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U.S. Senate to consider same-sex marriage bill after August recess

Out U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), has been credited with taking the lead on the bill, She said the vote likely delayed till September

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U.S. Senate Chambers (Photo Credit: U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON – A vote in the U.S. Senate on legislation to codify same-sex marriage, following a surprise bipartisan approval in the U.S. House, now appears on track for consideration in September after lawmakers return from summer recess.

Questions emerged on when the Senate would take up the Respect for Marriage Act, which was advanced amid fears the U.S. Supreme Court would act to rescind same-sex marriage next after the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, after the House voted 267-157 in favor of the bill. Among the “yes” votes were 47 Republicans, a full one-fourth of the caucus, which triggered momentum for a Senate vote on the legislation.

Out U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), has been credited with taking the lead on the legislation. She said over the weekend on PBS Wisconsin the vote would likely be put off until September when lawmakers return from recess, and anticipated 10 Republicans may vote to join Democrats in ending a filibuster to advance the measure.

“There are five Republicans who have publicly stated that they will support the Respect for Marriage Act, and I have spoken with an additional — well, additional many, but five additional members have indicated they are leaning in support, but I think because of how crowded the calendar is for next week, which is our last week before the August recess, and in light of the fact that we can’t have any absences, we need everybody there, and we have a few members with COVID, this is probably going to be a vote that occurs, what I would hope would be early September,” Baldwin said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has expressed interest in bringing the legislation to the Senate floor, but an effort to push for a vote in the Senate last week was dropped as two senators — Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — were out with COVID and another, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), was recovering from a broken hip after a fall. Much of the oxygen in Congress is also now absorbed by the spending deal Schumer reached with Manchin, which provides for nearly $370 billion in climate investments.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, echoed in a statement to the Washington Blade the optimism about the bill and expectation the vote would be held in September.

“Given the exceptionally strong, bipartisan House vote and extensive conversations with and among senators from both parties, we agree with Sen. Baldwin’s public statements that there is a realistic, viable path to secure the 60 votes needed in the U.S. Senate to ensure passage this year, likely after the August recess,” Stacy said. “The U.S. Senate should have a vote on the legislation at the earliest opportunity.”

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Partisan fights imperil efforts to undo harm of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The Pentagon has endeavored to address the problem, but advocates say the agency has been too slow to act to address the issue

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U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Despite bipartisan agreement over the need to bring justice to U.S. service members who were harmed by discriminatory military policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” competing legislative efforts have divided members of Congress and sparked accusations that both Democrats and Republicans are “playing politics” with the issue.

Following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, thousands of veterans who were discharged other than honorably over their sexual orientation continue to face barriers finding housing and employment, with many unable to access federal benefits that otherwise would be available to them.

The Pentagon has endeavored to address the problem, but advocates say the agency has been too slow to act while service members, rather than the Department, bear the considerable burden of requesting reviews of their papers – a process so complicated that many have had to seek legal counsel for help navigating the bureaucratic red tape.

Gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, has long worked to address the challenges faced by veterans who are in this position with his Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which he first introduced in 2013 and re-introduced several times over the years, most recently in 2023.

Among the subsequent iterations were the bicameral version introduced in 2019 by Pocan and U.S. Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) along with U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and another that was introduced in the Senate last year by Schatz, which was backed by Republican U.S. Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Susan Collins (Maine).

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2024 was passed in the Senate with provisions taken from the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, including directions for the Pentagon to establish a “Tiger Team” to “build awareness among veterans of the process established [by the NDAA in FY 2020] for the review of discharge characterizations by appropriate discharge boards.”

Pocan, along with caucus co-chairs U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), wrote to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last month to request information to facilitate implementation of the department’s decision to (1) review records for service members who were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (2) forward cases to their respective secretaries to consider correction through the service boards, and (3) reach out to veterans to make sure they are kept up to speed throughout the process.

Last week, however, another bill targeting the same issue, the Recover Pride in Service Act, was announced by Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.) in conjunction with Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative LGBT group.

A spokesperson for the congresswoman told the Washington Blade in a statement, “There’s a significant difference between the two bills. The Recover Pride in Service Act requires the Department of Defense to automatically upgrade all discharges that were solely based on sexual orientation within five years.”

The spokesperson continued, “This key provision would ensure veterans adversely impacted by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t have to endure an arduous and costly application process and can get their status updated without having to lift a finger. I would also note that just 10 percent of LGBTQ+ veterans have had their discharges upgraded, and that’s because of the application process. Only requiring an outreach group isn’t enough.”

The Recover Pride in Service Act would also, per the press release announcement, establish an “Outreach Unit” to contact service members who were discharged for their sexual orientation along with other reasons specified in their papers. The bill promises to simplify administrative requirements and includes a provision stipulating that “a lack of documentation cannot be used as a basis for denying a review, and the responsibility of finding and producing relevant documentation lies with the DOD, not the service member.”

“If Republicans truly cared about helping veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ they would have signed on to the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which has been around for a decade and has support among the broader LGBTQI+ community,” Pocan told the Blade in a statement.

“Instead, they introduced a bill that plays partisan politics with the issue rather than advance it,” he said. “If we really want to do something to help veterans, there is a decade-long effort to get that done. Posing for pictures with a duplicative effort doesn’t get us closer to the goal.”

Log Cabin Republicans Senior Advisor Alex Walton told the Blade by phone last week that “discussions about the Restore Honor to Service Members Act all happened close to eight to nine months ago before we kind of shifted focus when we realized that they weren’t going to cooperate and work with us.”

Walton said that while there was significant interest in joining Pocan’s bill among House Republicans, “they were only going to do it assuming that Democrats were going to match the number of Republicans that co-sponsored the legislation, so you didn’t have 150 Democrats and, you know, 12 Republicans.” A source familiar with the discussions said Pocan was never asked to limit the number of Democratic cosponsors.

Additionally, Walton said, the House Republicans “also wanted a Republican lead,” but Pocan “was unwilling to let that happen.”

Months later, Walton said Pocan and House Democrats remained uncooperative in discussions over the Recover Pride in Service Act, the bill that was ultimately introduced by Chavez-DeRemer.

Meanwhile, he said, “We spoke to over 90 Republican offices, both in the House and the Senate, and we had a lot of conversations about this issue in general. And one of the things that we kept hearing from Republican offices is if a piece of legislation like this is going to pass, you’re gonna have to cut bureaucratic extras that are included in the Pocan version of the bill, and you’re just gonna have to get directly to the problem. And that’s what the legislation does by requiring the DOD to proactively upgrade these discharges.”

With Republicans holding the majority in the House, Walton said, Log Cabin and Republican members wanted a Republican lead sponsor on the bill in the lower chamber, while discussions were held with Senate Democrats with the expectation that a Democrat would be lead sponsor of the Senate version of the Recover Pride in Service Act.

Walton added that Pocan was offered the opportunity to be the lead Democratic member in the House — a claim that is disputed by the source familiar with the talks, who said the Wisconsin congressman was not consulted as the Recover Pride in Service Act was being drafted.

Pocan told the Blade, in a separate statement, that “I’ve had the Restore Honor to Service Members Act available for co-sponsorship for 12 years. Unfortunately, only a few Republicans have been interested in signing on. I welcome additional support. The best way to help our wrongly discharged veterans is to work in a bipartisan fashion with the members who’ve been working on this for a decade.”

He added, “I’ve been focused on getting justice for veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for years, which is why part of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act became law several years ago” with the NDAA. “Losing the majority doesn’t mean I should surrender the rest of my bill —that’s not how Congress works. But I do welcome any support from Republicans who haven’t drunk the anti-equality Kool-Aid.”

Walton said that by refusing to work with Republicans in good faith, “Pocan put himself over all of these veterans,” adding, “I’m not disregarding everything Pocan has done for gays and lesbians in Congress. But the reality is that he put himself and his own pride in this legislation over actually getting stuff done.”

Walton stressed the broad ideological base of support for Chavez-DeRemer’s bill among House Republicans, 13 of whom have signed on as co-sponsors. Along with more moderate members, “we have extremely conservative Republicans on this legislation,” he said.

Those co-sponsoring members are GOP Reps. Kat Cammack (Fla.), Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), Derrick Van Orden (Wis.), Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Ken Calvert (Calif.), John Duarte (Calif.), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Mike Turner (Ohio), Max Miller (Ohio), and Mike Carey (Ohio).

Several of these House Republicans have voted for anti-LGBTQ military policies, such as prohibitions on Pride month celebrations at U.S. military bases and provisions allowing employees at the Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to discriminate against LGBTQ service members if they oppose, for instance, same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

House must pass spending bills by Friday


Meanwhile, House Republicans have held up passage of critical spending bills by insisting on conservative policy mandates that stand no chance of passing in the Senate with Democrats in the majority, nor of being signed into law by President Joe Biden.

If they are not able to reach an agreement by Friday, funding will lapse for military construction, agriculture, transportation, and housing programs. A full government shutdown would be triggered if spending packages are not passed by March 8.

The Equality Caucus, in a post on X Monday, said, “Just a reminder as we barrel towards a gov’t shutdown this week: House Republicans’ partisan funding bills include more than 45 provisions attacking the LGBTQI+ community.”

They added, “The House GOP needs to stop playing games with queer people’s rights & agree to bipartisan funding bills.”

Historically, appropriations packages have been cleared by both chambers with wide bipartisan margins.

During a conference call on Friday, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) told GOP members they were unlikely to see many of their policy priorities included in the spending bills. He met with Biden at the White House on Tuesday, alongside other congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to continue negotiations ahead of Friday’s deadline.

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Transphobic U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Adm. Levine

Greene’s post Saturday was not the first time she expressed rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry- on the House floor she misgendered the health official

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a post on X Saturday, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Saturday was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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House members raise objections to anti-LGBTQ+ guest chaplain

Hibbs has previously argued that homosexuality & the acceptance of LGBTQ people is evidence that “humanity is living in the ‘last days'”

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Anti-LGBTQ+ Christian nationalist minister Jack Hibbs (left) with anti-LGBTQ+ propagandist extremist Charlie Kirk. (Screenshot/YouTube Charlie Kirk podcast)

WASHINGTON – A group of 26 House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Rev. Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, the House chaplain, raising objections to Johnson’s sponsorship of anti-LGBTQ pastor Jack Gibbs as the lower chamber’s guest chaplain.

“Hibbs is a radical Christian Nationalist who helped fuel the January 6th insurrection and has a long record of spewing hateful vitriol toward non-Christians, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter asks Johnson and Kibben for an explanation of “the process by which Pastor Hibbs was recommended, vetted, and approved,” along with answers to other questions raised by the members.

A nationally syndicated TV and radio host, Hibbs is the senior and founding pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, California, a city located in the western end of San Bernadino County. On its website, the church claims that more than 10,000 adult congregants attend its Sunday service each week.

Among the letter’s signatories were the out chair and three vice chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Robert Garcia (Calif.), Mark Takano (Calif.), and Becca Balint (Vt.).

The members argued portions of the opening prayer delivered by Hibbs on the House floor on Jan. 30, 2024 that concerned “holy fear” and a call for “repentance” for “national sins” were references to his anti-LGBTQ theology that also maligns Jews, Muslims, and those who do not share his Christian nationalist worldview.

The letter chronicles evidence of Hibbs’ extreme statements and positions, among them:

  • Last year, Hibbs launched a campaign that would require schools to forcibly out transgender students, and a month later published a video on his YouTube channel in which he called transgender people a “sexually perverted cult” in “violation of the word and will of God” who are enacting Satan’s “anti-God, anti-Christian plan.”
  • Hibbs characterized same-sex marriage as the crucifixion of God’s word, during remarks to his congregation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the nationwide constitutional right to marriage equality in 2015.
  • During public remarks in 2021 and 2022, Hibbs argued that homosexuality and the acceptance of LGBTQ people is evidence that “humanity is living in the ‘last days.'” He has supported conversion therapy and rallied opposition to a California law targeting anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools.
  • Preaching that God was backing the Trump administration, Hibbs attended the rally on the Ellipse that preceded the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 and subsequently defended the rioters during a radio interview.

The lawmakers also cited procedural objections to Johnson’s selection of Hibbs as a guest chaplain, writing: “Hibbs is not from the district of Speaker Johnson (i.e. the sponsoring member), Speaker Johnson did not deliver a welcoming speech, the prayer was not delivered on the last legislative day of the week, and Hibbs was Speaker Johnson’s second sponsored Guest Chaplain in the span of just a couple months, even though Members are limited to one request per Congress.”

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LGBTQ groups drop opposition to Kids Online Safety Act

KOSA would be the strongest piece of big tech regulation passed requiring social media companies to prevent their products from harming kids

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal speaking to a trade union in 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – Following changes spearheaded by one of the bill’s sponsors, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a coalition of seven LGBTQ advocacy groups dropped their opposition to the Kids Online Safety Act.

“We would like to thank you for hearing our concerns about the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and updating the legislation to address potential adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ youth,” the organizations said in a letter to Blumenthal’s office on Thursday.

GLAAD, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG National, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project were the signatories.

KOSA would be the strongest piece of big tech regulation passed in decades, imposing a duty of care for social media companies to prevent their products from harming children along with guardrails around their use of features that could worsen depression, bullying, sexual exploitation, eating disorders and other harms.

Prior to the latest iteration, however, advocates warned the duty of care, coupled with the deputization of enforcement powers to state attorneys general, might facilitate abuses like the suppression of affirming online content sought by LGBTQ youth.

However, “under the new bill text, the duty of care is clarified to focus specifically on the product design features and components that are used to keep kids hooked on their platforms, often to the detriment of the mental health and wellbeing of kids,” a spokesperson for Blumenthal’s office told the Washington Blade.

This applies to “the business model and practices of social media companies, rather than the content that is hosted on their platforms,” they said, covering “features like personalized recommendation systems, nudges, and appearance altering filters” that have been shown to harm young people.

Additionally, enforcement is now under the purview of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a change that the spokesperson said will ensure “that there is a uniform standard in the enforcement of the provision, rather than differing interpretations for each state.”

The LGBTQ groups wrote that these changes to KOSA collectively “mitigate the risk of it being misused to suppress LGBTQ+ resources or stifle young people’s access to online communities,” and therefore “if this draft of the bill moves forward, our organizations will not oppose its passage.”

The legislation appears poised to do exactly that. Blumenthal’s office issued a press release on Thursday announcing the new bill had earned the support of an additional 12 U.S. senators: Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Angus King (I-Maine), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

With more than 60 cosponsors, KOSA is on track to pass in the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bipartisan momentum to pass the bill, along with other proposed regulations aimed at dominant tech platform companies, reached a fever pitch during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s blockbuster hearing on Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis on Jan. 31.

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Equality Caucus report details GOP’s anti-LGBTQ 2023 attacks

“When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last year, we saw an avalanche of attacks against the LGBTQI+ community”

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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) (Graphic by the Congressional Equality Caucus)

WASHINGTON – The Congressional Equality Caucus on Monday released a 36-page report titled “Obsessed: House Republicans’ Relentless Attacks Against the LGBTQI+ Community in 2023,” which meticulously documents a year of anti-LGBTQ legislative activity in the lower chamber.

Trends detailed in the report map onto those seen in legislatures across the country. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a total of 510 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced last year, 84 of which were ultimately signed into law.

The caucus noted measures targeting the community that were proposed last year are likely to see movement in 2024. And just two days shy of six weeks into the new year, the ACLU is tracking 411 new anti-LGBTQ bills.

“When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last year, we saw an avalanche of attacks against the LGBTQI+ community,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who chairs the caucus, said adding, “In one year, they forced more than 50 anti-LGBTQI+ votes on the House floor.”

“The cruelty is the point,” he said. “You expect bullies in school, but yet there are bullies walking around the halls of Congress. These elected officials target LGBTQI+ youth, especially
trans youth, because it helps increase their clout with a small slice of their base.”

The congressman highlighted efforts by his Republican colleagues to prohibit transgender women and girls from participating on women’s and girls’ sports teams and to ban medically necessary healthcare interventions for trans Americans.

Pocan added, “Not only have they passed numerous amendments to restrict access to medically necessary care, but 46 Republicans have signed on to a Marjorie Taylor Greene bill to throw doctors and parents in jail for providing evidence based care to transgender youth.”

Along with the more than 50 votes on anti-LGBTQ measures that House Republicans took to the floor of the chamber, the caucus’s report notes that GOP members filed more than 95 anti-LGBTQ amendments, introduced more than 55 anti-LGBTQ bills.

During more than 40 committee hearings, these lawmakers and the witnesses they brought made disparaging comments about LGBTQ people, according to the caucus.

Last year, House Republicans used their majority to pass legislation like House Resolution 5 and House Resolution 734 — which, respectively, “require schools that take steps to respect a student’s gender identity to forcibly out those transgender youth to their parents” and “ban all trans girls and trans women — as young as kindergarten — from participating on school sports teams.”

The bills were destined to fail in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, and President Joe Biden vowed never to sign them. Still, advocacy groups warn the introduction of policies targeting LGBTQ people, along with the rhetoric in legislatures where they are debated, heightens the risk of depression, anxiety, self harm behaviors and suicide, particularly among queer youth.

With respect to gender affirming care — which is supported by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the U.S. — House Republicans were focused on restricting access for both youth and adults, the caucus’ report notes.

Additionally, nearly every appropriations bill introduced by Republican members in 2023 contained language permitting discrimination against LGBTQ people, the caucus said. “These provisions create a license for people and organizations, especially those receiving taxpayer funds, to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people by preventing the federal government from adequately responding.”

Among the other details contained in the caucus’s report are:

  • How GOP members hijacked funding bills that have traditionally passed with wide bipartisan margins to demand anti-LGBTQ provisions, despite the near certainty that they would be rejected by the Senate and by President Biden
  • How House Republicans stripped funding from three community-based projects because they supported LGBTQ centers
  • How GOP members are trying to exclude children’s hospitals that provided gender affirming care for patients younger than 18 from eligibility for funding under the Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education program, which trains medical residents and fellows
  • The extreme anti-LGBTQ career of the Republican House Speaker U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (La.)
  • A breakdown of bills targeting the LGBTQ community, those with anti-LGBTQ provisions, and votes on various amendments on matters including anti-discrimination protections, use of the “Holman rule to reduce the salary of federal employees due to their LGBTQI+ status or because of their support of LGBTQI+ rights,” and HIV/AIDS funding
  • Examples of hearings in which Republicans and their witnesses made anti-LGBTQI+ remarks or asked questions motivated by opposition to LGBTQI+ policies and equality
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LGBTQ+ groups oppose immigration overhaul bill

Republican opposition has essentially killed measure that includes foreign aid

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National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Director Allen Morris speaks at a rally against the Supplemental Funding Bill in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 6, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — LGBTQ+ rights groups have expressed their opposition to a $118 billion bill that would overhaul the country’s asylum system and provide additional aid to Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) on Sunday released the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act. 

The three lawmakers in a statement said the bill is “the strongest border security package in decades to reassert control of the border, end catch and release, enhance security, fix the asylum system and support border communities.”

“Sinema, Lankford, and Murphy’s bipartisan package reasserts control of the border, protects border communities, disrupts the flow of fentanyl into the country and solves the border crisis by ending catch and release, strengthening our asylum system by delivering determinations efficiently and fairly, enhancing security and improving the legal immigration system,” reads the statement posted on Sinema’s website.

The bill, among other things, would make the asylum process faster. The measure would also increase the burden for asylum seekers to prove a “credible fear” of persecution in their country of origin and allow the Department of Homeland Security to close the Southern border if at least 5,000 migrants cross during a 7-day period.

The Associated Press notes the bill also contains $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion in aid for Israel. The measure would extend an additional $10 billion in humanitarian aid to civilians in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“While we recognize the urgent need to pass meaningful immigration reform and address the challenges at our Southern border, the legislation’s proposed changes to our asylum system would cause irreparable harm to the lives of asylum seekers, including LGBTQ+ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Vice President David Stacy in a letter he sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.

Stacy in his letter said HRC has “significant concerns that, under the new border expulsion authority, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers would be left languishing in Mexico for their asylum claims to be heard and at risk of increased violence.” The letter also references two of the previous White House’s policies: The “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico and Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Human rights organizations have documented murder, sexual assault, extortion and kidnapping of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers under the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 policies, and this new authority would enable similar circumstances for those waiting to make their asylum claims,” said Stacy. “LGBTQ+ asylum seekers will face the difficult choice between returning to a country where they face persecution, or remaining in a dangerous limbo as they wait to enter the United States.”

The Biden-Harris administration ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2021. Title 42 expired last May.

‘Immigration is an LGBTQ issue’

The National LGBTQ Task Force is among the groups that participated in a protest against the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act that took place Tuesday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Immigration is an LGBTQ issue,” said Allen Morris, the group’s policy director.

“LGBTQ people are currently seeking asylum from countries where their very existence is criminalized and under threat,” added Morris. “The safety of our border and people in need of safety should not be used for political gain.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Greg Casar (D-Texas) and Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) spoke alongside CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres, Anu Joshi of the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

Padilla criticized Republicans who did not consult with Latino lawmakers from the negotiations over the bill. The California Democrat also singled out former President Donald Trump and his opposition to it.

“It’s a shame that they (Republicans) follow the lead of a fear-mongering, anti-immigrant former president at every turn,” said Padilla. “Our country deserves better.”

“The product that they put forward would deny immigrants fleeing for their lives from the opportunity to seek asylum,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) speaks at a rally against the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 6, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Amber Laenen)

The press conference took place hours before Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill is essentially dead because of opposition from House Majority Leader Mike Johnson (R-La.) and a growing number of other Republicans. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday is also expected to vote on whether to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba. 

Amber Laenen contributed to this article.

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Fla. Democratic House members: Use REAL ID, stop anti-trans law

Florida congressional Democrats call upon Biden to use the Real ID Act to block a ban on trans drivers license changes

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EIM/Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – In a letter released Friday, every member of Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation urged the Biden administration to use his powers to block Florida’s driver’s license gender marker ban for transgender individuals using the federal Real ID act.

This notable step marks the first time an entire state’s Democratic congressional delegation has requested the administration intervene to prevent discrimination within the state against transgender individuals.

While the Biden administration has taken positive steps in addressing transgender issues, it has faced criticism for complacency and a lack of action as over 1,000 bills targeting the transgender community have been filed since he took office. Using the Real ID Act to block Florida’s anti-trans driver’s license policy would be a significant move by the administration in support of transgender people.

The letter is in response to two measures in Florida aimed at prohibiting the alteration of gender markers on driver’s licenses and criminalizing transgender individuals. Earlier this week, the state announced it would cease allowing changes to driver’s license gender markers, asserting that any transgender person “misrepresenting” their gender on their license could be guilty of criminal fraud, facing potential license suspension or revocation.

Concurrently, a bill progressing through the Florida Legislature seeks to ban driver’s license gender marker changes and would mandate health insurance coverage for conversion therapy.

The changes prompted immediate speculation that the federal Real ID Act, enacted by Republicans in 2005, might protect transgender individuals in states attempting to ban driver’s license changes. This is because the federal requirements for state IDs include listing “gender.” 

The Biden administration could employ various methods to ensure compliance with the Real ID Act, mandating that states allow transgender people to list their gender on their driver’s licenses. These methods could include initiating a rulemaking process or declaring Florida out of compliance.

Those speculations apparently turned out to have serious merit, at least to members of Congress.

On Friday, Rep. Maxwell Frost released a letter signed onto by every member of the Florida Democratic congressional delegation that stated, “If the above-described revisions are allowed to stand in Florida, and similar provisions are allowed to stand in other states, they will undoubtedly continue to spread, creating more confusion and inconsistency while severely hampering Americans’ ability to travel, including LGBTQ+ American’s ability to leave states that are hostile to their existence.”

The signatories then request that the United States federal government mandate the state to come into compliance and use every other power at its disposal to prevent discrimination against transgender individuals on driver’s licenses.

See the letter here:

Should Biden take this step, the action could have significant consequences for any state that bans transgender individuals from updating their driver’s licenses. The Real ID Act requires states to comply for IDs to be used for boarding airplanes. Any state out of compliance could severely hamper its citizens’ travel options.

It represents one of many steps the administration can take to protect transgender individuals in states deemed unsafe; other states considering or implementing driver’s license bans include Iowa and Kansas. Additionally, more bills in several states aim to end all legal recognition for transgender individuals; these measures would likely also prohibit driver’s license changes.

The Biden administration has an important tool that could be utilized to counteract anti-trans Republican legislatures across the country. With this letter from every member of the Florida Democratic congressional delegation, it is likely to face considerable pressure to employ this tool to protect transgender Floridians who have abruptly found themselves legally targeted by the state.

Until action is taken, trans Floridians must grapple with allegations of breaking the law simply for possessing a driver’s license that reflects their gender identity within the state.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Congress

GOP lawmakers introduce bicameral anti-trans sports ban

The so-called “Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act” was introduced with a press release from Tuberville’s office

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Tommy Tuberville/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube (R-Fla.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on athletic teams consistent with their gender identity.

The so-called “Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act” was introduced with a press release from Tuberville’s office, which links not to a copy of the bill but instead to a Fox News Digital story.

The conservative site, which disclosed that it had obtained a copy of the legislation, reported that it defines “female” as “an individual who has, had, will have — or would have, but for a developmental or genetic anomaly or historical accident — the reproductive system that at some point produces, transports and utilizes eggs for fertilization.”

According to Fox, the bill “would block biological men from participating in any U.S. Olympic Committee event intended for women” while also prohibiting “any governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) from allowing biological men to participate in any female athletic event.”

Announcing the move in a post on X, Steube thanked his Republican colleagues for their support of the bill.

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Congress

Gay House Dems pressure DoD over discharged LGBTQ veterans

“The Department of Defense has the responsibility to uplift LGBTQ+ veterans who were previously degraded because of their sexuality”

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The Pentagon, built in 1942, is home to the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Official U.S. DoD photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), joined by U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), wrote a letter last week urging U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to expedite action on assisting LGBTQ service members who were discharged other than honorably under discriminatory policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The congressmen, all of whom are gay, are members of the Congressional Equality Caucus, which is chaired by Pocan.

“Advocates and historians have estimated that since World War II until repeal, some 114,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were discharged because of who they loved — many with less than honorable discharges that endangered future job prospects, home ownership loans, educational opportunities, and health and disability veterans’ benefits,” the letter says.

“Now, the Department of Defense has the responsibility to uplift LGBTQ+ veterans who were previously degraded because of their sexuality.”

The lawmakers’ letter asks Austin to provide information to facilitate implementation of the Department’s decision, last year, to (1) review records for service members who were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (2) forward cases to their respective secretaries to consider correction through the service boards, and (3) reach out to veterans to make sure they are kept up to speed throughout the process.

Among the information sought from DoD by March 1 is current figures of “applications received to correct the records of individuals charged under DADT or a similar previous policy, total applications relief granted, total applications requests denied, and the respective percentages for granted and denied.”

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Congress

U.S. Senate staffer in Senate hearing room gay sex act video fired

The Daily Caller uploaded video and still images on Friday that purported to show leaked cell phone video of the staffer engaged in gay sex

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Typical scene as a committee staff prepare in hearing room 216 in the Hart Senate Office Building (Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol)

WASHINGTON – A gay staffer for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is no longer employed by the U.S. Senate, his office told the Washington Blade in a statement on Saturday morning, which followed reports that he had filmed amateur pornography in the workplace.

“We will have no further comment on this personnel matter,” Cardin’s office said.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing site founded by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, uploaded video and still images on Friday that purported to show leaked cell phone video of the staffer engaged in gay sex in a Senate hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building, which is not in the U.S. Capitol building.

Shortly thereafter, unverified posts on X and multiple conservative or right-leaning news outlets identified him as an aide working in Cardin’s office. The 80-year-old lawmaker announced in May that he would not seek reelection next year.

The 24-year-old legislative aide later issued a statement on LinkedIn that appeared to deny the allegations: “This has been a difficult time for me, as I have been attacked for who I love to pursue a political agenda,” he said.

The statement continued, “While some of my actions in the past have shown poor judgement, I love my job and would never disrespect my workplace. Any attempts to characterize my actions otherwise are fabricated and I will be exploring what legal options are available to me in these matters.”

The Blade has not independently verified the video posted to social media.

The Washington Free Beacon reported the staffer had published other pornographic images and video content on X, with an account that used a pseudonym but was public.

Earlier this week, this same staffer was accused by Republican U.S. Rep. Max Miller, who is Jewish, of aggressively confronting him over the conflict in Israel — charges he also denied in his LinkedIn post.

“As for the accusations regarding Congressman Max Miller,” he said, “I have never seen the congressman and had no opportunity or cause to yell or confront him.”

In a post on X following Friday’s coverage, U.S. Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) used the incident to downplay the deadly Jan. 6 2021, siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

The congressman, from his official government account, included a cropped image from the pornographic video in his post.

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