WASHINGTON – After a performance from a repertoire of the best known hits from his songbook in a special musical concert at the White House Friday evening, Sir Elton John was called to the podium where, accompanied by the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden surprised the iconic British singer-songwriter with an award.
The president presented John with the National Humanities Medal for his advocacy work in recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and tireless activism against the global HIV/AIDS crisis disease through his contributions in music and the arts.
The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened its citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.
A stunned John was moved to tears. After the president had the citation read by a military aide and hung the medal around the singer’s neck, Biden told the audience gathered, “I think we surprised him” to which they cheered and applauded.
The medal’s citation read in part that it was honoring John “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth — that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Visibly moved, the iconic musician and performer said: “I just said to the First Lady, I’m never flabbergasted- but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much- I will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness- America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV it’s even bigger and I can’t thank you enough…. I’m really emotional about this- thank you.”
The special gathering held under a vaulted glass and aluminum ‘tent’ on the South Lawn of the White House was attended by 2,000 guests including former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband Chasten, as well as teachers, nurses, LGBTQ advocates and military families, who the White House had dubbed “everyday history-makers.”
During a pause in his performance earlier, the singer addressed former first lady Laura Bush, praising her husband, former President George W. Bush’s ongoing work on the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush had initiated while in office and is credited with saving millions of lives across the African continent and helping to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis globally.
“I want to say to the first lady, President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. It was the most incredible thing,” he said to Mrs. Bush.
On his final tour, Jill and I invited Sir Elton John to the People’s House.— President Biden (@POTUS) September 24, 2022
I proudly presented @eltonofficial with the National Humanities Medal for a legacy of challenging convention, shuttering stigma, and advancing the truth that all of us deserve to be treated with dignity. pic.twitter.com/vFAkrW6lWS
Full Text of the President and the First Lady’s remarks:
THE FIRST LADY: Hello! Good evening. Thank you, Athen. It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.
And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E for helping us put this event together.
Isn’t this incredible?
First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight. And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House.
And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David.
Few things have the power to bring us together like music. It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune. It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define.
When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone.
And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers.
Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard. (Applause.) Love the teachers! So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years. And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you.
We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — like Dr. Amber Pearson. Amber was the first person in her family to go to college. And it wasn’t easy. She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well.
And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami. When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back.
Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about. Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.
Elton once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”
We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music.
And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden.
THE PRESIDENT: You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me. Please, all have a seat. Please, have a seat.
Thank you, Jill. Thank you all for being here on such a special evening.
And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice. And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.
Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.
The think I did it because I’m Irish. That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world.
One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”
Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme. Three hundred million records sold. Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten. Six Grammy Awards. Two Oscars. One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board. Four thousand performances around the world. A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.
On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.
So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music. His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory. Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive. And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.
As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.
Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.
Every day — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.
And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time. Karen, thank you. Thank you for being here, Karen.
Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.
Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.
Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.
With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation. That’s what tonight is all about.
Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination. It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.
To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight. (Applause.) And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation.
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Biden recognizes Transgender Day of Remembrance
President notes 26 trans Americans have been murdered in 2023
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Monday honored Transgender Day of Remembrance with a statement, writing “there is no place for hate in America and no one should be discriminated against simply for being themselves.”
“Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance we are reminded that there is more to do meet that promise, as we grieve the 26 transgender Americans whose lives were taken this year,” the president said, adding, “While each one of these deaths is a tragedy — the true toll of those victimized is likely even higher, with the majority of those targeted being women of color.”
Biden’s statement continues: “It’s unacceptable and it’s why my administration has taken action to strengthen the rights, and protect the safety of transgender and all LGBTQI+ Americans. My administration ended the ban on transgender Americans serving our country and I signed historic executive action to strengthen civil rights protections for all LGBTQI+ Americans.
The Department of Homeland Security, with support from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, have launched the LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership that works hand-in-hand with LGBTQI+ community organizations to provide critical safety resources.
We must never be silent in the face of hate. As we mourn the loss of transgender Americans taken too soon this year, we must also recommit ourselves to never stop fighting until all Americans can live free from discrimination.”
Alongside U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus’ Transgender Equality Task Force, announced their introduction of a resolution on Monday recognizing the annual observance.
“As the proud mom of an incredible trans child, I know how important this fight is, and I will never waiver in the effort to ensure that all trans individuals can live without the constant fear of violence and hate,” Jayapal said. “This resolution honors the lives of the trans people we have lost to senseless violence and stands as a symbol of their resilience and our commitment to creating a just and equal society for all.”
“Our bicameral resolution sends a strong message to all transgender people that they’re not alone and it honors all the transgender people we’ve lost to senseless, hateful violence,” Jacobs said. “We will keep pushing until all LGBTQ+ people, including the transgender and gender non-conforming communities, feel safe, welcome, respected and celebrated in our country and around the world.”
“This resolution honors the memory of the transgender and gender non-conforming people whose lives were lost in acts of violence and raises awareness of the dangers trans people face today,” Hirono said. “Trans rights are human rights, and I will continue fighting so people in Hawaii and across the country — regardless of their gender identity — can live their lives freely and authentically.”
“The work to address violence against transgender people cannot be limited to just one day a year,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the caucus. “I am committed to fighting every day for the rights of the transgender community so all transgender people can live their lives free from violence and persecution.”
Biden signs stop-gap funding measure
The CR provides fiscal year 2024 appropriations to Federal agencies through January 19, 2024, the remaining get funding through February 2
SAN FRANCISCO – President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 6363, the “Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024,” Thursday evening after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation dinner at the Legion of Honor, an art museum located in Lincoln Park.
The measure provides fiscal year 2024 appropriations to Federal agencies through January 19, 2024, for continuing projects and activities funded in four appropriations bills. For the remaining eight appropriations bills, the CR provides funding through February 2, 2024.
The President and First Lady Jill Biden were hosting Heads of Delegation and spouses for the APEC Dinner which included Chinese President Xi Jinping. One day remains of the APEC summit. President Biden is scheduled to meet with the President of Mexico before leaving San Francisco.
In a late evening vote Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved a House stopgap funding measure to prevent a Federal shutdown on Friday. The bipartisan vote was 87-11, with 10 Republicans and one Democrat — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — voting in opposition.
House Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step continuing resolution, which he unveiled last weekend, meant that lawmakers won’t face the usual end-of-year brinkmanship and the threat of a government shutdown right before the Christmas recess.
But House conservatives, led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the Freedom Caucus, did not get the steep spending cuts they wanted attached to the stopgap measure, which would freeze government funding at current levels for two more months.
Biden nominates lesbian lawyer to 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the court, which is located in Richmond, Virginia
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated Service Employees International Union General Counsel Nicole Berner to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the Maryland lawyer would become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the court, which is located in Richmond, Virginia and has appellate jurisdiction over district courts in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Berner was previously a staff attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a litigation associate at the law firm Jenner & Block.
U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both from Maryland, had recommended Berner for the position and issued a joint statement following the president’s announcement of her nomination.
“Throughout her career, Nicole Berner has provided outstanding legal representation to advance the rights of working families and historically underrepresented communities — demonstrating her commitment to delivering equal justice to all,” Van Hollen said.
“As the first openly LGBTQ nominee for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Nicole would also break glass ceilings in our judicial system,” said the senator. “We look forward to advancing her nomination through the Senate.”
Cardin said, “As the general counsel of the 2-million-member strong Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Ms. Berner oversees their legal work in complicated areas of the law, including labor, healthcare regulation, and immigration.”
He added, “With this background, I am confident that she will uphold the judicial oath to ‘do equal right to the poor and to the rich.'”
Uganda to be removed from US duty-free trade program
Country’s president signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May
WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has announced it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.
Then-President Bill Clinton in 2000 signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan African countries to access U.S. markets.
President Joe Biden in a letter he sent to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the president of the U.S. Senate, on Monday notes the Ugandan government “has engaged in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The Biden-Harris administration last week issued a business advisory for the country in response to the law.
Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic are the three other countries the White House will remove from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The decision will take effect on Jan. 1.
President Barack Obama in 2014 removed Gambia from the program amid growing concerns over then-President Yahya Jammeh’s human rights record that included a crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights.
Jammeh stepped down after he lost the country’s 2016 presidential election and now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea. Gambia as of 2022 is once again eligible to participate in the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
President Biden signs Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence
Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, & exploit personal data
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed a wide-ranging landmark Executive Order on artificial intelligence Monday with its focuses ranging from civil rights and industry regulations to a government hiring spree.
In a media call previewing the order Sunday, a senior White House official, who asked to not be named as part of the terms of the call, said AI has so many facets that effective regulations have to cast a wide net. “AI policy is like running into a decathlon, and there’s 10 different events here,” the official said.
From the White House:
As AI’s capabilities grow, so do its implications for Americans’ safety and security. The Executive Order directs the following actions:
New Standards for AI Safety and Security
- Require that developers of the most powerful AI systems share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government. In accordance with the Defense Production Act, the Order will require that companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model, and must share the results of all red-team safety tests. These measures will ensure AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy before companies make them public.
- Develop standards, tools, and tests to help ensure that AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set the rigorous standards for extensive red-team testing to ensure safety before public release. The Department of Homeland Security will apply those standards to critical infrastructure sectors and establish the AI Safety and Security Board. The Departments of Energy and Homeland Security will also address AI systems’ threats to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and cybersecurity risks. Together, these are the most significant actions ever taken by any government to advance the field of AI safety.
- Protect against the risks of using AI to engineer dangerous biological materials by developing strong new standards for biological synthesis screening. Agencies that fund life-science projects will establish these standards as a condition of federal funding, creating powerful incentives to ensure appropriate screening and manage risks potentially made worse by AI.
- Protect Americans from AI-enabled fraud and deception by establishing standards and best practices for detecting AI-generated content and authenticating official content. The Department of Commerce will develop guidance for content authentication and watermarking to clearly label AI-generated content. Federal agencies will use these tools to make it easy for Americans to know that the communications they receive from their government are authentic—and set an example for the private sector and governments around the world.
- Establish an advanced cybersecurity program to develop AI tools to find and fix vulnerabilities in critical software, building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing AI Cyber Challenge. Together, these efforts will harness AI’s potentially game-changing cyber capabilities to make software and networks more secure.
- Order the development of a National Security Memorandum that directs further actions on AI and security, to be developed by the National Security Council and White House Chief of Staff. This document will ensure that the United States military and intelligence community use AI safely, ethically, and effectively in their missions, and will direct actions to counter adversaries’ military use of AI.
Protecting Americans’ Privacy
Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, and exploit personal data, but it also heightens incentives to do so because companies use data to train AI systems. To better protect Americans’ privacy, including from the risks posed by AI, the President calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids, and directs the following actions:
- Protect Americans’ privacy by prioritizing federal support for accelerating the development and use of privacy-preserving techniques—including ones that use cutting-edge AI and that let AI systems be trained while preserving the privacy of the training data.
- Strengthen privacy-preserving research and technologies, such as cryptographic tools that preserve individuals’ privacy, by funding a Research Coordination Network to advance rapid breakthroughs and development. The National Science Foundation will also work with this network to promote the adoption of leading-edge privacy-preserving technologies by federal agencies.
- Evaluate how agencies collect and use commercially available information—including information they procure from data brokers—and strengthen privacy guidance for federal agencies to account for AI risks. This work will focus in particular on commercially available information containing personally identifiable data.
- Develop guidelines for federal agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of privacy-preserving techniques, including those used in AI systems. These guidelines will advance agency efforts to protect Americans’ data.
Advancing Equity and Civil Rights
Irresponsible uses of AI can lead to and deepen discrimination, bias, and other abuses in justice, healthcare, and housing. The Biden-Harris Administration has already taken action by publishing the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and issuing an Executive Order directing agencies to combat algorithmic discrimination, while enforcing existing authorities to protect people’s rights and safety. To ensure that AI advances equity and civil rights, the President directs the following additional actions:
- Provide clear guidance to landlords, Federal benefits programs, and federal contractors to keep AI algorithms from being used to exacerbate discrimination.
- Address algorithmic discrimination through training, technical assistance, and coordination between the Department of Justice and Federal civil rights offices on best practices for investigating and prosecuting civil rights violations related to AI.
- Ensure fairness throughout the criminal justice system by developing best practices on the use of AI in sentencing, parole and probation, pretrial release and detention, risk assessments, surveillance, crime forecasting and predictive policing, and forensic analysis.
Standing Up for Consumers, Patients, and Students
AI can bring real benefits to consumers—for example, by making products better, cheaper, and more widely available. But AI also raises the risk of injuring, misleading, or otherwise harming Americans. To protect consumers while ensuring that AI can make Americans better off, the President directs the following actions:
- Advance the responsible use of AI in healthcare and the development of affordable and life-saving drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services will also establish a safety program to receive reports of—and act to remedy – harms or unsafe healthcare practices involving AI.
- Shape AI’s potential to transform education by creating resources to support educators deploying AI-enabled educational tools, such as personalized tutoring in schools.
AI is changing America’s jobs and workplaces, offering both the promise of improved productivity but also the dangers of increased workplace surveillance, bias, and job displacement. To mitigate these risks, support workers’ ability to bargain collectively, and invest in workforce training and development that is accessible to all, the President directs the following actions:
- Develop principles and best practices to mitigate the harms and maximize the benefits of AI for workers by addressing job displacement; labor standards; workplace equity, health, and safety; and data collection. These principles and best practices will benefit workers by providing guidance to prevent employers from undercompensating workers, evaluating job applications unfairly, or impinging on workers’ ability to organize.
- Produce a report on AI’s potential labor-market impacts, and study and identify options for strengthening federal support for workers facing labor disruptions, including from AI.
Promoting Innovation and Competition
America already leads in AI innovation—more AI startups raised first-time capital in the United States last year than in the next seven countries combined. The Executive Order ensures that we continue to lead the way in innovation and competition through the following actions:
- Catalyze AI research across the United States through a pilot of the National AI Research Resource—a tool that will provide AI researchers and students access to key AI resources and data—and expanded grants for AI research in vital areas like healthcare and climate change.
- Promote a fair, open, and competitive AI ecosystem by providing small developers and entrepreneurs access to technical assistance and resources, helping small businesses commercialize AI breakthroughs, and encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to exercise its authorities.
- Use existing authorities to expand the ability of highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in critical areas to study, stay, and work in the United States by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.
Advancing American Leadership Abroad
AI’s challenges and opportunities are global. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working with other nations to support safe, secure, and trustworthy deployment and use of AI worldwide. To that end, the President directs the following actions:
- Expand bilateral, multilateral, and multistakeholder engagements to collaborate on AI. The State Department, in collaboration, with the Commerce Department will lead an effort to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI’s benefits and managing its risks and ensuring safety. In addition, this week, Vice President Harris will speak at the UK Summit on AI Safety, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
- Accelerate development and implementation of vital AI standards with international partners and in standards organizations, ensuring that the technology is safe, secure, trustworthy, and interoperable.
- Promote the safe, responsible, and rights-affirming development and deployment of AI abroad to solve global challenges, such as advancing sustainable development and mitigating dangers to critical infrastructure.
Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI
AI can help government deliver better results for the American people. It can expand agencies’ capacity to regulate, govern, and disburse benefits, and it can cut costs and enhance the security of government systems. However, use of AI can pose risks, such as discrimination and unsafe decisions. To ensure the responsible government deployment of AI and modernize federal AI infrastructure, the President directs the following actions:
- Issue guidance for agencies’ use of AI, including clear standards to protect rights and safety, improve AI procurement, and strengthen AI deployment.
- Help agencies acquire specified AI products and services faster, more cheaply, and more effectively through more rapid and efficient contracting.
- Accelerate the rapid hiring of AI professionals as part of a government-wide AI talent surge led by the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Digital Service, U.S. Digital Corps, and Presidential Innovation Fellowship. Agencies will provide AI training for employees at all levels in relevant fields.
As we advance this agenda at home, the Administration will work with allies and partners abroad on a strong international framework to govern the development and use of AI. The Administration has already consulted widely on AI governance frameworks over the past several months—engaging with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the UAE, and the UK. The actions taken today support and complement Japan’s leadership of the G-7 Hiroshima Process, the UK Summit on AI Safety, India’s leadership as Chair of the Global Partnership on AI, and ongoing discussions at the United Nations.
The actions that President Biden directed today are vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI. More action will be required, and the Administration will continue to work with Congress to pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation.
For more on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to advance AI, and for opportunities to join the Federal AI workforce, visit AI.gov.
Biden-Harris administration climate change advisor makes history
Jerome Foster, 21, is youngest administration aide in history
BY CAL BENN | WASHINGTON — A 21-year-old LGBTQ+ activist who advises the Biden-Harris administration on climate change-related issues is the youngest White House advisor in history.
Jerome Foster, II, works for the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. He told the Washington Blade during a recent interview that climate anxiety sparked his passion for climate.
“Growing up in Gen Z, our planet was on fire and we’re seeing communities be completely ignored because of politicians prioritizing profit, greed, and money over basic human lives,” said Foster.
Foster when he was 16 began to skip school to protest in front of the White House to give a voice to concerns for climate change. Foster said the movement’s growing visibility right outside of the White House, along with young activists testifying in front of the D.C. Council, helped spur passage of the Clean Energy DC bill.
The experience inspired Foster to continue organizing, which led him to an opportunity to intern for the late-U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Foster says he deepened his understanding of intersectionality, saying he learned “climate change really exacerbates every slow rolling crisis that we’ve seen so far, and just lights it on fire.”
The intersection between the LGBTQ+ community and the climate crisis is experienced primarily through homelessness and lack of representation in policy making. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, despite the community only making up 10 percent of all young people. Members of the LGBTQ+ community also risk being turned away from shelters, being left exposed to harsh environments as climate change continues.
Foster’s journey as an LGBTQ+ climate activist has had its struggles.
Foster said he wasn’t out for most of it, and when he did come out, it was a “shaking” experience.
“I remember just crying because I didn’t know how to feel,” he said. “I didn’t even feel safe even as an activist.”
Foster, who met his now husband at COP-26 in Glasgow, Scotland, was shocked to see COP-27 was being held in Egypt, a country that persecutes LGBTQ+ people.
They wrote a letter to Patricia Espinosa, the former executive secretary for U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change requesting they relocate COP-27. Foster said the response they received was they would be fine as long as they were inside the walls of the conference.
Foster did not accept this response.
“It wasn’t about our lives. It was about the lives of the people that live there every single day […] It’s about punishing a country that’s punishing a community for being who they are,” he told the Blade.
Foster and his partner did not end up going to COP-27 out of solidarity with individuals in Egypt who continue to struggle under their country’s repressive regime.
When it comes to advocating for climate justice, Foster says the best place to start is in the workplace, making sure those around us with power as well as ourselves are “standing up for an interest that is beyond just profit.”
“Activists are instruments of disruption in any space that we’re in,” he said. “The most powerful thing we can do is to shake up the system anywhere we can.”
White House commemorates Intersex Awareness Day
Blade speaks with senior State Department advisor Kimberly Zieselman
WASHINGTON — Thursday is the annual Intersex Awareness Day.
Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996. The Washington Blade this week spoke with Kimberly Zieselman, a senior policy advisor to Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender, queer and intersex persons.
BLADE: What is intersex?
ZIESELMAN: Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a person with one or more sex characteristics (including genitals, internal reproductive organs, chromosome patterns and hormone levels) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others they are not apparent until puberty. Some intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.
According to experts, between 0.05 percent and 1.7 percent of the population is born with intersex traits — the upper estimate is similar to the number of red-haired people or people with green eyes and is more common than identical twins. Approximately 136 million people meet the definition.
BLADE: What are some common misconceptions about intersex people?
ZIESELMAN: Two common misconceptions include assuming all intersex persons have nonbinary gender identities or bisexual orientations. A third common mistake is confusing intersex with Transgender.
Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual and may identify as female, male, both or neither. Intersex individuals may identify as men, women, Transgender, nonbinary or any of the range of diverse gender identities — just like everyone else.
BLADE: What is Intersex Awareness Day?
ZIESELMAN: Intersex Awareness Day falls annually on Oct. 26 and marks the first public demonstration by intersex persons in North America that took place back in 1996 in Boston, Massachusetts, outside a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2003 activists began using the date to raise awareness, and today 20 years later, it has become an internationally recognized date, and the period between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8 (Intersex Day of Solidarity) has increasingly become a period of both education and awareness raising across the world.
BLADE: Why is Intersex Awareness Day important?
ZIESELMAN: Despite not being that rare (after all, it is more common than cystic fibrosis or identical twins), intersex has largely remained invisible due to the shame and stigma many cultures and societies have attached to it. Because their bodies are seen as different or even disordered (medical practitioners commonly refer to intersex persons as having “disorders of sex development”), intersex children and adults are often stigmatized and their human rights undermined, including related to their health and physical integrity, equality and nondiscrimination and freedom from harmful medical practices.
Intersex infants and young children are frequently subjected to unnecessary harmful medical practices (including cosmetic genital surgery) for the purpose of trying to make their appearance conform to binary sex stereotypes. These medically unnecessary procedures can cause permanent infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation and life-long mental suffering, including anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress and even suicide. In some cases, intersex persons may even grow up not identifying with the sex they were surgically assigned in infancy.
In essence, much of society has historically tried to erase intersex persons.
These medical procedures undermine bodily integrity and subject intersex persons to harmful practices. They are regularly performed without the full, free and informed consent of the intersex person concerned. Moreover, they are frequently performed on individuals under age two and children who are too young to be part of the decision-making.
Parents and caregivers are often not given all necessary information to make a fully informed decision and may be pressured by doctors and other community members to permanently “fix” their healthy child. Such procedures are frequently justified by harmful norms and discriminatory beliefs about intersex persons and their integration into society.
In short, Intersex Awareness Day is important because many are still unaware that intersex persons exist and/or that they are often subjected to human rights abuses. Sharing information and stories can help change hearts and minds and lead to changes in harmful treatment.
BLADE: How is the State Department planning to commemorate Intersex Awareness Day?
ZIESELMAN: Last year State hired me as the first intersex policy advisory to assist with advancing the human rights of intersex persons in foreign policy.
Last month, State, under the leadership of the Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, hosted five intersex activists to share their perspectives and activism work in five diverse regions of the world. The intersex experts met with a range of State Department staff as well as other agencies and NGOs while in D.C.
Now the special envoy’s team is working on new resources for all State Department employees providing information on key issues of concern related to intersex persons and suggestions for working together with civil society and local governments to not only raise awareness but also to work towards the advancement of human rights.
In celebration and recognition of Intersex Awareness Day, State will release a statement once again affirming the United States’ commitment to promoting the human rights of intersex persons globally.
BLADE: What has the Biden-Harris administration done to protect intersex people? Can you please highlight a specific example/s?
ZIESELMAN: The Biden-Harris administration has been the first ever to invite intersex Americans to share their stories and voice their concerns. This has occurred during two separate roundtables hosted by the White House as well as via a public call for input this year as part of the development of a soon-to-be-released report on Intersex Health Equity by the Department of Health and Human Services as mandated by Executive Order in 2022.
Also, the State Department and USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) have released an updated U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Globally that is inclusive of the GBV risks and needs of LGBTQI+ persons, including medically unnecessary and harmful surgeries on intersex persons. Intersex persons, and their needs and concerns, are starting to be addressed.
BLADE: What have other countries done to protect intersex people? What can the Biden-Harris administration do to implement so-called best practices from around the world with regards to intersex people?
ZIESELMAN: Some countries have passed laws banning or significantly restricting harmful cosmetic genital surgeries on intersex infants and children. Malta was the first to do so in 2015 and since then Germany, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, Portugal and Spain have joined the list. In addition, territories in both Australia and India have passed laws in attempt to protect intersex children.
Though these medical practices still occur across most of the world including the United States, the Biden-Harris administration is currently working with intersex persons and families, provide platforms to share their lived experiences, and develop medical practices that affirm and support intersex persons across the lifespan.
U.S. Reps. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, on Thursday introduced the first-ever Intersex Awareness Day resolution.
The resolution specifically:
- Supports the goals and ideals of Intersex Awareness Day;
- Encourages the federal government, states, localities, nonprofit organizations, schools and community organizations to observe the day with appropriate programs and activities, with the goal of increasing public knowledge of the intersex community and empowering individuals to celebrate and respect their diversity;
- Encourages health care providers to offer culturally and clinically competent care to the intersex community, and schools to support education regarding the intersex community and connect individuals to resources for young people with intersex variations and their families and
- Encourages the federal government, states, international funding organizations, and United States bilateral and multilateral aid efforts to prioritize the health and human rights of intersex people.
“Intersex people must be recognized as valid and seen within the LGBTQI+ community,” said Balint in a press release. This resolution is an important step in uplifting the intersex community and fighting interphobia.”
Erika Lorshbough, executive director of interACT, a group that advocates on behalf of intersex youth, in a statement applauded the resolution.
“Intersex awareness is not merely a matter of educating the public that people with intersex variations exist; it is additionally about illuminating the harmful legacy — and continuing practice — of unnecessary and unwanted medical interventions on young intersex children, which is increasingly recognized as a human rights violation around the world,” said Lorshbough. “We extend our deep gratitude to Representatives Balint and Pocan for taking action to further these goals.”
White House issues business advisory for Uganda over anti-gay law
Country’s president in May signed Anti-Homosexuality Act
WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Monday issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.
The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Service and Commerce issued the advisory that “informs U.S. businesses, individuals and other U.S. persons, including health services providers, members of academic institutions, and investors, of potential risks they may face if they are conducting, or contemplating to conduct, business in Uganda.”
“Businesses, organizations and individuals should be aware of potential financial and reputational risks resulting from endemic corruption, described in more detail in the 2023 Investment Climate Statement, as well as violence against human rights activists, media members, health workers, members of minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons and political opponents described in the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Uganda,” reads the advisory.
The advisory states the Anti-Homosexuality Act “further increases restrictions on human rights, to include restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and exacerbates issues regarding the respect for leases and employment contracts.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”
The U.S. in June imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials.
The World Bank Group in August announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda. Museveni, for his part, in an open letter to Ugandans cites the “provocations by the World Bank and the thoughtless homosexual lobby” and said they “should not provoke us into being, automatically, anti-Western.”
Police in Buikwe, a town that is roughly 35 miles east of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Aug. 20 arrested four people who allegedly engaged in “acts of homosexuality” at a local massage parlor. Authorities two days earlier charged a 20-year-old man with “aggravated homosexuality.”
Media reports indicate prosecutors in Jinja, a city that is roughly 50 miles east of Kampala in July charged a 43-year-old man with “aggravated homosexuality.”
The President & First Lady deliver remarks at HRC National Dinner
These lawmakers are trying to interfere with “the right to make your own healthcare decisions, the right to raise your own children”
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden addressed attendees at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Saturday with prepared remarks about the struggle for equality for LGBTQ people in the U.S. and around the world.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress are trying to undo virtually every bit of progress we’ve made — trying to wipe out federal funding to end the HIV epidemic, strip funding for community venters for seniors, reinstate the ban on transgender troops, ban the Department of Justice from enforcing civil rights laws, ban Pride flags from flying on public land,” the president said.
These lawmakers are trying to interfere with “the right to make your own healthcare decisions, the right to raise your own children,” he said, adding, “I’m never going to stand by and watch families terrorized, doctors and nurses criminalized, or any child targeted for who they are.”
The president relayed that a 13-year-old trans teen wrote to him, sharing how painful it was to see anti-trans legislative activity on the news. A parent wrote to him too, he said, explaining, “I despair for families like mine who have already become refugees inside our own nation” amid the spate of anti-LGBTQ laws.
The president’s remarks also touched on the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, which came on Thursday, in an anti-gay hate crime, as well as the terrorist attacks against Israel last weekend.
“Silence is complicity,” the president said, echoing comments he made during a roundtable on anti-semitism on Thursday. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia “are all related,” he said, and hate never goes away — it only hides.
The president highlighted his record advancing LGBTQ rights, from the historic number of LGBTQ appointees serving in the Biden-Harris administration to signage of the Respect for Marriage Act last year to rescinding “the outdated policy of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood — leading with science, not stigma.”
“Thank you for your courage, thank you for your hope, and thank you for your pride,” the president said. “You’re loved and you’re heard and you’re understood and you belong.”
Taking the stage before the president was First Lady Jill Biden, who told the crowd “I’m so proud that this community has made D.C. such a welcoming home to LGBTQ+ people — from where we came, when outing was used as a political weapon” to now, when “we can celebrate without fear or shame.”
However, the first lady said, “In too many other parts of our country, these rights and freedoms are under attack across the country in places like Texas and Florida and Alabama. LGBTQ individuals don’t have the freedom to be honest with their family, or race, or gender identity at work,” she said.
“So while we celebrate this beautiful community tonight, let’s also remember how lucky we are and harden our resolve to advocate for those who are not.”
President Biden and the First Lady Deliver Remarks at the 2023 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner:
Biden honors 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death
“His courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement to combat the scourge of anti-LGBTQ+ hate”
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a statement marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard in an anti-gay hate crime that “shocked our nation and the world.”
“Matthew’s tragic and senseless murder shook the conscience of the American people,” the president said. “And his courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement, galvanizing millions of people to combat the scourge of anti-LGBTQI+ hate and violence in America.”
That work, Biden said, is far from finished “as threats and violence targeting the LGBTQI+ community continue to rise,” adding, “I once again call on Congress to send the Equality Act to my desk so that we can ensure LGBTQI+ Americans have full civil rights protections under our laws — because every American is worthy of dignity, acceptance and respect.”
Biden noted his involvement, when vice president, in enacting the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2009 and expanded federal hate crime laws to include those motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
“This legislation is a lasting tribute to Matthew, a testament to the relentless advocacy of Judy and Dennis, and an important step forward for our country,” Biden said. “I was proud to honor Judy and Dennis as uniters — Americans who stand against hate and heal our divides — at the United We Stand Summit here at the White House last year.”
“God bless Judy, Dennis, and all those who are grieving and remembering Matthew today,” he said.
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