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Takano to renew House Democrats’ push for the Equality Act

“With homophobic and transphobic legislation being proposed in state legislatures – it is far past time we act to outlaw discrimination”

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U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, issued a statement Thursday pledging to introduce the Equality Act during this Congress, legislation that would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans.

The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in “employment, education, access to credit, jury service, federal funding housing, and public accommodations.”

Four previous versions were introduced in the House by by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021. The Biden administration and Congressional Democrats have signaled that the legislation remains a major priority despite the Republicans now exercising their majority control of the lower chamber.

With Cicilline’s planned departure from Congress on June 1 to lead the nonprofit Rhode Island Foundation, Takano thanked and credited his colleague “for his leadership on behalf of our community and stewardship of the Equality Act.”

Cicilline, who drafted the legislation and chaired the Equality Caucus in the last Congress before Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) took over this year, noted the heightened importance of the Equality Act’s passage amid the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ and especially anti-trans legislation.

“With homophobic and transphobic legislation being proposed in state legislatures across the country and here in Congress,” he said, “it is far past time we act to finally outlaw discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community by passing the Equality Act.”

The legislation is also backed by major LGBTQ advocacy groups including the nation’s largest, the Human Rights Campaign. “There is overwhelming support for this bill among the American people and the business community, and we will continue fighting until this bill is signed into law,” said the organization’s President Kelley Robinson.

Robinson also thanked Cicilline for his leadership on the bill and said the Human Rights Campaign looks forward to working with Takano, “an incredible champion for our community” who “is the perfect leader for this effort” to “build on he work Congressman Cicilline started and get the Equality Act signed into law.”

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Congress

House to vote on resolution to expel Santos

GOP leadership so far has declined to take a hard stance pending the conclusion of investigations and law enforcement actions

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Photo Credit: Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House is expected to hold a vote within the next couple of days over whether to expel GOP Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) from the chamber, a largely symbolic move that will put Republicans on the record as the embattled congressman faces criminal charges.

The resolution was introduced in January by U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), reportedly with support from House Democratic leadership, but it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

The Republican caucus could vote to table the motion, but only five defections would force a final ballot over Santos’s expulsion.

Calls for the congressman’s resignation began shortly after he took office, as reports began to surface that he had fabricated major claims about his life and biography and multiple law enforcement agencies started probing allegations of financial malfeasance.

Pressures intensified last week, when Santos was arraigned by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on 13 criminal counts of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements.

Some Republican members have publicly urged Santos to step down, but GOP leadership so far has declined to take a hard stance pending the conclusion of investigations and law enforcement actions.

Santos represents New York’s Third Congressional District, serving in the seat vacated by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi. His electoral victory in 2022 provided a crucial vote for Republicans, who only narrowly won control of the House.

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GOP Senators call on Biden admin withdraw rule re: trans athletes

“Forcing schools to allow biological males to compete against young women is unfair, unsafe, and wrong” Republicans said in a statement

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) (Screen capture/Youtube)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on Monday led a group of 21 other Republican senators in calling for U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to withdraw the administration’s proposed rule change that would prohibit blanket bans of transgender student athletes.

“Our comment sent to Secretary Cardona echoes what most Americans already know to be true: forcing schools to allow biological males to compete against young women is unfair, unsafe, and wrong,” Tuberville said in a statement.

If adopted as written, the draft policy unveiled by the U.S. Department of Education last month would affirm “that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students” from participating on teams that align with their gender identity.

At the same time, the guidelines allow for exceptions that would bar trans student athletes in certain circumstances and provided various conditions are met.

Separately, Tuberville drew ire over his comments during an interview last week in which he said the Pentagon was wrong to root out white nationalists serving in the U.S. military.

“They call them that,” Tuberville replied, referring to the Biden administration’s criticism of white nationalists. “I call them Americans.”

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Congress hashes it out over cannabis regulatory reform

The Washington Blade is a sponsor of the National Cannabis Festival, the organizer behind Thursday’s Congressional Forum

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) House Minority Leader both support efforts to pass the PREPARE Act (Photo Credit: Office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer)

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress from both parties outlined paths to successful marijuana regulatory reform during Thursday’s National Cannabis Policy Summit Congressional Forum in the Congressional Auditorium of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate’s top Democrat, earned a round of applause after proclaiming himself “proud to be the first Majority Leader ever to say it is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis.”

“Until federal cannabis reform is the law of the land, I believe in my bones that we will get there one day soon,” Schumer said.

He and the other members present were hopeful that these goals are within reach for this Congress.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the audience he was hopeful about passage of the Safe Banking Act, which would prohibit federal banking regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to legitimate cannabis related businesses.

Merkley noted the bill was supported by nearly all of the Senate Democratic caucus and nine Republicans when it was last introduced in 2021. “I think there’s a real path to getting it done,” he said.

As more states have begun to pass legislation legalizing cannabis for medicinal use, in tandem with the dramatic shift toward a more favorable public opinion of cannabis use, legislators have learned they will not suffer political consequences for backing these proposals, Merkley said.

“No senator has seen this [political position] be a negative” electorally, he said. “It’s been a positive in race after race.”

Republican U.S. Rep. David Joyce (Ohio), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, recounted how attitudes about cannabis among federal lawmakers have evolved quickly in the past few years.

In 2015, Joyce said he got blowback from then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner for his support of the Veterans Equal Access Act, a measure that would have allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to facilitate patients’ access to cannabis in accordance with the corresponding state laws governing its use.

“And look at him now,” Joyce said of Boehner, who just four years later had become a lobbyist for the cannabis industry.

Joyce was joined on stage by Democratic U.S. Sen John Hickenlooper (Colo.), a member of the Senate’s Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee and chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, both among the most powerful in Congress.

The two lawmakers detailed their support for the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment (PREPARE) Act, which was introduced last week by Joyce and Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

The legislation would direct U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to create and manage a commission responsible for issuing recommendations on a regulatory framework for cannabis modeled after that which is in place for alcohol.

Joyce took a swipe at President Joe Biden, characterizing his support for cannabis regulatory reform as tepid and suggesting the president’s stance on the issues might be a factor of age.

The congressman added that the PREPARE Act would benefit the administration by getting “all the agencies to the table to hash out” matters like “what their agreements will be,” and “what their redlines are.”

Otherwise, “the government would have no idea how to deal with” legalization, Joyce said.

As with alcohol, Hickenlooper said it will be important to ensure the federal government is “not trying to market marijuana to get more revenue from taxes,” though both he and Joyce touted the potential for windfall tax revenues that could be reinvested for the benefit of communities across the country.

“I think the more and more states that legalize marijuana, that see people working in the industry, see how it’s contributing to the economy…that changes public opinion, which makes it easier for us as lawmakers,” said U.S. Sen. Jackie Rosen.

“So, I think as more and more states legalize cannabis we will have the opportunity to have these conversations in a different way to move the ball forward,” said the congresswoman, who is a member of the Senate’s Commerce and Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committees.

Rosen and Merkley (D-Ore.) discussed the inequities perpetuated on the American public by the federal cannabis regulatory regime.

Merkley thanked Biden for “stepping forward” to pardon inmates who were incarcerated for federal cannabis crimes, while Rosen discussed the importance of facilitating safe access to banking services for legitimate cannabis businesses, noting the Small Business Committee’s work connecting minority owned firms to key support services. “It matters,” she said. “It’s about equity and inclusion.”

Remarks delivered by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) via a prerecorded video touched on similar themes. The federal government’s goal, she said, must be “not only end the War on Drugs but also invest in the communities affected by it.”

“Federal cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted people of color,” Lee said, noting the data indicating that while Black and white Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rates, Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for possession.

“There are so many barriers preventing people of color from opening their own businesses,” Lee said. “We need to fully de-schedule cannabis, reinvest in communities of color, and ensure small and minority-owned businesses have the opportunity to participate in this market.”

The Washington Blade is a sponsor of the National Cannabis Festival, the organizer behind Thursday’s Congressional Forum. Tickets are still available for the Festival, which will feature an all-day concert along with “exhibitors, education pavilions, munchies zone, sponsored lounges and more.”

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House Republicans pass bill banning trans girls from sports

Members voted 219-203 along party lines for passage of the bill, which was introduced by GOP U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube (Fla.)

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U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) speaking out against H.R. 734 on the House Floor, April 20 2023

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act (H.R. 734), a bill that would prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

Members voted 219-203 along party lines for passage of the bill, which was introduced by GOP U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube (Fla.) and is the first standalone piece of legislation restricting the rights of transgender Americans that has ever been considered by the lower chamber.  

The bill would bar student athletes “whose sex is male” from participating in women’s and girls’ athletic programs or activities, provided that “sex” is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

In anticipation of Thursday’s move by House Republicans, the White House issued a statement Monday vowing to veto the proposal, should it ever reach the President’s desk – an unlikely outcome, considering Democrats’ majority control of the U.S. Senate.

“As gun violence plagues our schools, anti-equality politicians decided the most pressing priority for the House was to ban trans girls of all ages from playing on school sports teams with their friends,” U.S. Rep. and Congressional Equality Caucus Chair Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said in a statement published by the Caucus on Thursday.

“Trans girls deserve the same opportunity as all other girls – to be part of a team, learn sportsmanship, and challenge themselves,” Pocan said, adding, “I condemn today’s vote to rob trans girls of these opportunities” and “my colleagues who voted for this bill should be ashamed.”

Out U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who co-chairs the Equality Caucus, condemned passage of the “dangerous bill that targets transgender and intersex youth for discrimination.”

The bill “is so vaguely written,” Torres said, “that it could force any girl [emphasis original] to undergo invasive medical exams to ‘prove’ their sex and answer deeply personal questions about their bodies and physical development to adults they might not even know.”

LGBTQ, civil liberties groups condemn the bill’s passage (with one exception)

Screenshot/C-SPAN

The major LGBTQ and civil rights advocacy groups issued similar statements condemning Thursday’s vote for passage of H.R. 734:

Julianna S. Gonen, federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, accused House Republicans of bullying, exclusion, and cruel treatment of transgender kids, writing that the GOP caucus had “crossed a dangerous line” and urging “their constituents to hold them accountable.”

“To our legislators, we say: PFLAG families with transgender and nonbinary kids are your relatives and neighbors, your colleagues and friends, your constituents,” said the group’s Executive Director Brian Bond. “We will continue leading with love to ensure that all kids are safe, celebrated, empowered, and loved so that they can live their best and fullest authentic lives.” 

“Young transgender people should not have to watch lawmakers debate their basic humanity,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. “Legislators must meet with transgender youth, their families, teammates, and coaches who would be harmed by this dangerous legislation; propose ways to protect all youth; and stop pushing anti-LGBTQ discrimination in a phony attempt to protect women and girls.”

House Republicans “know this bill will not become law because President Biden has already signaled his intention to veto it, so this is purely a waste of time at the expense of an already marginalized population,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.

“We know that attacking trans kids didn’t work in the 2022 election, and it won’t work in 2024 either,” she added.

The Trevor Project’s Director of Law and Policy, Casey Pick, said: “This unfair and unnecessary legislation offers a distorted interpretation of Title IX and a false choice. We can protect the progress women have made in sports and promote fairness, while also fostering the inclusion of transgender women and girls.”

“We will continue to work with the Department of Education to ensure its recently-announced proposed rule on Title IX is implemented in a way that is equitable and effectively combats discrimination,” Pick said.

The agency introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Title IX earlier this month. If adopted as written pursuant to a public comment period, the policy would prohibit categorical bans targeting trans student athletes, but – under certain circumstances and provided other conditions are met – would allow schools to adopt criteria whose effect would be to exclude trans individuals from competing.

Voters did not elect Republican members of Congress so they can spend their time bullying children, ACLU National Political Director Deirdre Schifeling said in response to Thursday’s vote, which she called “a cynical attack against some of the most vulnerable youth in our country.”

The ACLU noted more than 450 bills targeting the rights of transgender Americans have been introduced in state legislatures so far in 2023. Many have been signed into law, including measures restricting or prohibiting trans students from competing in school sports, of which three are facing legal challenges from the ACLU and its national affiliate network.

One notable exception amid the chorus of condemnation came from the conservative LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, whose President Charles Moran issued a statement applauding the House GOP’s passage of the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act.

Moran characterized the “media opposition” to the bill as “partisan, hostile, and misleading,” denied that the vote was “anti-trans,” and committed to “working with Republican lawmakers across the country to pass legislation that respects trans Americans while protecting athletic opportunities for women.”

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House Democrats eye limiting scope of religious freedom law

The previous version last session was cosponsored by 206 House Democrats but failed to advance beyond the U.S. House Judiciary Committee

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats on Wednesday reintroduced the federal Do Not Harm Act, a proposal that would circumscribe discriminatory uses of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), including those which target LGBTQ Americans.

Lambda Legal issued a press release celebrating the move by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), explaining the amended language would prohibit discrimination – such as the denial of goods and services – that otherwise might be deemed lawful under the RFRA.

After it was introduced in the last Congress, the previous iteration of the Do Not Harm Act was cosponsored by 206 House Democrats but failed to advance beyond the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

“Since long before the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement even started, our communities, women, and other marginalized groups have been targeted by religion-based condemnation and restriction of equal opportunities,” Lambda Legal Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Pizer said in a statement.

“In recent years, too many of those who oppose the equality and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people have misused religion in their demands for exemptions from rules that should protect everyone at work, at school, in medical offices, and in social services, Pizer said.

The organization noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis may lead to an expansion of businesses’ ability to lawfully “shun LGBTQ+ people in the commercial marketplace.”

Following oral arguments in that case on December 5, SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe wrote the conservative justices appeared poised to rule in favor of the plaintiff, a wedding website designer who sought to deny services to same-sex couples in violation of Colorado’s nondiscrimination statute.

Last year, in anticipation of the High Court’s potential to weaken or overturn the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, Congress codified some of the major protections for same-sex couples through passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

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Veto promised for Republican anti-trans sports ban

A national law that further stigmatizes these children is completely unnecessary and would only put students at greater risk

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U.S. Capitol Dome
U.S. Capitol Dome (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The White House issued a statement Monday objecting to the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, HR 734, a bill by U.S. House Republicans that would categorically bar transgender student athletes from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity.

“If the president were presented with HR 734, he would veto it,” according to the statement, which argues the proposed legislation “targets people for who they are and therefore is discriminatory.”

HR 734 was introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube (R-Fla.) and marked up by the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee last month. Even if it passes the lower chamber, the measure is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for a veto given Democrats’ majority control of the U.S. Senate.

“At a time when transgender youth already face a nationwide mental health crisis, with half of transgender youth in a recent survey saying they have seriously considered suicide, a national law that further stigmatizes these children is completely unnecessary, hurts families and students and would only put students at greater risk,” the administration wrote in the statement.

“Schools, coaches and athletic associations around the country are already working with families to develop participation rules that are fair and that take into account particular sports, grade levels and levels of competition,” the statement says.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a draft policy that would prohibit schools from issuing blanket bans on the participation of trans student athletes in school sports.

The policy provided for exceptions in certain circumstances, however, provided schools’ athletics eligibility criteria provides for the consideration of factors like differences between sports, grade levels and the levels of competition.

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Facing calls to resign Feinstein vows return to Senate with caveat

The oldest serving member of the Senate, revealed on March 2 that she was hospitalized for shingles treatment, she was released March 7

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The Vice President of the United States, Kamala D. Harris & U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (Official White House photo)

WASHINGTON – California’s octogenarian Democratic U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein, said in a statement released late Wednesday that she will return to her duties in the Senate.

The oldest serving member of the Senate, revealed on March 2 that she was hospitalized for shingles treatment after being diagnosed with an infection in February. She was released from a San Francisco hospital on March 7, but has yet to return to Washington.

Feinstein, however, called on the Senate Majority Leader, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to appoint a temporary replacement for her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“When I was first diagnosed with shingles, I expected to return by the end of the March work period. Unfortunately, my return to Washington has been delayed due to continued complications related to my diagnosis,” Feinstein said in her Wednesday night statement. 

“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel. In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco,” Feinstein continued. 

“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked [Majority Leader Chuck Schumer] to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work,” she added.

A spokesperson for Schumer said that he would abide by Feinstein’s request. “Per Sen. Feinstein’s wishes, the Majority Leader will ask the Senate next week to allow another Democratic Senator to temporarily serve on the Judiciary Committee.”

The 89-year-old has missed 60 of the 82 votes taken in the Senate so far in 2023, having been sidelined with a case of the shingles which has prevented her return to Washington. There has been increasing calls by prominent Democrats for Feinstein to resign, including Jonathan Lovett, a co-founder of Crooked Media, and a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) who tweeted their demand she step aside.

“It’s time for [Feinstein] to resign,” fellow California Democrat Khanna wrote in a tweet on Wednesday, becoming the first member of Congress to publicly demand that the senior senator step down. 

“We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people,” he added. 

Her absence has presented the Democratic majority Senate with obstacles in passing votes on key presidential nominations for the federal judiciary. Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee, making Feinstein’s absence even more acute than usual the Hill noted.

Feinstein had announced on Valentine’s Day that she would not seek reelection:

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Athletes urge Congress to drop proposed trans sports ban

40 prominent athletes including soccer player Megan Rapinoe and boxer Patricio Manuel signed a letter Monday

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U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) speaks at the U.S. Capitol for a March 8, 2023, rally opposing a federal sports ban. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – A group of 40 prominent athletes including soccer player Megan Rapinoe and boxer Patricio Manuel signed a letter Monday urging lawmakers to drop a proposal introduced by House Republicans to ban transgender and intersex women and girls from playing on school sports teams.

The letter was issued by Athlete Ally, a nonprofit group that works towards creating more LGBTQ-inclusive athletic environments, just as momentum seems to be building for a federal proposal modeled after statewide bans that exclude trans and intersex women and girls from competing.

“Right now, transgender and intersex human rights are under attack,” the letter states, “with politicians in Washington, D.C., pushing forward H.R. 734, the so-called ‘Protection of Girls and Women in Sports Act,’ which would stipulate that Title IX compliance requires banning transgender and intersex girls and women from participating in sports.”

“If this bill passes, transgender and intersex girls and women throughout the country will be forced to sit on the sidelines, away from their peers and their communities,” the letter continues. “Furthermore, the policing of who can and cannot play school sports will very likely lead to the policing of the bodies of all girls, including cisgender girls.”

The legislation was introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.). A markup session was held in March, and on April 6, the House Rules Committee announced it may meet during the week of April 17 to provide for floor consideration of the proposal.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 20 U.S. states now have laws barring trans students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

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Santos bill would ban US foreign aid to countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ people

House Ethics Committee investigating embattled N.Y. congressman

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Screenshot/YouTube CBS New York)

WASHINGTON — Republican New York Congressman George Santos has introduced a bill that would ban U.S. foreign aid to countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ people and women.

“Discrimination against both women and the LGBTQ community is unacceptable,” said Santos in a March 24 press release that announced the introduction of Equality and Fiscal Accountability Protection Act of 2023. “My bill will send a clear message that the United States will not offer federal aid to countries found to be violating the rights of individuals based on sexual orientation. We as a nation have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of all people, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

The press release notes the bill would require the State Department “to assess a country’s human rights record before providing federal aid.” 

“Countries found to be violating these rights would be ineligible to receive aid until they take steps to address the issues,” reads the press release. “If passed, the bill would make a significant step forward in the fight for LGBTQ and women’s rights and would send a strong message to countries that discrimination or criminalization will not be tolerated.”

Congress’ website currently notes “text has not been received for H.R. (House Resolution) 1736.”

Santos introduced the bill two days after the State Department released its annual human rights report that, among other things, details the prevalence of so-called conversion therapy and the treatment of intersex people around the world. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the same day hosted a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would require the country to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its public policy.

The House Ethics Committee last month opened an investigation into Santos, who is openly gay, over allegations of financial and sexual misconduct. The embattled New York Republican has admitted to lying about his professional and educational background. 

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Bill would require US foreign policy to promote LGBTQ+, intersex rights

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) among measure’s sponsors

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The Progress Pride flag flies in front of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on July 22, 2022. The International Human Rights Defense Act would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Three lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its public policy.

U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has sponsored the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Garcia, the former mayor of Long Beach, Calif., of Peruvian descent who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District, last November became the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress. Garcia on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the International Human Rights Defense Act is the first bill he has introduced. 

“These issues around global human rights are ones that unfortunately, many aren’t codified into law,” he said.

Garcia said the U.S. has “different levels of global involvement,” depending upon who is president. He added the bill is “a great way of codifying an important office for us at the State Department, but also a series of measures and reports that will ensure that we’re promoting (LGBTQ+ rights) abroad.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 announced the creation of the special envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. The White House in 2021 named Jessica Stern, who was previously the executive director of Outright International, a global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, to the position.

Former President Donald Trump tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a 2021 interview with the Blade said  the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

Markey and then-California Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act in 2021.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality and Equality California are among the 111 organizations that signed a March 24 letter to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is the ranking member of House State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee. The groups urged lawmakers to increase funding of the State Department’s Global Equality Fund to $40 million and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Inclusive Development Hub’s Protection of LGBTQI+ Persons to $30 million in fiscal year 2024. 

“We are grateful to you for your dedication to global LGBTQI+ rights programs over the last five fiscal years, including the additional $25 million increase to these programs within the Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act,” reads the letter. “These investments have provided flexibility to the State Department and USAID to scale already existing programs and develop new mechanisms to quickly deploy funding to LGBTQI+ organizations across the globe.”

“Even with these increases, the State Department and USAID continue to face significant funding gaps to address the needs of LGBTQI+ communities impacted by COVID-19, rising authoritarianism, and humanitarian crises,” adds the letter.

The White House has sharply criticized last week’s passage of a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ+ and intersex people in Uganda. Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday spoke about her support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

Garcia described the Uganda bill to the Blade as “awful” and added “a big part of why we’re having this discussion now is that there are countries across the world that are criminalizing same sex relationships.”

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