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Obama acts on equal pay, but not LGBT workplace rights

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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)


Uganda anti-gay law challenged in court

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan human rights advocates on Tuesday petitioned the Ugandan Constitutional Court to block an anti-gay law the country’s president signed last month. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

A coalition of Ugandan human rights organizations and activists on Tuesday challenged a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

Ugandan LGBT rights advocates Frank Mugisha, Julian Pepe Onziema and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera are among those who signed onto the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law’s challenge of the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that President Yoweri Museveni signed into law on Feb. 24.

They argue in their petition to the Ugandan Constitutional Court that the statute violates the right to equality and privacy outlined in the country’s constitution. The advocates said the anti-gay law also discriminates against people with HIV and disabilities and imposes a “disproportionate punishment for the offense (of homosexuality) in contravention of the right to equality and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

The activists also contend Ugandan parliamentarians approved the measure late last year without the necessary quorum.

“The spirit of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, by promoting and encouraging homophobia, amounts to institutionalized promotion of a culture of hatred and constitutes a contravention of the right to dignity,” reads the petition. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, by encouraging homophobia and stigmatization, is in contravention of the duty of the government to respect, protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons likely to be affected by the act.”

The activists’ petition asks the court to block enforcement of the law and prevent Ugandan media outlets and websites from publishing the names and pictures of those who are open about their sexual orientation or suspected of being gay.

Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which honored Mugisha in 2012 and whose president, Kerry Kennedy, discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill with Museveni in January, welcomed the petition to the Ugandan Constitutional Court.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Law clearly violates a host of constitutionally protected rights in Uganda, not to mention international human rights standards pertaining to nondiscrimination, the right to privacy, and freedom of expression,” Smith told the Blade on Tuesday. “These rights belong to every Ugandan citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and the government has a duty to not only protect these rights, but to both promote and advance them as well. Today’s constitutional challenge is therefore a significant step forward in the struggle for the respect of basic human rights for all Ugandans.”

The Obama administration announced after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that it has begun reviewing its relationship with Uganda. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni in January during a trip to the East African country with other members of Congress, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay are among those who also criticized the measure.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” Inhofe told the Washington Blade before Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Ugandan LGBT rights advocates and their supporters maintain U.S. evangelicals exploited homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraged lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A federal judge in Massachusetts last August ruled a lawsuit the Center for Constitutional Rights filed against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group of which Mugisha is executive director, can proceed.

Lively described the law as “overly harsh on its face,” but “typical of African criminal law across the country” to the Blade during a press conference last month at the National Press Club in downtown Washington.

“Poor countries with limited criminal justice systems tend to rely on the harshness of the letter of the law to be a deterrent to criminals,” said Lively. “In practice, the sentencing is usually pretty lenient. Kenya, for example, has the death penalty for burglary, but burglars are definitely not being executed there.”


Susan Rice criticizes Russia, others over LGBT records

Susan Rice, Barack Obama Administration, White House Forum on Global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Tuesday announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has joined a U.S-backed initiative designed to promote LGBT rights around the world. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Tuesday criticized several countries, including Russia, for their treatment of LGBT citizens during a White House forum on international LGBT issues.

Rice also singled out Uganda and Nigeria over draconian anti-gay laws that took effect in those countries earlier this year.

She noted that Brunei could become the eighth country in which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts could face the death penalty if the second phase of the new Bruneian penal code takes effect.

Rice categorized the Russian law that bans the promotion of so-called propaganda to minors as “pernicious” and noted a proposal seeks to allow the government to take children away from their gay parents. She also highlighted Harvey Milk, murdered Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate Eric Ohena Lembembe and slain Ugandan activist David Kato.

“Change never happens without passionate people willing to sacrifice for what is right,” said Rice, referring to the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and other civil rights milestones in the U.S. “Unfortunately in too many places, being gay or transgender is enough to make someone the target of slurs, torment and violence.”

Rice also announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has joined a U.S.-backed initiative designed to bolster global LGBT advocacy efforts.

“Political and social progress indeed go hand in hand,” she said during a speech at a White House forum on global LGBT rights that took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “America’s support for LGBT rights is not just a national cause, but a global enterprise.”

National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce President Justin Nelson told the Washington Blade that his organization through the nearly $4 million public-private partnership the U.S. Agency for International Development launched last April will seek to develop national LGBT chambers of commerce and other business groups. He said his organization hopes to cultivate LGBT entrepreneurship in Europe, Colombia, India and other countries in which it currently works.

“When you empower LGBT people through economics, you give an economic identity to people,” said Nelson. “People listen. It moves minds.”

LGBT rights advocates from the U.S. and around the world were among the hundreds who attended the White House forum.

Activists from Jamaica, Ukraine, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and the Philippines on Monday discussed the support they said they receive from the U.S. during a panel at the Russell Senate Office Building the Council for Global Equality organized.

Angie Umbac of the Rainbow Rights Project in the Philippines said the U.S. Embassy in her country has sponsored trainings for authorities who investigate human rights abuses. She said a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union has also spoken with Filipino law students.

“The embassy’s been very, very good to the community,” said Umbac.

Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, described the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, the South American country’s capital, as “our most important ally in the fight for LGBT rights.”

USAID in 2009 began working with the Colombian National Police on how to more effectively work with the country’s LGBT advocacy organizations. Colombia Diversa and the Santamaría Fundación, a transgender rights organization in the city of Cali, have received USAID grants and other support to expand their efforts to document anti-LGBT violence and work with authorities to better prosecute those responsible.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which are also part of the LGBT Global Development Partnership, over the last year have conducted two trainings in Colombia that are designed to allow LGBT Colombians to become more engaged in their country’s political process.

“This support is fundamental for our actions,” said Albarracín.

Tamara Adrián Hernández, a trans Venezuelan lawyer and LGBT rights advocate, said the U.S. and her country continue to have a “very hostile bilateral relationship” amid ongoing protests between supporters and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro who took office last year after his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, succumbed to cancer.

“Our activities with the U.S. Embassy are limited,” she said.

Rashidi Williams of Queer Alliance Nigeria said the Nigerian LGBT rights movement’s relationship with the U.S. Embassies and American consulates in his country “has been very important for us.”

He said the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, worked with local advocates to develop media strategies around a bill that sought to punish those who enter into same-sex marriages with up to 14 years in prison, ban anyone from officiating a gay union or entering into a same-sex “amorous relationship” and joining an LGBT group.

Williams said American officials have not done any programmatic work with local activists “beyond meetings.” He said the U.S. Embassy has “been very quiet” since Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the anti-gay bill into law in January.

President Obama in 2011 ordered agencies responsible for the implementation of U.S. foreign policy to support LGBT rights.

Obama last December selected retired tennis champion Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and former hockey player Caitlin Cahow to join the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The White House last week announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline on June 19 introduced a bill that would ban officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their respective countries from entering the U.S. and mandate the State Department to document them in its annual human rights report. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would create a special envoy within the State Department who would coordinate Washington’s efforts in support of global LGBT rights.


Obama must keep promise to LGBT workers

Barack Obama, LGBT workers, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama signed two more executive orders continuing to make good on his promise to move issues forward that aren’t being dealt with by Congress. Many applaud his efforts because waiting for this Congress to act is like “Waiting for Godot.”

Women were the beneficiaries of the two executive orders he signed last week. The time is way past due for us to deal with the disparities in pay between men and women in the workplace. The New York Times reported, “He signed two executive measures intended to help close longstanding pay disparities between men and women as Democrats seek to capitalize on their gender-gap advantage at the ballot box in a midterm election year.”

The Times continued, “Mr. Obama, standing in front of a platform of women in a picture-ready ceremony in the East Room of the White House, said his actions would make it easier for women to learn whether they had been cheated by employers. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would take more significant steps.”

In signing these executive orders the president has put the Republican Party on the defensive and raised the question of why anyone would be opposed to equal pay for equal work. This continuing economic inequality is just another indication that the fight for equal rights for women is not yet won. Whether it is equal pay or the right to control their healthcare, the current leadership of the Republican Party thinks the way to move forward is to go back to the 18th century.

So I join with others who believe the president is taking the right position by signing these orders while at the same time imploring Congress to move on legislation in these areas. What I question is why he seems so averse to moving the ball forward when it comes to LGBT employment rights. While he is fighting for equal pay for women, there are lesbians who can’t even get employment because of discrimination. For them it’s not about equal pay it’s about any pay.

There are lesbian heads of household who are being denied employment by federal contractors because the president refuses to make good on a campaign promise from his 2008 campaign. At that time he ran on a slogan of “Hope and Change” and the LGBT community by large majorities supported him because of that. They put their trust in him to bring about positive change for the community.

In many ways both large and small he has done that. The president’s evolving to support marriage equality has been life altering for many in the community. It has allowed many people to have their families be fully recognized. He has hired members of the LGBT community on his staff and throughout government. He spoke out about equality for the LGBT community around the world at the United Nations and has made a huge statement to the world about our belief in equality by naming a number of openly LGBT persons to be ambassadors.

So what is stopping him from issuing the order to bar anti-LGBT workplace bias among federal contractors? This lack of action on his part is so perplexing given the other efforts he has made to move the ball forward toward full civil and human rights for the LGBT community.

Recently the White House press office stated that the president believes that signing this order would be redundant. The Washington Blade reported that Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign referring to the executive orders the president signed 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.”

Anyone who believes in equality must join with the 47 senators and 148 representatives who have sent a letter calling on the president to sign the order. President Obama: the time to keep your promise is NOW.


Advancing Obama’s LGBT rights agenda abroad

Todd Larson, USAID, gay news, Washington Blade

Todd Larson (left) is USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

A retired U.N. official who spent two decades with the global body has brought his experience promoting LGBT rights issues to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Todd Larson, who worked in a variety of positions at the U.N. between 1990 and 2010 where he spearheaded efforts to extend domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of U.N. employees, in March became USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. He was also a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Board of Directors between 2007-2013.

Larson’s primary responsibility at USAID is to ensure the agency implements President Obama’s 2011 memorandum that instructed agencies charged with implementing American foreign policy to promote global LGBT rights.

He noted in a 2012 Huffington Post op-ed that highlighted his support of Obama’s efforts to promote global LGBT rights on the eve of his re-election that his partner, who worked for the U.N., died shortly after he began working for the global body.

“In the aftermath I had no official standing to do basic things such as obtain copies of reports describing the circumstances surrounding his death,” wrote Larson. “Though I eventually prevailed, under internal U.N. advances shepherded by the Obama administration, I would not face that challenge today.”

He told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier this month that he learned “how to effect change within a large bureaucracy” through his work at the U.N.

“I don’t find engagement in institutional change daunting,” said Larson. “I find it profoundly satisfying, by virtue of the breadth of favorable impact that will last far longer than I. That which makes my work at USAID a particular pleasure is the fact that I’m not working against the tide. I am, rather, working with a team of committed and experienced folks to guide and focus an institution which is already very committed to LGBT inclusion in how it operates both internally and externally.”

Larson spoke with the Blade roughly a week after National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce had joined the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private partnership that USAID launched in April 2013 designed to support LGBT advocacy groups in developing countries. The initiatives’ first two trainings took place in Colombia last year.

USAID on Monday announced during the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, that it will contribute an additional $503 million to the global fight against HIV/AIDS over the next five years through three public-private partnerships.

“Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for which USAID is lead implementing agency, I am proud that USAID has invested hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the war against the pandemic — much of this has gone to the benefit of key populations,” said Larson.

Larson, who graduated from Carleton College in 1983, spent two years in the West African country of Togo with the Peace Corps. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Washington in 1988.

“When I joined the Peace Corps, fresh out of college and off the farm, it was my first time living and working in the developing world,” Larson told the Blade. “This sounds perhaps Pollyanna-ish, but it was a lesson I needed to learn.”

“People are the same the world over — LGBT or not, in whatever cultural or national setting,” he added. “They all have the same fundamental aspirations: Caring for family, realizing one’s potential, meeting one’s basic needs. This is what motivates all of us.”

Larson told the Blade he feels one of the most important parts of his job at USAID is to “identify the leaders” on the ground in a particular country and “work with them to identify how best to support their communities.”

He said he traveled to Uganda shortly after he joined USAID and spoke with local LGBT rights advocates about how they feel the U.S. should response to a law that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

LGBT advocates in the East African country last month applauded the Obama administration’s decision to impose travel bans on Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

“One should never impose solutions from a distance,” said Larson.

Larson told the Blade that there are “no strings attached” to groups that receive USAID support.

“USAID works to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies,” he said. “USAID recognizes that the inclusion, protection and empowerment of LGBT people is critical, because drawing on the full contributions of the entire population leads to more effective, comprehensive and sustainable development results.”


Putin has racist, who depicted Obamas as monkey with banana, light Olympic flame

Russian figure skater Irina Rodnina, in an apparent racist snub at the Obamas, lit the Olympic flame.