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White House responds to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill advancing in Florida Senate

“The Biden-Harris Administration will not shy away from holding leaders accountable for dangerous actions that hurt our nation’s students”

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ comments signaling support for “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida that would restricting school teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-5 education, the White House has denounced the bill as a measure “designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.”

A White House spokesperson blasted out the statement on Tuesday on Florida’s HB 1557/SB 1834, which critics say is the latest in an attempt by conservatives to erase LGBTQ visibility in schools.

“Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom,” the White House spokesperson said. “Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.”

After a Florida House committee approved the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation last month, DeSantis — widely seen as a possible Republican candidate for president in the 2020 election signaled support for the legislation, telling reporters on Monday it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity.

Speaking with reporters during a press event on Monday, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis noted that in his view it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identity.

Critics say the legislation effectively stigmatizes LGBTQ families and students in schools and is part of a wider effort by conservatives to stymy visibility of LGBTQ people. Texas libraries, have banning books with LGBTQ material and sexually explicit content.

Defenders of the legislation have pointed out the restrictions in the “Don’t Say Gay” bill apply only to grade school, which they say isn’t an age-appropriate forum for discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity and leaves open the possibility of discussion in higher education.

The White House spokesperson said the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” legislation “not an isolated action” and part of a broader movement throughout the country.

“Across the country, we’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be,” the White House spokesperson said. “This is politics at its worse, cynically using our students as pawns in political warfare. At every step of the way, Republicans have peddled in cheap, political attacks, instead of focusing on the issues parents, students, and teachers care about.”

The Biden administration, the White House spokesperson said, has instead “focused on keeping schools open, providing resources to combat learning loss, and supporting students’ mental health.”

“The difference in leadership could not be more stark, and the Biden-Harris Administration will not shy away from holding leaders accountable for dangerous actions that hurt our nation’s students,” the White House spokesperson said.

The White House spokesperson drew a contrast between the message sent by the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the Biden administration to LGBTQ students.

“Just imagine what it would feel like to be a kid watching the leaders in your state bully you through legislation that tries to erase your existence,” the spokesperson said. “These types of attacks are the root cause of the mental health crisis that LGBTQI+ face. The president wants LGBTQI+ young people who may be feeling scared or alone because of these legislative attacks to know that they are loved exactly for who they are, and that he won’t stop fighting for the protections and safety they deserve.”

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Biden near a record of LGBTQ appointments to federal bench

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate the Biden-Harris administration will have appointed 11 openly LGBTQ judges to serve on the federal bench

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Judge Melissa R. DuBose (Screen capture: Roger Williams University School of Law/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his nomination of Judge Melissa DuBose to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, where she would be the first person of color and the first LGBTQ judge.

If DuBose is confirmed by the U.S. Senate along with Nicole Berner, who was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Biden-Harris administration will have appointed 11 openly LGBTQ judges to serve on the federal bench — tying with the number who were appointed over two terms by former President Barack Obama.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrats of Rhode Island, recommended the appointment of DuBose, a former teacher who started her legal career as a special assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office before serving as in-house counsel for Schneider Electric and then on the state District Court, where she was appointed by former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

In a statement, Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the fair courts program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, praised the president’s nomination of DuBose, along with the other picks for the federal bench who were announced on Wednesday.

“We’re thrilled that President Biden is beginning the year with a new slate of highly qualified and diverse nominees to serve on our federal bench,” she said.

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First nonbinary US state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim

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Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Girl.com Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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US announces more sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29

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LGBTQ+ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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Queen Latifah among the Kennedy Center 2023 honorees

After decades of speculation about her sexuality, Latifah publicly acknowledged her partner Eboni Nichols and son Rebel in 2021

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Queen Latifah is honored at the White House on Dec. 3, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – Rapper, actor, and singer Queen Latifah was among the honorees who were welcomed to the White House for a reception in the East Room on Sunday prior to the Kennedy Center Honors show, where she joined the latest class of inductees alongside singer Dionne Warwick, comedian Billy Crystal, Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, and opera star Renée Fleming.

“It’s a wonderful tradition at the White House to recognize the President and Mrs. Kennedy’s love of the arts and the culture in America — love that endures 60 years after his death, tragically,” President Joe Biden said in prepared remarks. “The anniversary was marked last month.”

The honor is “not just based on the length of the career or the scope of work or the height of fame but because of their unique place in the conscience and the very soul of our dynamic and diverse nation,” the president said. “You’re an incredible group.”

After decades of speculation about her sexuality, Latifah publicly acknowledged her partner Eboni Nichols and son Rebel for the first time during an acceptance speech at the BET Awards in 2021.

She is also the recipient of a Grammy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two NAACP Image Awards. Latifah was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 for her performance in “Chicago.”

Calling her “a natural storyteller,” Biden noted that Latifah released her first album at age 19. “In the studio, she rapped about everything from the pain of losing her brother to the abuse of power, respect for Black women to — the respect that Black women deserve, and how infinite love is the only hope for unity.”
 
“She’s also a skillful storyteller onscreen,” the president said, “The first woman in hip-hop to earn an Oscar nomination, which she did for her role in ‘Chicago'” and also “the first hip-hop artist with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” 
 
Biden also celebrated Latifah’s honorary degree in 2011 “from Delaware State University, my HBCU” and her other contributions “From serving as a mentor for young women of color to building housing in her hometown of Newark.”

“Tonight, Queen Latifah,” the president said, “you become the first female hip-hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, lifting — and fitting because it’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.” The award serves as proof, he said, “that anything is possible when we discover our own voice, write our own story, and share it with the world.” 

46th Kennedy Center Honors – White House Reception

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Biden honors World AIDS Day 2023

‘let us honor all the families who have lost a loved one to this disease and all the people currently living with HIV/AIDS’

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World AIDS Day 2023 at the White House (Washington Blade Photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden honored Friday’s World AIDS Day observance with a proclamation on Thursday night as the red ribbon was displayed at the White House to mark the occasion.

Crediting the “enormous progress” that has been made in the fight against the disease, Biden noted that “about 39 million people continue to live with HIV, including more than one million people in the United States.”

“Far too often, people living with HIV face discrimination that prevents them from accessing the care they need,” he said.

The president then named some of his administration’s accomplishments in tackling this public health issue, including ending discriminatory blood donation bans, reviving the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and launching “a new National HIV/AIDS Strategy — a roadmap for using innovative community-driven solutions to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States by 2030.”

Biden said the White House continues working with “state and community leaders” to combat HIV criminalization laws that “wrongly punish people for exposing others” to the disease and noted that he has asked Congress for $850 million “to aggressively reduce new HIV cases, fight the stigma that stops many people from getting care, and increase access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).”

Meanwhile, overseas, “We are also focused on ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat worldwide by 2030 under the bipartisan President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),” Biden said. “PEPFAR is focusing on forging a future where every HIV infection is prevented, every person has access to treatment, and every generation can live free from the stigma that too often surrounds HIV.”

The president noted that “My Administration is committed to working with the Congress to pass a clean PEPFAR reauthorization bill to extend this lifesaving bipartisan program for 5 years and end HIV/AIDS by 2030.”

Biden concluded his proclamation by calling to “let us honor all the families who have lost a loved one to this disease and all the people currently living with HIV/AIDS.  Let us remember the activists, scientists, doctors, and caregivers who have never given up in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Let us recommit to finishing this fight — together.

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2023

BY THE PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION
     On World AIDS Day, my message is simple:  Let us finish the fight.     Since recognizing the first World AIDS Day 35 years ago, we have made enormous progress in preventing, detecting, and treating HIV — greatly reducing annual HIV diagnoses and transmission.  But despite these advancements, about 39 million people continue to live with HIV, including more than one million people in the United States.  Far too often, people living with HIV face discrimination that prevents them from accessing the care they need.  So, as we reflect on our progress today, we must also come together to renew our promise to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.     

At home, my Administration has taken historic steps to achieve this goal.  During my first year in office, I reestablished the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and launched a new National HIV/AIDS Strategy — a roadmap for using innovative community-driven solutions to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States by 2030.  This year, my Administration also ended the disgraceful practice of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.  We continue to work with State and community leaders to repeal or reform so-called HIV criminalization laws, which wrongly punish people for exposing others to HIV.  I have asked the Congress for $850 million for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative to aggressively reduce new HIV cases, fight the stigma that stops many people from getting care, and increase access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — a critical drug that can help prevent the spread of HIV.     

We are also focused on ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat worldwide by 2030 under the bipartisan President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  PEPFAR has reduced transmissions, expanded testing, and saved more than 25 million lives in over 50 partner countries over the last two decades.  Further, PEPFAR is focusing on forging a future where every HIV infection is prevented, every person has access to treatment, and every generation can live free from the stigma that too often surrounds HIV.  My Administration is committed to working with the Congress to pass a clean PEPFAR reauthorization bill to extend this lifesaving bipartisan program for 5 years and end HIV/AIDS by 2030.     

We are within striking distance of eliminating HIV-transmission.  We have the science.  We have the treatments.  Most of all, we have each other.  On this 35th World AIDS Day — let us honor all the families who have lost a loved one to this disease and all the people currently living with HIV/AIDS.  Let us remember the activists, scientists, doctors, and caregivers who have never given up in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Let us recommit to finishing this fight — together.     

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2023, as World AIDS Day.  I urge the Governors of the United States and its Commonwealths and Territories, the appropriate officials of all units of government, and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to people with HIV.    

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-eighth.
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Biden recognizes Transgender Day of Remembrance

President notes 26 trans Americans have been murdered in 2023

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President Joe Biden signing a proclamation. (Official White House Photo by Oliver Contreras)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Monday honored Transgender Day of Remembrance with a statement, writing “there is no place for hate in America and no one should be discriminated against simply for being themselves.”

“Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance we are reminded that there is more to do meet that promise, as we grieve the 26 transgender Americans whose lives were taken this year,” the president said, adding, “While each one of these deaths is a tragedy — the true toll of those victimized is likely even higher, with the majority of those targeted being women of color.”

Biden’s statement continues: “It’s unacceptable and it’s why my administration has taken action to strengthen the rights, and protect the safety of transgender and all LGBTQI+ Americans. My administration ended the ban on transgender Americans serving our country and I signed historic executive action to strengthen civil rights protections for all LGBTQI+ Americans.

The Department of Homeland Security, with support from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, have launched the LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership that works hand-in-hand with LGBTQI+ community organizations to provide critical safety resources.

We must never be silent in the face of hate. As we mourn the loss of transgender Americans taken too soon this year, we must also recommit ourselves to never stop fighting until all Americans can live free from discrimination.”

Alongside U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus’ Transgender Equality Task Force, announced their introduction of a resolution on Monday recognizing the annual observance.

“As the proud mom of an incredible trans child, I know how important this fight is, and I will never waiver in the effort to ensure that all trans individuals can live without the constant fear of violence and hate,” Jayapal said. “This resolution honors the lives of the trans people we have lost to senseless violence and stands as a symbol of their resilience and our commitment to creating a just and equal society for all.”

“Our bicameral resolution sends a strong message to all transgender people that they’re not alone and it honors all the transgender people we’ve lost to senseless, hateful violence,” Jacobs said. “We will keep pushing until all LGBTQ+ people, including the transgender and gender non-conforming communities, feel safe, welcome, respected and celebrated in our country and around the world.”

“This resolution honors the memory of the transgender and gender non-conforming people whose lives were lost in acts of violence and raises awareness of the dangers trans people face today,” Hirono said. “Trans rights are human rights, and I will continue fighting so people in Hawaii and across the country — regardless of their gender identity — can live their lives freely and authentically.”

“The work to address violence against transgender people cannot be limited to just one day a year,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the caucus. “I am committed to fighting every day for the rights of the transgender community so all transgender people can live their lives free from violence and persecution.”

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Biden signs stop-gap funding measure

The CR provides fiscal year 2024 appropriations to Federal agencies through January 19, 2024, the remaining get funding through February 2

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President Biden steps off Air Force One and is greeted by California Governor Gavin Newsom, The First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

SAN FRANCISCO – President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 6363, the “Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024,” Thursday evening after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation dinner at the Legion of Honor, an art museum located in Lincoln Park.

The measure provides fiscal year 2024 appropriations to Federal agencies through January 19, 2024, for continuing projects and activities funded in four appropriations bills. For the remaining eight appropriations bills, the CR provides funding through February 2, 2024.

The President and First Lady Jill Biden were hosting Heads of Delegation and spouses for the APEC Dinner which included Chinese President Xi Jinping. One day remains of the APEC summit. President Biden is scheduled to meet with the President of Mexico before leaving San Francisco.

In a late evening vote Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved a House stopgap funding measure to prevent a Federal shutdown on Friday. The bipartisan vote was 87-11, with 10 Republicans and one Democrat — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — voting in opposition.

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step continuing resolution, which he unveiled last weekend, meant that lawmakers won’t face the usual end-of-year brinkmanship and the threat of a government shutdown right before the Christmas recess.  

But House conservatives, led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the Freedom Caucus, did not get the steep spending cuts they wanted attached to the stopgap measure, which would freeze government funding at current levels for two more months.

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Biden nominates lesbian lawyer to 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the court, which is located in Richmond, Virginia

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Nicole Berner speaking at American Constitution Society virtual symposium on The Future of Labor Law in a Post-COVID Economy, Dec. 22, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube ACS)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated Service Employees International Union General Counsel Nicole Berner to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the Maryland lawyer would become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the court, which is located in Richmond, Virginia and has appellate jurisdiction over district courts in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Berner was previously a staff attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a litigation associate at the law firm Jenner & Block.

U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both from Maryland, had recommended Berner for the position and issued a joint statement following the president’s announcement of her nomination.

“Throughout her career, Nicole Berner has provided outstanding legal representation to advance the rights of working families and historically underrepresented communities — demonstrating her commitment to delivering equal justice to all,” Van Hollen said.

“As the first openly LGBTQ nominee for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Nicole would also break glass ceilings in our judicial system,” said the senator. “We look forward to advancing her nomination through the Senate.”

Cardin said, “As the general counsel of the 2-million-member strong Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Ms. Berner oversees their legal work in complicated areas of the law, including labor, healthcare regulation, and immigration.”

He added, “With this background, I am confident that she will uphold the judicial oath to ‘do equal right to the poor and to the rich.'”

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Uganda to be removed from US duty-free trade program

Country’s president signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May

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LGBTQ+ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has announced it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Then-President Bill Clinton in 2000 signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan African countries to access U.S. markets.

President Joe Biden in a letter he sent to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the president of the U.S. Senate, on Monday notes the Ugandan government “has engaged in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The Biden-Harris administration last week issued a business advisory for the country in response to the law.

Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic are the three other countries the White House will remove from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The decision will take effect on Jan. 1.

President Barack Obama in 2014 removed Gambia from the program amid growing concerns over then-President Yahya Jammeh’s human rights record that included a crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights.

Jammeh stepped down after he lost the country’s 2016 presidential election and now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea. Gambia as of 2022 is once again eligible to participate in the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

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President Biden signs Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence  

Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, & exploit personal data

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

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed a wide-ranging landmark Executive Order on artificial intelligence Monday with its focuses ranging from civil rights and industry regulations to a government hiring spree.

In a media call previewing the order Sunday, a senior White House official, who asked to not be named as part of the terms of the call, said AI has so many facets that effective regulations have to cast a wide net. “AI policy is like running into a decathlon, and there’s 10 different events here,” the official said.

From the White House:

As AI’s capabilities grow, so do its implications for Americans’ safety and security. The Executive Order directs the following actions:

New Standards for AI Safety and Security

  • Require that developers of the most powerful AI systems share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government. In accordance with the Defense Production Act, the Order will require that companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model, and must share the results of all red-team safety tests. These measures will ensure AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy before companies make them public. 
  • Develop standards, tools, and tests to help ensure that AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set the rigorous standards for extensive red-team testing to ensure safety before public release. The Department of Homeland Security will apply those standards to critical infrastructure sectors and establish the AI Safety and Security Board. The Departments of Energy and Homeland Security will also address AI systems’ threats to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and cybersecurity risks. Together, these are the most significant actions ever taken by any government to advance the field of AI safety.
  • Protect against the risks of using AI to engineer dangerous biological materials by developing strong new standards for biological synthesis screening. Agencies that fund life-science projects will establish these standards as a condition of federal funding, creating powerful incentives to ensure appropriate screening and manage risks potentially made worse by AI.
  • Protect Americans from AI-enabled fraud and deception by establishing standards and best practices for detecting AI-generated content and authenticating official content. The Department of Commerce will develop guidance for content authentication and watermarking to clearly label AI-generated content. Federal agencies will use these tools to make it easy for Americans to know that the communications they receive from their government are authentic—and set an example for the private sector and governments around the world.
  • Establish an advanced cybersecurity program to develop AI tools to find and fix vulnerabilities in critical software, building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing AI Cyber Challenge. Together, these efforts will harness AI’s potentially game-changing cyber capabilities to make software and networks more secure.
  • Order the development of a National Security Memorandum that directs further actions on AI and security, to be developed by the National Security Council and White House Chief of Staff. This document will ensure that the United States military and intelligence community use AI safely, ethically, and effectively in their missions, and will direct actions to counter adversaries’ military use of AI.

Protecting Americans’ Privacy

Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, and exploit personal data, but it also heightens incentives to do so because companies use data to train AI systems. To better protect Americans’ privacy, including from the risks posed by AI, the President calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids, and directs the following actions:

  • Protect Americans’ privacy by prioritizing federal support for accelerating the development and use of privacy-preserving techniques—including ones that use cutting-edge AI and that let AI systems be trained while preserving the privacy of the training data.  
  • Strengthen privacy-preserving research and technologies, such as cryptographic tools that preserve individuals’ privacy, by funding a Research Coordination Network to advance rapid breakthroughs and development. The National Science Foundation will also work with this network to promote the adoption of leading-edge privacy-preserving technologies by federal agencies.
  • Evaluate how agencies collect and use commercially available information—including information they procure from data brokers—and strengthen privacy guidance for federal agencies to account for AI risks. This work will focus in particular on commercially available information containing personally identifiable data.
  • Develop guidelines for federal agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of privacy-preserving techniques, including those used in AI systems. These guidelines will advance agency efforts to protect Americans’ data.

Advancing Equity and Civil Rights

Irresponsible uses of AI can lead to and deepen discrimination, bias, and other abuses in justice, healthcare, and housing. The Biden-Harris Administration has already taken action by publishing the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and issuing an Executive Order directing agencies to combat algorithmic discrimination, while enforcing existing authorities to protect people’s rights and safety. To ensure that AI advances equity and civil rights, the President directs the following additional actions:

  • Provide clear guidance to landlords, Federal benefits programs, and federal contractors to keep AI algorithms from being used to exacerbate discrimination.
  • Address algorithmic discrimination through training, technical assistance, and coordination between the Department of Justice and Federal civil rights offices on best practices for investigating and prosecuting civil rights violations related to AI.
  • Ensure fairness throughout the criminal justice system by developing best practices on the use of AI in sentencing, parole and probation, pretrial release and detention, risk assessments, surveillance, crime forecasting and predictive policing, and forensic analysis.

Standing Up for Consumers, Patients, and Students

AI can bring real benefits to consumers—for example, by making products better, cheaper, and more widely available. But AI also raises the risk of injuring, misleading, or otherwise harming Americans. To protect consumers while ensuring that AI can make Americans better off, the President directs the following actions:

  • Advance the responsible use of AI in healthcare and the development of affordable and life-saving drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services will also establish a safety program to receive reports of—and act to remedy – harms or unsafe healthcare practices involving AI. 
  • Shape AI’s potential to transform education by creating resources to support educators deploying AI-enabled educational tools, such as personalized tutoring in schools.

Supporting Workers

AI is changing America’s jobs and workplaces, offering both the promise of improved productivity but also the dangers of increased workplace surveillance, bias, and job displacement. To mitigate these risks, support workers’ ability to bargain collectively, and invest in workforce training and development that is accessible to all, the President directs the following actions:

  • Develop principles and best practices to mitigate the harms and maximize the benefits of AI for workers by addressing job displacement; labor standards; workplace equity, health, and safety; and data collection. These principles and best practices will benefit workers by providing guidance to prevent employers from undercompensating workers, evaluating job applications unfairly, or impinging on workers’ ability to organize.
  • Produce a report on AI’s potential labor-market impacts, and study and identify options for strengthening federal support for workers facing labor disruptions, including from AI.

Promoting Innovation and Competition

America already leads in AI innovation—more AI startups raised first-time capital in the United States last year than in the next seven countries combined. The Executive Order ensures that we continue to lead the way in innovation and competition through the following actions:

  • Catalyze AI research across the United States through a pilot of the National AI Research Resource—a tool that will provide AI researchers and students access to key AI resources and data—and expanded grants for AI research in vital areas like healthcare and climate change.
  • Promote a fair, open, and competitive AI ecosystem by providing small developers and entrepreneurs access to technical assistance and resources, helping small businesses commercialize AI breakthroughs, and encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to exercise its authorities.
  • Use existing authorities to expand the ability of highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in critical areas to study, stay, and work in the United States by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.

Advancing American Leadership Abroad

AI’s challenges and opportunities are global. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working with other nations to support safe, secure, and trustworthy deployment and use of AI worldwide. To that end, the President directs the following actions:

  • Expand bilateral, multilateral, and multistakeholder engagements to collaborate on AI. The State Department, in collaboration, with the Commerce Department will lead an effort to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI’s benefits and managing its risks and ensuring safety. In addition, this week, Vice President Harris will speak at the UK Summit on AI Safety, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
  • Accelerate development and implementation of vital AI standards with international partners and in standards organizations, ensuring that the technology is safe, secure, trustworthy, and interoperable.
  • Promote the safe, responsible, and rights-affirming development and deployment of AI abroad to solve global challenges, such as advancing sustainable development and mitigating dangers to critical infrastructure.

Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI

AI can help government deliver better results for the American people. It can expand agencies’ capacity to regulate, govern, and disburse benefits, and it can cut costs and enhance the security of government systems. However, use of AI can pose risks, such as discrimination and unsafe decisions. To ensure the responsible government deployment of AI and modernize federal AI infrastructure, the President directs the following actions:

  • Issue guidance for agencies’ use of AI, including clear standards to protect rights and safety, improve AI procurement, and strengthen AI deployment.  
  • Help agencies acquire specified AI products and services faster, more cheaply, and more effectively through more rapid and efficient contracting.
  • Accelerate the rapid hiring of AI professionals as part of a government-wide AI talent surge led by the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Digital Service, U.S. Digital Corps, and Presidential Innovation Fellowship. Agencies will provide AI training for employees at all levels in relevant fields.

As we advance this agenda at home, the Administration will work with allies and partners abroad on a strong international framework to govern the development and use of AI. The Administration has already consulted widely on AI governance frameworks over the past several months—engaging with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the UAE, and the UK. The actions taken today support and complement Japan’s leadership of the G-7 Hiroshima Process, the UK Summit on AI Safety, India’s leadership as Chair of the Global Partnership on AI, and ongoing discussions at the United Nations.

The actions that President Biden directed today are vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI. More action will be required, and the Administration will continue to work with Congress to pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation.

For more on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to advance AI, and for opportunities to join the Federal AI workforce, visit AI.gov.

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