Connect with us

The White House

Biden announces student loan debt relief program

The President’s plan calls for forgiving up to $10,000 in federal student debt for Americans who earn less than $125,000 a year

Published

on

President Biden speaking in East Room (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

WASHINGTON – President Biden on Wednesday announced a series of actions aimed at reducing student loan debt burdens on thousands of Americans. The President’s plan calls for forgiving up to $10,000 in federal student debt for Americans who earn less than $125,000 a year and $20,000 for Pell grant recipients, as well as extending the federal moratorium on student loan debt payments through December 31st.

California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla reacted to Biden’s announcement saying in a statement:
I applaud President Biden’s historic decision to forgive thousands of dollars in student loan debt, target much needed support to low-income students and graduates, and extend the pause on payments.  For too long, students have shouldered overwhelming student loan debt just to get a fighting chance at the American Dream. Facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt, millions of young Americans spend decades under the weight of significant loan payments—or worse, the devastation of default. But today, hardworking Americans won.

First-generation students and communities of color will now be able to better save for their future and build wealth. Young families will have more flexibility to pay for essentials like childcare, rent, transportation, and food. And tens of millions of Americans will be able to put more of their hard-earned paychecks back into the economy—benefiting everyone.

The President, accompanied by U.S. Education Miguel Cardona, spoke with reporters in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing Wednesday afternoon. According to White House Press Pool reporter Maureen Groppe, the White House Correspondent for USA TODAY, Biden recounted how his father was ashamed that he couldn’t borrow the money for Biden’s college education. Biden said his father believed, as he does, that education is the ticket to a better way of life. But over time that ticket has become too expensive. 

He said the debt burden is particularly hard on Black & Hispanic borrowers. 

“Now it’s time to address the burden of student debt,” he said. 

Biden said his actions honor his campaign promises. 

“All this means people can finally start crawling out of that mountain of debt,” he said. “When this happens, the whole economy is better off. “

He said the changes provide real benefits for families without a meaningful effect on inflation. 

“It’s a game changer,” he said of permanent changes to loan programs.

He said the administration will hold colleges accountable for jacking up costs. 

“Our goal is to shine a light on the worst actors,” he said. 

Some will think his plan is too much & others will think it’s not enough, he said. 
“I believe my plan is responsible & fair…will fix a badly broken system,” he said. 

He said he will continue to fight for doubling Pell Grants. 

Earlier on Wednesday the White House released details via a press release of the administration’s plan:

This plan offers targeted debt relief as part of a comprehensive effort to address the burden of growing college costs and make the student loan system more manageable for working families. The President is announcing that the Department of Education will:   

  • Provide targeted debt relief to address the financial harms of the pandemic, fulfilling the President’s campaign commitment. The Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). No high-income individual or high-income household – in the top 5% of incomes – will benefit from this action. To ensure a smooth transition to repayment and prevent unnecessary defaults, the pause on federal student loan repayment will be extended one final time through December 31, 2022Borrowers should expect to resume payment in January 2023.
     
  • Make the student loan system more manageable for current and future borrowers by:
     
    • Cutting monthly payments in half for undergraduate loans. The Department of Education is proposing a new income-driven repayment plan that protects more low-income borrowers from making any payments and caps monthly payments for undergraduate loans at 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income—half of the rate that borrowers must pay now under most existing plans. This means that the average annual student loan payment will be lowered by more than $1,000 for both current and future borrowers. 
       
    • Fixing the broken Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program by proposing a rule that borrowers who have worked at a nonprofit, in the military, or in federal, state, tribal, or local government, receive appropriate credit toward loan forgiveness. These improvements will build on temporary changes the Department of Education has already made to PSLF, under which more than 175,000 public servants have already had more than $10 billion in loan forgiveness approved.
       
  • Protect future students and taxpayers by reducing the cost of college and holding schools accountable when they hike up prices. The President championed the largest increase to Pell Grants in over a decade and one of the largest one-time influxes to colleges and universities. To further reduce the cost of college, the President will continue to fight to double the maximum Pell Grant and make community college free. Meanwhile, colleges have an obligation to keep prices reasonable and ensure borrowers get value for their investments, not debt they cannot afford. This Administration has already taken key steps to strengthen accountability, including in areas where the previous Administration weakened rules. The Department of Education is announcing new efforts to ensure student borrowers get value for their college costs.

Provide Targeted Debt Relief, Fulfilling the President’s Campaign Commitment

To address the financial harms of the pandemic for low- and middle-income borrowers and avoid defaults as loan repayment restarts next year, the Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in loan relief to borrowers with loans held by the Department of Education whose individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples) and who received a Pell Grant. Nearly every Pell Grant recipient came from a family that made less than $60,000 a year, and Pell Grant recipients typically experience more challenges repaying their debt than other borrowers. Borrowers who meet those income standards but did not receive a Pell Grant in college can receive up to $10,000 in loan relief.

The Pell Grant program is one of America’s most effective financial aid programs—but its value has been eroded over time. Pell Grant recipients are more than 60% of the borrower population. The Department of Education estimates that roughly 27 million borrowers will be eligible to receive up to $20,000 in relief, helping these borrowers meet their economic potential and avoid economic harm from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current students with loans are eligible for this debt relief. Borrowers who are dependent students will be eligible for relief based on parental income, rather than their own income.

If all borrowers claim the relief they are entitled to, these actions will:

  • Provide relief to up to 43 million borrowers, including cancelling the full remaining balance for roughly 20 million borrowers.
  • Target relief dollars to low- and middle-income borrowers. The Department of Education estimates that, among borrowers who are no longer in school, nearly 90% of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 a year. No individual making more than $125,000 or household making more than $250,000 – the top 5% of incomes in the United States – will receive relief.
     
  • Help borrowers of all ages. The Department of Education estimates that, among borrowers who are eligible for relief, 21% are 25 years and under and 44% are ages 26-39. More than a third are borrowers age 40 and up, including 5% of borrowers who are senior citizens.
     
  • Advance racial equity. By targeting relief to borrowers with the highest economic need, the Administration’s actions are likely to help narrow the racial wealth gap. Black students are more likely to have to borrow for school and more likely to take out larger loans. Black borrowers are twice as likely to have received Pell Grants compared to their white peers. Other borrowers of color are also more likely than their peers to receive Pell Grants. That is why an Urban Institute study found that debt forgiveness programs targeting those who received Pell Grants while in college will advance racial equity.

The Department of Education will work quickly and efficiently to set up a simple application process for borrowers to claim relief. The application will be available no later than when the pause on federal student loan repayments terminates at the end of the year. Nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief automatically because their relevant income data is already available to the Department.  

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, this debt relief will not be treated as taxable income for the federal income tax purposes.

To help ensure a smooth transition back to repayment, the Department of Education is extending the student loan pause a final time through December 31, 2022. No one with federally-held loans has had to pay a single dollar in loan payments since President Biden took office.

Make the Student Loan System More Manageable for Current and Future Borrowers

Fixing Existing Loan Repayment to Lower Monthly Payments

The Administration is reforming student loan repayment plans so both current and future low- and middle-income borrowers will have smaller and more manageable monthly payments.

The Department of Education has the authority to create income-driven repayment plans, which cap what borrowers pay each month based on a percentage of their discretionary income. Most of these plans cancel a borrower’s remaining debt once they make 20 years of monthly payments. But the existing versions of these plans are too complex and too limited. As a result, millions of borrowers who might benefit from them do not sign up, and the millions who do sign up are still often left with unmanageable monthly payments.

To address these concerns and follow through on Congress’ original vision for income-driven repayment, the Department of Education is proposing a rule to do the following:

  • For undergraduate loans, cut in half the amount that borrowers have to pay each month from 10% to 5% of discretionary income.
     
  • Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 minimum wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.
     
  • Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with original loan balances of $12,000 or less. The Department of Education estimates that this reform will allow nearly all community college borrowers to be debt-free within 10 years.
     
  • Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

These reforms would simplify loan repayment and deliver significant savings to low- and middle-income borrowers. For example:

  • A typical single construction worker (making $38,000 a year) with a construction management credential would pay only $31 a month, compared to the $147 they pay now under the most recent income-driven repayment plan, for annual savings of nearly $1,400.
     
  • A typical single public school teacher with an undergraduate degree (making $44,000 a year) would pay only $56 a month on their loans, compared to the $197 they pay now under the most recent income-driven repayment plan, for annual savings of nearly $1,700.
     
  • A typical nurse (making $77,000 a year) who is married with two kids would pay only $61 a month on their undergraduate loans, compared to the $295 they pay now under the most recent income-driven repayment plan, for annual savings of more than $2,800.

For each of these borrowers, their balances would not grow as long as they are making their monthly payments, and their remaining debt would be forgiven after they make the required number of qualifying payments.

Further, the Department of Education will make it easier for borrowers who enroll in this new plan to stay enrolled. Starting in the summer of 2023, borrowers will be able to allow the Department of Education to automatically pull their income information year after year, avoiding the hassle of needing to recertify their income annually.

Ensuring Public Servants Receive Credit Toward Loan Forgiveness

Borrowers working in public service are entitled to earn credit toward debt relief under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. But because of complex eligibility restrictions, historic implementation failures, and poor counseling given to borrowers, many borrowers have not received the credit they deserve for their public service.

The Department of Education has announced time-limited changes to PSLF that provide an easier path to forgiveness of all outstanding debt for eligible federal student loan borrowers who have served at a non-profit, in the military, or in federal, state, Tribal, or local government for at least 10 years, including non-consecutively. Those who have served less than 10 years may now more easily get credit for their service to date toward eventual forgiveness. These changes allow eligible borrowers to gain additional credit toward forgiveness, even if they had been told previously that they had the wrong loan type.

The Department of Education also has proposed regulatory changes to ensure more effective implementation of the PSLF program moving forward. Specifically, the Department of Education has proposed allowing more payments to qualify for PSLF including partial, lump sum, and late payments, and allowing certain kinds of deferments and forbearances, such as those for Peace Corps and AmeriCorps service, National Guard duty, and military service, to count toward PSLF. The Department of Education also proposed to ensure the rules work better for non-tenured instructors whose colleges need to calculate their full-time employment.

To ensure borrowers are aware of the temporary changes, the White House has launched four PSLF Days of Action dedicated to borrowers in specific sectors: government employees, educators, healthcare workers and first responders, and non-profit employees. You can find out other information about the temporary changes on PSLF.gov. You must apply to PSLF before the temporary changes end on October 31, 2022.

Protecting Borrowers and Taxpayers from Steep Increases in College Costs

While providing this relief to low- and middle-income borrowers, the President is focused on keeping college costs under control. Under this Administration, students have had more money in their pockets to pay for college. The President signed the largest increase to the maximum Pell Grant in over a decade and provided nearly $40 billion to colleges and universities through the American Rescue Plan, much of which was used for emergency student financial aid, allowing students to breathe a little easier.

Additionally, the Department of Education has already taken significant steps to strengthen accountability, so that students are not left with mountains of debt with little payoff. The agency has re-established the enforcement unit in the Office of Federal Student Aid and it is holding accreditors’ feet to the fire. In fact, the Department just withdrew authorization for the accreditor that oversaw schools responsible for some of the worst for-profit scandals. The agency will also propose a rule to hold career programs accountable for leaving their graduates with mountains of debt they cannot repay, a rule the previous Administration repealed.

Building off of these efforts, the Department of Education is announcing new actions to hold accountable colleges that have contributed to the student debt crisis. These include publishing an annual watch list of the programs with the worst debt levels in the country, so that students registering for the next academic year can steer clear of programs with poor outcomes. They also include requesting institutional improvement plans from the worst actors that outline how the colleges with the most concerning debt outcomes intend to bring down debt levels.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

The White House

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

Published

on

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.”

**************************************************************************************

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

The White House

First nonbinary US state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

The White House

US announces more sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Popular