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President Biden gives national address calling for laws to fight gun violence

“The fact that a majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated- I find unconscionable”

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President Biden addresses nation on gun control reform (Screenshot/PBS NewsHour)

WASHINGTON – A somber President Biden addressed Americans Thursday night as the nation is still reeling after the 233rd mass shooting in the U.S. this year took place in Tulsa, Okla., that resulted in five people dead including the shooter at a hospital.

Gripping the front of the podium in a navy suit and dark speckled tie, he asked that Congress resume the provisions under the former assault weapons ban, expand background checks, and pass red flag and safe storage laws.

Without an assault weapons ban, he called for the minimum purchasing age to be raised to 21. He also called for a repeal to the “liability shield” around firearms manufacturers and requested increased mental health services. 

The president made note that he and the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden had recently traveled to two other cities where gun violence in separate mass shootings, one in Buffalo, New York where a racially motivated hate crime attack by an avowed white nationalist took the lives of 10 people and left three others injured and then a week later where 19 students and two teachers were killed, and 17 others injured at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

“There are too many other schools, too many other day places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America,” Biden said. “The issue we face is one of consciousness and common sense… I want to be very clear. This is not about taking away anyone’s guns. It’s not about vilifying gun owners.”

But the president also graphically pointed out the physical harm visited upon the elementary school children by the gunman’s AR-15 in Uvalde, noting; “The damage was so devastating in Uvalde that parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children, 9- and 10 year olds,” he said.

NPR noted that although there are nascent signs of an agreement on potential legislation that would offer state incentives to pass red-flag laws, update school-safety protocols, and changes to background checks, the prospect of bipartisan action on guns typically fades in the weeks after mass shootings.

“This time, it’s time for the Senate to do something,” Biden said, adding that 10 Republican senators need to be on board with any effort.

“The fact that a majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated, or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable. We can’t fail the American people again.”

After finishing, he exited quietly and didn’t take shouted questions about how to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Reacting to the President’s speech, Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement:

“America has a gun problem. Our country’s addiction to guns and gun culture is killing our kids, our teachers, our family and our friends. I want to thank President Biden for his steadfast commitment to getting more guns off our streets and I join him in urging Congress to act. 

“Common sense gun laws work. In California, we prove that every single day. Our gun safety laws – banning assault weapons, universal background checks, red flag laws, age restrictions and waiting periods – have cut our state’s gun death rate in half since the 1980s. California has spent decades testing and perfecting these policies. Now it’s time for Congress to put the lives of our people first and pass California-tested, California-proven gun safety laws.”

Transcript:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN ON GUN VIOLENCE IN AMERICA

THE PRESIDENT:    On Memorial Day this past Monday, Jill and I visited Arlington National Cemetery.

As we entered those hallowed grounds, we saw rows and rows of crosses among the rows of headstones, with other emblems of belief, honoring those who paid the ultimate price on battlefields around the world.

The day before, we visited Uvalde — Uvalde, Texas.  In front of Robb Elementary School, we stood before 21 crosses for 19 third and fourth graders and two teachers.  On each cross, a name.  And nearby, a photo of each victim that Jill and I reached out to touch.  Innocent victims, murdered in a classroom that had been turned into a killing field.

Standing there in that small town, like so many other communities across America, I couldn’t help but think there are too many other schools, too many other everyday places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America.

We stood at such a place just 12 days before, across from a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, memorializing 10 fellow Americans — a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling — gone forever.

At both places, we spent hours with hundreds of family members who were broken and whose lives will never be the same.  And they had one message for all of us: Do something.  Just do something.  For God’s sake, do something.

After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done.

This time, that can’t be true.  This time, we must actually do something.

The issue we face is one of conscience and common sense.

For so many of you at home, I want to be very clear: This is not about taking away anyone’s guns.  It’s about vili- — not about vilifying gum [sic] — gun owners.  In fact, we believe we should be treating responsible gun owners as an example of how every gun owner should behave.  I respect the culture and the tradition and the concerns of lawful gun owners. 

At the same time, the Second Amendment, like all other rights, is not absolute.  It was Jus- — it was Justice Scalia who wrote, and I quote, “Like most rights, the right…” — Second Amendment — the rights granted by the Second Amendment are “not unlimited.”  Not unlimited.  It never has been. 

There have always been limitations on what weapons you can own in America.  For example, machine guns have been federally regulated for nearly 90 years.  And this is still a free country.

This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights.  It’s about protecting children.  It’s about protecting families.  It’s about protecting whole communities.  It’s about protecting our freedoms to go to school, to a grocery store, and to a church without being shot and killed.

According to new data just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America.  The number one killer.  More than car accidents.  More than cancer.

Over the last two decades, more school-aged children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined.  Think about that: more kids than on-duty cops killed by guns, more kids than soldiers killed by guns.

For God’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?  How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say “enough”?  Enough.

I know that we can’t prevent every tragedy.  But here’s what I believe we have to do.  Here’s what the overwhelming majority of the American people believe we must do.  Here’s what the families in Buffalo and Uvalde, in Texas, told us we must do.

We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  And if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.  Strengthen background checks.  Enact safe storage laws and red-flag laws.  Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability.  Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence and as a consequence of that violence.

These are rational, commonsense measures.  And here’s what it all means.  It all means this: We should reinstate the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines that we passed in 1994 with bipartisan support in Congress and the support of law enforcement.  Nine categories of semi-automatic weapons were included in that ban, like AK-47s and AR-15s.

And in the 10 years it was law, mass shootings went down.  But after Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled.  Those are the facts.

A few years ago, the family of the inventor of the AR-15 said he would have been horrified to know that its design was being used to slaughter children and other innocent lives instead of being used as a military weapon on the battlefields, as it was designed — that’s what it was designed for.

Enough.  Enough. 

We should limit how many rounds a weapon can hold.  Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30-round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?

The damage was so devastating in Uvalde, parents had to do DNA swabs to identify the remains of their children — 9- and 10-year-old children. 

Enough.

We should expand background checks to be- — keep guns out of the hands of felons, fugitives, and those under restraining orders. 

Stronger background checks are something that the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of gun owners, agree on.

I also believe we should have safe storage laws and personal liability for not locking up your gun.

The shooter in Sandy Hook came from a home full of guns that were too easy to access.  That’s how he got the weapons — the weapon he used to kill his mother and then murder 26 people, including 20 first graders.

If you own a weapon, you have a responsibility to secure it — every responsible gun owner agrees — to make sure no one else can have access to it, to lock it up, to have trigger locks.  And if you don’t and something bad happens, you should be held responsible.

We should also have national red-flag laws so that a parent, a teacher, a counselor can flag for a court that a child, a student, a patient is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that makes them a danger to themselves or to others.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have red-flag laws.  The Delaware law is named after my son, Attorney General Beau Biden.

Fort Hood, Texas, 2009 — 13 dead and more than 30 injured.

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 2018 — 17 dead, 17 injured.

In both places, countless others suffering with invisible wounds. 

Red-flag laws could have stopped both these shooters.

In Uvalde, the shooter was 17 when he asked his sister to buy him an assault weapon, knowing he’d be denied because he was too young to purchase one himself.  She refused. 

But as soon as he turned 18, he purchased two assault weapons for himself.  Because in Texas, you can be 18 years old and buy an assault weapon even though you can’t buy a pistol in Texas until you’re 21.

If we can’t ban assault weapons, as we should, we must at least raise the age to be able to purchase one to 21.

Look, I know some folks will say, “18-year-olds can serve in the military and fire those weapons.”  But that’s with training and supervision by the best-trained experts in the world.  Don’t tell me raising the age won’t make a difference. 

Enough.

We should repeal the liability shield that often protects gun manufacturers from being sued for the death and destruction caused by their weapons.  They’re the only industry in this country that has that kind of immunity.

Imagine — imagine if the tobacco industry had been immune from being sued — where we’d be today.  The gun industry’s special protections are outrageous.  It must end.

And let there be no mistake about the psychological trauma that gun violence leaves behind.

Imagine being that little girl — that brave little girl in Uvalde who smeared the blood off her murdered friend’s body onto her own face to lie still among the corpses in her classroom and pretend she was dead in order to stay alive.  Imagine — imagine what it would it be like for her to walk down the hallway of any school again.

Imagine what it’s like for children who experience this kind of trauma every day in school, in the streets, in communities all across America. 

Imagine what it is like for so many parents to hug their children goodbye in the morning, not sure whether they’ll come back home.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t have to imagine that at all.

Even before the pandemic, young people were already hurting.  There’s a serious youth mental health crisis in this country, and we have to do something about it. 

That’s why mental health is at the heart of my Unity Agenda that I laid out in the State of the Union Address this year. 

We must provide more school counselors, more school nurses, more mental health services for students and for teachers, more people volunteering as mentors to help young people succeed, more privacy protection and resources to keep kids safe from the harms of social media.

This Unity Agenda won’t fully heal the wounded souls, but it will help.  It matters.

I just told you what I’d do.  The question now is: What will the Congress do?

The House of Representatives has already passed key measures we need.  Expanding background checks to cover nearly all gun sales, including at gun shows and online sales.  Getting rid of the loophole that allows a gun sale to go through after three business days even if the background check has not been completed.

And the House is planning even more action next week.  Safe storage requirements.  The banning of high-cama- — -capacity magazines.  Raising the age to buy an assault weapon to 21.  Federal red-flag law.  Codifying my ban on ghost guns that don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced.  And tougher laws to prevent gun trafficking and straw purchases.

This time, we have to take the time to do something.  And this time, it’s time for the Senate to do something.

But, as we know, in order to do any- — get anything done in the Senate, we need a minimum of 10 Republican senators.

I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way.  But my God, the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable.

We can’t fail the American people again.

Since Uvalde, just over a week ago, there have been 20 other mass shootings in America, each with four or more people killed or injured, including yesterday at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A shooter deliberately targeted a surgeon using an assault weapon he bought just a few hours before his rampage that left the surgeon, another doctor, a receptionist, and a patient dead, and many more injured.

That doesn’t count the carnage we see every single day that doesn’t make the headlines.

I’ve been in this fight for a long time.  I know how hard it is, but I’ll never give up.  And if Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of the American people won’t give up either.  I believe the majority of you will act to turn your outrage into making this issue central to your vote.

Enough.  Enough.  Enough.

Over the next 17 days, the families in Uvalde will continue burying their dead.

It will take that long in part because it’s a town where everyone knows everyone, and day by day they will honor each one they lost.

Jill and I met with the owner and staff of the funeral home that is being strong — strong, strong, strong — to take care of their own.

And the people of Uvalde mourn.  As they do over the next 17 days, what will we be doing as a nation?

Jill and I met with the sister of the teacher who was murdered and whose husband died of a heart attack two days later, leaving behind four beautiful, orphaned children — and all now orphaned.
The sister asked us: What could she say?  What could she tell her nieces and nephews?

It was one of the most heartbreaking moments that I can remember.  All I could think to say was — I told her to hold them tight.  Hold them tight.

After visiting the school, we attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church with Father Eddie.

In the pews, families and friends held each other tightly.  As Archbishop Gustavo spoke, he asked the children in attendance to come up on the altar and sit on the altar with him as he spoke.

There wasn’t enough room, so a mom and her young son sat next to Jill and me in the first pew.  And as we left the church, a grandmother who had just lost her granddaughter passed me a handwritten letter.

It read, quote, “Erase the invisible line that is dividing our nation.  Come up with a solution and fix what’s broken and make the changes that are necessary to prevent this from happening again.”  End of quote.

My fellow Americans, enough.  Enough.  It’s time for each of us to do our part.  It’s time to act.

For the children we’ve lost, for the children we can save, for the nation we love, let’s hear the call and the cry.  Let’s meet the moment.  Let us finally do something.

God bless the families who are hurting.  God bless you all.

From a hymn based on the 91st Psalm sung in my church:

May He raise you up on eagle’s wings
and bear you on the breath of dawn
make you to shine like the sun
and hold you in the palm of His hand.


That’s my prayer for all of you.  God bless you.

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New Director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy named

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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White House condemns Ugandan court’s anti-Homosexuality ruling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson also condemned the decision.

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

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

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

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

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Biden honors Transgender Day of Visibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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White House reacts to Pride Flag ban in spending bill

Nearly 50 anti-LGBTQ riders were defeated that Republicans tried to force into the government funding bill

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Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answers questions from members of the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Katie Ricks)

WASHINGTON – The White House provided a statement reacting to an anti-LGBTQ+ provision in the omnibus spending appropriations bill signed by President Biden on Saturday. Nearly 50 anti-LGBTQ riders were defeated that Republicans had tried to force into the government funding bill, however, the provision to ban display of Pride Flag at U.S. Embassies and diplomatic missions made it into the final version.

“President Biden believes it was inappropriate to abuse the process that was essential to keep the government open by including this policy targeting LGBTQI+ Americans. While it will have no impact on the ability of members of the LGBTQI+ community to serve openly in our embassies or to celebrate Pride, the Administration fought against the inclusion of this policy and we will continue to work with members of Congress to find an opportunity to repeal it,” the White House statement read.

“We were successful in defeating 50+ other policy riders attacking the LGBTQI+ community that Congressional Republicans attempted to insert into the legislation. President Biden is committed to fighting for LGBTQI+ equality at home and abroad,” it added.

On Saturday the White House released a signing statement from the president which read:

“The bipartisan funding bill I just signed keeps the government open, invests in the American people, and strengthens our economy and national security. This agreement represents a compromise, which means neither side got everything it wanted. But it rejects extreme cuts from House Republicans and expands access to child care, invests in cancer research, funds mental health and substance use care, advances American leadership abroad, and provides resources to secure the border that my Administration successfully fought to include. That’s good news for the American people.
 
But I want to be clear: Congress’s work isn’t finished. The House must pass the bipartisan national security supplemental to advance our national security interests. And Congress must pass the bipartisan border security agreement—the toughest and fairest reforms in decades—to ensure we have the policies and funding needed to secure the border. It’s time to get this done.”

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Biden ‘heartbroken’ over 16-year-old Nex Benedict’s death

Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are, and feel safe and supported at school

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President Joe Biden speaking at Pride event on the South Lawn of the White House, June 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden issued a statement on Thursday about the death of Nex Benedict, the trans-nonbinary Oklahoma teen whose death last month after enduring months of bullying sparked national conversations about anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the state and across the country.

The results of an autopsy report released on Wednesday showed Benedict had died after ingesting diphenhydramine, an antihistimine with brand names including Benadryl, and fluoxetine (Prozac), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor often used to treat depression.

The president’s statement reads:

“Jill and I are heartbroken by the recent loss of Nex Benedict. Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are, and feel safe and supported at school and in their communities. Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today. 

“Nonbinary and transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But nobody should have to be brave just to be themselves. In memory of Nex, we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children. Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did. Parents and schools must take reports of bullying seriously. My prayers are with Nex’s family, friends, and all who loved them – and to all LGBTQI+ Americans for whom this tragedy feels so personal, know this: I will always have your back.

“To LGBTQI+ young people across the country – you are loved exactly as you are. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or alone, you can call or text 988, the National Crisis Hotline, and dial the number ‘3’ to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQI+ youth.”

In late February, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began a press briefing by acknowledging Benedict’s death, telling reporters “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter, about the teen’s passing.

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White House press secretary honors David Mixner

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre honored the passing of celebrated LGBTQ activist and author David Mixner

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on March 12, 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – During a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre honored the passing of celebrated LGBTQ activist and author David Mixner, which was announced on his personal Facebook page late Monday.

His “moral clarity never wavered,” she said, “which is why he became such an invaluable confidant for so many, including presidential hopefuls, elected leaders and voices of the movement for LGBTQ+ equality.”

Jean-Pierre continued, “Perhaps most importantly, he was deeply dedicated to mentoring the next generation of LGBTQ+ leaders fighting to create a better world,” adding, “those of us doing this work today, including myself, owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Serving since May 2022, Jean-Pierre is the first Black and the first openly-LGBTQ White House press secretary.

Related

Mixner, who reportedly passed from long COVID-19, first rose to prominence as an anti-Vietnam War activist. He became known as a political strategist who was close with former President Bill Clinton — and convinced him to address a gay and lesbian audience in 1992, becoming the first major presidential candidate to do so.

From his work securing then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s opposition to a measure banning gay schoolteachers to his activism over HIV/AIDS — and issues from nuclear disarmament to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — Mixner’s influence spanned decades.

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White House addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed she was “absolutely heartbroken” to learn about the death of nonbinary Okla. teen Nex Benedict

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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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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