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Transphobic U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene targets Adm. Levine

Greene’s post Saturday was not the first time she expressed rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry- on the House floor she misgendered the health official

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a post on X Saturday, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lobbed transphobic insults at Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender government official.

The congresswoman was responding to a video posted by Levine on X, which highlighted the disproportionate harms wrought by climate change on “the physical and mental health of Black communities” along with HHS’s work addressing these issues.

“Here is a man pretending to be a woman claiming the climate is hurting black Americans more than others” Greene wrote in her post. “This is the Democrat Party. Mental illness on full display.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly targeted Levine, largely over her support for gender-affirming care — medically necessary, evidence-based interventions that are governed by clinical practice guidelines and endorsed by every mainstream scientific and medical society in the world.

Greene’s post on Saturday was not the first time she crossed the line into rank anti-LGBTQ bigotry, however.

Speaking from the House floor in November, Greene misgendered and dead-named the health official while introducing an amendment to “reduce — no, castrate” her government salary to $1.

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House passes spending bill as Greene threatens to oust Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nicole Berner becomes first LGBTQ judge on 4th Circuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House passes TikTok ban, forces divestiture by Chinese parent firm

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

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parallels to Grindr case

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House Democrat’s office quotes anti-LGBTQ advocacy group

The office of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez quoted remarks from National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a group with a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (Left) meeting with her constituents, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

WASHINGTON — A press release issued on March 7 by the office of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) included quoted remarks from the CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a group with a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy that was previously named Morality in Media.

Aides to the congresswoman did not immediately return a request for comment on how the move appears to conflict with her history of supporting the LGBTQ community and reputation as one of its most loyal allies in Congress.

The release concerns a bipartisan, bicameral bill that was introduced by Ocasio-Cortez to fight the proliferation of non-consensual, sexually explicit “deepfake” media — created by “software, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or any other computer-generated or technological means” — by establishing a federal civil right of action for victims.

Remarks by NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins that were included in the announcement from Ocasio-Cortez’s office are inoffensive and germane to the legislation. For instance, she said “it is past time that our laws catch up and hold the perpetrators of this abuse accountable,” calling the measure “a critical step forward” in securing “justice for survivors through civil remedies.”

Primarily focused on opposing pornography, NCOSE has sought to distance itself from the avowed anti-LGBTQ positions that were held by the organization and its leadership in the past, but there is ample reason to doubt the narrative that the group underwent an ideological evolution.

Hawkins authored a statement on behalf of her organization in December 2023 that promised to fight against the sexual exploitation of LGBTQ victims and expressed “deep regret that there were moments in our organization’s history prior to our leadership change in 2011, when remarks were made that were indeed anti-LGBTQ+.”

The statement also noted that “our former namesake, Morality in Media (MIM), was associated with actions that starkly contrast with our current values,” including possible advocacy against Disney’s extension of benefits to employees’ same-sex partners and a press statement “arguing that homosexuality is connected to crime.”

Casting doubt on the sincerity of these statements, along with Hawkins’ proclamation that “we do not tolerate statements and actions by current employees that spread harmful misinformation and hate towards any particular group or individual,” are the following facts:

  • NCOSE’s current general counsel Benjamin Bull, previously served as chief counsel of the far-right legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
  • During an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Bull praised a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of India that re-criminalized LGBTQ sex.
  • Amherst College professor Hadley Arkes, a conservative political scientist with longstanding ties to NCOSE — he was listed as a board member on the group’s 2022 990 form — supports the discredited practice of conversion therapy, which is banned in 20 U.S. states. When delivering public remarks in 2021, he said, “We’ve had many people who, with therapy and conversion, just have come out away from that life.”
  • Arkes also opposes same-sex marriage. During the same event in 2021, he compared the decision by gay and lesbian couples to wed with the choice to shoot heroin. Close to the end of his two-hour lecture, the professor conceded that, “I think I’ve said enough to offend everybody tonight.”
  • Hawkins organized a conference in South Africa in 2022 whose keynote address was delivered by Errol Naidoo, an anti-LGBTQ minister who has blamed abortion and the “homosexual agenda” for”a culture of death” in his country and was quoted in a Nigerian newspaper as saying “I hate gays. It runs against God’s wishes.”
  • Also delivering a presentation during the conference was Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International. The SPLC lists the organization as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, noting that Slater has claimed LGBTQ people are more prone to disease, more promiscuous, and likelier to engage in pedophilia.
  • Slater has also defended the criminalization of LGBTQ conduct by African countries like Uganda and forged close relationships with proponents of these policies like Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, who supported the law passed last year that imposes prison sentences for homosexuality (and the death penalty, in certain cases).

Along with the bill introduced last week by Ocasio Cortez, the DEFIANCE Act, NCOSE is a major supporter of the Kids Online Safety Act — another bipartisan legislative effort to combat the sexual exploitation of minors along with other harms facilitated by Big Tech and social media companies.

Earlier iterations of KOSA drew opposition from LGBTQ and civil rights groups over concerns that, for instance, the law might suppress affirming or pro-LGBTQ online content or prevent queer youth from accessing online communities.

On Feb. 15, however, a coalition of seven national LGBTQ organizations wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who introduced KOSA along with Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), informing him that they would no longer oppose the bill.

Signed by GLAAD, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG National, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and The Trevor Project, the letter thanked Blumenthal for “hearing our concerns” and “updating the legislation to address potential adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ youth.”

For years, Congress has sought to pass legislation to curb the power of market-dominant tech platform companies and hold these firms accountable for harms they have facilitated. More recently, many lawmakers have agreed on the need for a bipartisan federal privacy law and regulations targeting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence — but so far have failed to pass any.

Support among Republicans and Democrats for bills like KOSA and the DEFIANCE Act were bolstered by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the end of January, where the senators grilled the CEOs of TikTok, Discord, Snap Inc. (Snapchat), X (formerly Twitter), and Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram).

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled U.S. House is preparing to vote on a bill that would force the divestiture of TikTok by its Chinese parent company ByteDance or ban the popular video sharing platform in the U.S.

While the measure would have to overcome opposition from Senate Democrats to pass, bipartisan support comes because of the national security risks presented by TikTok along with concerns about the harms suffered by American users — even though the evidence for some of these claims is scant, unclear, or disputed.

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Santos to run for Congress again

Santos’s announcement came in a post on X, which began by criticizing the president’s State of the Union speech

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Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

QUEENS, N.Y. – Former U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York, who was the first out LGBTQ Republican elected to Congress and one of only three members who was expelled by their colleagues for reasons other than supporting the Confederacy’s rebellion, has announced a bid to return to Congress.

As a former member, he retains lifetime access to the U.S. House chamber, and therefore was able to declare his run for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday night.

Santos’s announcement came in a post on X, which began by criticizing the president’s speech. “I just witnessed a weak, frail president deliver spin and lies to the American people,” he wrote, and decided to run again “after a lot of prayer and conversation with my friends and family.”

The former congressman then traded barbs in posts on X with LaLota, who had called for Santos’s expulsion from the time it was first revealed that he had fabricated much of his personal and professional history.

After Santos was handed a 23-count federal indictment for fraud in October, LaLota joined the renewed effort to oust him, which on Dec. 1 led to a 311-114 vote for expulsion. His criminal trial in Long Island is scheduled to begin in September. He has pleaded not guilty.

Santos and LaLota will face off in the Republican primary election for New York’s First Congressional District on June 25.

“To raise the standard in Congress, and to hold a pathological liar who stole an election accountable, I led the charge to expel George Santos,” LaLota wrote in a post on X. “If finishing the job requires beating him in a primary, count me in.”

Santos’s former district, New York’s 3rd, which covers the North Shore of Long Island, stretching across northern Nassau County and into parts of Queens, is competitive.

Following the expulsion vote, a special election was held on Feb. 13, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi reclaimed the seat that he held from 2002 to 2009 before losing to Republican Ed Mangano — who, incidentally, was convicted of bribery and fraud in 2019 and is now serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Likewise, LaLota’s district, New York’s 1st, which is located in eastern Long Island, has been a swing district since 2010. NPR notes that “Santos’ lingering presence in New York politics might be a reminder to voters that he won office with strong backing from many of the state’s most influential GOP officials.”

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Senate pulls funding for Philadelphia LGBTQ community center

$1 million earmark for the William Way LGBTQ Community Center stripped, had been targeted by the anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok

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

WASHINGTON — In remarks at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said he was “horrified” to learn his office had issued a letter on Tuesday that stripped a $1 million earmark for the William Way LGBTQ Community Center in Philadelphia, which had been targeted by the anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok.

The move came just before the chamber is set to vote on the appropriations package on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, at the 11th hour my staff was made aware that funding for William Way, which was in the bill because I championed it, would not pass in the FY24 appropriations process,” he said in a follow-up statement from his office. “The choice was either to pull it or watch it get stripped out, attacked by Republicans, and ultimately killed.”

Fetterman had secured funding for the community center after House Republicans struck it — along with earmarks for two other LGBTQ centers — from an appropriations bill, in what the Pennsylvania senator called “misguided and bigoted culture war efforts.”

While he told Business Insider that he intended to withdraw the letter, the news outlet notes the final earmark requests had already been entered into the congressional record, and Pennsylvania’s senior Democratic U.S. senator, Bob Casey, had also withdrawn his support for William Way.

In a post on X Tuesday, Libs of TikTok wrote that the Senate funding bill “includes $1M of your tax dollars to go towards renovating an LGBTQ Center in PA which boasts rooms to try BDSM and sex fetishes and hosts BDSM and sex kink parties.”

Casey’s office told Business Insider that while he will “continue to support the LGBTQ community” in Pennsylvania and “believes that consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want in their free time,” ultimately “Senator Casey withdrew his request for federal funding when new information about the third-party use of the facility emerged.”

In a statement to the Washington Blade, William Way Center Executive Director Chris Bartlett said those allegations were “lies and distortions:”

“The William Way LGBT Community Center was disappointed to learn that support for federal Congressionally Directed Spending to renovate and expand our historic headquarters on 1315 Spruce St. in Philadelphia was withdrawn as a result of lies and distortions about our Center shared by political extremists.

These extremists falsely stated that sexual behavior is allowed in rental programs of the Center, which is inaccurate and against our Center’s code of conduct. 

The Center will continue to be a safe haven for a broad range of hundreds of community groups who rent from us, including those that provide a space for sexual health promotion, community building and education. 

The William Way LGBT Community Center stands firmly against discrimination and will work with our elected officials to ensure that support for our Center, and other LGBTQ institutions across the nation, is restored.”

Denise Spivak, CEO of CenterLink, a member-based organization of more than 375 LGBTQ community centers around the world, also shared a statement with the Blade:

“The William Way LGBT Community Center, like LGBTQ centers across the country, provides a wide variety of services, resources, and space to the greater Philadelphia LGBTQ community,” she said.

“It is deeply concerning that support for crucial funds is being withdrawn due to misinformation from extremists and this response sets an unfortunate and dangerous precedent.

We urge lawmakers to fully understand the immense value and vital, often lifesaving, services that LGBTQ centers provide for their communities as they weigh support for funding.” 

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Arizona’s Sinema to leave the Senate

Sinema was instrumental in shoring up support in the chamber for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in 2022

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U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) announced on Tuesday that she will not run for re-election, thereby setting up a two-way race for the seat between U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Republican former television news anchor Kari Lake, who is a close ally of former President Donald Trump.

The first bisexual woman to serve in the U.S. Senate — and the second LGBTQ woman, after U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — Sinema was instrumental in shoring up support in the chamber for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in 2022, which protects the rights of married same-sex and interracial couples.

Sinema mentioned the legislative achievement in a video posted on X announcing her plans to leave the Senate.

Registering as an Independent in December 2022 after years of serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate as a Democrat, Sinema developed a reputation for imperiling some of her former party’s more ambitious policy goals.

For example, she was criticized for refusing to support abolishing the Senate filibuster and for objecting to a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that would have narrowed the carried interest tax loophole, which benefits investment managers at private equity funds.

In her video, the senator detailed her objections to what she considers the polarization of partisan politics that has come to dominate Washington.

“I want to thank @SenatorSinema for her nearly two decades of service to our state,” Gallego wrote in a post on X.

“As a journalist, I covered Kyrsten Sinema for many years,” Lake wrote in a post on X. “We may not agree on everything, but I know she shares my love for Arizona.”

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Partisan fights imperil efforts to undo harm of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The Pentagon has endeavored to address the problem, but advocates say the agency has been too slow to act to address the issue

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U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Despite bipartisan agreement over the need to bring justice to U.S. service members who were harmed by discriminatory military policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” competing legislative efforts have divided members of Congress and sparked accusations that both Democrats and Republicans are “playing politics” with the issue.

Following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, thousands of veterans who were discharged other than honorably over their sexual orientation continue to face barriers finding housing and employment, with many unable to access federal benefits that otherwise would be available to them.

The Pentagon has endeavored to address the problem, but advocates say the agency has been too slow to act while service members, rather than the Department, bear the considerable burden of requesting reviews of their papers – a process so complicated that many have had to seek legal counsel for help navigating the bureaucratic red tape.

Gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, has long worked to address the challenges faced by veterans who are in this position with his Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which he first introduced in 2013 and re-introduced several times over the years, most recently in 2023.

Among the subsequent iterations were the bicameral version introduced in 2019 by Pocan and U.S. Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) along with U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and another that was introduced in the Senate last year by Schatz, which was backed by Republican U.S. Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Susan Collins (Maine).

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2024 was passed in the Senate with provisions taken from the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, including directions for the Pentagon to establish a “Tiger Team” to “build awareness among veterans of the process established [by the NDAA in FY 2020] for the review of discharge characterizations by appropriate discharge boards.”

Pocan, along with caucus co-chairs U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), wrote to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last month to request information to facilitate implementation of the department’s decision to (1) review records for service members who were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (2) forward cases to their respective secretaries to consider correction through the service boards, and (3) reach out to veterans to make sure they are kept up to speed throughout the process.

Last week, however, another bill targeting the same issue, the Recover Pride in Service Act, was announced by Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.) in conjunction with Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative LGBT group.

A spokesperson for the congresswoman told the Washington Blade in a statement, “There’s a significant difference between the two bills. The Recover Pride in Service Act requires the Department of Defense to automatically upgrade all discharges that were solely based on sexual orientation within five years.”

The spokesperson continued, “This key provision would ensure veterans adversely impacted by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t have to endure an arduous and costly application process and can get their status updated without having to lift a finger. I would also note that just 10 percent of LGBTQ+ veterans have had their discharges upgraded, and that’s because of the application process. Only requiring an outreach group isn’t enough.”

The Recover Pride in Service Act would also, per the press release announcement, establish an “Outreach Unit” to contact service members who were discharged for their sexual orientation along with other reasons specified in their papers. The bill promises to simplify administrative requirements and includes a provision stipulating that “a lack of documentation cannot be used as a basis for denying a review, and the responsibility of finding and producing relevant documentation lies with the DOD, not the service member.”

“If Republicans truly cared about helping veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ they would have signed on to the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which has been around for a decade and has support among the broader LGBTQI+ community,” Pocan told the Blade in a statement.

“Instead, they introduced a bill that plays partisan politics with the issue rather than advance it,” he said. “If we really want to do something to help veterans, there is a decade-long effort to get that done. Posing for pictures with a duplicative effort doesn’t get us closer to the goal.”

Log Cabin Republicans Senior Advisor Alex Walton told the Blade by phone last week that “discussions about the Restore Honor to Service Members Act all happened close to eight to nine months ago before we kind of shifted focus when we realized that they weren’t going to cooperate and work with us.”

Walton said that while there was significant interest in joining Pocan’s bill among House Republicans, “they were only going to do it assuming that Democrats were going to match the number of Republicans that co-sponsored the legislation, so you didn’t have 150 Democrats and, you know, 12 Republicans.” A source familiar with the discussions said Pocan was never asked to limit the number of Democratic cosponsors.

Additionally, Walton said, the House Republicans “also wanted a Republican lead,” but Pocan “was unwilling to let that happen.”

Months later, Walton said Pocan and House Democrats remained uncooperative in discussions over the Recover Pride in Service Act, the bill that was ultimately introduced by Chavez-DeRemer.

Meanwhile, he said, “We spoke to over 90 Republican offices, both in the House and the Senate, and we had a lot of conversations about this issue in general. And one of the things that we kept hearing from Republican offices is if a piece of legislation like this is going to pass, you’re gonna have to cut bureaucratic extras that are included in the Pocan version of the bill, and you’re just gonna have to get directly to the problem. And that’s what the legislation does by requiring the DOD to proactively upgrade these discharges.”

With Republicans holding the majority in the House, Walton said, Log Cabin and Republican members wanted a Republican lead sponsor on the bill in the lower chamber, while discussions were held with Senate Democrats with the expectation that a Democrat would be lead sponsor of the Senate version of the Recover Pride in Service Act.

Walton added that Pocan was offered the opportunity to be the lead Democratic member in the House — a claim that is disputed by the source familiar with the talks, who said the Wisconsin congressman was not consulted as the Recover Pride in Service Act was being drafted.

Pocan told the Blade, in a separate statement, that “I’ve had the Restore Honor to Service Members Act available for co-sponsorship for 12 years. Unfortunately, only a few Republicans have been interested in signing on. I welcome additional support. The best way to help our wrongly discharged veterans is to work in a bipartisan fashion with the members who’ve been working on this for a decade.”

He added, “I’ve been focused on getting justice for veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for years, which is why part of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act became law several years ago” with the NDAA. “Losing the majority doesn’t mean I should surrender the rest of my bill —that’s not how Congress works. But I do welcome any support from Republicans who haven’t drunk the anti-equality Kool-Aid.”

Walton said that by refusing to work with Republicans in good faith, “Pocan put himself over all of these veterans,” adding, “I’m not disregarding everything Pocan has done for gays and lesbians in Congress. But the reality is that he put himself and his own pride in this legislation over actually getting stuff done.”

Walton stressed the broad ideological base of support for Chavez-DeRemer’s bill among House Republicans, 13 of whom have signed on as co-sponsors. Along with more moderate members, “we have extremely conservative Republicans on this legislation,” he said.

Those co-sponsoring members are GOP Reps. Kat Cammack (Fla.), Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), Derrick Van Orden (Wis.), Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Ken Calvert (Calif.), John Duarte (Calif.), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Mike Turner (Ohio), Max Miller (Ohio), and Mike Carey (Ohio).

Several of these House Republicans have voted for anti-LGBTQ military policies, such as prohibitions on Pride month celebrations at U.S. military bases and provisions allowing employees at the Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to discriminate against LGBTQ service members if they oppose, for instance, same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

House must pass spending bills by Friday


Meanwhile, House Republicans have held up passage of critical spending bills by insisting on conservative policy mandates that stand no chance of passing in the Senate with Democrats in the majority, nor of being signed into law by President Joe Biden.

If they are not able to reach an agreement by Friday, funding will lapse for military construction, agriculture, transportation, and housing programs. A full government shutdown would be triggered if spending packages are not passed by March 8.

The Equality Caucus, in a post on X Monday, said, “Just a reminder as we barrel towards a gov’t shutdown this week: House Republicans’ partisan funding bills include more than 45 provisions attacking the LGBTQI+ community.”

They added, “The House GOP needs to stop playing games with queer people’s rights & agree to bipartisan funding bills.”

Historically, appropriations packages have been cleared by both chambers with wide bipartisan margins.

During a conference call on Friday, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) told GOP members they were unlikely to see many of their policy priorities included in the spending bills. He met with Biden at the White House on Tuesday, alongside other congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to continue negotiations ahead of Friday’s deadline.

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