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Biden signs order addresses safety of Native Americans, includes LGBTQ+

“We have to continue to stand up for the dignity and the sovereignty of tribal nations,” the president said

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President Biden signs his executive order at the Tribal Nations Summit November 15, 2022 (Screenshot via White House YouTube)

WASHINGTON – In an Executive Order signed earlier this week on Monday, President Joe Biden ordered the Federal government to work with the Tribal Nations across the U.S. to improve the public safety and criminal justice system for Native Americans.

The president signed the Executive Order as his administration kicked off the first White House Tribal Nations Summit on Monday. It was the first such gathering since the Obama White House held its last Tribal Nation Conference in September 2016.

The summit was attended by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (A member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation) whose daughter is a lesbian, the President and the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

The summit was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal leaders representing the Tribal nations appeared on a virtual screen as a backdrop to the program at the White House, where the summit was broadcast from.

“We understand we cannot address these challenges unless we partner with and honor our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes. You all are keepers of our traditions, the defenders of our resources and visionaries for our future. You and your communities harness Indigenous knowledge that we need to help guide our government – not just across budget years, but across generations,” Secretary Halaand said as the Summit commenced.

In his remarks, Biden told tribal leaders “this is a big day” and reminded tribal leaders his American Rescue Plan included $31 billion for Tribal nations, the “most significant investment in the history of Indian country.” He also noted that the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed later that day includes more than $13 billion in direct investments to Indian Country with intended benefits such as clean drinking water and high-speed Internet.

“We have to continue to stand up for the dignity and the sovereignty of tribal nations,” the president said.

 The president outlined five new initiatives from his administration: protecting tribal treaty rights, increasing tribal participation in management of federal lands, incorporating tribal ecological knowledge into the federal government’s scientific approach, taking action to protect the greater Chaco Canyon area in New Mexico from further oil and gas leasing, and signing the new executive order addressing violence against Native Americans.

The president addressed the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous People in the country, with a specific reference in the order to LGBTQ+ Native Americans and people who identify as “Two-Spirit” people within Tribal communities.

In the order Biden also noted that; ” Previous executive action has not achieved changes sufficient to reverse the epidemic of missing or murdered indigenous people and violence against Native Americans.”

The president’s order directs the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve data collection and information sharing. 

It also includes directives that the Attorney General issue recommendations to improve the use and accessibility of DNA database services, and to collect data for “ongoing analysis… on violent crime and missing persons involving Native Americans, including in urban Indian communities, to better understand the extent and causes of this crisis.” 

The order also directs the Departments of Justice, the Interior, HHS, Energy, and Homeland Security to “conduct timely consultations with Tribal Nations” and to “engage Native American communities to obtain their comments and recommendations,” and provides for increased collaboration across tribal nations and U.S. government agencies, as well as for technical assistance.

Full Text:

Section 1.  Policy.  The safety and well-being of all Native Americans is a top priority for my Administration.  My Administration will work hand in hand with Tribal Nations and Tribal partners to build safe and healthy Tribal communities and to support comprehensive law enforcement, prevention, intervention, and support services.

Generations of Native Americans have experienced violence or mourned a missing or murdered family member or loved one, and the lasting impacts of such tragedies are felt throughout the country.  Native Americans face unacceptably high levels of violence, and are victims of violent crime at a rate much higher than the national average. Native American women, in particular, are disproportionately the victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including intimate partner homicide.  Research shows that approximately half of Native American women have experienced sexual violence and that approximately half have experienced physical violence by an intimate  partner.  LGBTQ+ Native Americans and people who identify as “Two-Spirit” people within Tribal communities are also often the targets of violence.  And the vast majority of Native American survivors report being victimized by a non-Native American individual.   

For far too long, justice has been elusive for many Native American victims, survivors, and families.  Criminal jurisdiction complexities and resource constraints have left many injustices unaddressed.  Some progress has been made, particularly on Tribal lands.  Given that approximately 70 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas and part of this epidemic of violence is against Native American people in urban areas, we must continue that work on Tribal lands but also build on existing strategies to identify solutions directed toward the particular needs of urban Native Americans. 

In 2020, bipartisan members of the 116th Congress took an important step forward through the passage of two pieces of legislation — Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act of 2019 ‑- that include important provisions for improving law enforcement and justice protocols as well as improving access to data to address missing or murdered indigenous people.  My Administration is committed to fully implementing these laws and working with the Congress to fund these programs for Native Americans. Earlier this year, the Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General announced a Joint Commission, established pursuant to the Not Invisible Act, that includes: representatives of Tribal, State, and local law enforcement; Tribal judges; Native American survivors of human trafficking; health care and mental health practitioners who have experience working with Native American survivors of human trafficking and sexual assault; Urban Indian Organizations focused on violence against women and children; and family members of missing or murdered indigenous people. The Commission will work to address the persistent violence endured by Native American families and communities across the country.  In addition, the Department of the Interior has established a special unit to focus resources on active and unsolved missing persons cases.

But more work is needed to address the crisis of ongoing violence against Native Americans — and of missing or murdered indigenous people.  Previous executive action has not achieved changes sufficient to reverse the epidemic of missing or murdered indigenous people and violence against Native Americans.  The Federal Government must prioritize addressing this issue and its underlying causes, commit the resources needed to tackle the high rates of violent crime that Native Americans experience over the long term, coordinate and provide resources to collect and analyze data, and work closely with Tribal leaders and community members, Urban Indian Organizations, and other interested parties to support prevention and intervention efforts that will make a meaningful and lasting difference on the ground. 

It is the policy of my Administration to work directly with Tribal Nations to strengthen public safety and criminal justice in Indian Country and beyond, to reduce violence against Native American people, and to ensure swift and effective Federal action that responds to the problem of missing or murdered indigenous people.  My Administration understands that Native American people, particularly the survivors of violence, know best what their communities need to make them safer.  Consistent engagement, commitment, and collaboration will drive long-term improvement to public safety for all Native Americans.

Sec. 2.  Coordination of a Federal Law Enforcement Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Native Americans.  The Attorney General, working with the Secretary of the Interior and the heads of other executive departments and agencies (agencies) as appropriate, shall assess and build on existing efforts to develop a coordinated and comprehensive Federal law enforcement strategy to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans, including to address missing or murdered indigenous people where the Federal Government has jurisdiction.  The strategy shall set out a plan to address unsolved cases involving Native Americans; provide for coordination among the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Homeland Security in their efforts to end human trafficking; seek to strengthen and expand Native American participation in the Amber Alert in Indian Country initiative; and build on and enhance national training programs for Federal agents and prosecutors, including those related to trauma-informed and victim-centered interview and investigation techniques. The strategy shall also include protocols for effective, consistent, and culturally and linguistically appropriate communication with families of victims and their advocates, including through the creation of a designated position within the Department of Justice assigned the function of serving as the outreach services liaison for criminal cases where the Federal Government has jurisdiction.  The Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior shall report to the President within 240 days of the date of this order describing the strategy developed and identifying additional resources or other support necessary to implement that strategy. 

Sec. 3.  Supporting Tribal and Other Non-Federal Law Enforcement Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Native Americans. 
     (a)  The Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior, working with the heads of other agencies as appropriate, shall develop guidance, identify leading practices, and provide training and technical assistance, consistent with applicable law and available appropriations, to:

          (i)    assist Tribal governments in implementing special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction pursuant to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, enabling them to prosecute certain non-Indian defendants for domestic violence and dating violence offenses in Indian Country, and also assist Tribes in implementing any relevant Tribal provisions in subsequent Violence Against Women Act reauthorization legislation;
          (ii)   assist Tribal governments within Oklahoma, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), to build capacity to handle cases within their criminal jurisdiction, including the capacity to provide victim services;
          (iii)  promote coordination of Federal, State, local, and Tribal law enforcement, including, as appropriate, through the development and support of Tribal Community Response Plans;
          (iv)   continue to assist Tribal law enforcement and judicial personnel with training, as described in 25 U.S.C. 2451, on the investigation and prosecution of offenses related to illegal narcotics and on alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment; and
          (v)    assist Tribal, State, and local law enforcement entities’ ability to apply linguistically appropriate, trauma-informed, and victim-centered practices when working with victims of crime, and to develop prevention strategies and recognize the indicators of human trafficking affecting Native Americans.

     (b)  The Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior shall continue to assess their respective grantmaking operations to evaluate whether any changes, consistent with applicable law, are warranted to make that grantmaking more equitable for Tribal applicants seeking support for law enforcement purposes and for the provision of services to victims and survivors.

Sec. 4.  Improving Data Collection, Analysis, and Information Sharing. 

     (a)  The Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), as appropriate, shall sustain efforts to improve data collection and information-sharing practices, conduct outreach and training, and promote accurate and timely access to information services regarding crimes or threats against Native Americans, including in urban areas, such as through the National Crime Information Center, the Next Generation Identification system, and the National Violent Death Reporting System, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law. 

     (b) The Attorney General shall take steps, consistent with applicable law, to expand the number of Tribes participating in the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information, which provides Tribes access to national crime information systems for federally authorized purposes.

     (c) The Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of HHS, shall develop a strategy for ongoing analysis of data collected on violent crime and missing persons involving Native Americans, including in urban Indian communities, to better understand the extent and causes of this crisis.  Within 240 days of the date of this order, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of HHS shall report jointly to the President on the strategy they have developed to conduct and coordinate that analysis and shall identify additional resources or other support necessary to implement that strategy.

     (d) The Attorney General shall assess the current use of DNA testing and DNA database services to identify missing or murdered indigenous people and any responsible parties, including the unidentified human remains, missing persons, and relatives of missing persons indices of the Combined DNA Index System and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.  Within 240 days of the date of this order, the Attorney General shall report the outcome of this assessment to the President, along with recommendations to improve the use and accessibility of DNA database services.     

     (e) The Secretary of HHS shall evaluate the adequacy of research and data collection efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health in accurately measuring the prevalence and effects of violence against Native Americans, especially those living in urban areas, and report to the President within 180 days of the date of this order on those findings and any planned changes to improve those research and data collection efforts. 

Sec. 5.  Strengthening Prevention, Early Intervention, and Victim and Survivor Services. 

     (a)  The Secretary of HHS, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and Tribal Nations and after conferring with other agencies, researchers, and community-based organizations supporting indigenous wellbeing, including Urban Indian Organizations, as appropriate, shall develop a comprehensive plan to support prevention efforts that reduce risk factors for victimization of Native Americans and increase protective factors, including by enhancing the delivery of services for Native American victims and survivors, as well as their families and advocates.  The comprehensive plan shall, to the extent possible, build on the existing evidence base.  The plan shall include strategies for improving mental and behavioral health; providing substance abuse services; providing family support, including high-quality early childhood programs for victims and survivors with young children; and preventing elder abuse, gender-based violence, and human trafficking.  In addition, the plan shall also include community-based strategies that improve community cohesion and cultural connectivity and preservation, educational programs to increase empowerment and self-advocacy, and strategies to encourage culturally and linguistically appropriate, trauma-informed, and victim-centered service delivery to Native Americans, including for survivors of gender-based violence.  The Secretary of HHS shall report to the President within 240 days of the date of this order describing the plan and actions taken and identifying any additional resources or other support needed.    

     (b)  The Secretary of HHS and the Secretary of the Interior shall review procedures within their respective departments for reporting child abuse and neglect, including barriers to reporting, and shall take appropriate action to make reporting of child abuse and neglect by the Indian Health Service easier and more streamlined.  In addition, the Secretaries shall assess and identify ways to expand Native American access to child advocacy center services such as pediatric medical forensic examination services, mental health care providers with advanced training in child trauma, and culturally and linguistically appropriate activities and services geared toward pediatric patients.  The Secretaries shall report to the President within 180 days of the date of this order describing actions taken, findings from the assessment, and planned actions to expand access, and identifying any additional resources or other support needed.    

     (c)  The Secretary of the Interior, consulting with the Attorney General and the Secretary of HHS, as appropriate, shall evaluate the effectiveness of existing technical assistance and judicial support services for Tribes to provide community-based conflict resolution, as well as culturally and linguistically appropriate, trauma-informed, and victim-centered strategies, including traditional healing services and healing courts, and shall identify and make improvements as needed.  The Secretary of the Interior shall report to the President within 180 days of the date of this order describing the evaluation findings and the improvements implemented.

Sec. 6.  Consultation and Engagement.  In accordance with the Presidential Memorandum of January 26, 2021 (Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships), the Departments of Justice, the Interior, HHS, Energy, and Homeland Security shall conduct timely consultations with Tribal Nations and shall engage Native American communities to obtain their comments and recommendations regarding implementing sections 2 through 5 of this order.  Tribal consultation and engagement shall continue as the strategies required by this order are implemented.

Sec. 7.  Definitions.  For the purposes of this order

     (a) “Tribal Nation” means an American Indian or Alaska Native tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village, or community that the Secretary of the Interior acknowledges as a federally recognized tribe pursuant to the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, 25 U.S.C. 5130, 5131.
     (b) “Native American” and “Native” mean members of one or more Tribal Nations.
     (c) “Urban Indian Organization” means a nonprofit corporate body situated in an urban center, governed by an urban Indian controlled board of directors, and providing for the maximum participation of all interested Indian groups and individuals, which body is capable of legally cooperating with other public and private entities, pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1603(29).

Sec. 8.  General Provisions. 
     (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: 
          (i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
          (ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
     (b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
     (c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

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The White House celebrates “A night when hope & history rhyme”

“On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people”

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President Biden awards the National Humanities Medal to Elton John for his work on combating HIV/AIDS (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – After a performance from a repertoire of the best known hits from his songbook in a special musical concert at the White House Friday evening, Sir Elton John was called to the podium where, accompanied by the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden surprised the iconic British singer-songwriter with an award.

The president presented John with the National Humanities Medal for his advocacy work in recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and tireless activism against the global HIV/AIDS crisis disease through his contributions in music and the arts.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened its citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

A stunned John was moved to tears. After the president had the citation read by a military aide and hung the medal around the singer’s neck, Biden told the audience gathered, “I think we surprised him” to which they cheered and applauded.

The medal’s citation read in part that it was honoring John “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth — that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Visibly moved, the iconic musician and performer said: “I just said to the First Lady, I’m never flabbergasted- but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much- I will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness- America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV it’s even bigger and I can’t thank you enough…. I’m really emotional about this- thank you.”

Texas Trans-teen activist Landon Richie (Middle) standing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, (L) and his husband Chasten (R).
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

The special gathering held under a vaulted glass and aluminum ‘tent’ on the South Lawn of the White House was attended by 2,000 guests including former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband Chasten, as well as teachers, nurses, LGBTQ advocates and military families, who the White House had dubbed “everyday history-makers.”

During a pause in his performance earlier, the singer addressed former first lady Laura Bush, praising her husband, former President George W. Bush’s ongoing work on the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush had initiated while in office and is credited with saving millions of lives across the African continent and helping to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis globally.

“I want to say to the first lady, President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. It was the most incredible thing,” he said to Mrs. Bush.

Sir Elton John performs at the White House, September 23, 2022
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

President Biden Awards Elton John with National Humanities Medal:

Full Text of the President and the First Lady’s remarks:

THE FIRST LADY:  Hello!  Good evening.  Thank you, Athen.  It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.

And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E for helping us put this event together.

Isn’t this incredible?    

First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight.  And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House. 

And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David. 

Few things have the power to bring us together like music.  It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune.  It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define. 

When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone. 

And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers. 

Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard.  (Applause.)  Love the teachers!  So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years.  And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you. 

We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — like Dr. Amber Pearson.  Amber was the first person in her family to go to college.  And it wasn’t easy.  She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well. 

And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami.  When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back. 

Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about.  Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.

Elton once said, “Music has healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”

We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music. 

And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me.  Please, all have a seat.  Please, have a seat.

Thank you, Jill.  Thank you all for being here on such a special evening.

And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice.  And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.

Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.

The think I did it because I’m Irish.  That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. 

One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme.  Three hundred million records sold.  Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten.  Six Grammy Awards.  Two Oscars.  One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board.  Four thousand performances around the world.  A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.

On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.

So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music.  His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory.  Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive.  And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.

As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.

Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.

Every day — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.

And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time.  Karen, thank you.  Thank you for being here, Karen.

Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.

Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.

Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.

With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation.  That’s what tonight is all about.

Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination.  It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.

To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight.  (Applause.)  And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation. 

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The White House

Bisexual activists to meet with White House officials

Meeting to take place at HHS on Tuesday

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White House (Photo courtesy of Adam Schultz/White House)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday will hold a meeting with a group of more than a dozen bisexual activists.

The meeting, which coincides with Bisexual Awareness Week, will take place at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in D.C.

The Washington Blade has learned National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson, Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson, Heron Greenesmith, Drs. Mimi Hoang and Lauren Beach, Khafre Kujichagulia Abif, Diana Adams, Nicole Holmes, Blair Imani, Tania Israel, Ellyn Ruthstrom, Belle Haggett Silverman and Ezra Young will attend the meeting that BiPlus Organizing US has coordinated.

Meeting participants will highlight three specific points

            • Funding priorities for bisexual health

            • Public health messaging and communications

            • Intimate partner violence within bisexual communities

BiPlus Organizing US will ask the Biden administration to illuminate the White House in the bisexual Pride colors and to issue a proclamation that acknowledges Celebrate Bisexual Day, which is on Friday. The group will also seek a White House-sponsored bisexual event in D.C. and a virtual post-meeting brief.

“The Sept. 20, 2022, policy brief meeting is a small step forward since the previous administration,” said BiPlus Organizing US. “However, we wish to work with government on addressing our issues to ensure that Bisexual Awareness Week and Celebrate Bisexuality Day 2023 are given equal recognition to that of June’s annual White House Pride events, and policy, funding, communications, messaging, data collection and more are distinctly considered for the bi+ community.”

Meeting participants on Monday will attend a BiPlus Organizing US reception in D.C. Information about the meeting can be found here.

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The White House

Biden meets with Brittney Griner’s wife, agent

WNBA star last month sentenced to nine years in Russian penal colony

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Brittney Griner (Photo by Kathclick via Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday met with Brittney Griner’s wife.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement said the meeting took place at the White House. A pool report noted Biden met with Cherelle Griner and Brittney Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan also participated in the meeting.

Biden also sat down with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.

A Russian court last month convicted Brittney Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist — of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. 

Brittney Griner’s lawyers have appealed her sentence.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. 

American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap. A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed negotiations between the two countries over a potential prisoner swap have begun.

“President Biden met today with Elizabeth Whelan and Cherelle Griner, the loved ones of two American citizens who are wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, and Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, met separately with the president in the Oval Office,” said Jean-Pierre in her statement. “The president held the meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely. He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time. The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long,” 
 
“Today’s meetings come after earlier meetings and conversations that the president, his national security team, and the State Department have held with the Whelan and Griner families to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible,” added Jean-Pierre. “We all admire the courage of the Whelan and Griner families in the face of these unimaginable circumstances, and we remain committed to reuniting them with their loved ones.”

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