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Dina Titus introduces bill to require U.S. to promote LGBTQ+, intersex rights abroad

White House reconsidering aid to Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act

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U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada) (Screen capture via Dina Titus YouTube)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, ORAM (Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration), Outright International, Rainbow Railroad and the Trevor Project are among the organizations that support the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate. 

Titus on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview the bill, among other things, would endorse the selective use of existing sanctions to punish those responsible for murders and other human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ and intersex people. She also said the measure would require the State Department to allow LGBTQ+ and intersex people to choose their gender marker on passports and other travel documents.

“It’s a way of putting into action our attempts to be a leader in the area of LGBTQ+ rights and to be a leader, not just at home, but around the world,” said Titus.

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.

Jessica Stern has been the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights since 2021. She told the Blade in a previous interview the White House’s continued support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The State Department last year began to offer passports with an “X” gender marker. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has delivered millions of doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield in March chaired a U.N. meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Biden, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) others, have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The National Security Council has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications in terms of U.S. aid to the country.

Titus is among the lawmakers who have previously introduced bills that are similar to the GLOBE Act. 

She noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act when she spoke with the Blade. Titus also discussed Republican-led efforts to curtail LGBTQ+ rights in Florida and other states.

“It’s harder, certainly, to get Republicans on board, but I’m optimistic,” she said when asked if she expects any Republicans will co-sponsor his bill. “The more they hear from their constituents and the more they see the backlash to what some state legislatures are doing and the more they hear from members of their own families, I think that we may get some to join us in this.”

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Senate confirms Rita Lin as Federal Judge for Northern California

She will be the first Chinese-American woman to serve. Lin previously fought for marriage equality as a lawyer in private practice

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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Sen. Blumenthal defends Kids Online Safety Act

“I would never put my name on any bill that targets or disparages or harms the trans or LGBTQ community” he told the Blade

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) listens attentively during the Senate Commerce Committee markup of the Kids Online Safety Act this past July. (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – Responding to criticism from some in the LGBTQ community about the Kids Online Safety Act, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) defended the legislation and reiterated his strong support for queer youth.

“I would never put my name on any bill that targets or disparages or harms the trans or LGBTQ community,” Blumenthal told the Washington Blade on Friday.

“There have been a lot of eyes” on the Kids Online Safety Act, he said. “A lot of very smart and careful people have reviewed its language, and they and I have worked to make it as rigorous and tight as possible.”

The proposed legislation, introduced by Blumenthal and Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), would address harms experienced by children and their families at the hands of dominant social media and tech platform companies. It enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

Critics took issue with previous iterations of the bill, however, raising alarms that conservative state attorneys general tasked with enforcing its provisions might treat positive or tonally neutral LGBTQ content as harmful to children under the statute.

A coalition of organizations issued a letter last year warning Congress that “online services would face substantial pressure to over-moderate,” at a time in which “books with LGBTQ+ themes are being banned” and “people providing healthcare to trans children are being falsely accused of ‘grooming.’”

Blumenthal told the Blade changes to the 2023 version in areas including the duty of care, which were made in consultation with a bevy of LGBTQ groups and individual advocates, have changed these organizations’ positions on the legislation.

“We have tightened the statute – tightened and clarified the statute – as much as we can to try to make it as rigorous as possible to avoid both the misuse and potential chilling effect,” the senator said.

He also highlighted some reasons for the urgent need for passage.

“The real devastating harms done to children by the bullying,” along with toxic content promoting eating disorders and suicide, “largely as a result of black-box algorithms, is the kind of evil that I have fought throughout my career,” he said.

The senator has fought for accountability from these companies for decades, combatting child predation on Myspace and Facebook as attorney general of Connecticut in the early aughts and, in Congress, championing antitrust reforms targeting Big Tech that have come to the fore in recent years.

He has also been a staunch pro-equality ally for the LGBTQ community, earning a perfect 100 on the Congressional Scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.

“I care deeply about that community as is evidenced by a lifetime of work in this area, as attorney general and now as the U.S. senator,” he said.

“The Kids Online Safety Act is designed to give children and their parents tools to protect themselves,” Blumenthal said, “and also to impose accountability on those companies that are profiteering; achieve more transparency about those algorithms; and give parents reporting mechanisms and other means, in effect, to take back control and [also for] children to take back control.”

The proposed bill would require covered platforms to “take reasonable measures” to “prevent and mitigate” harms to youth such as “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal behaviors,” along with “patterns of use that indicate or encourage addiction-like behaviors” and “physical violence, online bullying, and harassment of the minor.” 

LGBTQ youth are affected by these challenges and harms, too, and in many cases, disproportionately.

“Take bullying, for example,” Blumenthal told the Blade. No longer relegated to the school yard, this behavior follows victims home, he said, adding, “the addictive quality of social media is so powerful that it can be all consuming.”

During an interview Thursday on the Rated LGBT Radio program, attorney Laura Marquez-Garrett noted how LGBTQ youth will turn to social media platforms searching for affirmation about their sexual orientation or gender identity only to find “this really harmful experience that is causing, in many cases, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.”

Marquez-Garrett, a litigator who left her law practice in 2020 to join the Social Media Law Center, explained the Kids Online Safety Act includes a carve-out, “added in the last couple months, which says that a covered platform has no duty to prevent or preclude any minor under 17 from deliberately and independently searching for or specifically requesting content.”

Still, concerns persisted after Blackburn noted, in March, efforts toward “protecting minor children from the transgender [sic] in this culture and that influence” before talking about the Kids Online Safety Act.

Her legislative director later clarified that, “KOSA will not — nor was it designed to — target or censor any individual or community.”

Addressing these matters, Blumenthal told the Blade, “whatever anyone including Senator Blackburn may say about their personal beliefs, I know what the bill does and that’s what’s important here.”

“My goal,” he said, is to remedy the problems caused by social media and online platforms, problems that in too many cases are fatal for young people, while avoiding “any of the unintended consequences” because “it’s not enough to have good motives.”

Blumenthal said that while “my colleagues on the Republican side and I may differ in certain beliefs about a wide variety of issues” and “Senator Blackburn and I vote together a small minority of times, where we’re united, we try to work together.”

“And we’re united on preventing the harms that are so egregiously crippling and killing,” he added.

So, Blumenthal said, “looking at it substantively, putting aside who’s for it and who’s against it, I think on the merits, it holds up. The merits and the substance and the actual words of the proposed statute really refute those arguments that the tech companies have sought to make.”

Asked whether he believes the dominant tech platforms and social media companies might be behind efforts to sow doubt and distrust with respect to the Kids Online Safety Act among LGBTQ and other communities, the senator noted, “they have no compunction about distorting or misrepresenting the facts and trying to twist and deceive about specific provisions of legislation.”

“They resort to any and every means,” he said, “And they will try to exploit communities that may be susceptible to their misrepresentation.”

Additionally, Blumenthal said, the “tech and social media companies have – I don’t know how to put it politely – but they’ve essentially tried to ignore the important changes that we have made” including “the narrowing of the duty of care provisions” and “the broadening of support services.”

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Freedom Caucus threatens shutdown over ‘woke’ military policies

They also want to stem flow of immigrants at the southern border & address the “unprecedented weaponization” of the Justice Dept. & FBI

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U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus, speaking at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House Freedom Caucus has raised the specter of a government shutdown by announcing on Monday plans to oppose any stop-gap funding measure that fails to, among other demands, “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon.”

Conditioning support for a must-pass spending bill on its inclusion of conservative policies that will almost certainly be a non-starter in the Senate, let alone the White House, the caucus’s 45 ultraconservative members have once again created headaches for their House Speaker, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

The chamber’s top Republican, who is hustling to pass a bill before the end of September to avoid a shutdown, has said he would back a temporary continuing resolution to buy more time for budget talks so long as they do not extend past early December.

Along with combatting the “woke” policies “undermining our military’s core warfighting mission,” the caucus wants to stem the flow of immigrants at the southern border and “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI.”

A spokesperson did not respond to a request seeking details about which specific policies at the Pentagon the group finds objectionable, but caucus members in recent months have targeted those impacting the LGBTQ community in amendments to other spending bills.

For example, these House Republicans have sought to block government funding of healthcare services for transgender Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and pushed bans that would prohibit military bases from flying Pride flags and hosting drag shows or other LGBTQ events, such as celebrations honoring Pride month.

Communications staff for the caucus’s chair, communications chair, and policy chair, U.S. Reps. Scott Perry (Pa.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and Chip Roy (Texas), did not immediately respond to requests for clarification about the Pentagon policies.

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Lawmakers urge World Bank to suspend loans to Uganda

Country’s president on May 29 signed Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Ugandan flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen members of Congress this week asked the World Bank Group to suspend loans to Uganda in response to the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

U.S. Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Al Green (D-Texas), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Brittany Pettersen (D-Colo.), Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in a letter they sent to World Bank Group President Ajay Banga urged him “to immediately postpone and suspend all current and future lending to Uganda until the recent Anti-Homosexuality Act, signed by President Yoweri Museveni on May 29, 2023, is struck down.”

“While we undoubtedly support efforts to promote long-term economic development and poverty reduction in Uganda, the recent law mandates state-sponsored discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, creating a humanitarian crisis that plainly violates World Bank stated policies,” states the letter.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act, among other things, contains a provision that calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Council for Global Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, Outright International, Rainbow Railroad and Planned Parenthood Global are five of the 170 human rights organizations that urged the World Bank on June 15 to suspend loans to Uganda. The State Department the following day announced the U.S. had imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials.

Then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in 2014 postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government in response to Museveni’s decision to sign a version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that did not contain a death penalty provision. (The Constitutional Court later struck down the law on a technicality.) 

Kim’s decision to postpone the loan without first consulting the World Bank board sparked widespread criticism among board members. Advocacy groups had asked the World Bank not to fund future projects in Uganda, but they did not ask for the cancellation of existing loans.

“We stand with Ugandan activists, international humanitarian organizations, and the LGBTQ+ community and insist that the bank take swift action to postpone and suspend all lending to Uganda until the law is struck down,” reads the Congress members’ letter to Banga. “Continuing to lend money to Uganda and implement projects in the country would signal to the Ugandan government, other governments considering similar laws and LGBTQ+ people around the world that the World Bank does not truly value inclusion and that its commitments to nondiscrimination are disingenuous. The World Bank can and must do better.”

The Washington Blade on Friday obtained an email from a Ugandan LGBTQ+ and intersex activist that indicates the World Bank “has announced that they are carrying out a review of lending to Uganda, and that they won’t disburse any funding or agree on any new lending during this period.”

The Blade has reached out to the World Bank for comment.  

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GOP is accused of anti-LGBTQ animus on House subcommittee

“Had Republicans struck funding from “the NAACP or the Urban League, [they] would — rightfully so — be called racist bigots”

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U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (Photo credit: Office of Rep. Quigley)

WASHINGTON – Republican members of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) filed en bloc amendment on Tuesday striking three LGBTQ Community Project Funding requests from a spending package containing a total of 2,680.

Speaking to the Washington Blade minutes before markup was set to resume, the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), pledged to file an amendment restoring funding for the three projects: LGBTQ Secure Housing Inc., Gay Community Center of Philadelphia, and The LGBT Center of Greater Reading.

“The only three they pulled out were projects for the LGBTQ community,” Quigley said. “So, you know, it’s not hard to draw conclusions with that,” in fact, “it’s hard to draw any other conclusion.”

Quigley added, “You’ve gotta ask yourself, how did they find these three?”

It is a question on which the congressman said he will press his GOP colleagues, along with: “why after months of vetting, and a week after the bill was made public, do these three projects raise concern and not the other 2,677”?

Quigley added, “one could speculate — reasonably — that somebody in leadership said, ‘we have members that won’t vote for the base bill if it has projects for the gay community.'”

Having served on the Appropriations Committee for the better part of a decade, Quigley told the Blade he has “never seen anything like” Tuesday’s move by his Republican colleagues.

“If you’re going to do this sort of thing, which I would argue is is prejudiced,” the congressman asked, “why would you do it so publicly?”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) drew attention to two additional Community Project Fundings that would ultimately go to benefit LGBTQ individuals—however those are not being targeted for removal.

If instead of these three projects, Republicans had struck funding from “the NAACP or the Urban League, [they] would — rightfully so — be called racist bigots,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, told colleagues during the first THUD markup on Tuesday.

“When you do it to the LGBT community, it’s another frickin’ day in Congress,” he said, adding, “This is below the dignity of this Committee.”

The congressman recalled instances in which he had been the victim of homophobic hate, such as when “I wasn’t out yet [and had] left a gay bar and two people followed me and beat me with a baseball bat till I was bloodied and unconscious and called me a ‘faggot.'”

“This is what you guys do by introducing amendments like this,” Pocan said.

The congressman said U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) should not vote for the bill unless he is looking for a path to early retirement, given his new Congressional district includes the famously gay city of Palm Springs.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), ranking member of the U.S. House Budget Committee, issued a statement objecting to the Republicans’ revocation of funding for one of the projects he had earmarked.

“As a member of Congress, I’m able to designate up to 15 worthy recipients in my district of federal funding,” he said. “One of those is the historic William Way LGBTQ Center in Center City, Philadelphia.”

“Well, just today with no notice, the Republican majority filed an amendment that out of over 3,800 projects from members of Congress, 3,800 that have been approved, they are now voting to strip funding from the only three projects that have LGBTQ in the organization’s name,” Boyle said.

“This is outrageous,” the congressman said. “This is one of the most obvious and disgusting examples of bigotry that I have seen in my career and in my life.”

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GOP passes anti-LGBTQ amendments on defense spending bill

“House Republicans backed policies to attack diversity programs that help ensure that those defending our country look like our country”

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

WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Thursday passed a series of anti-LGBTQ amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which establishes recommended funding levels for the U.S. Department of Defense each year.

The legislation also carries riders from GOP members attacking abortion access and diversity programs.

Final vote on the NDAA July 14, 2023 (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

The anti-LGBTQ amendments, which were introduced by Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), would:

  • Undermine protections against race and LGBTQ+ discrimination in the military;
  • Restrict abortion access;
  • Deny essential healthcare, including gender-affirming care, to transgender service members and military families;
  • Eliminate access to the Exceptional Family Member Program for transgender or gender nonconforming youth and family members thereby limiting healthcare access based on location; 
  • Codify the prohibition on drag shows and use of drag queens as digital ambassadors;
  • Ban books that do not uphold the gender binary as well as disallow Pride Month instruction and/or celebration at DoD Education Activity schools; and
  • Allowing only certain flags to be flown over military installations – thereby prohibiting LBGTQ+ Pride flags from being flown.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans continued their relentless attacks on LGBTQ+ people today by using the National Defense Authorization Act to push their anti-equality agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“They showed their complete disregard for our LGBTQ+ servicemembers by adopting amendments that strip medically-necessary care from transgender servicemembers and their families, censor LGBTQ+ servicemembers by prohibiting the display of Pride flags, and ban books that include transgender people or discuss gender identity,” the congressman said.

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House Armed Services Committee issued a statement on Thursday in which they objected to the amendments which, they argue, adulterated the bipartisan and pro-equality NDAA that they passed with their GOP colleagues.

“The bill we passed out of committee sent a clear, united message to our allies and partners, global competitors, and the American people that democracy still works, and Congress is still functional,” they wrote.

“We made clear that we are dedicated to recruiting and retaining the strongest, most diverse fighting force and ensuring that everyone, including people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals, would have the same chance to serve without having to work harder or sacrifice more for the same opportunities.

“That bill no longer exists. What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance. Attacks on reproductive rights, access to basic health care, and efforts to address our country’s history of racism and marginalization of huge swaths of our country will worsen our recruitment and retention crisis, make our military less capable, and do grievous harm to our national defense and national security.”

U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) issued a separate statement on her vote against the NDAA, writing that “Many service members in San Diego are living in their cars because they can’t afford housing, lack affordable child care, or can’t put food on the table – and this massive $886 billion barely makes a dent in improving their quality of life.”

“Instead, Republicans scrapped the bipartisan package that we passed through the House Armed Services Committee and jammed through their far-right wish list, despite the needs of our service members and military families. 

“House Republicans stripped out DoD’s policy covering the travel and transportation costs for abortion and fertility care – even though it’s consistent with existing law. They passed cuts to necessary gender-affirming care – even though transgender people are more likely to serve in the U.S. military than cisgender people. And House Republicans backed policies to attack diversity programs that help ensure that those defending our country look like our country,” the congresswoman wrote.

U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown also issued a statement, “Regrettably, I must oppose this bill, which is dead-on-arrival in the U.S. Senate.”

“I owe it to my constituents to vote no on any legislation that would strip away reproductive healthcare from our servicemembers, eliminate crucial diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and discriminate against transgender servicemembers,” Brown said.

On Thursday, the ACLU issued a letter to congressional offices urging members to oppose the NDAA amendments “that seek to undermine protections against race discrimination in the military, restrict abortion access, and deny health coverage to transgender service members and military families, and censor protected speech.”

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Republicans attach anti-LGBTQ provisions to appropriations bills

“I’ve listened as my colleagues across the aisle insert cruel, dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ provisions into our funding bills”

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

WASHINGTON – A contingent of some of the most conservative Republican members of the U.S. House have held up federal appropriations bills this week by demanding concessions including increasingly extreme anti-LGBTQ provisions.

“Every single one of the bills, in order to appeal to the fringes of their caucus, they put all kinds of anti LGBTQI riders,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan told the Washington Blade by phone just before joining an Appropriations Committee markup on Wednesday.

It is “the extreme elements of the Republican Party,” or “the fringes” who “care about this stuff,” said the congressman, who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus.

The riders have been proposed for must-pass spending bills as they move through the appropriations process – in areas from homeland security and defense to agriculture and foreign operations.

“They started out with really the attacks this session on the trans community, specifically gender affirming care, trans girls playing sports, but then, literally, we’ve seen it progress through the appropriations process to suddenly Pride flags are [made into] an issue,” Pocan said.

The GOP’s targeting of the LGBTQ community in the appropriations process also comes by way of the First Amendment Defense Act, proposed legislation that seeks to effectively prohibit the government from responding to anti-LGBTQ discrimination based on one’s belief that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.

Pocan said that during a markup of a legislative branch appropriations bill, he told his Republican colleagues that if he were to “God forbid, pass, and my husband wanted to get his benefits that are due to any spouse,” there would be no recourse if those benefits were denied because of one’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

The congressman said he asked whether that would be fair, and “I watched people on the dais mouth ‘no’ and shake their head,” including those members who supported the rider that would enable people to deny those benefits in accordance with their position on marriage equality.

“They understand the real effects, but they don’t care because they need to try to get the certain elements or their caucus to vote for this stuff,” Pocan said. “And, bluntly, I don’t think those elements are gonna vote for this anyway, because they don’t understand how government actually works.”

“They’re not actually doing any policy and appropriations,” Pocan said. “They’re acting like accountants; they’re just cutting [funding] down to ’22 levels, which makes much of what they’re doing largely irrelevant compared to what the Senate will do.”

Some members, including those in the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, are dissatisfied with maintaining 2022 spending levels, the congressman noted, “so in the end it may just be abject failure.”

“There’s a very strong possibility that we don’t get these done and we have some kind of a CR,” Pocan said, referring to a temporary spending bill called a continuing resolution that Congress can pass to avoid a government shutdown that would otherwise be triggered by lapses in funding.

Another issue within the Republican conference, Pocan said, are intra-party divisions between, for instance, GOP members who are hawkish on foreign policy and eager to fund U.S. defense initiatives versus “those who just believe that government should be smaller.”

Add the “elements of the caucus that believe in the culture war issues,” the congressman said, “and, you know, it’s kind of like taking the Addams Family and saying, ‘what’s the average person?’”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), meanwhile, “hasn’t proven to be much of a leader during this time, either,” Pocan said.

Democrats who serve as the ranking members of three subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations also denounced efforts by their GOP colleagues to attach anti-LGBTQ riders to their must-pass spending bills in emailed statements to the Blade. All are vice chairs of the Equality Caucus.

“The legislation coming before us is jammed with extremist attacks that undermine our LGBTQI+ servicemembers, veterans, and their families,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, which, she noted, “has a longstanding tradition of bipartisanship.”

“Republicans this year,” said the congresswoman, “bent to far-right ideologues, adding provisions to ban gender affirming care, Pride flags, and other initiatives that impact the quality of life of our LGBTQI+ servicemembers.”

Despite the efforts by Republicans who “are dead set on wasting time marking up messaging bills with no chance of becoming law,” Wasserman Schultz promised that “my House Democratic colleagues and I won’t stand idly by as Republicans undermine the service of LGBTQI+ individuals who so bravely defend our nation every day.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.) told the Blade, “During recent appropriations meetings, I’ve listened as my colleagues across the aisle insert cruel, dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ provisions into our funding bills on strictly partisan lines.”

“Republicans decided to strip Diversity and Inclusion funding, permit federal employees to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people, and ban medically necessary gender affirming care,” said the congressman, who is ranking member of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee.

“This is an outright assault on individuals who are simply asking for basic human rights and to be treated as equals in our country,” Quigley said, adding, “I have and will continue to fight back against these attacks” because “allowing these provisions to become law would tell the LGBTQI+ community that their existence is wrong – we will never let that happen.”

“LGBTQI+ people matter and our laws must reflect that truth,” said the congressman.

“House Republicans are using the FY24 Appropriations process as an opportunity to attack the rights of women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

“Their Appropriations bills would eliminate funding from diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, attack the LGBTQ+ community through banning Pride flags at Veterans Affairs facilities and military bases, undermine key programs to address the climate crisis, and much more,” said the congresswoman, who was a founding member of the Equality Caucus.

“Their efforts to disenfranchise our courageous servicemembers strictly based on how they identify or who they love is despicable,” she added.

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Bill banning LGBTQ panic defense introduced in Congress

Also on Monday, Markey introduced a bill that would authorize federal health authorities to research barriers to gender affirming healthcare

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U.S. Capitol Building, Washington D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) introduced legislation on Monday that would prohibit all U.S. federal courts from allowing use of the LGBTQ panic defense, a legal tactic that has been banned in 16 states and D.C.

In criminal trials involving violent crimes against LGBTQ people, the so-called “gay panic,” “trans-panic,” or more broadly, “LGBTQ panic” defense is raised to argue for more lenient sentencing or otherwise in an attempt to lessen the defendant’s culpability in the eyes of a judge or jury.

These types of arguments, which are widely considered outdated and offensive, both exploit and work to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia in the criminal justice system, the lawmakers said in a press release Monday announcing their bill.

Markey and Pappas noted LGBTQ panic defenses have been used in criminal law for decades, perhaps most famously after the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. During trial, counsel for the defense argued their client was triggered by an unwanted sexual advance by Shepard.

The case would galvanize calls to take action against bias-motivated violence, eventually leading to Congress’s passage in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Nevertheless, use of LGBTQ panic defenses has persisted. The lawmakers noted a prominent recent example with the 2019 prosecution of the man who murdered 17-year-old Washington teen Nikki Kuhnhausenthe. Law enforcement noted during trial that the defendant was “shocked,” “uncomfortable” and “disturbed” upon learning Kuhnhausenthe was transgender.

The LGBTQ panic defense “is not only antiquated, but actively legitimizes violence against the LGBTQ+ community and encourages homophobic and transphobic bigotry within our legal system,” Markey said.

“No one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a defense for assault or murder,” Pappas said, “and it is time Congress follows the lead of states that have already banned this defense in their courts.”

The lawmakers also highlighted the pervasive problem of violent crimes targeting LGBTQ people, highlighting statistics compiled by the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC has recorded more than 256 cases of fatal violence against trans Americans, more than 80 percent of whom were people of color. Last year, according to the organization, at least 38 trans people were killed in the U.S., the majority of whom were trans women of color.

Markey also introduces gender-affirming care bill

Also on Monday, Markey introduced the Gender Affirming Care Access Research for Equity (CARE) Act, a bill that would authorize federal health authorities to research barriers to gender affirming health treatments and study the consequences of gaps and disparities to access.

The legislation would provide for the annual allocation of $25 million over five years for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It comes in response to efforts by lawmakers in conservative states to restrict their trans residents’ access to medically necessary care, Markey noted, with 20 states passing bans targeting youth so far this year.

“Trans health is health, and health care is a human right,” he said. “We have a moral obligation to protect, defend, and expand the fundamental right for transgender and nonbinary people to get the care they need despite the tremendous legal, financial, and social barriers they too often face when accessing their health care.”

According to a press release from Markey’s office, cosponsors for the bill include Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla (Calif.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) 

At the end of March, Markey introduced the Trans Bill of Rights with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose provisions include ensuring the community’s access to necessary medical care. The same day, Markey and other Democratic senators sent a letter urging President Joe Biden to shore up federal protections for trans Americans’ access to gender affirming care and health providers administering this care who are “facing threats of violence and limits on their ability to provide care.”

Additionally, last year the Massachusetts senator issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urging them to “lift barriers to testosterone and expand access to gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender people, including transgender men and transmasculine nonbinary people.”

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Rep. Balint on LGBTQ & women’s history education bill

“There are good people in the Republican conference,” Balint said. “but when it comes to these issues, we have not seen any of them”

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Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) with Vice-President Kamala Harris in Washington D.C., June 17, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Becca Balint)

BRATTLEBORO, VT. – U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) talked with the Washington Blade on Saturday about the LGBTQ and women’s history education bill that she and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) reintroduced last week.

The legislation, just like actions recently announced by the White House, responds to book bans and curriculum restrictions that have increasingly cropped up in conservative states and school districts, which disproportionately target educational materials inclusive of LGBTQ subjects and histories.

Balint and Torres’s LGBTQI+ and Women’s History Education Act of 2023 would authorize the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to develop and distribute resources for educators to “teach LGBTQI+ and women’s history education in a more inclusive and intersectional manner.”

On June 8, meanwhile, the White House debuted plans to address attacks on the safety and rights of LGBTQ Americans. Among these were instructions to the U.S. Department of Education to appoint a coordinator who will “address the growing threat that book bans pose for the civil rights of students,” such as by providing “new trainings for schools nationwide on how book bans that target specific communities and create a hostile school environment may violate federal civil rights laws.”

Balint told the Blade the education bill and these moves by the White House “complement each other,” but her efforts with Torres were “not coordinated as much” with the Biden-Harris administration as they were a product of the lawmakers’ shared understanding of “this moment that we’re in — as we’re both queer Americans trying to live our lives and not have our histories erased.”

“And I also come to this,” Balint said, “as a longtime social studies teacher in junior high” who also taught history as the community college level. “This push from the GOP to erase us from not just society but from history,” she said, is “so dangerous.”

“It’s important for us to make sure that our histories and our stories are preserved, not just for posterity sake, but also because students across this country need to be able to see themselves in their history that we’re taught,” Balint said.

Battles over the inclusion of Black, LGBTQ, and women’s history have roiled school districts across the country, leading to legislative restrictions that were passed in conservative states and even flaring up in areas traditionally known as liberal strongholds, like Southern California.

Last week saw protests over the inclusion of curricula that included the late gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk in Temecula, part of the greater Los Angeles area.

“We can’t write off any area of the country,” Balint said. “There are movements from from the right coming in more traditionally blue states, as well, and they’re trying to make parents and community members feel afraid of their neighbors.”

As the right has sought to deliberately scapegoat queer and trans kids, fear mongering to rile up the conservative base, the congresswoman said “it’s really important that those of us in a position to shore up those those teachers in those schools who are trying to do the right thing, [because] they need help, they’re under siege right now.”

Balint said that her wife is from Wyoming, a solidly conservative state where she also has experience teaching. “I understand the struggles that teachers have in those schools, when they want to bring in a more inclusive history, a more true history, of the complexity of life in this country,” she said.

“So, I think it’s a really important message for us to send, both from the White House and from Congress, and in this case, also, from the Smithsonian Institution, to say this is real history. It’s important that you expose your students to it. And I think that gives those teachers more courage to be able to teach a curriculum that is more inclusive and true. “

The LGBTQI+ and Women’s History Education Act of 2023, Balint said, can also help educators in a more direct sense. “Whether you’re trying to teach the history of people of color in this country, or of women, or of queer and trans people,” she said, it is a “huge undertaking to try to do that research on your own.”

Unfortunately, however, the congresswoman acknowledged the political roadblocks to its passage with the U.S. House’s Republican control.

Just before flying home to her district, Balint said she had to sit through a speech on the House floor in which a GOP member railed against “how disgusting it was that there any kind of federal building or State Department building would fly, you know, a pride flag,” telling his colleagues “that’s not the kind of thing that we in this country want to be known for.”

The congresswoman characterized the language this member used as hurtful and cruel, intended to demonize LGBTQ people.

“There are good people in the Republican conference,” Balint said. “but when it comes to these issues, we have not seen any of them. In this congressional session, they are all falling in line. I welcome any partners across the aisle. To stand up to this kind of scapegoating.”

For this reason, when it comes to her and Torres’s legislation, she said, “I am not hopeful in this Congress. But we have to lay the groundwork for what will come when we hopefully are able to recapture the majority and really make movement on these things.”

Balint told the Blade some of her Republican colleagues have assured her and other Democrats “well, you know I don’t believe this stuff that the extremists are pushing.”

GOP members will admit that they have to take extreme anti-LGBTQ positions that they do not actually believe in for fear of losing a primary race to someone further to the right, she said.

“And one of the things that I’ve been talking about with my friends within my caucus is if, in the end, you’re gonna vote just like your extremist colleagues, then frankly, you’re not better! If you’re not gonna use your position to stand up when you know [your colleagues in the GOP caucus] are shamelessly and cruelly scapegoating a group of people, then what will it take?”

Balint said she nevertheless remains optimistic that the tides will eventually turn, but in the meantime “we have to hold them accountable. And we have to stand with them when they are courageous, which is why I always try to point out that you’ve got a few bright spots — one being the [Republican] Governor of Utah, Governor [Spencer] Cox, who made a very powerful statement about these anti trans bills.”

When legislation that would have prohibited trans students from playing on girls’ sports teams reached his desk in March, Cox vetoed it. “When in doubt,” he wrote, “I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.”

“I can’t overstate what it has meant for young queer and trans kids in Vermont and across the country, to be able to come and talk with me,” Balint said, or any of her colleagues who are openly gay. “We also are working so hard right now to make sure that we will be able to elect our first trans American to Congress,” she said, “we are so committed to that — we have to have true representation.”

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Unified Congressional Democrats reintroduce the Equality Act

Legislators & LGBTQ advocacy groups stressed the importance of passing the Act, noting its unanimous support from Democrats in both chambers

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House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks at a press conference announcing the Equality Act's reintroduction (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Democrats in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday reintroduced the Equality Act, legislation the party has sought to pass for more than a decade that would extend federal nondiscrimination protections to include LGBTQ Americans.

The lawmakers announced the move in a press conference convened by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) who, respectively, reintroduced the Equality Act in the House along with its companion bill in the Senate.

They were joined by top Congressional Democrats including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Democratic House Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.), and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), along with Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson and National Center for Transgender Equality Policy Director Olivia Hunt.

The legislators and LGBTQ advocacy group leaders delivered remarks stressing the importance of passing the Equality Act, noting its unanimous support from Democrats in both chambers.

“As the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress, I am acutely aware of the impacts lawful discrimination has on our marginalized communities in the United States, and the LGBTQI+ community have been subject to discrimination, violence, and the denial of their full personhood under the law for far too long,” Takano said.

Responding to a question from the Washington Blade on whether the latest version of the Equality Act differs from those that were introduced before, and whether compromises might be necessary to earn enough Republican votes, Takano said the bill has not been changed, adding, “I fully intend to pass a full-strength, undiluted Equality Act into law.”

Under the leadership of former Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline (D), the legislation was passed in the lower chamber in 2019 and 2021 but ultimately failed to move through the Senate. After announcing his planned departure from Congress to lead his state’s largest nonprofit organization, Cicilline told the Blade he was confident in his California colleague’s ability to successfully shepherd the bill over the finish line.

Takano and Cicilline serve or have served as chairs and co-chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus alongside other openly LGBTQ members including Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), both of whom joined Wednesday’s press conference.

Comments from Democratic leaders also focused on the fraught political environment with respect to LGBTQ rights and the ways in which the Equality Act represents a continuation of some of the most important work the Congress has undertaken to protect Americans from discrimination.

“As extreme MAGA state legislators across the country continue their assault on LGBTQ+ Americans, especially the trans community,” Pelosi warned, “the fight against bigotry and discrimination remains urgent as ever.”

The Speaker Emerita credited the tireless work of LGBTQ activists for the groundbreaking legislative victories the community has secured over the decades of her time in Congress, noting especially the enduring legacy of the movement that coalesced in the 1980s around the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Pelosi also committed to preserving the scope and strength of the Equality Act, recalling how she had roundly rejected the arguments from members who believed the 2010 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would not pass unless the trans community was excluded from its protections. “I said we’re never taking out trans” from the landmark bill, she said.

Several members who spoke on Wednesday, including Pelosi, invoked the memory of their late colleague, congressman and iconic civil rights activist John Lewis — who, in a manner consistent with the principles to which he dedicated his life and career, was an early and ardent champion of the Equality Act.

With the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Congress outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, in areas from housing and employment to credit and education. Just months later, on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis was among the nonviolent demonstrators who were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers for protesting the systematic disenfranchisement of Black voters.

The Equality Act’s promise to include LGBTQ Americans in the protections from discrimination that Congress first established nearly 60 years ago is a continuation of the legacy of fighting for the fundamentally American values of justice and equality, the lawmakers said.

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