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Advocates seek LGBT inclusion in State of the Union

Joint Session of Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Barack Obama

Advocates are calling on President Obama to mention LGBT workers during his upcoming State of the Union address. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid expectations that President Obama will issue a national call to address income equality in his upcoming State of the Union address, some advocates are asking him to take the opportunity to speak out against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

With no explicit federal language in place protecting LGBT workers from job discrimination, advocates are calling on Obama to incorporate as part of his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

The details of the speech are under wraps, but Obama already hinted earlier this month the address — which will be delivered Tuesday before a joint session of Congress — will seek to mobilize the country to ensure “the economy offers every American who works hard a fair shot at success.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said including the executive order or ENDA in the speech would fit right in with the president’s larger theme.

“The president is going to spend much of his State of the Union talking about economic inequalities and it’s important that he highlight those faced by the LGBT community,” Sainz said. “There are many ways to address these issues including signing a federal contractor non-discrimination executive order and calling on Congress to send ENDA to him for his signature.”

The call for inclusion of the executive order and ENDA in the State of the Union is the same request that LGBT advocates made early in 2013 prior to that year’s speech. Instead, Obama made a veiled reference to gay people when he said the economy should work for Americans “no matter…who you love” and gave himself props for starting the process to secure partner benefits for gay troops.

But the situation has changed this time around. The Senate last year passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis by a 64-32 vote. The only thing stopping ENDA from reaching Obama’s desk is House Republican leadership. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the bill when asked if he’ll allow a vote on it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said including ENDA in the State of the Union would place significant pressure on Boehner to move forward.

“By explicitly calling on Speaker Boehner to allow ENDA to come to a vote, and by explaining the current gaps in employment law to the American people, President Obama can help build political momentum and do important public education to help correct the fact that 80 or 90 percent of Americans mistakenly think ENDA is already law,” Almeida said. “The president’s words would be a catalyst for millions of important conversations around the country.”

Almeida pointed to Obama’s words in his previous State of the Union speech calling for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as “model language” for what he could say about ENDA. Following that speech, the House voted to send  an LGBT-inclusive VAWA reauthorization to Obama’s desk after a version without the protections failed on the House floor.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Obama will include a reference to ENDA or the executive order in the State of the Union address.

If Obama calls for passage of ENDA during the State of the Union, it wouldn’t be the first time that a president has mentioned the legislation during the annual speech. In 1999, then-President Clinton said discrimination based on factors such as sexual orientation “is wrong and it ought to be illegal,” calling on Congress to turn ENDA as well as hate crimes protections into law.

As for the executive order, Obama has recently threatened to take executive action if Congress fails to act on legislation important to his agenda. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he had no updates when asked by the Blade if the use of the pen applies to non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers, but suggested Obama would take the route only for other agenda items.

Still, the lingering issue of LGBT workplace discrimination isn’t the only issue advocates want addressed during the State of the Union.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said ENDA and the executive order are part of a group of agenda items Obama should mention during his speech “to build on his stellar track record in the area of LGBT freedoms and justice.”

“This includes signing an executive order that bans discrimination against LGBT people working for federal contractors and pushing Congress on passing ENDA and fair immigration reform legislation,” Carey said. “We would also like to see him include LGBT people and families as examples in his references to domestic issues that all Americans care about such as jobs, the economy, and health care. And finally, we would like him to use use the word ‘transgender’ and to call for an end to violence against transgender people.”
22
Jan
2014

John Kerry: LGBT rights discussed during Africa trip

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday said LGBT rights are among the issues he discussed during his recent trip to Africa.

“LGBT rights are human rights,” he told the Washington Blade during a Twitter town hall with the Young African Leaders Initiative Network that President Obama launched in 2010.

Kerry did not provide the Blade further details of the conversations he had with African leaders with whom he met in Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

Ethiopia and Angola are among the African countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized. Those found guilty of same-sex sexual relations in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty.

Kerry’s trip to Africa took place against the backdrop of global outrage over a Ugandan law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The U.S. and some European countries have cut aid to Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni in February signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A raid of a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, last month sparked additional criticism and outrage among LGBT rights advocates and Western governments.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The State Department last July urged Cameroonian officials to “thoroughly and promptly investigate” the murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent LGBT rights advocate, and prosecute those who killed him. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has faced repeated criticism from U.S. officials over his anti-LGBT rhetoric and his government’s crackdown on gay advocacy groups.

Kerry in February said the U.S. was “deeply troubled” over the anti-gay rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used during a speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K. The controversy surrounding R&B singer Erykah Badu’s scheduled performance in the West African country on Saturday has brought renewed attention to the Gambian president’s human rights record.

The Ethiopian government has also faced criticism over a proposal that would have added homosexuality to a list of crimes ineligible for presidential pardons.

South Africa has extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians, but anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive.

“Africa’s potential comes from the ability of its citizens to make a full contribution, no matter their ethnicity, no matter who they love, or what faith they practice,” said Kerry during a May 3 speech in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

Kerry noted during the speech that he co-wrote a measure in the U.S. Senate to combat AIDS in Africa during the 1990s that became the foundation for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He said more than 300,000 children are currently receiving antiretroviral drugs — and the number of people with HIV has dropped by a third.

“We are on the cusp of witnessing the first generation of children who will be born of AIDS-free because of what we have learned to do,” he said.

Obama discussed LGBT rights in Africa during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall that took place last June in Dakar, the West African country’s capital.

09
May
2014

PHOTOS: Gay Games day 1

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The Opening Ceremony to the International Gay Games was held at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.

The International Gay Games began on Saturday in Cleveland with several events culminating in the Opening Ceremony.

In the morning, a memorial quilt panel was unfurled as speakers remembered the early days of the Games and those who contributed to its founding. Following remarks and a musical performance, athletes kicked off the games with the Memorial International Rainbow Run.

In the early afternoon, Olympic legend Greg Louganis gave a talk at the City Club with Cleveland Foundation President and CEO Ronn Richard.

Later in the day, athletes from around the world gathered in their teams and marched together in the Opening Ceremony at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Opening Ceremony featured performances by Lance Bass, Alex Newell of “Glee,” Andrea McArdle of “Annie” fame, and the Pointer Sisters. President Barack Obama gave a video address welcoming athletes to the games.

CLICK HERE to see photos from the second day of the Games.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)  

10
Aug
2014

Republicans continue to self-destruct

Ann Coulter, CPAC, gay news, Washington Blade

This week, we will be treated to the annual spectacle of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a place where the most outrageous Republicans are invited to spew their venom to the party faithful. In the past the conference has hosted the likes of irrelevant figures like Donald Trump and Ann Coulter. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There is a certain Schadenfraude when I hear Republicans say things that are sure to quicken the downward spiral of the national Republican Party.

Republicans in places like Arizona who pass legislation designed to allow people to discriminate just keep adding to the view that the Republican Party today is a place that only welcomes those who want to discriminate against the LGBT community, women and other minorities. The few moderates left seem to be losing any control they once had of the platform or direction of the party.

That makes it difficult to convince people in places like Massachusetts to even consider electing a Republican. Take the case of congressional candidate Richard Tisei who is being touted as a moderate gay Republican who can change the party from within. The facts challenge that assumption. When he ran on a ticket for lieutenant governor with Charlie Baker who claimed to be a moderate, he couldn’t even get him to support basic equality for the transgender community. The Blue Mass group said, “If he can’t convince his own running mate in Massachusetts to be less extreme, how in the world will he convince Republicans from conservative states to be less extreme on gay rights or any other issue?”

Another problem with electing someone like Tisei to Congress is that his first vote would be for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as House Speaker — the same speaker who has blocked ENDA since the Senate passed it last year.

This week, we will be treated to the annual spectacle of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a place where the most outrageous Republicans are invited to spew their venom to the party faithful. In the past the conference has hosted the likes of irrelevant figures like Donald Trump and Ann Coulter. This year promises to bring more of the same; the intellectual giant Sarah Palin will be there.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be two of the big draws. I understand they were excited to invite and get an acceptance from Christie before he got entangled in Bridgegate. It will be interesting to see how far right Christie will go to attract the GOP faithful. They forced Mitt Romney far enough right in the last election to ensure a loss to President Obama. Huckabee, on the other hand, already has just the kind of far-right cred they love.

Then CPAC attendees will surely hear from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). This is the same Ryan who ran as Romney’s running mate and managed to gain a reputation as someone who had a few problems telling the truth. He recently spoke about the budget he is preparing for the Republican House, which will question all the programs meant to help those in need, the safety net programs like Medicare, food stamps, Head Start etc. Democrats wait with baited breath to see if his solution is simply to cut these programs or to legitimately improve them.

CPAC attendees will also get to hear from that Joseph McCarthy-like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.). They will also get another chance to hear from right-wing Johns Hopkins retired surgeon turned Fox News commentator Dr. Ben Carson. This is the same Carson forced to withdraw as the Johns Hopkins commencement speaker after he compared gay marriage to bestiality and pedophilia. He attacked the Affordable Care Act as socialism by quoting Lenin: “Lenin thought so. He declared: ‘Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the Socialized State.’” Carson apparently took that quote from a brochure attacking Harry Truman for his attempt to get everyone medical insurance and some have disputed that Lenin ever said it.

Democrats aren’t perfect and there are Blue Dog Democrats whose voting records clearly don’t match the Democratic Party platform. The difference is those Democrats don’t control the party and they vote for a leadership team that is progressive and favors ensuring the human and civil rights of all people.

04
Mar
2014

U.S. to ban Uganda officials for LGBT rights abuses

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. will seek to ban Ugandan officials responsible for LGBT rights abuses from entering the country. (Image public domain)

The Obama administration on Thursday announced it will ban Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses from entering the U.S.

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement the State Department is “taking measures” to prevent Ugandan officials “involved in serious human rights abuses” against LGBT people and others from entering the U.S. The White House will also seek travel bans against Ugandans who are “found responsible for significant public corruption.”

The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored “aviation exercise” in the East African country.

The announcement did not identify the officials who are specifically targeted.

“None of these steps diminishes our commitment to providing development and humanitarian support for the Ugandan people, or our partnership with the Ugandan government to counter the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army and improve security in Africa,” said Hayden. “We will seek to advance these interests even as we continue — in Uganda and around the world — to oppose discriminatory practices and champion human rights for all.”

The announcement comes nearly four months after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The White House subsequently announced it would review its relationship with the East African country.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS ended in February. The U.S. a few weeks later suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the CDC had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Thursday during an interview in D.C. where he is attending a forum with other African human rights advocates that he welcomes the announcement.

“It’s very important,” said Mugisha.

Mugisha told the Blade he feels the announcement sends a “very strong signal” to other African governments and countries that are seeking to enact anti-gay laws similar to Uganda’s. He welcomed the Obama administration’s decision to only target individual Ugandan officials as opposed to the entire country.

“It’s made out of good faith,” said Mugisha. “It doesn’t affect the ordinary Ugandan, but it affects people who are promoting homophobia, people who are promoting violence.”

Other LGBT rights advocates also welcomed the announcement.

“We compliment the administration for its thorough evaluation of U.S. programs in Uganda,” said Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First. “The steps announced today will send a message to the Ugandan government and others that scapegoating or targeting LGBT people is a violation of basic human rights and creates an unstable and dangerous environment.”

LGBT Ugandans and advocacy groups have faced increased pressure from local authorities since Museveni signed the law.

Police in April raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala, the country’s capital, after authorities claimed it recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” An advocate who recently sought asylum in the Netherlands told the Blade the law forced the HIV/AIDS service organization he co-founded to close.

John Abdallah Wambere, a prominent Ugandan LGBT rights advocate, last month applied for asylum in the U.S. because of the additional persecution he said he would face in his homeland because of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice have spoken directly with Museveni over his decision to sign the law.

“From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights,” said Kerry on Thursday during his speech at the Gay and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ annual Pride celebration at the State Department. “We each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.”

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic. Kampala last year received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

20
Jun
2014

Obama acts on equal pay, but not LGBT workplace rights

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President Obama took executive action on equal pay, but hasn’t yet done so on LGBT workplace discrimination. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama unveiled executive actions on Tuesday to reduce the gender pay gap in the workforce as he called on Congress to take further action — causing some LGBT rights supporters to scratch their heads over why he hasn’t taken similar steps to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speaking on Equal Pay Day in the East Room of the White House, Obama talked about the need to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. The president spoke onstage following an introduction from Lily Ledbetter, who became the face of pay inequity after she discovered she received less pay than her male counterparts as a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Alabama.

“So in this year of action I’ve used my executive authority whenever I could to create opportunity for more Americans,” Obama said. ”And today, I’m going to take action — executive action — to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay.”

One action Obama took aimed at creating more transparency was to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other. Additionally, Obama issued a presidential memorandum requiring federal contractors to provide data to the Labor Department about employee compensation.

Asked during the regular news briefing about GOP criticism that Obama took these actions out of political motivation ahead of the congressional mid-term elections, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama went forward with them “because Republicans are blocking passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act,” legislation to address the pay inequity issue.

“If they wanted to take politics out of it, they should do what the president asked them to do today and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Carney said. “Instead, they are for reasons that I have yet to quite understand, but appreciate, have decided to engage in a debate about whether or not this is the right thing to do.”

But the same situation applies to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against LGBT workers that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote last year, but remains stalled in the House. The discrepancy in action has prompted some LGBT advocates to renew their calls on Obama to sign the much sought executive order.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama should immediately follow up on his actions on equal pay with an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“President Obama will take a tremendous step today by signing executive orders reducing sex discrimination in federal contracting,” Griffin said. “Issuing these executive orders helps build momentum for Congress to act on paycheck fairness legislation.  The exact same logic applies to the executive order that would afford protections to the LGBT workers of federal contractors. By the stroke of his pen, the president can immediately protect over 16 million workers and pressure Congress to pass ENDA. There is simply no reason for President Obama to wait one second longer.”

It should be noted that Obama’s executive order on equal pay is actually an amendment to Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. LGBT advocates said this directive could serve as a model for an executive order on sexual orientation and gender identity, or simply be amended to include LGBT workers.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama has an opportunity during an upcoming speech in Texas on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to follow-up on actions for equal pay with an announcement on action against LGBT workplace discrimination.

“We applaud President Obama for signing this week’s executive orders combating sex discrimination in federal contracting,” Almeida said.  “In fact, the president’s new executive action amends and improves on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s still-functional executive order that has survived for decades through Republican and Democratic administrations.  It’s time for President Obama to keep his campaign promise to the LGBT community by including us in federal contractor workplace protections. His keynote speech on civil rights later this week at the LBJ Library would be a perfect venue to announce another tremendous step forward for LGBT Americans.”

In response to a question from American Urban Radio, Carney declined to preview Obama’s remarks in his upcoming speech in Texas, saying where the president “comes from and where his thinking is” on race is known and that should be reflected in his address.

The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on why Obama took action on equal pay with executive action, but not yet on LGBT workplace discrimination. Numerous times in response to similar inquiries, the White House has said it prefers a legislative approach to addressing LGBT discrimination in the workforce.

Also of note is that Obama issued the executive actions on Equal Pay Day, raising questions about whether Obama is waiting for a similar occasion for the LGBT community, such as Pride month in June, to take action against LGBT workplace discrimination by executive order.

Meanwhile, Obama made the case during his remarks that the equal pay problem is “not just an economic issue,” but about making sure that all Americans have a shot a success — an assertion that supporters of ENDA and an executive order for LGBT workers have been saying about LGBT workplace discrimination for some time.

“It’s also about whether we’re willing to build an economy that works for everybody, and whether we’re going to do our part to make sure that our daughters have the same chances to pursue their dreams as our sons, and whether or not we’re willing to restore to the heart of this country that basic idea — you can make it, no matter who you are, if you try,” Obama said.

08
Apr
2014

Thank you, Mr. President

Barack Obama, executive order, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Monday signed the executive order barring anti-gay bias by federal contractors that many of us have written about and asked him for since 2008 when he first promised to do it. We need to thank him for keeping his promise and taking another step toward securing full civil and human rights for the LGBT community. We have come a long way during his presidency.

This executive order is not a new initiative. What the president has done is to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories that were applied to federal contractors in an executive order first approved by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. As reported in the New York Times, “He is also adding gender identity as a protected category to a 1969 directive by President Richard M. Nixon that applies to federal employees, which was later amended by President Bill Clinton to include sexual orientation.”

This is a great step forward but it appears that while this EO applies to federal contracts it does not apply to federal grants whose criteria are usually left to each individual agency. The LGBT community takes heart that we have been heard and the EO does not carve out any new religious exemptions that don’t already exist for other protected categories. It is estimated this executive order applies to 24,000 companies that are designated as federal contractors and whose 28 million workers make up about a fifth of the American workforce.

Monday’s signing was done against a backdrop of the fight for legislation including ENDA ongoing for many years. That fight and the issue of exemptions for religious organizations have been impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The first comprehensive legislation to ban discrimination against the LGBT community was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974. That legislation didn’t pass and there has ensued a long and sometimes bitter battle to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which first passed the House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t get through the Senate. This past year, it passed the Senate but looks like it will fail in the House so we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

President Obama ran in 2008 and made a number of promises to the LGBT community including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and signing this executive order to get support in the election and it clearly worked. The problem many in the community have had is that every move forward on his part including making these issues a priority once he was in office seemed to coincide with a difficult election, either the mid-term congressional or his own reelection. Forward momentum seemed designed politically to recharge and energize the LGBT community to vote in and raise more money for a coming election. That strategy has worked and includes his well-timed decision to evolve, or as some suggested revolve, as he once before did support it, on the issue of marriage equality.

As someone deeply involved in the political process for more than 40 years I find this strategy understandable. As an activist it is my hope as we move beyond the Obama presidency we will move LGBT issues away from being just a political football and that they will be as ingrained in the continuing fight for civil and human rights as are the fights for the civil rights of African Americans and women’s rights. We also need to move the fight for immigration reform away from the politics of the moment to the politics of full inclusion.

President Obama will always be seen as a hero to the LGBT community for how far we have come during his presidency. He is by nature a decent man. But let us hope that his elections will be the last in which the issues of full civil and human rights for the LGBT community are even debated in the Democratic Party. Unfortunately at this time we can’t say the same for the Republican Party but we can always hope for a better future even there.

We know as we have seen the arc of history with regard to civil rights and women’s rights that we will always have to be vigilant to maintain any forward momentum. But that will be a different fight thanks to this president.

23
Jul
2014

Looking back: Gay mentions during State of the Union

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, State of the Union, gay news, Washington Blade

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each mentioned issues relevant to the LGBT community during their State of the Union addresses. (Photos public domain)

The State of the Union address is considered a pivotal speech for U.S. presidents in shaping their agenda for the year ahead, and the last three haven’t shied from including LGBT people in their proposed policies.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each made references to policy items affecting LGBT people. Clinton was the first, Bush’s proposed policies were entirely negative and Obama has incorporated LGBT people into his speeches consistently.

The Washington Blade has complied a list of mentions of LGBT issues in State of the Union speeches, all of which were made in recent times. The list doesn’t include mentions of HIV-related items, although Clinton, Bush and Obama each called on Congress to appropriate funds to combat the disease in their speeches.

1999 — Clinton calls for hate crimes, ENDA passage

President Clinton made a reference to two pieces of landmark legislation during his 1999 State of the Union, calling on Congress to pass hate crimes protections legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation, is wrong, and it ought to be illegal,” Clinton said. “Therefore, I ask Congress to make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.”

After the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyo., in 1996, Clinton had endorsed legislation to make violent crimes based on anti-gay animus part of federal law. Clinton was also known as a supporter of ENDA, a bill that in its current version would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

2000 – Clinton makes first explicit reference of ‘gay’

The next year, Clinton tried again to encourage Congress to pass hate crimes protection legislation and ENDA, saying for the first time during a State of the Union address the word “gay.”

Clinton made the appeal to pass both pieces of legislation when talking about incidents of hate crimes against minorities throughout the country.

“We saw a young man murdered in Wyoming just because he was gay,” Clinton said. “Last year we saw the shootings of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish children just because of who they were. This is not the American way, and we must draw the line. I ask you to draw that line by passing without delay the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

After Clinton’s call, hate crimes legislation received a floor vote in 2000 as part of an amendment to the major Pentagon budget legislation. No attempt was made to pass ENDA on the floor that year.

Congress passed hate crimes legislation nine years later under President Obama; ENDA continues to languish in Congress and no explicit federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers are in place.

2004 — Bush calls for anti-gay constitutional  amendment

Preparing for his re-election campaign, President George W. Bush made a reference in his 2004 State of the Union speech affecting gay people, but in a negative way.

In the year after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, Bush used his speech to call for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying “a strong America must also value the institution of marriage.”

“Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives,” Bush said. “On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

Following his call for a Federal Marriage Amendment, both chambers of the Republican-controlled Congress vote on the measure, but the measure failed in both chambers.

Bush’s call for the amendment so invoked the ire of then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was present in the audience, that he elected on his own to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in San Francisco City Hall. His actions were later rescinded by the California Supreme Court.

2005 — Bush renews call for federal marriage amendment

Fresh off his re-election win after campaigning on a Federal Marriage Amendment and the passage of 11 state constitutional anti-gay marriage amendments, Bush renewed his call for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

“Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said. “For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.”

Although Congress had additional Republican majorities since the previous votes in 2004, the measure failed yet again in both the House and the Senate.

2006 — Bush isn’t done with the FMA

Despite the previous failures of the Federal Marriage Amendment, Bush continued to express concerns about the advancement of same-sex marriage in his 2006 State of the Union address.

“Yet many Americans, especially parents, still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture and the health of our most basic institutions,” Bush said. “They’re concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage.”

That would be the last time Bush would express concerns about same-sex marriage during a State of the Union address. On Election Day in 2006, Democrats won control of both chambers of Congress, giving them control of the floor.

2009 — Obama omits gays from first speech

Although he would later be known for building a record on LGBT rights, President Obama made no explicit reference to LGBT issues during a speech before a joint session of Congress during his first year in office. All his future speeches would make some reference to gay-related issues.

The omission is in line with the perception that Obama was reluctant to tackle LGBT issues, which had proved thorny for President Clinton during his first year in office.

Because the speech was at the start of his first term, the address also technically wasn’t a State of the Union address, but a speech before a joint session of Congress.

2010 — Obama pledges to work to repeal “Don’t Ask’

Obama’s first mention of any gay issue during a State of the Union address was in 2010 in which he pledged to move forward with the process of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” Obama said.

Amid increasing pressure for Obama to act on ending the ban on openly gay service members, LGBT advocates widely praised the words — even those critical of him for not taking executive action to stop the discharges.

And Obama’s words during the speech were prophetic. After a 10-month study at the Pentagon and long struggle of moving legislation through the Congress to repeal the 1993 law, Obama signed legislation at the end of the year repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

2011 — Obama pledges to finish the job on ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

A month after having signed the repeal into law, Obama made another reference to the ban on open service by pledging to certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by the end of the year.

“Our troops come from every corner of this country,” Obama said. “They’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

Although President Obama signed repeal legislation in the previous month, the ban would only be lifted after he, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified the military was ready for repeal.

With no timetable included in the repeal legislation for when certification would have to take place, Obama’s words allayed concerns the process would go on indefinitely with no formal lifting of the ban on open service.

But Obama immediately giving those reassurances called on colleges to allow military recruiters on campuses. Many had barred there presence because they perceived the ban on open service as discriminatory.

“And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC,” Obama said. “It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

Those words drew concern from transgender advocates because although the ban on openly gay service was lifted, the ban on openly trans service was — and remains — still in place.

2012 — Obama includes gays in shout-out to U.S. troops

As part of a general effort to tout “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal heading into his re-election campaign, Obama in his 2012 State of the Union listed gay troops as among those serving in the armed forces.

“When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight,” Obama said.

By this time, certification for open service in the U.S. military had already taken place months ago in September and gay service members were serving openly without fear of discharge.

But that was the only explicit LGBT mention during the State of the Union address, prompting advocates at the time to express disappointment he went no further.

2013 — Obama touts benefits for gay troops

Obama won praise from advocates for his 2013 State of the Union speech by making two references to the gay community, one overt and the other less explicit.

The most overt reference was an appeal to the nation to agree that gay service members are entitled to the same spousal benefits as straight troops.

“We will ensure equal treatment for all servicemembers and equal benefits for their families, gay and straight,” Obama said.

Just weeks earlier under significant pressure from LGBT advocates, the Pentagon pledged to move forward with partner benefits for gay troops available under the law and would have them in place later in the year.

But he also made an implicit gay reference early on in the speech by saying he wants the economy to work for Americans regardless of “who you love” — an apparent reference to gay people that some took as a veiled reference to ENDA.

“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country: the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like or who you love,” Obama said.

2014 — What will happen?

It remains to be seen whether Obama will make any LGBT references in his 2014 State of the Union address on Tuesday. LGBT advocates are calling on him to ask Congress to pass ENDA, pledge to sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors and explicitly use the word “transgender.”

27
Jan
2014

Michael Sam becomes first out gay man drafted to NFL

Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

The St. Louis Rams on Saturday picked Michael Sam in the seventh round of the National Football League draft. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Michael Sam on Saturday became the first openly gay man drafted into the National Football League after the St. Louis Rams picked him in the seventh round.

ESPN broadcast a video that showed the former University of Missouri defensive end breaking down as he received the telephone call from Rams coach Jeff Fisher that told him the team had picked him. His boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, was among those who were him in San Diego.

Fisher noted during a post-draft press conference that his team in 1946 drafted the first African American into the league.

“This is a second historic moment in the history of this franchise,” he said. “I’m honored to be part of it. Michael’s a good football player. They’re pretty excited to have him in the building.”

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn told Dan Hellie of the NFL Network that Sam has “proven himself on the field” with the Associated Press naming him the 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. He was also selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team All-Americans.

“He’s a great player,” Quinn told Hellie. “He proved himself while he was in college.”

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, who is the first openly gay person to play in a major American professional sports league, are among those who congratulated Sam.

“The St. Louis Rams just helped athletes everywhere feel more confident in their ability to be who they are and play the game they love,” said former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. “I am thrilled that Michael Sam is being judged by his ability on the football field and look forward to supporting him in anyway to ensure that that he finds a welcoming environment in the NFL.”

“We congratulate Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams on their terrific decision to draft him,” added Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “Today, LGBT young people can look to Sam as proof that being open and proud of who you are doesn’t keep you from achieving your dreams.”

President Obama also congratulated Sam, the Rams and the NFL.

“From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” a White House official told the Washington Blade on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins late on Sunday announced it had fined safety Don Jones after he described Sam kissing Cammisano as “horrible” on Twitter.

The team also suspended Jones until he completes “education training for his recent comments.”

“We met with Don today about respect, discrimination and judgment,” said Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin in a statement. “These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program. We will continue to emphasize and educate our players that these statements will not be tolerated.”

Jones apologized.

“I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment,” he said.

Sam, 24, came out in a February during a series of interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.

“Michael Sam has made a historic and courageous decision to live his authentic truth for the world to see,” said National Black Justice Coalition CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks after Sam came out. “Sam continues the tradition of breaking down barriers for not only LGBT athletes who dream of playing professional sports, but all LGBT people, young and old, who seek to live openly, honestly and safely in their neighborhoods and communities.”

Sam on Thursday signed an endorsement deal with Visa.

Sam’s spokesperson, Howard Bragman, told the Washington Blade on Saturday the defensive end is not available for interviews.

10
May
2014

CARTOON: uncomfortable topic

Yahya Jammeh, Yoweri Museveni, the Gambia, Uganda, LGBT rights in Africa, Barack Obama, White House, Africa, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

12
Aug
2014