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HRC launches ‘Reality Flag’ campaign to boost Equality Act

Removal of 29 stars symbolizes states that lack LGBTQ protections

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, announced it is launching a nationwide multimedia campaign to promote the approval by Congress of the LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.

In a Feb. 23 statement HRC says the campaign, among other things, will include a series of “powerful” video ads for social media and TV created by Emmy Award-winning director Joey Soloway that tell stories of how individual LGBTQ people are adversely impacted by discrimination.

At the center of the campaign as depicted in the videos is an American flag with 29 of the 50 stars removed to draw attention to the 29 states that do not have comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people that HRC is calling the “Reality Flag.”

In its official launch of the campaign on Feb. 23 HRC unveiled an 85-foot-long version of the Reality Flag on the outer wall of its headquarters building in D.C. that HRC points out is located just six blocks from the White House.

Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“The Reality Flag campaign is designed to point out the inequalities LGBTQ+ individuals face every day – in our own voice,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s interim president. “From housing and educational discrimination to denial of government and health services, LGBTQ+ people are confronted by hurdles to simply exist every day,” Madison said in a statement.

“This needs to change,” she said. “The Reality Flag not only calls out the 29 states where basic freedoms are still missing for millions of people but stands as a symbol of hope that communities can rally behind to enact meaningful change.”

HRC’s Reality Flag campaign comes at a time when most political observers unaffiliated with the Equality Act’s staunch supporters and opponents believe the bill has no chance of passing in the U.S. Senate any time soon, even though it passed in the U.S. House in February 2021 by a vote of 224 to 206. In the House vote, only three Republicans joined all 221 Democrats in voting for the measure.

Observers note that although Democrats have a slim majority in the 50 Democrat-50 Republican Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris set to break a tie vote in favor of Democrats, the Senate’s longstanding filibuster rule that Democrats are unable to change means the Equality Act needs a 60-vote majority to pass.

Forty-nine of the 50 Senate Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the Equality Act. Maverick Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia emerged as the sole Senate Democrat saying he cannot support the Equality Act in its current version due, in part, to what Manchin says is its provisions related to transgender nondiscrimination in school sports and school bathroom use.

Sources familiar with the Senate told the Washington Blade last May that even if the filibuster rule is eliminated, other Democratic senators from swing states would likely join Manchin in withholding support for the Equality Act due to efforts by some Republicans to turn transgender rights into an inflammatory wedge issue.

The official congressional website Congress.gov states that the Equality Act calls for prohibiting “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”

The Congress.gov site adds, “The bill prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”

Several moderate GOP senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), have said they support the principle of protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people and would be willing to vote for a revised Equality Act that includes what they call religious rights protections and some changes in the transgender provisions.

Some Republican observers have said enough Republicans would likely join Democrats to reach the needed 60 votes to pass the Equality Act in the Senate if Democrats agree to the changes proposed by the moderate Republicans.

Other Republicans, however, including the national LGBTQ GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, have said the Equality Act should be discarded altogether following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2020 known as Bostock v. Clayton County. The decision declares that Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equality Act supporters have argued that the legislation is still needed to ensure that LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination in other areas such as housing and public accommodations.  

Representatives of both sides have said negotiations have been taking place over possible changes in the Equality Act since at least the beginning of last year, but nothing has emerged from those reported negotiations as of this week.

Many LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including HRC, have said the GOP suggested changes to the Equality Act related to “religious freedom,” which the bill’s supporters say means a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on religious grounds in a nonreligious setting such as a private business open to the public, are unacceptable.

Most LGBTQ advocacy groups have also declared as unacceptable GOP proposals to weaken or remove protections for transgender people in the legislation, saying such proposals are being promoted by people who have been misled or are themselves misleading others to believe cisgender women in sports and in public restrooms as well as in school bathrooms and showers would be adversely impacted by the current version of the legislation.

With both sides in what most Capitol Hill observers consider to be a complete deadlock, Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have not indicated a willingness to bring the Equality Act up for a vote in the Senate this year.

Schumer’s office didn’t reply to an inquiry from the Blade last week asking whether Schumer would consider bringing the Equality Act to the Senate floor for a vote this year or next year if Democrats retain control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

With that as a backdrop, David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director, told the Blade in a Feb. 25 statement that passage of the Equality Act remains a high priority for HRC and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Getting any legislation through the U.S. Senate is not easy,” Stacy said. “In the meantime, support continues growing for the bill, and we believe the Reality Flag campaign will continue to generate the awareness and education needed to continue growing support and pressure for action,” he said.

“We’ve already seen since our launch people coming out saying they had no idea LGBTQ+ people didn’t already have these protections, and that’s what we aim to do here: educate people and inspire them to take action at the grassroots level across the country – call their senators and make it clear that it’s time we need this done,” Stacy said. “Some people may be ready to give up. We are not,” he said.

In its three-page statement announcing the launch of its Reality Flag campaign, HRC says the campaign is being produced in partnership with a team of advertising and public relations agencies affiliated with the international marketing and communications company giant WPP.
“While the campaign seeks to galvanize public support for the Equality Act and driving audiences to take action at RealityFlag.com, it also underscores the importance of lifting up and showcasing the real stories and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people impacted by discrimination,” the statement continues.

It says the stories about individual LGTQ people will primarily be featured in “video vignettes” created by TV writer and director Joey Soloway, the Emmy Award-winning creator of “Transparent,” an original Amazon Studios streaming television comedy-drama series about a transgender woman and her family. Soloway identifies as non-binary and gender non-conforming.

“These stories … will be amplified through both an advertising campaign, including partnerships with 20 national media platforms, achieving an anticipated 30 million-plus impressions during launch, including TV, print, display, video, audio, cinema, OOH, social, and search,” the HRC statement says.

Access to some of the video ads slated for the HRC Reality Flag campaign can be found at  RealityFlag.com.

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LGBTQ+ activists alarmed over concurring opinion in abortion ruling

Thomas called for the high court to “reconsider” previous decisions overturning state sodomy laws and legalizing same-sex marriage

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

WASHINGTON – LGBTQ+ activists have expressed alarm over a concurring opinion issued on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling for the high court to “reconsider” previous decisions overturning state sodomy laws and legalizing same-sex marriage as a follow-up to the court’s controversial ruling on Friday to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.

In an action that drew expressions of outrage from abortion rights advocates and strong support by right-to-life advocates, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling on Friday overturning the fundamental right to an abortion that the court established nearly 50 years ago in its landmark decision known as Roe v. Wade.

In his concurring opinion, Thomas said he supports the high court’s majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. He states that he agrees with the ruling that nothing in the majority opinion “should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

But he also states that in potential future cases, “we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

He was referring to the past Supreme Court Griswold ruling that overturned state laws banning or restricting birth control such as contraceptives; the high court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults; and the 2015 Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

“Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion is obviously concerning, but it is important to note that not one other justice agreed with him,” said Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy group. “In fact, the majority took pains to disagree with him and clarify that this opinion relates only to abortion. Justice Thomas stands alone,” Warbelow told the Washington Blade in a statement.

“With that said, we know that if the Court was willing to overturn 50 years of precedent with this case, that all of our constitutional rights are on the line,” Warbelow said. “Lawmakers will be further emboldened to come after our progress. So, we must be vigilant in protecting our hard-won rights – we’re ready.”

Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), said the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would have a “disastrous effect” on healthcare for women, especially women of color. He said the ruling could also lead to future rulings that adversely impact LGBTQ people and other minorities.

“We have no doubt that the conservative supermajority on the court will not stop with Roe,” Kawata said in a statement. “Justice Thomas’s chilling concurring opinion makes it very clear that the court could target other rights provided by the Court – marriage equality, contraception access, and LGBTQ+ intimacy in private to name a few,” he said.

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LGBTQ+ groups commemorate Juneteenth

Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865

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LGBTQ activists in New York commemorate Juneteenth. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna)

WASHINGTON — President Biden last year signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” into law, officially designating June 19 as a federal holiday. This legislation was passed after years of advocacy — spearheaded by 95-year-old Opal Lee — pushing for federal recognition of the day in 1865 when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to Galveston, Texas, freeing the last remaining enslaved people. 

The Juneteenth holiday has been recognized in Texas since 1980, but it made its way to the federal level in 2021 in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement and a national reckoning over police violence, slavery’s legacy and the ongoing toll of racism. 

Although June was designated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month long after the events of Juneteenth in 1865, the two holidays are more than just coincidentally related. 

The Stonewall riots — which kickstarted the gay rights movement just over 100 years after Juneteenth — involved mainly Black and brown patrons of the Stonewall Inn. Drag performer and gay rights activist Stormé DeLarverie is even rumored to have thrown the first punch. In the days of protests that followed, queer Black women like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin Gracey became crucial leaders in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. 

To honor this intersectional history, LGBTQ+ around the country are observing the country’s newest federal holiday with a mix of festivity and on-the-ground activism.

In celebration of Juneteenth, New York City Pride kicked off the weekend with a brunch highlighting the stories and culinary expertise of six Black LGBTQ+ chefs. The event highlighted queer Black folks making waves in the business sector and is part of a larger slate of events being hosted as part of New York City Pride.

Cathy Renna, communications director for New York City Pride, said that the organization does its best work using an intersectional approach that lasts far beyond the month of June.

“We look at our work through the intersectional lens of, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, race, class, ability. All of those are things we take into account, and if you look at the work that we do you can see it — not just during the month of Pride,” Renna said. “Whether it’s looking at what could be potentially happening with the Roe v. Wade decision since the leaked draft came out a little over a month ago, we have been trying to help people in the community understand how this could be so impactful for trans and queer folks and for Black and brown communities. We did a joint partnership project with TransLash, which told the stories of Trans people of color whose lives were impacted because of either access or lack of access to reproductive healthcare. So, [intersectionality] is always a top priority.”

At the National Black Justice Coalition, intersectionality is also part of their DNA: The organization seeks to empower the Black LGBTQ+ community through “coalition building, federal policy change, research, and education.”

National Black Justice Coalition Deputy Executive Director Victoria Kirby York highlighted several ways that NBJC is commemorating Juneteenth with activism and grassroots organizing. 

“We’ve been celebrating Juneteenth through our policy agenda, which includes passing HR 40 or getting an executive order signed from President Biden to establish a commission on reparations. [On June 16] we joined other civil and human rights organizations to install flowers that look like the Pan-African flag right in front of the White House, to call on President Biden to sign an executive order that would help do this,” York said. “A commission on reparations would help to really detail the federal government’s roles and others’ roles in the institution of slavery and the many anti-Black policies that followed the emancipation of those who were enslaved.”

As Biden said in a statement marking the one-year anniversary of Juneteenth’s designation as a federal holiday, Juneteenth is as much a promise of continual improvement as it is a recognition of past emancipation.

In his statement, Biden wrote “it’s not enough to just commemorate Juneteenth. Emancipation marked the beginning, not the end, of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we must not rest until we deliver the promise of America for all Americans.”

For York, one way that LGBTQ+ groups can help to deliver on this promise is by throwing their support behind the black community and returning the favor of intersectional allyship.

“There are organizations that are partnering with existing Juneteenth events, so instead of LGBTQ groups creating their own activities for Juneteenth, using it as an opportunity to support and send your members to existing Juneteenth events, some of which have been going on for decades,” York said. “There are still a number of Black community members who feel like our community as a whole was pushed to be supportive and to stand up for the LGBTQ community around marriage and a whole host of other things, and [the LGBTQ] community doesn’t always return the favor very well. So, in some ways the best thing to do is to show up — to show up at that community Juneteenth festival that is being held to mark the holiday.”

“Go ahead and show that we are visible at Juneteenth events in the same way that we want the black community to be welcomed at Pride events,” added York.

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AIDS/LifeCycle Cyclists concluding a 7-Day journey from SF to LA June 11

This year’s participants raised more than $17.8 million—the highest fundraising amount in the event’s history

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Photo courtesy of AIDS-LifeCycle

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood is a proud co-sponsor of AIDS/LifeCycle, an annual 7-day fundraising bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles benefitting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

This year’s participants, who departed from San Francisco on Sunday, raised more than $17.8 million—the highest fundraising amount in the event’s history—to support San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Participants are HIV-positive and HIV-negative, LGBTQ+ and allies, ages 18 to 81, and from nearly every state and 14 countries.

Saturday, June 11 on Day 7  Beginning in Ventura and ending at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, more than 2,400 AIDS/LifeCycle cyclists and 600 volunteer “roadies” will cross the finish line to culminate their 7-day, 545-mile journey.

6–8 a.m.                        Route opens at San Buenaventura State Beach
901 San Pedro St., Ventura

9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.     Lunch Stop: Will Rogers State Beach
17000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu

11 a.m.–6 p.m.             Finish Line at Fairfax High School
7850 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

NOTE: Most cyclists will cross the finish line between 2–4 p.m.

Riders will enter the City of West Hollywood at N. Doheny Drive traveling eastbound on Santa Monica Boulevard in the number-two lane and parking lane until Ogden Drive. At Ogden Drive, riders will turn south and continue southbound to Melrose Avenue. The eastbound number-two lane of Santa Monica Boulevard is expected to be closed from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2022.  Parking will also be restricted on both the eastbound side of Santa Monica Boulevard and the west side of Ogden Drive from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While the AIDS/LifeCycle does not require any full street closures, it is anticipated there will be traffic impacts due to the reduction of one eastbound traffic lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. Cyclists are expected to adhere to all traffic laws as directed by California Vehicle Code. West Hollywood community members and visitors are encouraged to take part in a tradition of cheering on cyclists as they complete their final miles of this long-distance fundraiser.

On Saturday, June 11, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Santa Monica Boulevard, Eastbound Number-Two Lane will be Closed to Automobile Traffic to Accommodate Cyclists; and Ogden Drive Parking on West Side of Street will be Unavailable from Santa Monica Boulevard to Willoughby Avenue

HIV and AIDS have had a significant impact in West Hollywood. The disease’s elevated infection rate among gay men caused a devastatingly high number of deaths in the City. The City of West Hollywood was one of the first government entities to provide social services grants to local AIDS and HIV organizations.

The City of West Hollywood sponsored one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns in the country in October 1985 and the City’s response to the AIDS crisis has been recognized as a model for other cities, nationally and globally.

Support for AIDS/LifeCycle is consistent with the City’s core values and with ongoing City programs meant to commemorate the lives of those who were lost, such as World AIDS Day, the AIDS Memorial Walk, and the AIDS Monument which is currently in development.

The City actively participates supporting education and advocacy in the development of programs that can bring awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and services to people living with HIV/AIDS.

The City is currently implementing its HIV Zero Initiative Strategic Plan with vision to become an ‘HIV Zero’ city. A culminating goal of the HIV Zero plan is to build an inclusive community that supports underserved groups and honors the contributions made by people living with HIV.

For more information about the AIDS/LifeCycle event, please visit www.aidslifecycle.org.

For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.

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