. Bush, his Republican challenger for the nomination, that accused Dole of “straddling” on taxes. He snapped at Brokaw, saying Bush should “stop lying about my record.” He beat Bush in Iowa, but fell short again in New Hampshire and again he withdrew from the race.

During that campaign, the New York Times reported Dole strongly disagreed with U.S. Representative Jack F. Kemp, R-Ny., on AIDS testing and urged that the issue of AIDS be kept out of the 1988 Presidential race.

”To try to make this a Democratic or Republican issue is a loser,” said Dole. ”It’s a loser for the people involved, and it’s a loser for the people we’re trying to protect.”

On February 22, 1989, during the session of the 101st Congress, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It had previously been introduced in the 99th and 100th Congresses. The act would require the U.S. Department of Justice to collect and publish data about crimes motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Then on June 27, 1989, the  House passed the Act by a 368-47 vote. It moved on to the Senate where as the then-Senate Minority Leader, Dole signed on as a co-sponsor.

On February 8, 1990,  the Senate passed the Act by a 92-4 vote and sent it to President George H.W. Bush who signed the bill into law on April 23, 1990.

The 1994 mid-term elections gave Republicans control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, mainly due to the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s policies and Dole became the Senate Majority Leader for a second time.

Dole again decided to make another run for the presidency in 1995 and it was in the lead-in to that campaign his anti-LGBTQ positions on military service by gay and lesbians and same-sex marriage became clear.

In the Fall of 1995, Dole returned a $1,000 dollar campaign contribution from the Log Cabin Club, a pro-gay Republican organization that is now known as Log Cabin Republicans. That caused Congress’ only openly gay Republican member, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wi., to castigate Dole publicly in a letter that read; “One need not be anti-gay just to prove you are pro-family,” Gunderson wrote. “I know of no gay Republican (and frankly few gay Democrats) who seek any special class or privileges. All we seek is the end to blatant discrimination in America.”

Dole’s campaign returned the money, saying the Republican presidential contender was “100 percent” opposed to the Log Cabin Club’s agenda.

Gunderson, in his letter, also noted he had supported Dole’s past presidential efforts and had endorsed him before being asked. When first told of the donation controversy, Gunderson said he assumed his friends had mistaken Dole’s campaign for that of “other decidedly bigoted candidates. I was embarrassed to learn I was wrong,” he said.

Gunderson questioned whether Dole would reject the support of anyone who was gay. “If this is so, do you intend to now reject my support and request those on your staff who happen to be gay to resign?”

Eight months later in early May of 1996, in an effort to shore up support of his campaign from the Christian conservative movement within the Republican party, Dole signed on as the first co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act. The legislation barred federal benefits for same-sex couples while allowing states the right to refuse recognition of such marriages that are recognized in other states.

In no small bit of irony one of the responses to Dole’s actions came from the Log Cabin Republicans. “The intolerant wing of the Republican Party is rearing it’s ugly head again,” said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “What Dole is missing here is that he already has deep support among religious conservatives. There is a growing perception of the GOP Congress as intolerant, and Dole’s action yesterday only enhances such a view.”

Dole’s position on same-sex marriage was later derided by the Human Rights Campaign in an advert campaign, run only in the San Diego market during the GOP convention, that took aim at prominent Republicans who opposed same-sex marriages, but whose own marriages were not always accepted by mainstream society.

The HRC ads called out presidential nominee Dole and other Republicans for “wasting our time” and “trying to score political points by attacking gay Americans.”

One spot featured pictures of Dole with Elizabeth, his second wife, and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm with his Asian-American wife, Wendy. The ad notes that divorced people and couples of different ethnicities have not always been accepted wholly by society.

In the discussions and the political back and forth leading up to what ultimately became the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military, colloquially referred to as “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell,” “serving is not a right,” Dole said. “It is a privilege in the United States. And there are certain restrictions.”

Dole, who had resigned from the Senate on June 11, 1996 to run his presidential campaign lost that Fall. President Clinton who was an incumbent, won in a 379–159 Electoral College landslide, capturing 49.2% of the vote against Dole’s 40.7% and Ross Perot’s 8.4%.

Dole at age 73 was the last World War II veteran to have been the presidential nominee of a major party. In 1997, months after losing the election Dole was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton.

“Through it, we honor not just his individual achievement but his clear embodiment in the common values and beliefs that join us as a people,” Clinton said. “Values and beliefs that he has spent his life advancing. Sen. Dole, a grateful nation presents this award, with respect for the example you have set for Americans today and for Americans and generations yet to come.”

In the years that followed his political career Dole served as national chairman of the World War II Memorial raising funds for its construction. He was a popular spokesperson for Viagra, Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and along with pop singer, Britney Spears, Pepsi-Cola. He continued to speak out for disabled Americans, and also established The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, housed on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed him to help lead a bipartisan commission to investigate a neglect scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then alongside his wife Elizabeth Dole, in 2012, established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is designed to empower, support and honor the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.

Despite his many accomplishments, in 2014 he still attacked the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans to be married. Dole suggested that fellow Republican, Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman didn’t support ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because Portman, who had a gay son, had come out in favor of gay marriage, the Daily Beast and other media outlets reported in July of 2014.

Dole also supported former President Donald Trump and endorsed Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. In an interview with USA Today conducted for his 98th birthday, Dole said he was “Trumped out”, and that Trump had lost the 2020 election despite his claims to the contrary. “He lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, Dole stated, adding that Trump “never had one bit of fraud in all those lawsuits he filed and statements he made.”

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60 Minutes Archive: Bob Dole (Steve Kroft, 1993)

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