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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

Biden delivers Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery

In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington National Cemetery

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President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Screenshot/YouTube White House Livestream)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Under grey clouds and occasional rainfall, President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the wreath laying the President, introduced by Secretary Austin delivered his Memorial Day address in the amphitheater. In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington. He then said: “Everyone has lost and loved someone in the service of our country.”

“I know how hard it can be. It can reopen that black wound in your chest. … I know.  … This week marks nine years since I lost my son Beau.”

He noted his loss wasn’t the same those who lost someone in combat as Beau died of cancer. He repeated his belief the cancer was from burn pits in Iraq. 

WATCH:

Full text of President Biden’s address:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
AT THE 156TH NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
One hundred and sixty years ago this month, in the midst of the Civil War, the first American soldier was laid to rest at these hallowed grounds.  Private William Christman, a farmworker from Pennsylvania, had enlisted just seven weeks before.  There was no formal ceremony to consecrate this new sanctuary, no fanfare.  

It came at a turning point in the war.  As fighting shifted east, the casualties quickly mounted in the bloody, grinding campaign.

Over the next year, William would be joined in death, as he was in life, by his brother-in-arms in this final resting place.  And these hills around us would be transformed from a former slave plantation into a national strine — shine for those American heroes who died for freedom, who died for us.

My fellow Americans, Jill, Vice President Harris, the Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Austin, General Brown; most importantly, the veterans and service members, families, and survivors — we gather at this sacred place at this solemn moment to remember, to honor — honor the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who’ve given their lives for this nation.  

Each one, literally, a chain in the link — a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days.  Each one bound by common commitment — not to a place, not to a person, not to a President, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America.   

Today, we bear witness to the price they paid.  Every white stone across these hills, in every military cemetery and churchyard across America: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a neighbor — an American.

To everyone who has lost and loved someone in the service of our country, to everyone with a loved one still missing or unaccounted for, I know how hard it can be.  It can reopen that black hole in the middle of your chest, bringing you back to the exact moment you got that phone call, heard that knock on the door, or held the hand when the last breath was taken.  I know it hurts.  The hurt is still real, still raw.

This week marks nine years since I lost my son, Beau.  Our losses are not the same.  He didn’t perish on the battlefield.  He was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the Army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit — a major in the U.S.  National — Army National Guard, living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit.  

And as it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you — still sharp, still clear.  But so is the pride I feel in his service, as if I can still hear him saying, “It’s my duty, Dad.  It’s my duty.”  

Duty.  That was the code of — my son lived by and the creed all of you live by, the creed that generations of service members have followed into battle.  

On the grounds around us lie fallen heroes from every major conflict in history to defend our independence, to preserve our Union, to defeat fascism; built powerful alliances, forged in fires of two world wars.  

Members of the Greatest Generation, who 80 years ago next week, took to the beaches of Normandy and liberated a continent and literally saved the world.  

Others who stood against communism in Korea and Vietnam.  

And not far from here, in Section 60, lie over a thousand — a thousand — 7,054 women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, who signed up to defeat terrorists, protect our homeland after 9/11.   

Decade after decade, tour after tour, these warriors fought for our freedom and the freedom of others, because freedom has never been guaranteed.  Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many.  It matters.  

Our democracy is more than just a system of government.  It’s the very soul of America.  It’s how we’ve been able to constantly adapt through the centuries.  It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge stronger than we went in.  And it’s how we come together as one nation united.  

And just as our fallen heroes have kept the ultimate faith with our country and our democracy, we must keep faith with them.

I’ve long said we have many obligations as a nation.  But we only have one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into battle and to pr- — take care of them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.  

Since I took office, I’ve signed over 30 bipartisan laws supporting servicemen, veterans and their families and caregivers, and survivors.  

Last year, the VA delivered more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history.  And the PACT Act, which I was proud to have signed, has already guaranteed one million claims helping veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service — one million.  

For too long, after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right healthcare, to get the benefits they had earned.  Not anymore.  

Our nation came together to ensure the burden is no longer on them to prove their illness was service-related, whether it was Agent Orange or toxic waste, to ensure they protected them — they just have to protect the United States — because it’s assumed that their death was a consequence of the exposure. 

On this day, we came together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future they fought for — a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity, and equality.  Not just for some, but for all.

America is the only country in the world founded on an idea — an idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.  

We’ve never fully lived up to that, but we’ve never, ever, ever walked away from it.  Every generation, our fallen heroes have brought us closer.   

Today, we’re not just fortunate heirs of their legacy.  We have a responsibility to be the keepers of their mission.  That — that truest memorial of their lives: the actions we take every day to ensure that our democracy endures, the very idea of America endures.

Ladies and gentlemen, 160 years ago, the first American solider was laid to rest on these hallowed grounds.  There were no big ceremonies, no big speeches, no family mour- — family members to mourn their loss, just the quiet grief of the rolling green hills surrounding them.  

Today, we join that grief with gratitude: gratitude to our fallen heroes, gratitude to the families left behind, and gratitude to the brave souls who continue to uphold the flame of liberty all across our country and around the world.

Because of them, all of them, that we stand here today.  We will never forget that.  We will never, ever, ever stop working for — to make a more perfect Union, which they lived and which they died for.  

That was their promise.  That’s our promise — our promise today to them.  That’s our promise always.  

God bless the fallen.  May God bless their families.  And may God protect our troops.

Thank you.  
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Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ+ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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The White House is lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ+ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

The Human Rights Campaign announced advocacy groups in 24 countries that include Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, Estonia, Morocco, and Peru received grants through its Global Small Grants Program. These funds, according to a press release, will allow them to “advance LGBTQ+ equality.”

“This year, the Human Rights Campaign is honored to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by highlighting the powerful impact of the Global Small Grants Program,” sand HRC Global Advocacy Associate Director Andrea Gillespie. “IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for reflection of both the great strides made in our movement and just how far we need to go to achieve equality for all.” 

“As the anti-rights and anti-gender movement seeks to rollback progress on LGBTQ+ rights globally, HRC is proud to stand in solidarity with our partners around the world facing new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies, and redouble our commitments to the important work of HRC’s Global Alumni Network,” added Gillespie.

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Exclusive interview: Biden’s Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

“We do believe in human rights; we do believe that violence & discrimination is not OK,” she said. “And we lead by example”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Karine Jean-Pierre sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview in her office on Tuesday, a week before the two-year anniversary of her appointment as America’s first Black and first openly queer White House press secretary.

Her history-making tenure has come at an especially fraught time for LGBTQ people.

The Biden-Harris administration has been widely celebrated as the most pro-equality in history. Over the past four years, rights and freedoms were expanded through the passage of landmark legislation and the enactment of bold new policies by federal agencies like the FDA and U.S. Department of Education, while the president elevated record-breaking numbers of LGBTQ appointees to serve in the highest levels of government.

At the same time, conservative Republicans have led an unprecedented legislative assault on queer people, especially transgender and gender-expansive youth, which has been accompanied by an escalation of dangerous fear and hate-mongering rhetoric against the community and spikes in bias-motivated acts of violence as well as depression, anxiety, self-harm behaviors, and deaths by suicide.

On these matters Jean-Pierre has often spoken out, addressing reporters from the lectern in the West Wing’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in remarks that have often gone viral and driven news coverage.

Reflecting on her tenure, the 49-year-old press secretary explained why she is uniquely positioned to leverage her influence as the most visible spokesperson for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the administration — at this pivotal moment for LGBTQ people both at home and abroad.

Leadership comes from the top


“Representation matters,” Jean-Pierre said. “And the president was certainly very aware of that, and wanted to make sure that he put together the most diverse administration,” she said, “and he did that.”

About 14 percent of appointees in the Biden-Harris administration identify as LGBTQ, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In his first term, Biden has appointed a record-breaking 11 LGBTQ judges to the federal bench, tying with the number who were confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of eight years.

“I am in this job because the president of the United States believed and wanted me to speak on behalf of him and said, ‘You have my voice, and you know how to speak for me, and this is the role that I want’ — I mean, that’s why he chose me,” she said.

Jean-Pierre stressed that she is able to condemn “these bad bills, these awful bills, these really hateful, prejudiced, anti-LGBTQ+ bills” because of “this president” — and not just by virtue of his appointment of her to the role of press secretary, but also because “he believes it is important to speak out.”

“Silence is complicit,” she said. “You know, that’s something that you hear from this president all the time: We cannot be silent in this moment. We cannot. Not when we see these anti-LGBTQ+ bills” nor when attempts are made to restrict reproductive rights or other freedoms.

When vulnerable queer youth are being targeted, Jean-Pierre said, “we have to do everything that we can — as an administration, as the White House, as the federal government — to protect them, and that’s what I get to do” because “this president allows me to speak out and show up.”

Jean-Pierre also pointed to Biden’s remarks in defense of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups during his State of the Union addresses and other major speeches.

“One of the things that he has said that always touches me is he says, ‘trans kids are some of the most impressive, brave people’ that he has seen,” she said. The president understands that “This is not about politics. This is about the right thing to do. And protecting lives.”

“And I say all of this to say it matters. It matters who sits behind that Resolute Desk. It matters who’s the president of the United States,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary added that Biden’s actions as president affirm his verbal commitments to protect, support, and defend the LGBTQ community.

“The president signed an executive order to make sure that we were lifting up LGBTQ+ rights on the federal level, to make sure that policies that we were putting out there were taking steps toward protecting families, protecting youth, addressing mental health amongst young people, and in the community, and that was something that was really important for the president to do.”

She described a pivotal moment in the White House when, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protections for abortion with a 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), conservative Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his interest in revisiting other cases, including those that established the right to marriage equality.

“So, one of the things that came out of Congress in a bipartisan way was protecting marriage, protecting marriage equality,” Jean-Pierre said, “and I remember when the president signed [the Respect for Marriage Act] in December of 2022, and how beautiful that was knowing that that was protected by law.”

“We have made sure to do what we can on the federal level,” she added, noting that, “Obviously, there’s legislation that we have to continue to push for,” including the Equality Act — which would codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans — “but we do what we can from this side of things.”

The importance of diversity of lived experience


The president also understands the value of narrative storytelling in policymaking and governance, Jean-Pierre said, noting how Biden often talks about economic issues by relating to the struggles of working families with his journey from humble beginnings in Scranton, Pa.

Likewise, Jean-Pierre said that drawing from her lived experiences “helps me understand policy a little bit more and telling stories around policies a little bit more.” For example, she sees the danger of anti-LGBTQ laws targeting youth not just because of her identity as a member of the community — but also as the mother of a nine-year-old.

In February, Jean-Pierre spoke out repeatedly after a nonbinary Oklahoma teen named Nex Benedict died, in what was later ruled a suicide, after enduring months of bullying over their sexual orientation and following their state’s passage of a bill prohibiting trans students from using restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity.

“I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful,” Jean-Pierre said in remarks to reporters during the opening (the “topper”) of her press briefing on Feb. 23.

“Nex Benedict and so many young people are dying by suicide,” she told the Blade. “And that hurts. That’s an incredibly hurtful thing. Because they were bullied, because they were attacked, because they don’t feel free.”

“As a parent, as a mom, I do everything that I can to make sure that [my daughter] is protected,” Jean-Pierre said. “And what I want for my child, I want for every child, so that does hit differently, because it’s very personal.”

The press secretary recalled how she met two mothers at an event last year and, in separate conversations with the women, learned how they planned to leave their respective home states — Texas and Oklahoma — because they had trans children and felt unable to protect them amid the legislative attacks.

“Can you imagine,” she asked, “you’re raising your child in a community that you are familiar with” when suddenly, “there is a piece of legislation that’s going through the state legislature that gets signed by the governor and it is telling you that your child is in danger?”

Jean-Pierre also recognizes how her professional background and experience have equipped her for the briefing room and other duties of her role as White House press secretary.

Prior to joining Biden’s 2020 campaign and then the Biden-Harris administration, she worked as a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, having also served as a senior adviser and national spokesperson for MoveOn, the progressive public policy advocacy group.

Jean-Pierre began her career working on political campaigns and fundraising before joining the faculty of her alma mater, Columbia University, where she was a lecturer in international and public affairs.

“There’s something to growing and experiencing and taking chances and jumping from one thing to another,” she said, “understanding that you’re learning from the last thing and what you’re learning from the last thing you’re going to take to the next experience.”

The president, Jean-Pierre said, “had watched me do TV and watched me in my roles prior, and really believed that I was the person that he wanted” for the press secretary role.

Ultimately, “whether it’s making sure I am empathetic, sympathetic to what people are going through as a mom, as someone that belongs to multiple communities, I get to do that. Whether it’s the media and understanding how the media works, how TV works, how communicating with the press works, I’ve done that, so I’m able to bring that to the podium,” she said.

‘Lifting up issues that matter


In the immediate aftermath of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre noted that LGBTQ advocacy groups and individuals had sought to “get more attention to what happened there,” while the Biden-Harris administration wanted folks to understand “that we’re watching, we’re seeing what is happening, and we’re going to speak” about it.

“We’re not going to be silent, here,” she said. “We were very purposeful about it.”

In hindsight, Jean-Pierre said, her remarks from the podium made a real impact. “It brings coverage; it brings the White House press corps and others to cover what we’re saying. That is why it is so important what we do at the podium; it is so important what we do in this press briefing room — lifting up issues that matter to the American people.”

The press secretary added, “sometimes it’s not even an issue that’s popular. It’s something that needs to be spoken to, because it is something that could lead to a dangerous situation; something that could oppress a community, harm a community — and we get that; this president gets that, this administration gets that.”

Initially, there was very little press coverage of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre said, but “we wanted to really lift up what was happening,” because “it wasn’t just Nex Benedict. It was a story of many, many people in that community who were being bullied, who were being attacked. And we needed to speak to that” especially amid the hundreds of bills targeting the rights of queer youth in Oklahoma and across the country.

In another instance recalling her comments from the briefing room, Jean-Pierre stressed how it was important for the administration to “take on the governor” of Florida, Ron DeSantis (R), over his efforts to target the LGBTQ community by banning books, imposing curriculum restrictions, and limiting educators’ ability to be out at work.

Doing what’s right — regardless of the backlash


Jean-Pierre was quick to brush aside the question of whether she considers the risk of incurring backlash from the right when deciding whether to speak out on matters of LGBTQ rights.

Blowback “happens all the time,” she said. “Every day!” So, “I just don’t pay attention to it. We have to do the right thing and we can’t live in fear, here.”

The choice to be silent about a problem is the choice to be complicit, and not only does silence forestall any progress toward addressing the issue at hand, but it also constitutes an abrogation of one’s responsibility as a leader, Jean-Pierre said.

“The president is very clear about that,” she said. With respect to issues like dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation, “you can’t be silent” because “people’s lives are at stake.” Ultimately, “The backlash is going to be the backlash, but we’ve got to do the right thing and history will remember where we stood.”

The Biden-Harris administration believes this principle extends to America’s leadership on the international stage, Jean-Pierre said, in her response to a question about U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R-Mich.) travel to Uganda last year to speak in defense of the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act.

She stressed that the law, which criminalizes homosexuality and imposes the death penalty in some cases, is “dangerous and undermines the rights of all citizens. And the president has been very clear, the Biden-Harris administration has been very clear, that no one should live — and I’ve said this before — in constant fear.”

Rather, Jean-Pierre said, “They should feel safe in their community, they should feel protected, and no one should be subjected to violence and discrimination. It is not what we believe, whether it’s here in this country or abroad.”

Since the legislation was made effective in May 2023, she noted, “we’ve taken several accountability actions, including restricting visa entry to the United States, restricting economic support to the government, and sanctioning officials who abuse human rights.”

Jean-Pierre added that, “we’re also deeply troubled by the copycat anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world,” which is “why it’s important what we do as the United States, because we’re leaders. And when you’re seeing other countries trying to implement and copycat the same thing, you need the United States to stand up and speak out against it. And that’s leadership.”

The administration’s robust response “sends a message around the world, that we do believe in human rights; we do believe that people should be protected; we do believe that violence and discrimination is not OK,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we lead by example.”

Likewise with respect to her comments from the podium, she said. “And [those remarks] went viral, because we spoke to it very loudly, very clearly,” in what was “an important moment for the community here but [also for] the community abroad, to hear from us, [that] we’re not afraid to talk about this because we have to and we understand our role in the world.”

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Judy Shepard to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2009, Shepard published a memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed”

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Activists Judy and Dennis Shepard speak at the NGLCC National Dinner at the National Building Museum on Friday, Nov. 18. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Beloved LGBTQ advocate Judy Shepard is among the 19 honorees who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., the White House announced on Friday.

The mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998 in the country’s most notorious anti-gay hate crime, she co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation with her husband Dennis to raise awareness about anti-LGBTQ violence.

The organization runs education, outreach, and advocacy programs, many focused on schools.

In a statement shared via the Human Rights Campaign, Shepard said, “This unexpected honor has been very humbling for me, Dennis, and our family. What makes us proud is knowing our President and our nation share our lifelong commitment to making this world a safer, more loving, more respectful, and more peaceful place for everyone.

“I am grateful to everyone whose love and support for our work through the years has sustained me.

“If I had the power to change one thing, I can only dream of the example that Matt’s life and purpose would have shown, had he lived. This honor reminds the world that his life, and every life, is precious.”

Shepard was instrumental in working with then-President Barack Obama for passage of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which was led in the House by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will also be honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during the ceremony on Friday.

Also in 2009, Shepard published a memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed,” and was honored with the Black Tie Dinner Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

“Judy Shepard has been a champion for equality and President Biden’s choice to honor her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a testament to what she’s done to be a force of good in the world,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement.

“A mother who turned unspeakable grief over the loss of her son into a decades-long fight against anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence, Judy continues to make a lasting impact in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.  

“It is because of her advocacy that the first federal hate crimes legislation became law and that countless life-saving trainings, resources and conversations about equality and acceptance are provided each year by the Matthew Shepard Foundation,” Robinson said. “We are honored that Judy is a member of the HRC family and know that her work to create a more inclusive and just world will only continue.”

Other awardees who will be honored by the White House this year are: Actor Michelle Yeoh, entrepreneur and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jesuit Catholic priest Gregory Boyle, Assistant House Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), former Labor and Education Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), journalist and former daytime talkshow host Phil Donahue, World War II veteran and civil rights activist Medgar Evers (posthumous), former Vice President Al Gore, civil rights activist and lawyer Clarence B. Jones, former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), former U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) (posthumous), Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, educator and activist Opal Lee, astronaut and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa, astronomer Jane Rigby, United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, and Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe (posthumous).

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Biden announces action plan targeting pollutants in drinking water

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following an Earth Day event on April 22, 2024 (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Headlining an Earth Day event in Northern Virginia’s Prince William Forest on Monday, President Joe Biden announced the disbursement of $7 billion in new grants for solar projects and warned of his Republican opponent’s plans to roll back the progress his administration has made toward addressing the harms of climate change.

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution and extreme weather events.

In a statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “President Biden is leading the most ambitious climate, conservation, and environmental justice agenda in history – and that means working toward a future where all people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community.”

“This Earth Week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in disadvantaged communities while creating hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, which are being made more accessible by the American Climate Corps,” she said. “President Biden is delivering on his promise to help protect all communities from the impacts of climate change – including the LGBTQI+ community – and that we leave no community behind as we build an equitable and inclusive clean energy economy for all.”

Recent milestones in the administration’s climate policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance on April 10 of legally enforceable standard for detecting and treating drinking water contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“This rule sets health safeguards and will require public water systems to monitor and reduce the levels of PFAS in our nation’s drinking water, and notify the public of any exceedances of those levels,” according to a White House fact sheet. “The rule sets drinking water limits for five individual PFAS, including the most frequently found PFOA and PFOS.”

The move is expected to protect 100 million Americans from exposure to the “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to severe health problems including cancers, liver and heart damage, and developmental impacts in children.

An interactive dashboard from the United States Geological Survey shows the concentrations of polyfluoroalkyl substances in tapwater are highest in urban areas with dense populations, including cities like New York and Los Angeles.

During Biden’s tenure, the federal government has launched more than 500 programs that are geared toward investing in the communities most impacted by climate change, whether the harms may arise from chemical pollutants, extreme weather events, or other causes.

New research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that because LGBTQ Americans are likelier to live in coastal areas and densely populated cities, households with same-sex couples are likelier to experience the adverse effects of climate change.

The report notes that previous research, including a study that used “national Census data on same-sex households by census tract combined with data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the National Air Toxics Assessment” to model “the relationship between same-sex households and risk of cancer and respiratory illness” found “that higher prevalence of same-sex households is associated with higher risks for these diseases.”

“Climate change action plans at federal, state, and local levels, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must be inclusive and address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBT people,” the Williams Institute wrote.

With respect to polyfluoroalkyl substances, the EPA’s adoption of new standards follows other federal actions undertaken during the Biden-Harris administration to protect firefighters and healthcare workers, test for and clean up pollution, and phase out or reduce use of the chemicals in fire suppressants, food packaging, and federal procurement.

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New Director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy named

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director

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Francisco Ruiz, incoming Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). (Photo Credit: Official White House photo)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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White House condemns Ugandan court’s anti-Homosexuality ruling

Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those contained in a statement by a coalition of Ugandan LGBTQ groups

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Screen Capture: The White House/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the ruling issued hours earlier by a court in Uganda that upheld the East African country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“The announcement that some provisions of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary continued, “The United States is deeply concerned about the remaining provisions which undermine public health, human rights and Uganda’s international reputation.”

She added, “As the president has said time and time again, no one should have to live in constant fear nor be subjected to violence or discrimination. It is wrong. We will continue to work to advance respect for human rights for all in Uganda and also around the world.”

After the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law last May, the U.S. implemented visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and excluded the country from a program allowing sub-Saharan African countries to trade with the U.S. duty-free.

As detailed by a White House fact sheet issued in December, the U.S. also imposed sanctions and reduced government support of Uganda including through “new restrictions and redirections of impacted assistance, including through the Department of Defense and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)” and “pausing approximately $15 million for all biological threat reductions activities with the Ugandan Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Tourism.”

The statement notes more than $5 million in PEPFAR funding will be redirected “to non-governmental implementing partners due to concerns over how the AHA impacts the Government of Uganda’s ability to deliver services in a non-discriminatory manner.”

Other actions include issuance of travel and business advisories targeting Uganda, and supporting “victims of the AHA” which “may include assistance for those who are victims of violence, evicted from their homes or who need help accessing medical care” and legal aid for those who are “unjustly arrested.”  

Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those contained in a statement by a coalition of Ugandan LGBTQ groups, which noted that the court found “some sections” of the law in violation of “the right to health, right to privacy and right to freedom of religion,” but likewise argued the ruling “failed to identify the numerous ways the law violates Ugandans’ substantive rights to equality, dignity, speech, association and health and freedom from discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson also condemned the decision.

“For the Constitutional Court of Uganda to uphold such a draconian law in any capacity is a horrific display of hatred that will mean further discrimination and physical harm for LGBTQ+ Ugandans,” she said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday also criticized the ruling.

“The United States continues to be deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses in Uganda, including against the LGBTQI+ community. The announcement that some provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” he said in a statement. “The remaining provisions of the AHA pose grave threats to the Ugandan people, especially LGBTQI+ Ugandans and their allies, undermine public health, clamp down on civic space, damage Uganda’s international reputation and harm efforts to increase foreign investment.” 

“Uganda should respect the human dignity of all and provide equal protection to all individuals under the law,” added Blinken.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Biden honors Transgender Day of Visibility

Biden addressed how “extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families

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President Joe Biden signs a proclamation in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday honored Sunday’s Transgender Day of Visibility observance with a statement highlighting his administration’s work advancing the rights of trans Americans and fighting back against harmful anti-LGBTQ state laws.

“On Transgender Day of Visibility, we honor the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to forming a more perfect union — where all people are created equal and treated equally throughout their lives,” Biden wrote.

“I am proud to have appointed transgender leaders to my administration and to have ended the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in our military,” the president said, noting also his issuance of “historic executive orders that strengthen civil rights protections in housing, employment, health care, education, the justice system and more” and his signing, in 2022, of the Respect for Marriage Act — which ensures “that every American can marry the person they love.”

Biden then addressed how “extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families — silencing teachers; banning books; and even threatening parents, doctors and nurses with prison for helping parents get care for their children.”

“These bills attack our most basic American values: The freedom to be yourself, the freedom to make your own health care decisions and even the right to raise your own child,” he wrote. “It is no surprise that the bullying and discrimination that transgender Americans face is worsening our nation’s mental health crisis, leading half of transgender youth to consider suicide in the past year.”

“At the same time, an epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, especially women and girls of color, continues to take too many lives,” Biden said. “Let me be clear: All of these attacks are un-American and must end. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”  

The president then laid out how the Biden-Harris administration is pushing back.

“The Department of Justice has taken action to push back against extreme and un-American state laws targeting transgender youth and their families and the Department of Justice is partnering with law enforcement and community groups to combat hate and violence,” he said.

“My administration is also providing dedicated emergency mental health support through our nationwide suicide and crisis lifeline — any LGBTQI+ young person in need can call ‘988’ and press ‘3’ to speak with a counselor trained to support them.”

Additionally, Biden said, “We are making public services more accessible for transgender Americans, including with more inclusive passports and easier access to Social Security benefits.”

Yet, “There is much more to do. I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Equality Act, to codify civil rights protections for all LGBTQI+ Americans.”

He concluded the statement by pledging that “Today, we send a message to all transgender Americans: You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You belong. You are America, and my entire administration and I have your back.”  

“I call upon all Americans to join us in lifting up the lives and voices of transgender people throughout our nation and to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination based on gender identity.”

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