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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



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.”



House Republicans pass NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases



U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”

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Equality Caucus, White House condemn anti-LGBTQ riders in bill

“Once again, Republicans are attacking the trans & LGBTQ+ community with riders that harm LGBTQI+ veterans & undermines military readiness”



Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson speaking to the Capitol Hill press corps. (Photo Credit: U.S. House Republicans)

WASHINGTON — The Congressional Equality Caucus on Wednesday condemned House Republicans’ passage of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (“MilCon”) Appropriations Act, 2025, with anti-LGBTQ+ riders attached.

“Once again, Republicans are attacking the transgender and broader LGBTQI+ community with riders that both harm our LGBTQI+ veterans and undermine our military readiness by discouraging LGBTQI+ people from enlisting,” said caucus chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“We strongly condemn this bill and its cruel attacks that target those who have served our nation in uniform,” the congressman said. “Our members remain committed to defending the LGBTQI+ community throughout the Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations process and beyond.”

The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden would veto the House version of the MilCon bill, with opposition stemming in part from the anti-LGBTQ riders along with anti-abortion riders, which would reverse the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy of covering abortions in cases of rape or incest. These provisions will almost certainly not be included in the Senate version of the appropriations package.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a statement outlining the Biden-Harris administration’s position on the bill, writing: “H.R. 8580 includes numerous, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences, including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two of the four anti-LGBTQ riders would prohibit the use of appropriated funds for “surgical procedures or hormone therapies for the purposes of gender affirming care” and the implementation, administration, application, or enforcement of three executive orders by Biden containing LGBTQ-inclusive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives:

A third would prohibit the flying of Pride flags over VA facilities and national cemeteries while a fourth would create a “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ people under the pretext of religious liberty.

For instance, the caucus writes, “it prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating a federal contract or grant with an organization that discriminates against LGBTQI+ people if the organization justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

Likewise, the rider “prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating the employment of an employee who discriminates against LGBQI+ people if the employee justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

This means a benefits counselor could, without being penalized, refuse to process applications and changes for a veteran’s same-sex spouse, the caucus notes.

On X, the caucus pledged to defeat the anti-LGBTQ riders, noting “we were able to ensure these harmful riders were not included in last year’s final MilCon-VA bill.”

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House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

“You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again!” 



Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

WASHINGTON — A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Bill to support LGBTQ+ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation & should be able to access services and care”



U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ+ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ+ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Bonamici, Chair of the Equality Caucus’ LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Rep. Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQI+ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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House GOP bars earmarks after controversy over LGBTQ projects

The alteration is related to an uproar during last year’s annual government funding process, when House members included three LGBTQ projects



U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade/Michael Key)

By Jennifer Shutt | WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers will no longer be able to request earmarked funding for some nonprofits under a change in eligibility made by the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The alteration is related to an uproar during last year’s annual government funding process, when House Republicans, who are in the majority, included three LGBTQ projects in one of their spending bills and then stripped that funding during a tense public markup.

The change to eligibility in the House affects nonprofits that fall under the Economic Development Initiative account within the Transportation-HUD spending bill, one of the dozen funding bills that are written by congressional appropriators.

The new guidance laid out by Chairman Tom Cole doesn’t apply to House lawmakers seeking funding for nonprofits in the other accounts eligible for earmark requests.

It also doesn’t affect how the earmark process will work on the Senate side. That means there is another avenue for lawmakers to secure funding for LGBTQ projects if they decide to make those requests and the Senate spending panel chooses to include it in its version of the bill.

“Similar to previous reforms made in this Congress, this change aims to ensure projects are consistent with the community development goals of the federal program,” Cole wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, became chairman of the powerful spending panel earlier this month after the former chairwoman, Kay Granger of Texas, decided to leave that leadership post early.

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member on the committee, released a written statement, saying the change “is a seismic shift, as nearly half of all the 2024 House-funded EDI projects were directed to non-profit recipients.”

“In order to accommodate the extreme Republican wing, Republicans are trying to root out any help for the LGBTQ+ community,” DeLauro wrote. “They are willing to hurt their own religious organizations, seniors, and veterans.”

The eligibility change, she wrote, would exclude House lawmakers from requesting funding for “YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other groups vital to our communities.”

Three LGBTQ projects

House Republicans originally included $1.8 million in funding for the William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia, $970,000 for the LGBT Center of Greater Reading’s Transitional Housing Program in Pennsylvania and $850,000 for affordable senior housing at LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in Massachusetts in their Transportation-HUD spending bill released last summer.

All three projects were requested by House lawmakers, the first step in the earmark process.

The projects were funded under the Economic Development Initiatives account that at the time was eligible for earmarks in the Housing and Urban Development section of the Transportation-HUD spending bill.

Cole, then-chairman of that subcommittee, removed the three projects through a so-called manager’s amendment that made numerous changes to the bill during committee debate.

While manager’s amendments are standard and typically bipartisan, the removal infuriated Democrats on the committee, who urged their GOP colleagues to reconsider during a heated debate last July.

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said at the time removing the funding was an insult to LGBTQ Americans as well as their families and allies.

“The fact that you would take away members’ earmarks simply because they refer to the LGBTQI+ community is insane, is bigoted,” Pocan said in July.

The final batch of spending bills Congress approved in March, following House-Senate negotiations, was slated to include $1 million for the William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia, since the Pennsylvania senators also requested funding. But that was removed from the bill after it had been released, setting off a confusing blame game among lawmakers.

The final Labor-HHS-Education spending bill approved in March included $850,000 for LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc., MA, for services for older adults within the Administration for Community Living account within the HHS section of the bill.

That funding in Massachusetts had been stripped from the House’s Transportation-HUD bill by GOP lawmakers, but was also requested by the state’s two senators and included in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill within that chamber.

That final spending bill also included $400,000 for the Garden State Equality Education Fund, Inc., for trauma-informed strategies to support LGBTQ+ youth in New Jersey, within the Innovation and Improvement account for the Department of Education.

That funding was never requested by House lawmakers, but was asked for by the state’s two senators.


Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.


The preceding article was previously published by The DC Bureau of States Newsroom and is republished with permission.

States Newsroom is the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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House passes spending bill as Greene threatens to oust Johnson

With respect to anti-LGBTQ riders submitted by Republican members, more than 50 were ultimately stripped from the bill



Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks at a press conference on Sept. 20, 2023. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives averted a government shutdown on Friday with a vote of 286-134 to pass the $1.2 trillion spending bill, over the objections of hard-right members like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

The congresswoman subsequently filed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who is himself an ultraconservative legislator. The move marked the second time in six months that the party has called for a vote to oust their own leader.

“Today I filed a motion to vacate after Speaker Johnson has betrayed our conference and broken our rules,” said Greene, who refused to say whether she would call up the resolution to call for a snap vote, which likely means the matter will be delayed until after the two-week recess.

Greene and Johnson are at odds over the content of the minibus appropriations package, with the congresswoman calling it a “Chuck Schumer, Democrat-controlled bill” that does not contain conservative policy demands on matters like immigration and LGBTQ issues.


The speaker, meanwhile, proclaimed, “House Republicans achieved conservative policy wins, rejected extreme Democrat proposals, and imposed substantial cuts while significantly strengthening national defense.”

With respect to anti-LGBTQ riders submitted by Republican members, more than 50 were ultimately stripped from the bill, which the Human Rights Campaign celebrated as “a victory,” crediting lawmakers for their “bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.”

Of the 52 anti-LGBTQ riders, only one survived in the $1.2 trillion package passed on Friday: A ban on flying Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

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Padilla, FCC introduce bill to improve 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three



U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), joined by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, introduced a measure on Thursday to improve the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Calls are currently routed to mental health professionals and local public safety officials based on the caller’s area code — even though, as the lawmakers and officials noted during their announcement — in many cases, the area code, especially for cell phone numbers, does not match the location from which they are calling.

Under the new proposal, Padilla said, “We’re going to be in a position to be able to provide care as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“In the same way that 911 calls in the case of an emergency are routed to local providers, local first responders, so ambulances can come out and help quickly when you call 911, 988 should be tied to a caller’s location, not their area code,” he said.

Calling Padilla, Tillis, and Cárdenas “great champions of mental health,” Rosenworcel noted, “that’s not our stock and trade” at the FCC.

“We are people who deal with technology and communications,” she said, “but we came to realize that we could work with Congress to make sure that everyone in this country who’s going through a crisis has someone to call and someone who can listen — and that’s why in 2022, we set up 988, the easy-to-remember three digit number for anyone who is in crisis.”

A press release from Padilla’s office explains the details for how the update to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will work:

“The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) announced today seeks to address the discrepancies and inefficiencies of the current system by proposing the adoption of a rule that would require a georouting solution to be implemented for all wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline while balancing the privacy needs of individuals in crisis. 

Georouting refers to technical solutions that enable calls to be directed based on the location of the caller without transmitting the caller’s precise location information. These solutions would permit wireless calls to the 9-8-8 Lifeline to be directed to nearby crisis centers based on factors such as the cell tower that originated the call rather than the area code of the wireless device used to place the call.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers LGBTQ-affirming counseling, which is accessible by pressing three.

A 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, which included more than 28,000 LGBTQ participants aged 13-24, found that 41 percent had seriously considered suicide within the past year and 56 percent wanted — but were unable to get — mental health care within the last year.

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Nicole Berner becomes first LGBTQ judge on 4th Circuit

Berner becomes the 1st openly LGBTQ person to ever serve on the 4th Circuit & the 3rd LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appellate court



Nicole Berner speaking at American Constitution Society virtual symposium on The Future of Labor Law in a Post-COVID Economy, Dec. 22, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube ACS)

WASHINGTON — Following the U.S. Senate’s 50-47 vote on Tuesday supporting her nomination, Nicole Berner will become the first LGBTQ judge to serve on the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, which adjudicates cases appealed from courts in the Mid-Atlantic region.

An attorney who previously worked as general counsel for the Service Employees International Union and as a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, Berner is the 11th confirmed LGBTQ judicial appointee who President Joe Biden nominated.

The Biden-Harris administration has now confirmed as many queer jurists with lifetime tenure to serve on U.S. federal courts as former President Barack Obama did over the course of two terms in office.

“The civil rights community celebrates Nicole Berner’s historic confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit,” Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

“Ms. Berner is a brilliant lawyer who has defended and advanced our civil and human rights, including the rights of working people, reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ people,” she said. “Her commitment to equal justice is evidenced throughout her life and legal career, and we look forward to her service on the bench.”

“Ms. Berner also becomes the first openly LGBTQ person to ever serve on the 4th Circuit and just the third openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appellate court in the nation,” Wiley said. “Her confirmation adds crucial lived experience to the court and sends a powerful signal to young LGBTQ lawyers, law students and other potential future judges that they belong on the federal bench.”

Democratic U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland had supported Berner’s nomination.

“Nicole Berner has shown her outstanding qualifications and readiness to join the federal judiciary,” Cardin said. “Since we first recommended her to President Biden, we have been impressed with her spirit and expertise and her willingness to stand up for worker rights, families and underrepresented communities throughout her legal career.”

Van Hollen said, “For decades, Nicole Berner has represented working families and historically underrepresented communities. Her vast qualifications and accomplishments clearly show that she is dedicated to the rule of law, fairness and the principles of democracy — but more than that, her character has shown her to be a champion of those too often left behind by the legal system.”

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Pride in Mental Health Act to aid at-risk LGBTQ youth introduced

Pride in Mental Health Act would strengthen resources in mental health and crisis intervention for at-risk LGBTQ youth



U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) speaks at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference on Nov. 30, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Pride in Mental Health Act on Thursday, legislation that would strengthen resources in mental health and crisis intervention for at-risk LGBTQ youth.

“Accessing mental health care and support has become increasingly difficult in nearly every state in the country,” said Butler, who is the first Black LGBTQ senator. “Barriers get even more difficult if you are a young person who lacks a supportive community or is fearful of being outed, harassed, or threatened.”

“I am introducing the Pride in Mental Health Act to help equip LGBTQ+ youth with the resources to get the affirming and often life-saving care they need,” she said.

“Mental health care is health care,” said Smith. “And for some LGBTQ+ youth, receiving access to the mental health care they need can mean the difference between living in safety and dignity, and suffering alone through discrimination, bullying, and even violence.” 

The Minnesota senator added that data shows LGBTQ students are experiencing “an epidemic” of “anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions.”

For example, a 2023 study by The Trevor Project found that 54 percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of depression, compared to 35 percent of their heterosexual counterparts.

Joining the senators as cosponsors are Democratic U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Bob Casey (Penn.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). Baldwin was the first LGBTQ woman elected to the House in 1999 and the first LGBTQ woman elected to the Senate in 2013.

Leading the House version of the bill are LGBTQ Democratic U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids (Kan.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), along with 163 other House members.

Organizations that have backed the Pride in Mental Health Act include the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association (NEA), National Center for Transgender Equality, Seattle Indian Health Board, PFLAG National, The Trevor Project, American Psychological Association, Whitman-Walker Institute, InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Mental Health America, and Center for Law and Social Policy.

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House passes TikTok ban, forces divestiture by Chinese parent firm

Before TikTok, the U.S. took action over national security concerns with Grindr. In 2020, the app was sold by China-based Beijing Kunlun Tech



Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON — In a bipartisan vote of 352-65 on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives cleared a bill that would force a divestiture of TikTok by its Chinese parent company ByteDance or ban the video sharing platform’s use in the U.S.

While the legislation faces an uncertain path to passage in the U.S. Senate, Wednesday’s vote provided additional evidence of the extent to which lawmakers are concerned about U.S. national security risks that could stem from TikTok.

More specifically, as recent years have seen relations between the U.S. and China become more fraught than they have been since the two countries first established diplomatic ties in 1979, questions have been raised about the access government leaders in Beijing might have to data from America’s 150 million TikTok users who are active on the platform each month.

Concerns have also been raised about whether and how the platform’s content moderation policies, algorithmic recommendation engine or other features might be manipulated to advance Chinese interests — including, potentially, by sowing political strife in the U.S. or manipulating or undermining American elections.

Many of these claims are speculative, lacking the type of evidence that might be required if they were presented in a court of law. Nevertheless, for purposes of forcing a divestiture through an act of Congress or a decision by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, they are sufficient.

CFIUS is a nine-member interagency panel that adjudicates questions of whether business transactions between foreign buyers and U.S. targets may raise national security concerns. Since 2020, the committee has investigated TikTok because the platform was created by ByteDance’s 2017 purchase of U.S. startup

The probe led to negotiations over a deal in which American user data from TikTok would be sold to U.S. based multinational computer technology company Oracle, which would vet and monitor the platform’s algorithms and content moderation practices — but Axios reported on Monday that talks between TikTok and CFIUS have stalled for months.

Parallels to Grindr case

Grindr’s IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (Screen capture: YouTube/NYSE)

As directed by CFIUS, in 2020, Grindr, the location-based app used primarily by gay and bisexual men and transgender or gender diverse communities, was sold by the Chinese-based Beijing Kunlun Tech to San Vicente Acquisition, a firm that was incorporated in Delaware.

According to Ruters, Kunlun’s failure to notify CFIUS when the company purchased Grindr in 2018 was likely one of the reasons the committee decided to force the divestiture and thereby unwind an acquisition that, by that point, had been consummated for two years.

While CFIUS does not share details about the specific nature of national security risks identified with transactions under its review, reporting at the time suggested concerns with Grindr had to do with the Chinese government’s potential to blackmail Americans, potentially including American officials, with data from the app.

Cooley LLP, an international law firm with attorneys who practice in the CFIUS space, notes that the committee uses a “three-part conceptual framework” to assess national security threats:

  1. What is the threat presented by the foreign person’s intent and capabilities to harm U.S. national security?
  2. What aspects of the U.S. business present vulnerabilities to national security?
  3. What would the consequences for U.S. national security be if the foreign person were to exploit the identified vulnerabilities?

The firm writes that “issues that have raised perceived national security risks range from the obvious (e.g., foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses with federal defense contracts) to the seemingly benign (e.g., foreign minority investments in offshore wind farm projects or online dating apps.)

Cooley additionally notes that CFIUS considers vulnerabilities such as “whether the U.S. business deals in ‘critical technology,’ ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘sensitive personal data’” and threats such as “the foreign buyer’s/investor’s track record of complying with U.S. and international laws (e.g., export controls, sanctions and anti-corruption regimes.)”

Some critics argue CFIUS has been overzealous in enforcing investment restrictions against Chinese buyers, but assuming this may be true — and putting aside questions of whether U.S. national security concerns are best served by this approach — China’s foreign direct investment has “declined considerably,” according to another global law firm with a substantial CFIUS practice, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

The firm notes heightened scrutiny has been applied particularly in cases of “Chinese investment in the U.S. biotechnology industry,” while Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld highlighted CFIUS’s expanded jurisdiction over Chinese investments in U.S. real estate — noting, however, that the committee’s increased authority is “unlikely to satisfy members of Congress and state legislators who want to prohibit investments in agricultural and other land by investors from ‘countries of concern’ such as China.”

Two years after the finalization of Grindr’s divestiture in 2020, the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and enjoyed a 400 percent rise in its stock price. Its current value is $1.75 billion.

TikTok is privately owned, but Angelo Zino, a vice president and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, told CNBC that the platform’s U.S.-only business “could fetch a valuation north of $60 billion” if Congress passes the bill to force its divestiture from ByteDance.

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