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White House announces Office of Gun Violence Prevention

The first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris

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The first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris shown here in September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

WASHINGTON – The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

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Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ+ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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The White House is lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ+ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

The Human Rights Campaign announced advocacy groups in 24 countries that include Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, Estonia, Morocco, and Peru received grants through its Global Small Grants Program. These funds, according to a press release, will allow them to “advance LGBTQ+ equality.”

“This year, the Human Rights Campaign is honored to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by highlighting the powerful impact of the Global Small Grants Program,” sand HRC Global Advocacy Associate Director Andrea Gillespie. “IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for reflection of both the great strides made in our movement and just how far we need to go to achieve equality for all.” 

“As the anti-rights and anti-gender movement seeks to rollback progress on LGBTQ+ rights globally, HRC is proud to stand in solidarity with our partners around the world facing new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies, and redouble our commitments to the important work of HRC’s Global Alumni Network,” added Gillespie.

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Exclusive interview: Biden’s Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

“We do believe in human rights; we do believe that violence & discrimination is not OK,” she said. “And we lead by example”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Karine Jean-Pierre sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview in her office on Tuesday, a week before the two-year anniversary of her appointment as America’s first Black and first openly queer White House press secretary.

Her history-making tenure has come at an especially fraught time for LGBTQ people.

The Biden-Harris administration has been widely celebrated as the most pro-equality in history. Over the past four years, rights and freedoms were expanded through the passage of landmark legislation and the enactment of bold new policies by federal agencies like the FDA and U.S. Department of Education, while the president elevated record-breaking numbers of LGBTQ appointees to serve in the highest levels of government.

At the same time, conservative Republicans have led an unprecedented legislative assault on queer people, especially transgender and gender-expansive youth, which has been accompanied by an escalation of dangerous fear and hate-mongering rhetoric against the community and spikes in bias-motivated acts of violence as well as depression, anxiety, self-harm behaviors, and deaths by suicide.

On these matters Jean-Pierre has often spoken out, addressing reporters from the lectern in the West Wing’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in remarks that have often gone viral and driven news coverage.

Reflecting on her tenure, the 49-year-old press secretary explained why she is uniquely positioned to leverage her influence as the most visible spokesperson for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the administration — at this pivotal moment for LGBTQ people both at home and abroad.

Leadership comes from the top


“Representation matters,” Jean-Pierre said. “And the president was certainly very aware of that, and wanted to make sure that he put together the most diverse administration,” she said, “and he did that.”

About 14 percent of appointees in the Biden-Harris administration identify as LGBTQ, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In his first term, Biden has appointed a record-breaking 11 LGBTQ judges to the federal bench, tying with the number who were confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of eight years.

“I am in this job because the president of the United States believed and wanted me to speak on behalf of him and said, ‘You have my voice, and you know how to speak for me, and this is the role that I want’ — I mean, that’s why he chose me,” she said.

Jean-Pierre stressed that she is able to condemn “these bad bills, these awful bills, these really hateful, prejudiced, anti-LGBTQ+ bills” because of “this president” — and not just by virtue of his appointment of her to the role of press secretary, but also because “he believes it is important to speak out.”

“Silence is complicit,” she said. “You know, that’s something that you hear from this president all the time: We cannot be silent in this moment. We cannot. Not when we see these anti-LGBTQ+ bills” nor when attempts are made to restrict reproductive rights or other freedoms.

When vulnerable queer youth are being targeted, Jean-Pierre said, “we have to do everything that we can — as an administration, as the White House, as the federal government — to protect them, and that’s what I get to do” because “this president allows me to speak out and show up.”

Jean-Pierre also pointed to Biden’s remarks in defense of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups during his State of the Union addresses and other major speeches.

“One of the things that he has said that always touches me is he says, ‘trans kids are some of the most impressive, brave people’ that he has seen,” she said. The president understands that “This is not about politics. This is about the right thing to do. And protecting lives.”

“And I say all of this to say it matters. It matters who sits behind that Resolute Desk. It matters who’s the president of the United States,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary added that Biden’s actions as president affirm his verbal commitments to protect, support, and defend the LGBTQ community.

“The president signed an executive order to make sure that we were lifting up LGBTQ+ rights on the federal level, to make sure that policies that we were putting out there were taking steps toward protecting families, protecting youth, addressing mental health amongst young people, and in the community, and that was something that was really important for the president to do.”

She described a pivotal moment in the White House when, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protections for abortion with a 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), conservative Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his interest in revisiting other cases, including those that established the right to marriage equality.

“So, one of the things that came out of Congress in a bipartisan way was protecting marriage, protecting marriage equality,” Jean-Pierre said, “and I remember when the president signed [the Respect for Marriage Act] in December of 2022, and how beautiful that was knowing that that was protected by law.”

“We have made sure to do what we can on the federal level,” she added, noting that, “Obviously, there’s legislation that we have to continue to push for,” including the Equality Act — which would codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans — “but we do what we can from this side of things.”

The importance of diversity of lived experience


The president also understands the value of narrative storytelling in policymaking and governance, Jean-Pierre said, noting how Biden often talks about economic issues by relating to the struggles of working families with his journey from humble beginnings in Scranton, Pa.

Likewise, Jean-Pierre said that drawing from her lived experiences “helps me understand policy a little bit more and telling stories around policies a little bit more.” For example, she sees the danger of anti-LGBTQ laws targeting youth not just because of her identity as a member of the community — but also as the mother of a nine-year-old.

In February, Jean-Pierre spoke out repeatedly after a nonbinary Oklahoma teen named Nex Benedict died, in what was later ruled a suicide, after enduring months of bullying over their sexual orientation and following their state’s passage of a bill prohibiting trans students from using restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity.

“I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful,” Jean-Pierre said in remarks to reporters during the opening (the “topper”) of her press briefing on Feb. 23.

“Nex Benedict and so many young people are dying by suicide,” she told the Blade. “And that hurts. That’s an incredibly hurtful thing. Because they were bullied, because they were attacked, because they don’t feel free.”

“As a parent, as a mom, I do everything that I can to make sure that [my daughter] is protected,” Jean-Pierre said. “And what I want for my child, I want for every child, so that does hit differently, because it’s very personal.”

The press secretary recalled how she met two mothers at an event last year and, in separate conversations with the women, learned how they planned to leave their respective home states — Texas and Oklahoma — because they had trans children and felt unable to protect them amid the legislative attacks.

“Can you imagine,” she asked, “you’re raising your child in a community that you are familiar with” when suddenly, “there is a piece of legislation that’s going through the state legislature that gets signed by the governor and it is telling you that your child is in danger?”

Jean-Pierre also recognizes how her professional background and experience have equipped her for the briefing room and other duties of her role as White House press secretary.

Prior to joining Biden’s 2020 campaign and then the Biden-Harris administration, she worked as a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, having also served as a senior adviser and national spokesperson for MoveOn, the progressive public policy advocacy group.

Jean-Pierre began her career working on political campaigns and fundraising before joining the faculty of her alma mater, Columbia University, where she was a lecturer in international and public affairs.

“There’s something to growing and experiencing and taking chances and jumping from one thing to another,” she said, “understanding that you’re learning from the last thing and what you’re learning from the last thing you’re going to take to the next experience.”

The president, Jean-Pierre said, “had watched me do TV and watched me in my roles prior, and really believed that I was the person that he wanted” for the press secretary role.

Ultimately, “whether it’s making sure I am empathetic, sympathetic to what people are going through as a mom, as someone that belongs to multiple communities, I get to do that. Whether it’s the media and understanding how the media works, how TV works, how communicating with the press works, I’ve done that, so I’m able to bring that to the podium,” she said.

‘Lifting up issues that matter


In the immediate aftermath of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre noted that LGBTQ advocacy groups and individuals had sought to “get more attention to what happened there,” while the Biden-Harris administration wanted folks to understand “that we’re watching, we’re seeing what is happening, and we’re going to speak” about it.

“We’re not going to be silent, here,” she said. “We were very purposeful about it.”

In hindsight, Jean-Pierre said, her remarks from the podium made a real impact. “It brings coverage; it brings the White House press corps and others to cover what we’re saying. That is why it is so important what we do at the podium; it is so important what we do in this press briefing room — lifting up issues that matter to the American people.”

The press secretary added, “sometimes it’s not even an issue that’s popular. It’s something that needs to be spoken to, because it is something that could lead to a dangerous situation; something that could oppress a community, harm a community — and we get that; this president gets that, this administration gets that.”

Initially, there was very little press coverage of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre said, but “we wanted to really lift up what was happening,” because “it wasn’t just Nex Benedict. It was a story of many, many people in that community who were being bullied, who were being attacked. And we needed to speak to that” especially amid the hundreds of bills targeting the rights of queer youth in Oklahoma and across the country.

In another instance recalling her comments from the briefing room, Jean-Pierre stressed how it was important for the administration to “take on the governor” of Florida, Ron DeSantis (R), over his efforts to target the LGBTQ community by banning books, imposing curriculum restrictions, and limiting educators’ ability to be out at work.

Doing what’s right — regardless of the backlash


Jean-Pierre was quick to brush aside the question of whether she considers the risk of incurring backlash from the right when deciding whether to speak out on matters of LGBTQ rights.

Blowback “happens all the time,” she said. “Every day!” So, “I just don’t pay attention to it. We have to do the right thing and we can’t live in fear, here.”

The choice to be silent about a problem is the choice to be complicit, and not only does silence forestall any progress toward addressing the issue at hand, but it also constitutes an abrogation of one’s responsibility as a leader, Jean-Pierre said.

“The president is very clear about that,” she said. With respect to issues like dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation, “you can’t be silent” because “people’s lives are at stake.” Ultimately, “The backlash is going to be the backlash, but we’ve got to do the right thing and history will remember where we stood.”

The Biden-Harris administration believes this principle extends to America’s leadership on the international stage, Jean-Pierre said, in her response to a question about U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R-Mich.) travel to Uganda last year to speak in defense of the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act.

She stressed that the law, which criminalizes homosexuality and imposes the death penalty in some cases, is “dangerous and undermines the rights of all citizens. And the president has been very clear, the Biden-Harris administration has been very clear, that no one should live — and I’ve said this before — in constant fear.”

Rather, Jean-Pierre said, “They should feel safe in their community, they should feel protected, and no one should be subjected to violence and discrimination. It is not what we believe, whether it’s here in this country or abroad.”

Since the legislation was made effective in May 2023, she noted, “we’ve taken several accountability actions, including restricting visa entry to the United States, restricting economic support to the government, and sanctioning officials who abuse human rights.”

Jean-Pierre added that, “we’re also deeply troubled by the copycat anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world,” which is “why it’s important what we do as the United States, because we’re leaders. And when you’re seeing other countries trying to implement and copycat the same thing, you need the United States to stand up and speak out against it. And that’s leadership.”

The administration’s robust response “sends a message around the world, that we do believe in human rights; we do believe that people should be protected; we do believe that violence and discrimination is not OK,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we lead by example.”

Likewise with respect to her comments from the podium, she said. “And [those remarks] went viral, because we spoke to it very loudly, very clearly,” in what was “an important moment for the community here but [also for] the community abroad, to hear from us, [that] we’re not afraid to talk about this because we have to and we understand our role in the world.”

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Judy Shepard to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2009, Shepard published a memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed”

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Activists Judy and Dennis Shepard speak at the NGLCC National Dinner at the National Building Museum on Friday, Nov. 18. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Beloved LGBTQ advocate Judy Shepard is among the 19 honorees who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., the White House announced on Friday.

The mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998 in the country’s most notorious anti-gay hate crime, she co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation with her husband Dennis to raise awareness about anti-LGBTQ violence.

The organization runs education, outreach, and advocacy programs, many focused on schools.

In a statement shared via the Human Rights Campaign, Shepard said, “This unexpected honor has been very humbling for me, Dennis, and our family. What makes us proud is knowing our President and our nation share our lifelong commitment to making this world a safer, more loving, more respectful, and more peaceful place for everyone.

“I am grateful to everyone whose love and support for our work through the years has sustained me.

“If I had the power to change one thing, I can only dream of the example that Matt’s life and purpose would have shown, had he lived. This honor reminds the world that his life, and every life, is precious.”

Shepard was instrumental in working with then-President Barack Obama for passage of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which was led in the House by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will also be honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during the ceremony on Friday.

Also in 2009, Shepard published a memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed,” and was honored with the Black Tie Dinner Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

“Judy Shepard has been a champion for equality and President Biden’s choice to honor her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a testament to what she’s done to be a force of good in the world,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement.

“A mother who turned unspeakable grief over the loss of her son into a decades-long fight against anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence, Judy continues to make a lasting impact in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.  

“It is because of her advocacy that the first federal hate crimes legislation became law and that countless life-saving trainings, resources and conversations about equality and acceptance are provided each year by the Matthew Shepard Foundation,” Robinson said. “We are honored that Judy is a member of the HRC family and know that her work to create a more inclusive and just world will only continue.”

Other awardees who will be honored by the White House this year are: Actor Michelle Yeoh, entrepreneur and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jesuit Catholic priest Gregory Boyle, Assistant House Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), former Labor and Education Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), journalist and former daytime talkshow host Phil Donahue, World War II veteran and civil rights activist Medgar Evers (posthumous), former Vice President Al Gore, civil rights activist and lawyer Clarence B. Jones, former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), former U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) (posthumous), Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, educator and activist Opal Lee, astronaut and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa, astronomer Jane Rigby, United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, and Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe (posthumous).

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Biden announces action plan targeting pollutants in drinking water

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following an Earth Day event on April 22, 2024 (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Headlining an Earth Day event in Northern Virginia’s Prince William Forest on Monday, President Joe Biden announced the disbursement of $7 billion in new grants for solar projects and warned of his Republican opponent’s plans to roll back the progress his administration has made toward addressing the harms of climate change.

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution and extreme weather events.

In a statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “President Biden is leading the most ambitious climate, conservation, and environmental justice agenda in history – and that means working toward a future where all people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community.”

“This Earth Week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in disadvantaged communities while creating hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, which are being made more accessible by the American Climate Corps,” she said. “President Biden is delivering on his promise to help protect all communities from the impacts of climate change – including the LGBTQI+ community – and that we leave no community behind as we build an equitable and inclusive clean energy economy for all.”

Recent milestones in the administration’s climate policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance on April 10 of legally enforceable standard for detecting and treating drinking water contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“This rule sets health safeguards and will require public water systems to monitor and reduce the levels of PFAS in our nation’s drinking water, and notify the public of any exceedances of those levels,” according to a White House fact sheet. “The rule sets drinking water limits for five individual PFAS, including the most frequently found PFOA and PFOS.”

The move is expected to protect 100 million Americans from exposure to the “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to severe health problems including cancers, liver and heart damage, and developmental impacts in children.

An interactive dashboard from the United States Geological Survey shows the concentrations of polyfluoroalkyl substances in tapwater are highest in urban areas with dense populations, including cities like New York and Los Angeles.

During Biden’s tenure, the federal government has launched more than 500 programs that are geared toward investing in the communities most impacted by climate change, whether the harms may arise from chemical pollutants, extreme weather events, or other causes.

New research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that because LGBTQ Americans are likelier to live in coastal areas and densely populated cities, households with same-sex couples are likelier to experience the adverse effects of climate change.

The report notes that previous research, including a study that used “national Census data on same-sex households by census tract combined with data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the National Air Toxics Assessment” to model “the relationship between same-sex households and risk of cancer and respiratory illness” found “that higher prevalence of same-sex households is associated with higher risks for these diseases.”

“Climate change action plans at federal, state, and local levels, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must be inclusive and address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBT people,” the Williams Institute wrote.

With respect to polyfluoroalkyl substances, the EPA’s adoption of new standards follows other federal actions undertaken during the Biden-Harris administration to protect firefighters and healthcare workers, test for and clean up pollution, and phase out or reduce use of the chemicals in fire suppressants, food packaging, and federal procurement.

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New Director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy named

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director

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Francisco Ruiz, incoming Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). (Photo Credit: Official White House photo)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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White House condemns Ugandan court’s anti-Homosexuality ruling

Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those contained in a statement by a coalition of Ugandan LGBTQ groups

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Screen Capture: The White House/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the ruling issued hours earlier by a court in Uganda that upheld the East African country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“The announcement that some provisions of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary continued, “The United States is deeply concerned about the remaining provisions which undermine public health, human rights and Uganda’s international reputation.”

She added, “As the president has said time and time again, no one should have to live in constant fear nor be subjected to violence or discrimination. It is wrong. We will continue to work to advance respect for human rights for all in Uganda and also around the world.”

After the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law last May, the U.S. implemented visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and excluded the country from a program allowing sub-Saharan African countries to trade with the U.S. duty-free.

As detailed by a White House fact sheet issued in December, the U.S. also imposed sanctions and reduced government support of Uganda including through “new restrictions and redirections of impacted assistance, including through the Department of Defense and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)” and “pausing approximately $15 million for all biological threat reductions activities with the Ugandan Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Tourism.”

The statement notes more than $5 million in PEPFAR funding will be redirected “to non-governmental implementing partners due to concerns over how the AHA impacts the Government of Uganda’s ability to deliver services in a non-discriminatory manner.”

Other actions include issuance of travel and business advisories targeting Uganda, and supporting “victims of the AHA” which “may include assistance for those who are victims of violence, evicted from their homes or who need help accessing medical care” and legal aid for those who are “unjustly arrested.”  

Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Wednesday echoed those contained in a statement by a coalition of Ugandan LGBTQ groups, which noted that the court found “some sections” of the law in violation of “the right to health, right to privacy and right to freedom of religion,” but likewise argued the ruling “failed to identify the numerous ways the law violates Ugandans’ substantive rights to equality, dignity, speech, association and health and freedom from discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson also condemned the decision.

“For the Constitutional Court of Uganda to uphold such a draconian law in any capacity is a horrific display of hatred that will mean further discrimination and physical harm for LGBTQ+ Ugandans,” she said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday also criticized the ruling.

“The United States continues to be deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses in Uganda, including against the LGBTQI+ community. The announcement that some provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights,” he said in a statement. “The remaining provisions of the AHA pose grave threats to the Ugandan people, especially LGBTQI+ Ugandans and their allies, undermine public health, clamp down on civic space, damage Uganda’s international reputation and harm efforts to increase foreign investment.” 

“Uganda should respect the human dignity of all and provide equal protection to all individuals under the law,” added Blinken.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Biden honors Transgender Day of Visibility

Biden addressed how “extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families

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President Joe Biden signs a proclamation in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday honored Sunday’s Transgender Day of Visibility observance with a statement highlighting his administration’s work advancing the rights of trans Americans and fighting back against harmful anti-LGBTQ state laws.

“On Transgender Day of Visibility, we honor the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to forming a more perfect union — where all people are created equal and treated equally throughout their lives,” Biden wrote.

“I am proud to have appointed transgender leaders to my administration and to have ended the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in our military,” the president said, noting also his issuance of “historic executive orders that strengthen civil rights protections in housing, employment, health care, education, the justice system and more” and his signing, in 2022, of the Respect for Marriage Act — which ensures “that every American can marry the person they love.”

Biden then addressed how “extremists are proposing hundreds of hateful laws that target and terrify transgender kids and their families — silencing teachers; banning books; and even threatening parents, doctors and nurses with prison for helping parents get care for their children.”

“These bills attack our most basic American values: The freedom to be yourself, the freedom to make your own health care decisions and even the right to raise your own child,” he wrote. “It is no surprise that the bullying and discrimination that transgender Americans face is worsening our nation’s mental health crisis, leading half of transgender youth to consider suicide in the past year.”

“At the same time, an epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, especially women and girls of color, continues to take too many lives,” Biden said. “Let me be clear: All of these attacks are un-American and must end. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”  

The president then laid out how the Biden-Harris administration is pushing back.

“The Department of Justice has taken action to push back against extreme and un-American state laws targeting transgender youth and their families and the Department of Justice is partnering with law enforcement and community groups to combat hate and violence,” he said.

“My administration is also providing dedicated emergency mental health support through our nationwide suicide and crisis lifeline — any LGBTQI+ young person in need can call ‘988’ and press ‘3’ to speak with a counselor trained to support them.”

Additionally, Biden said, “We are making public services more accessible for transgender Americans, including with more inclusive passports and easier access to Social Security benefits.”

Yet, “There is much more to do. I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Equality Act, to codify civil rights protections for all LGBTQI+ Americans.”

He concluded the statement by pledging that “Today, we send a message to all transgender Americans: You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You belong. You are America, and my entire administration and I have your back.”  

“I call upon all Americans to join us in lifting up the lives and voices of transgender people throughout our nation and to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination based on gender identity.”

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White House reacts to Pride Flag ban in spending bill

Nearly 50 anti-LGBTQ riders were defeated that Republicans tried to force into the government funding bill

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Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answers questions from members of the press in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Katie Ricks)

WASHINGTON – The White House provided a statement reacting to an anti-LGBTQ+ provision in the omnibus spending appropriations bill signed by President Biden on Saturday. Nearly 50 anti-LGBTQ riders were defeated that Republicans had tried to force into the government funding bill, however, the provision to ban display of Pride Flag at U.S. Embassies and diplomatic missions made it into the final version.

“President Biden believes it was inappropriate to abuse the process that was essential to keep the government open by including this policy targeting LGBTQI+ Americans. While it will have no impact on the ability of members of the LGBTQI+ community to serve openly in our embassies or to celebrate Pride, the Administration fought against the inclusion of this policy and we will continue to work with members of Congress to find an opportunity to repeal it,” the White House statement read.

“We were successful in defeating 50+ other policy riders attacking the LGBTQI+ community that Congressional Republicans attempted to insert into the legislation. President Biden is committed to fighting for LGBTQI+ equality at home and abroad,” it added.

On Saturday the White House released a signing statement from the president which read:

“The bipartisan funding bill I just signed keeps the government open, invests in the American people, and strengthens our economy and national security. This agreement represents a compromise, which means neither side got everything it wanted. But it rejects extreme cuts from House Republicans and expands access to child care, invests in cancer research, funds mental health and substance use care, advances American leadership abroad, and provides resources to secure the border that my Administration successfully fought to include. That’s good news for the American people.
 
But I want to be clear: Congress’s work isn’t finished. The House must pass the bipartisan national security supplemental to advance our national security interests. And Congress must pass the bipartisan border security agreement—the toughest and fairest reforms in decades—to ensure we have the policies and funding needed to secure the border. It’s time to get this done.”

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