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White House reiterates concern for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians after Russia invasion

Administration has ‘engaged directly’ with vulnerable groups



(Public domain photo)

WASHINGTON — A Biden administration official on Friday said the U.S. has “engaged directly” with LGBTQ+ Ukrainians and other groups that Russia may target if it gains control of their country.

“We have engaged directly with these populations to direct them to programs that offer emergency assistance to address relocation, medical expenses or other unexpected costs,” the official told the Washington Blade. “And we have engaged with allies and partners to try to ensure that those who must flee Ukraine have somewhere to go.”

The official noted that “based on Russia’s past behavior, it is reasonable to expect that Russia’s authorities would target those who oppose or are perceived to oppose the Russian government’s actions or policies, and/or belong to groups of persons targeted for repression inside Russia. The aforementioned would include leading Ukrainian officials, Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, independent journalists, anti-corruption activists, vulnerable populations such as members of some religious and ethnic groups, and LGBTQI+ persons.”

“We are also concerned about the safety of persons with disabilities in any conflict situation,” said the official.

“We have warned and will continue to warn groups in the categories we think could be targeted based on our understanding of Russia’s past behavior and our knowledge of Russia’s plans in order to enable them to protect themselves or move to places where they might be safer,” added the official. “We’ve been warning the Ukrainian government of all that may be coming, as well.”

The official spoke with the Blade less than two days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

The U.S. earlier this week in a letter to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Russia plans to target LGBTQ+ Ukrainians and other vulnerable groups the Biden administration official noted to the Blade. A Russian government spokesperson on Tuesday described the claim to the Blade as “propaganda.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality and Ukraine Caucuses in a letter they sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said they are “particularly concerned for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Ukrainians and other marginalized groups in Ukraine.”

“There is an impending humanitarian emergency in Ukraine and Ukraine’s partners — including the U.S. — must take action to protect Ukrainian lives, with a particular focus on minority communities,” reads the letter. “LGBTQ Ukrainians as well as Ukrainians with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalized groups face greater hurdles in seeking safety as a Russian incursion into Ukraine begins.” 

“We must safeguard the rights of marginalized people in Ukraine and ensure they are protected as this crisis unfolds,” it adds.

The letter notes Ukraine in recent years “has made great strides towards securing equality for LGBTQ people within its borders and is a regional leader in LGBTQ rights.” These advances include a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and efforts to protect Pride parades.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last November pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination after he met with President Biden at the White House.

“LGBTQ civil society in Ukraine is robust and visible with numerous LGBTQ groups officially registered as non-governmental entities,” reads the letter to Blinken. “While there is still work to do, these advancements stand in stark contrast to Russia’s positions on LGBTQ equality. Increased Russian government influence on the lives of Ukrainians is likely to be incredibly harmful to the rights of LGBTQ people in Ukraine.”

The State Department has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the letter.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker on Thursday echoed calls for the U.S. to protect LGBTQ+ Ukrainian activists and other vulnerable groups.

“We call on the United States and our allies to ensure the unique vulnerabilities of Ukrainian LGBTQ leaders and civil society are part of all diplomatic talks and negotiations. Their safety must be paramount,” said Parker in a statement. “The future of Ukrainian democracy depends on it.”

The Global Equality Caucus, a group of LGBTQ+ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, share Parker’s concerns. 

“We are concerned that Russia’s subversion of Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty has put human rights defenders in the country at immediate risk,” said the group on Friday in a statement. “We call on governments worldwide to recognize the humanitarian impact of this invasion and to take necessary action to ensure any Ukrainian at risk of persecution can be guaranteed safety elsewhere.”

A Wider Bridge and more than a dozen other LGBTQ+ Jewish organizations in the U.S. and around the world on Friday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and expressed their “solidarity with the people of Ukraine.” The groups, along with the Global Equality Caucus and the Victory Institute, are also concerned for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians and other groups, including Jewish Ukrainians, inside Ukraine. 

“The Ukrainian Jewish and LGBTQ communities face particularly acute vulnerabilities,” reads the groups’ statement. “They have historically been marginalized and continue to face ongoing discrimination. We are deeply concerned that LGBTQ people overall and LGBTQ Jews, in particular, will be subject to scapegoating in what may become a vast humanitarian crisis.”


The White House

Biden recognizes Transgender Day of Remembrance

President notes 26 trans Americans have been murdered in 2023



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



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



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



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



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

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Biden-Harris administration climate change advisor makes history

Jerome Foster, 21, is youngest administration aide in history



Jerome Foster (Photo courtesy of the White House)

BY CAL BENN | WASHINGTON — A 21-year-old LGBTQ+ activist who advises the Biden-Harris administration on climate change-related issues is the youngest White House advisor in history.

Jerome Foster, II, works for the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. He told the Washington Blade during a recent interview that climate anxiety sparked his passion for climate.

“Growing up in Gen Z, our planet was on fire and we’re seeing communities be completely ignored because of politicians prioritizing profit, greed, and money over basic human lives,” said Foster.

Foster when he was 16 began to skip school to protest in front of the White House to give a voice to concerns for climate change. Foster said the movement’s growing visibility right outside of the White House, along with young activists testifying in front of the D.C. Council, helped spur passage of the Clean Energy DC bill. 

The experience inspired Foster to continue organizing, which led him to an opportunity to intern for the late-U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Foster says he deepened his understanding of intersectionality, saying he learned “climate change really exacerbates every slow rolling crisis that we’ve seen so far, and just lights it on fire.” 

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The intersection between the LGBTQ+ community and the climate crisis is experienced primarily through homelessness and lack of representation in policy making. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, despite the community only making up 10 percent of all young people. Members of the LGBTQ+ community also risk being turned away from shelters, being left exposed to harsh environments as climate change continues. 

Foster’s journey as an LGBTQ+ climate activist has had its struggles. 

Foster said he wasn’t out for most of it, and when he did come out, it was a “shaking” experience. 

“I remember just crying because I didn’t know how to feel,” he said. “I didn’t even feel safe even as an activist.” 

Foster, who met his now husband at COP-26 in Glasgow, Scotland, was shocked to see COP-27 was being held in Egypt, a country that persecutes LGBTQ+ people. 

They wrote a letter to Patricia Espinosa, the former executive secretary for U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change requesting they relocate COP-27. Foster said the response they received was they would be fine as long as they were inside the walls of the conference. 

Foster did not accept this response. 

“It wasn’t about our lives. It was about the lives of the people that live there every single day […] It’s about punishing a country that’s punishing a community for being who they are,” he told the Blade.

Foster and his partner did not end up going to COP-27 out of solidarity with individuals in Egypt who continue to struggle under their country’s repressive regime. 

When it comes to advocating for climate justice, Foster says the best place to start is in the workplace, making sure those around us with power as well as ourselves are “standing up for an interest that is beyond just profit.”

“Activists are instruments of disruption in any space that we’re in,” he said. “The most powerful thing we can do is to shake up the system anywhere we can.”

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White House commemorates Intersex Awareness Day

Blade speaks with senior State Department advisor Kimberly Zieselman



Kimberly Zieselman (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Zieselman)

WASHINGTON — Thursday is the annual Intersex Awareness Day.

Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996. The Washington Blade this week spoke with Kimberly Zieselman, a senior policy advisor to Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender, queer and intersex persons.

BLADE: What is intersex?

ZIESELMAN: Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a person with one or more sex characteristics (including genitals, internal reproductive organs, chromosome patterns and hormone levels) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others they are not apparent until puberty. Some intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all. 

According to experts, between 0.05 percent and 1.7 percent of the population is born with intersex traits — the upper estimate is similar to the number of red-haired people or people with green eyes and is more common than identical twins. Approximately 136 million people meet the definition. 

BLADE: What are some common misconceptions about intersex people?

ZIESELMAN: Two common misconceptions include assuming all intersex persons have nonbinary gender identities or bisexual orientations. A third common mistake is confusing intersex with Transgender.  

Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual and may identify as female, male, both or neither. Intersex individuals may identify as men, women, Transgender, nonbinary or any of the range of diverse gender identities — just like everyone else. 

BLADE: What is Intersex Awareness Day? 

ZIESELMAN: Intersex Awareness Day falls annually on Oct. 26 and marks the first public demonstration by intersex persons in North America that took place back in 1996 in Boston, Massachusetts, outside a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2003 activists began using the date to raise awareness, and today 20 years later, it has become an internationally recognized date, and the period between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8 (Intersex Day of Solidarity) has increasingly become a period of both education and awareness raising across the world.  

BLADE: Why is Intersex Awareness Day important?

ZIESELMAN: Despite not being that rare (after all, it is more common than cystic fibrosis or identical twins), intersex has largely remained invisible due to the shame and stigma many cultures and societies have attached to it. Because their bodies are seen as different or even disordered (medical practitioners commonly refer to intersex persons as having “disorders of sex development”), intersex children and adults are often stigmatized and their human rights undermined, including related to their health and physical integrity, equality and nondiscrimination and freedom from harmful medical practices. 

Intersex infants and young children are frequently subjected to unnecessary harmful medical practices (including cosmetic genital surgery) for the purpose of trying to make their appearance conform to binary sex stereotypes. These medically unnecessary procedures can cause permanent infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation and life-long mental suffering, including anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress and even suicide. In some cases, intersex persons may even grow up not identifying with the sex they were surgically assigned in infancy. 

In essence, much of society has historically tried to erase intersex persons. 

These medical procedures undermine bodily integrity and subject intersex persons to harmful practices. They are regularly performed without the full, free and informed consent of the intersex person concerned. Moreover, they are frequently performed on individuals under age two and children who are too young to be part of the decision-making.  

Parents and caregivers are often not given all necessary information to make a fully informed decision and may be pressured by doctors and other community members to permanently “fix” their healthy child. Such procedures are frequently justified by harmful norms and discriminatory beliefs about intersex persons and their integration into society.   

In short, Intersex Awareness Day is important because many are still unaware that intersex persons exist and/or that they are often subjected to human rights abuses. Sharing information and stories can help change hearts and minds and lead to changes in harmful treatment. 

BLADE: How is the State Department planning to commemorate Intersex Awareness Day?

ZIESELMAN: Last year State hired me as the first intersex policy advisory to assist with advancing the human rights of intersex persons in foreign policy. 

Last month, State, under the leadership of the Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, hosted five intersex activists to share their perspectives and activism work in five diverse regions of the world. The intersex experts met with a range of State Department staff as well as other agencies and NGOs while in D.C. 

Now the special envoy’s team is working on new resources for all State Department employees providing information on key issues of concern related to intersex persons and suggestions for working together with civil society and local governments to not only raise awareness but also to work towards the advancement of human rights.

In celebration and recognition of Intersex Awareness Day, State will release a statement once again affirming the United States’ commitment to promoting the human rights of intersex persons globally. 

BLADE: What has the Biden-Harris administration done to protect intersex people? Can you please highlight a specific example/s? 

ZIESELMAN: The Biden-Harris administration has been the first ever to invite intersex Americans to share their stories and voice their concerns. This has occurred during two separate roundtables hosted by the White House as well as via a public call for input this year as part of the development of a soon-to-be-released report on Intersex Health Equity by the Department of Health and Human Services as mandated by Executive Order in 2022.  

Also, the State Department and USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) have released an updated U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Globally that is inclusive of the GBV risks and needs of LGBTQI+ persons, including medically unnecessary and harmful surgeries on intersex persons. Intersex persons, and their needs and concerns, are starting to be addressed. 

BLADE: What have other countries done to protect intersex people? What can the Biden-Harris administration do to implement so-called best practices from around the world with regards to intersex people? 

ZIESELMAN: Some countries have passed laws banning or significantly restricting harmful cosmetic genital surgeries on intersex infants and children. Malta was the first to do so in 2015 and since then Germany, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, Portugal and Spain have joined the list. In addition, territories in both Australia and India have passed laws in attempt to protect intersex children. 

Though these medical practices still occur across most of the world including the United States, the Biden-Harris administration is currently working with intersex persons and families, provide platforms to share their lived experiences, and develop medical practices that affirm and support intersex persons across the lifespan. 


U.S. Reps. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, on Thursday introduced the first-ever Intersex Awareness Day resolution.

The resolution specifically:

  • Supports the goals and ideals of Intersex Awareness Day;
  • Encourages the federal government, states, localities, nonprofit organizations, schools and community organizations to observe the day with appropriate programs and activities, with the goal of increasing public knowledge of the intersex community and empowering individuals to celebrate and respect their diversity;
  • Encourages health care providers to offer culturally and clinically competent care to the intersex community, and schools to support education regarding the intersex community and connect individuals to resources for young people with intersex variations and their families and
  • Encourages the federal government, states, international funding organizations, and United States bilateral and multilateral aid efforts to prioritize the health and human rights of intersex people. 

“Intersex people must be recognized as valid and seen within the LGBTQI+ community,” said Balint in a press release. This resolution is an important step in uplifting the intersex community and fighting interphobia.”

Erika Lorshbough, executive director of interACT, a group that advocates on behalf of intersex youth, in a statement applauded the resolution.

“Intersex awareness is not merely a matter of educating the public that people with intersex variations exist; it is additionally about illuminating the harmful legacy — and continuing practice — of unnecessary and unwanted medical interventions on young intersex children, which is increasingly recognized as a human rights violation around the world,” said Lorshbough. “We extend our deep gratitude to Representatives Balint and Pocan for taking action to further these goals.”

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The White House

White House issues business advisory for Uganda over anti-gay law

Country’s president in May signed Anti-Homosexuality Act



Uganda flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Monday issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Service and Commerce issued the advisory that “informs U.S. businesses, individuals and other U.S. persons, including health services providers, members of academic institutions, and investors, of potential risks they may face if they are conducting, or contemplating to conduct, business in Uganda.”

“Businesses, organizations and individuals should be aware of potential financial and reputational risks resulting from endemic corruption, described in more detail in the 2023 Investment Climate Statement, as well as violence against human rights activists, media members, health workers, members of minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons and political opponents described in the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Uganda,” reads the advisory.

The advisory states the Anti-Homosexuality Act “further increases restrictions on human rights, to include restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and exacerbates issues regarding the respect for leases and employment contracts.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. in June imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials.

The World Bank Group in August announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda. Museveni, for his part, in an open letter to Ugandans cites the “provocations by the World Bank and the thoughtless homosexual lobby” and said they “should not provoke us into being, automatically, anti-Western.”

Police in Buikwe, a town that is roughly 35 miles east of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Aug. 20 arrested four people who allegedly engaged in “acts of homosexuality” at a local massage parlor. Authorities two days earlier charged a 20-year-old man with “aggravated homosexuality.”

Media reports indicate prosecutors in Jinja, a city that is roughly 50 miles east of Kampala in July charged a 43-year-old man with “aggravated homosexuality.”

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The President & First Lady deliver remarks at HRC National Dinner

These lawmakers are trying to interfere with “the right to make your own healthcare decisions, the right to raise your own children”



President Joe Biden speaks at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Oct. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden addressed attendees at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Saturday with prepared remarks about the struggle for equality for LGBTQ people in the U.S. and around the world.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress are trying to undo virtually every bit of progress we’ve made — trying to wipe out federal funding to end the HIV epidemic, strip funding for community venters for seniors, reinstate the ban on transgender troops, ban the Department of Justice from enforcing civil rights laws, ban Pride flags from flying on public land,” the president said.

These lawmakers are trying to interfere with “the right to make your own healthcare decisions, the right to raise your own children,” he said, adding, “I’m never going to stand by and watch families terrorized, doctors and nurses criminalized, or any child targeted for who they are.”

The president relayed that a 13-year-old trans teen wrote to him, sharing how painful it was to see anti-trans legislative activity on the news. A parent wrote to him too, he said, explaining, “I despair for families like mine who have already become refugees inside our own nation” amid the spate of anti-LGBTQ laws.

The president’s remarks also touched on the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, which came on Thursday, in an anti-gay hate crime, as well as the terrorist attacks against Israel last weekend.

“Silence is complicity,” the president said, echoing comments he made during a roundtable on anti-semitism on Thursday. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia “are all related,” he said, and hate never goes away — it only hides.

The president highlighted his record advancing LGBTQ rights, from the historic number of LGBTQ appointees serving in the Biden-Harris administration to signage of the Respect for Marriage Act last year to rescinding “the outdated policy of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood — leading with science, not stigma.”

“Thank you for your courage, thank you for your hope, and thank you for your pride,” the president said. “You’re loved and you’re heard and you’re understood and you belong.”

Taking the stage before the president was First Lady Jill Biden, who told the crowd “I’m so proud that this community has made D.C. such a welcoming home to LGBTQ+ people — from where we came, when outing was used as a political weapon” to now, when “we can celebrate without fear or shame.”

However, the first lady said, “In too many other parts of our country, these rights and freedoms are under attack across the country in places like Texas and Florida and Alabama. LGBTQ individuals don’t have the freedom to be honest with their family, or race, or gender identity at work,” she said.

“So while we celebrate this beautiful community tonight, let’s also remember how lucky we are and harden our resolve to advocate for those who are not.”

President Biden and the First Lady Deliver Remarks at the 2023 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner:

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Biden honors 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death

“His courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement to combat the scourge of anti-LGBTQ+ hate”



Judy and Dennis Shepard at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Oct 26, 2018 when their son Matthew’s ashes were interred in the church’s crypt. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a statement marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard in an anti-gay hate crime that “shocked our nation and the world.”

“Matthew’s tragic and senseless murder shook the conscience of the American people,” the president said. “And his courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement, galvanizing millions of people to combat the scourge of anti-LGBTQI+ hate and violence in America.”

That work, Biden said, is far from finished “as threats and violence targeting the LGBTQI+ community continue to rise,” adding, “I once again call on Congress to send the Equality Act to my desk so that we can ensure LGBTQI+ Americans have full civil rights protections under our laws — because every American is worthy of dignity, acceptance and respect.”

Biden noted his involvement, when vice president, in enacting the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2009 and expanded federal hate crime laws to include those motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

“This legislation is a lasting tribute to Matthew, a testament to the relentless advocacy of Judy and Dennis, and an important step forward for our country,” Biden said. “I was proud to honor Judy and Dennis as uniters — Americans who stand against hate and heal our divides — at the United We Stand Summit here at the White House last year.”

“God bless Judy, Dennis, and all those who are grieving and remembering Matthew today,” he said.

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