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Jill and Ashley Biden headline White House Pride celebration

First lady celebrated historic pardons of LGBTQ veterans

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First lady Jill Biden speaks at the White House Pride event on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden and the president and first lady’s daughter, Ashley Biden, headlined the White House Pride celebration on the South Lawn on Wednesday, followed by a performance by singer and actress Deborah Cox.

“My dad has built the most pro-equality administration” in history, Ashley Biden said, crediting the work of LGBTQ people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, as well as “so many of you [who] have continued to lead their fearless fighting against against injustice here and around the world.”

She introduced her mother as “the woman who taught me to be myself up showed me in so many ways how I can make a difference” and who “works every single day, tirelessly, to ensure that all people have the opportunities and freedoms that they deserve.”

“I hope that all of you feel that freedom and love on the South Lawn today,” Jill Biden said.

Her remarks were briefly interrupted by a protestor’s chants of “no Pride in genocide,” which was drowned out by chants of “four more years.”

The first lady noted how many of the attendees came “here from states that are passing laws targeting LGBTQ Americans.”

“There are those who see our communities and our families and wish to tear them down,” she said, “those who can’t see that the world is so much bigger and [more] beautiful than they know — but when our homes are threatened, when they strip away our rights, and deny our basic humanity, we say, ‘not on our watch.'”

“Pride is a celebration, but it is also a declaration,” the first lady said, highlighting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges nine years ago, which established marriage equality as the law of the land.

She then credited the accomplishments of the Biden-Harris administration on matters of LGBTQ rights, including the repeal of the previous administration’s ban on military service by transgender servicemembers and the FDA’s loosening of restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The first lady also celebrated the president’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that he will pardon LGBTQ veterans who were discharged and court martialed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We will never stop fighting for this community,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden and daughter, Ashley Biden, attend the White House Pride celebration on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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HRC slams White House over position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors

‘Biden administration is flat wrong on this’

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson issued a strong rebuke on Tuesday of the Biden-Harris administration’s position opposing gender affirming surgeries for minors.

The New York Times reported on June 28 that the White House, which broadly supports making medical interventions available for transgender youth, had expressed opposition to surgeries for patients under 18, having previously declined to take a specific position on the question.

“Health care decisions for young people belong between a patient, their family, and their health care provider. Trans youth are no exception,” Robinson responded. 

“The Biden administration is flat wrong on this. It’s wrong on the science and wrong on the substance. It’s also inconsistent with other steps the administration has taken to support transgender youth. The Biden administration, and every elected official, need to leave these decisions to families, doctors and patients—where they belong,” she added. “Although transgender young people make up an extremely small percentage of youth in this country, the care they receive is based on decades of clinical research and is backed by every major medical association in the U.S. representing over 1.3 million doctors.”

Robinson said the “administration has committed to fight any ban on healthcare for transgender youth and must continue this without hesitation—the entire community is watching.” 

“No parent should ever be put in the position where they and their doctor agree on one course of action, supported by the overwhelming majority of medical experts, but the government forbids it,” she added.

HRC is a prominent backer of Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign, having pledged $15 million to support efforts in six battleground states. The organization has a strong relationship with the White House, with the president and first lady headlining last year’s National Dinner.

A White House spokesperson declined to respond to Robinson’s statement.

Campaign for Southern Equality President Allison Scott also issued a statement.

“This is a cowardly statement from an administration that promised to support transgender people. It is a troubling concession to the right-wing assault on transgender Americans, falling for their false narratives about surgical care and betraying a commitment to equality and trust in the medical community,” said Scott.

“Let’s be very, very clear: Government has no business inserting itself into private medical decisions that should be exclusively between patients, their providers, and the patients’ parent or guardian,” Scott added.

“It is dangerous to begin endorsing categorical bans or limits on healthcare, and there is no justification for restricting transgender youth’s access to the very same care that many cisgender youth receive every year — that’s literally the definition of discrimination,” Scott concluded. “We demand the Biden administration retract this thoughtless statement and work to undo its damage.” 

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HISTORIC: Biden pardons discharged LGBTQ veterans

Announcement coincided with annual White House Pride event

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President Joe Biden (Screen capture/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued historic pardons for military service members who were discharged over their sexual orientation or gender identity under discriminatory policies of the past, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Our nation’s service members stand on the frontlines of freedom, and risk their lives in order to defend our country,” he said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades,” the president said.

“As commander-in-chief, I am committed to maintaining the finest fighting force in the world. That means making sure that every member of our military is safe and respected — so they can focus on their mission,” he said.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said. “We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members — including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home.”

“Today we are making progress in that pursuit.”

The president also issued a Proclamation on Granting Pardon for Certain Violations of Article 125 Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which specifies that “the Military Departments (Army, Navy, or Air Force), or in the case of the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, shall provide information about and publicize application procedures for certificates of pardon.”

Veterans who were discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity are barred from accessing benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senior administration officials explained during a call with reporters on Tuesday that veterans who obtain certificates of pardon will be able to petition for a change in their discharge status, which can facilitate their access to benefits.

Officials on Tuesday’s call said they will proactively reach out to these service members to make them aware of the president’s clemency action and to connect them with pro-bono attorneys who can help them navigate the process.

“We intend, and have intended, to design this process in a way where people do not need attorneys to go through it, and we think it is easily accessible, but we also recognize that for some people, that would be beneficial, and so are busy at work trying to make those connections happen,” an official said.

The officials did not address a question from the Washington Blade about whether LGBTQ groups including those representing LGBTQ veterans were involved in the administration’s work leading up to the president’s issuance of the pardons, but several organizations celebrated the announcement on Wednesday.

“We applaud President Biden for taking action today, and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address this historic injustice that impacted thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the military for decades, with the effects still felt by many to this day,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.

“This move to rightfully restore reputations lost and gratitude owed to service members who were punished for who they loved is long overdue, and a significant step in the right direction,” she said.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on social media, “Today’s move by President Biden to pardon LGBTQ service members who were unfairly forced out of the military under the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is his administration’s 343rd pro-LGBTQ action. It is an important signal not only to the thousands of brave LGBTQ Americans who deserved better for defending our country but to all who understand that diversity, respect, and inclusion are American values.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus released a statement from the chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.): “I thank President Biden for taking this important step to right the wrongs of the past and restore honor to LGBTQI+ Americans who bravely served their nation in uniform.” 

“This is an important step forward in addressing the wrongs of anti-equality policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I urge the Military Departments to ensure these pardons are processed as swiftly as possible,” the congressman said. “I am committed to building upon this important action, including by passing my Restore Honor to Service Members Act into law to ensure that the service and sacrifice of every veteran is honored, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

“PFLAG families have advocated for the dignity and respect due our LGBTQ+ heroes in uniform since the dark days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the shadow discharges that predated that discriminatory policy,” said PFLAG National CEO Brian K. Bond.

“As someone who worked on repeal during the Obama-Biden administration I met incredible patriots that just wanted to serve their country,” he said. “Thank you to the Biden-Harris administration and those who continue to fight for military families’ freedom to serve. This welcomed day is long overdue for thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans and their families.”

Lawyers for a group of LGBTQ veterans who are plaintiffs in Farrell v. Department of Defense also released a statement:

“We applaud President Biden and his administration for today’s announcement pardoning approximately 2,000 LGBTQ+ veterans who were court-martialed under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and similar policies. This is a necessary and important step in recognizing and remediating the harms — that still exist today — caused by these policies, despite their repeals.

“While the pardons represent an important milestone, we must emphasize that there is still critical work to be done. Those pardoned will still need to obtain new discharge papers from the Department of Defense, which are essential for accurately reflecting their service and accessing veterans’ benefits. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of other veterans who continue to suffer the ongoing stigma of their discriminatory discharge. 

“We will continue to vigorously litigate our case, Farrell v. Department of Defense, to ensure that all LGBTQ+ veterans who were wrongfully discharged from the military based on sexual orientation receive upgraded discharge papers with all indicators of sexual orientation removed. This remains a critical step for these veterans to receive the honor and status they rightfully deserve, having served our country with dignity and integrity.”

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Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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White House reaffirms commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ rights

Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaking to reporters on June 17, 2024 from the White House James Brady press briefing room. (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Christopher Kane)


WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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White House AIDS czar talks to the Blade after Pride blood drive

The Biden-Harris administration is steadfast and committed to advancing the science, and the change in the FDA guidelines

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. (Official White House photograph)

WASHINGTON – Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, spoke to the Washington Blade by phone following the first-ever LGBTQ-inclusive Pride Month blood drive hosted on Tuesday by the White House Office of Public Engagement in partnership with the American Red Cross.

“The Biden-Harris administration is really steadfast and committed to advancing the science, and the change in the FDA guidelines is a testament to that,” Ruiz said during the event, referring to the agency’s easing of restrictions last year on blood donation by men who have sex with men.

The policy change is “something that, particularly, the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting for, as well as our allies,” he told the Blade. “I think there’s something to be said about saying, ‘Hey, you matter, and you are a contributor to the health and well being of our country” at a time of escalating legislative and rhetorical attacks against the LGBTQ community alongside a rise in bias-motivated acts of violence.

Ruiz added that Tuesday’s event carried powerful symbolic weight. Within 24 hours, all available slots for volunteer donors were filled, and the blood drive took place in the “beautiful, grand” Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, during Pride Month, with rainbow flags flying and LGBTQ people joining Red Cross staff.

The ONAP director, who just stepped into the role in April, described the coordinated effort to get the word out about the FDA’s new blood donation policy, noting “the policy is only as good as folks knowing about it.”

Public education and awareness campaigns are so important, Ruiz said, “so that we can address some of the blood supply issues — making sure that we have an uptake, an increase, of our community members giving and donating blood.”

“There’s been a lot of effort to make sure that we speak to community,” he said. “FDA has put out a series of communications via their channels, as well as their websites, and then they’ve also been leaning into some of our partners who do this great work, like the American Red Cross.”

Ruiz added, “I know a lot of our LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD and HRC have been also communicating out,” and “I know that the White House shares some communication also with our partners via the Office of Public Engagement.”

Wins like last year’s issuance of the new guidelines should be celebrated, he said, because there are so many other cases in which moves like these — which are supported by the science and focused on inclusion — do not make it over the finish line.

To this end, Ruiz noted, the American Red Cross and other partners are organizing blood drives for Pride events in cities including Los Angeles and Washington.

“The beauty of Pride events around the country is not only to celebrate and live in the joy of who we are and our humanity, but also to be able to give back to our community,” he said. “And so I think having things like this, like blood drives, having HIV testing events as well, having PrEP conversations, PrEP navigators at these events — I think, you know, we need to bring the joy and the excitement, but also talk about how we take care of ourselves, and how can we give back to our community.”

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President Biden honors Pride Month 2024

White House debuted LGBTQ+ Community Safety Partnership resources addressing ‘physical security, online safety, targeted violence prevention’

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The White House (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden honored Pride Month with a proclamation on Friday calling out “dangerous and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ laws” while the Biden-Harris administration also debuted new resources via the White House LGBTQ+ Community Safety Partnership.

“Advancing equality for the LGBTQI+ community is a top priority for my Administration,” the president said, citing his signage of the Respect for Marriage Act, repeal of the anti-trans military ban, and issuance of “historic Executive Orders strengthening civil rights protections for housing, employment, health care, education, and the justice system.”

Biden also noted his administration’s work combatting conversion therapy, the HIV epidemic, and “the disgraceful practice of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice launched a safety partnership to provide critical training and support to the community, including resources to help report hate crimes and better protect festivals, marches, community centers, businesses, and health care providers serving the community,” the president said.

His proclamation came on the heels of a new guide containing key federal resources, which a White House official said will cover “a number of key areas, including physical security, online safety, and targeted violence prevention.”

For example:

  1. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a training, tools, and best practices to inform risk mitigation efforts, as well as resources to improve physical securityprotect infrastructure during public demonstrations, and securely plan mass gatherings or other special events.
  2. CISA offers a catalog of cybersecurity resources for high-risk communities, such the LGBTQI+ Community.  This catalog not only offers customized tools your organizations can use to assess and mitigate cyber risks but provides organizations with access to rapid emergency response and cybersecurity advice free-of-charge.
  3. The FBI has a step-by-step guide for individuals receiving written, visual, verbal, or physical threats. This guide overviews what to do, and not to do, when you or someone you know is a victim of a perceived hate crime.

The official said representatives from the safety partnership, which the White House introduced last year during Pride Month, led a call on Friday with LGBTQ+ stakeholders to review the new materials and address questions.

Earlier this month, DHS and the FBI released a public service announcement to raise awareness about the potential targeting of LGBTQ events while the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team released a First Responder’s Toolbox containing guidelines designed to “drive community-based relationships through collaborative and inclusive practices.”

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US sanctions Uganda parliament speaker

Anita Among slams ‘politically motivated’ decision

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Uganda Parliament Speaker Anita Among (Screen capture via UBC Television Uganda YouTube)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday announced sanctions Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among and other officials for “significant corruption or gross violations of human rights.”

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller in a press release notes Among “is designated due to involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership of Uganda’s Parliament.” The press release further indicates the U.S. has sanctioned former Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu, former Karamoja State Affairs Minister Agnes Nandutu, and former State Finance Minister Amos Lugolobi “due to their involvement in significant corruption related to conduct that misused public resources and diverted materials from Uganda’s neediest communities.”  

“All four officials abused their public positions for their personal benefit at the expense of Ugandans,” said Miller.

The press release also notes the U.S. has sanctioned Peter Elwelu, the former deputy chief of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces, because of “his involvement in gross violations of human rights” that include extrajudicial killings.

“As a result of these actions, the designated Ugandan officials are generally ineligible for entry into the United States,” said Miller.

Miller said the State Department is “also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan officials for undermining the democratic process and repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations in Uganda.” 

“These individuals are responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of Ugandan members of political opposition groups, civil society organizers, and vulnerable communities in Uganda,” he said.

Wednesday marked a year since Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. has previously sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed April’s Constitutional Court ruling that refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”

The State Department press release does not specifically mention the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and the Washington Blade has reached out for additional comment. The press release does, however, say the U.S. “stands with Ugandans advocating for democratic principles, a government that delivers for all its citizens, and accountability for actions committed by those who abuse their position through corruption and gross violations of human rights.” 

“Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes unequal distribution of resources, which can affect underrepresented and underserved populations disproportionally,” reads the press release. “Today’s actions reaffirm the U.S. commitment to support transparency in Uganda’s democratic processes, counter corruption globally, and address the broader culture of impunity that prevents all Ugandans from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The British government in April sanctioned Among, Kitutu, and Nandutu.

Ugandan media reports note Among has described the sanctions as “politically motivated” because she supports the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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Biden delivers Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery

In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington National Cemetery

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President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Screenshot/YouTube White House Livestream)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Under grey clouds and occasional rainfall, President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the wreath laying the President, introduced by Secretary Austin delivered his Memorial Day address in the amphitheater. In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington. He then said: “Everyone has lost and loved someone in the service of our country.”

“I know how hard it can be. It can reopen that black wound in your chest. … I know.  … This week marks nine years since I lost my son Beau.”

He noted his loss wasn’t the same those who lost someone in combat as Beau died of cancer. He repeated his belief the cancer was from burn pits in Iraq. 

WATCH:

Full text of President Biden’s address:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
AT THE 156TH NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
One hundred and sixty years ago this month, in the midst of the Civil War, the first American soldier was laid to rest at these hallowed grounds.  Private William Christman, a farmworker from Pennsylvania, had enlisted just seven weeks before.  There was no formal ceremony to consecrate this new sanctuary, no fanfare.  

It came at a turning point in the war.  As fighting shifted east, the casualties quickly mounted in the bloody, grinding campaign.

Over the next year, William would be joined in death, as he was in life, by his brother-in-arms in this final resting place.  And these hills around us would be transformed from a former slave plantation into a national strine — shine for those American heroes who died for freedom, who died for us.

My fellow Americans, Jill, Vice President Harris, the Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Austin, General Brown; most importantly, the veterans and service members, families, and survivors — we gather at this sacred place at this solemn moment to remember, to honor — honor the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who’ve given their lives for this nation.  

Each one, literally, a chain in the link — a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days.  Each one bound by common commitment — not to a place, not to a person, not to a President, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America.   

Today, we bear witness to the price they paid.  Every white stone across these hills, in every military cemetery and churchyard across America: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a neighbor — an American.

To everyone who has lost and loved someone in the service of our country, to everyone with a loved one still missing or unaccounted for, I know how hard it can be.  It can reopen that black hole in the middle of your chest, bringing you back to the exact moment you got that phone call, heard that knock on the door, or held the hand when the last breath was taken.  I know it hurts.  The hurt is still real, still raw.

This week marks nine years since I lost my son, Beau.  Our losses are not the same.  He didn’t perish on the battlefield.  He was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the Army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit — a major in the U.S.  National — Army National Guard, living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit.  

And as it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you — still sharp, still clear.  But so is the pride I feel in his service, as if I can still hear him saying, “It’s my duty, Dad.  It’s my duty.”  

Duty.  That was the code of — my son lived by and the creed all of you live by, the creed that generations of service members have followed into battle.  

On the grounds around us lie fallen heroes from every major conflict in history to defend our independence, to preserve our Union, to defeat fascism; built powerful alliances, forged in fires of two world wars.  

Members of the Greatest Generation, who 80 years ago next week, took to the beaches of Normandy and liberated a continent and literally saved the world.  

Others who stood against communism in Korea and Vietnam.  

And not far from here, in Section 60, lie over a thousand — a thousand — 7,054 women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, who signed up to defeat terrorists, protect our homeland after 9/11.   

Decade after decade, tour after tour, these warriors fought for our freedom and the freedom of others, because freedom has never been guaranteed.  Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many.  It matters.  

Our democracy is more than just a system of government.  It’s the very soul of America.  It’s how we’ve been able to constantly adapt through the centuries.  It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge stronger than we went in.  And it’s how we come together as one nation united.  

And just as our fallen heroes have kept the ultimate faith with our country and our democracy, we must keep faith with them.

I’ve long said we have many obligations as a nation.  But we only have one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into battle and to pr- — take care of them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.  

Since I took office, I’ve signed over 30 bipartisan laws supporting servicemen, veterans and their families and caregivers, and survivors.  

Last year, the VA delivered more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history.  And the PACT Act, which I was proud to have signed, has already guaranteed one million claims helping veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service — one million.  

For too long, after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right healthcare, to get the benefits they had earned.  Not anymore.  

Our nation came together to ensure the burden is no longer on them to prove their illness was service-related, whether it was Agent Orange or toxic waste, to ensure they protected them — they just have to protect the United States — because it’s assumed that their death was a consequence of the exposure. 

On this day, we came together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future they fought for — a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity, and equality.  Not just for some, but for all.

America is the only country in the world founded on an idea — an idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.  

We’ve never fully lived up to that, but we’ve never, ever, ever walked away from it.  Every generation, our fallen heroes have brought us closer.   

Today, we’re not just fortunate heirs of their legacy.  We have a responsibility to be the keepers of their mission.  That — that truest memorial of their lives: the actions we take every day to ensure that our democracy endures, the very idea of America endures.

Ladies and gentlemen, 160 years ago, the first American solider was laid to rest on these hallowed grounds.  There were no big ceremonies, no big speeches, no family mour- — family members to mourn their loss, just the quiet grief of the rolling green hills surrounding them.  

Today, we join that grief with gratitude: gratitude to our fallen heroes, gratitude to the families left behind, and gratitude to the brave souls who continue to uphold the flame of liberty all across our country and around the world.

Because of them, all of them, that we stand here today.  We will never forget that.  We will never, ever, ever stop working for — to make a more perfect Union, which they lived and which they died for.  

That was their promise.  That’s our promise — our promise today to them.  That’s our promise always.  

God bless the fallen.  May God bless their families.  And may God protect our troops.

Thank you.  
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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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