Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

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.


ENDA’s long, frustrating path

Bella Abzug, ENDA, Democratic Party, New York, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Bella Abzug (Photo public domain)

May 1974 — Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), introduce the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation under the protected classes for employment as well as housing and public accommodations.


Gerry Studds, ENDA, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gerry Studds (Washington Blade photo by Clint Steib)

June 1994 — Gay Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) introduces the modern version of ENDA, which includes protections only for employment.


Ted Kennedy, ENDA, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

July 1994 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Committee on Labor & Human Resources holds the first-ever congressional hearing on ENDA. Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is among the witnesses.

October 1994 — Running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney pledges in a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans to co-sponsor ENDA “and if possible broaden to include housing and credit.” Romney would later say in 2006 he sees no need for ENDA before he pursued his presidential bid.

September 1996 — A deal is struck in the Senate to bring ENDA to a floor vote along with the Defense of Marriage Act. Although DOMA passes the Senate by a wide margin, ENDA fails narrowly by a 49-50 vote.


Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton (Official White House Photo by Barbara Kinney public domain)

January 1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. president to call for ENDA passage during a State of the Union address, saying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.”

April 2002 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reports out ENDA to the Senate floor. The legislation never sees a floor vote.


Barney Frank, Massachusetts, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Barney Frank (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

April 2007 — Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduces a version of ENDA in the House that for the first time includes language barring employment discrimination against transgender people.

September 2007 — Much to the consternation of LGBT advocates, Frank introduces a new version of ENDA that strips the bill of its transgender provisions, saying the votes are lacking in the House to pass a trans-inclusive bill.

October 2007 — Even though the bill has been stripped of its transgender protections, the Human Rights Campaign is a signatory to a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urging members of Congress to continue to support ENDA.

November 2007 — The sexual orientation-only version of ENDA passes the House by a 235-184 vote. It’s never brought up for a Senate vote.


Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

May 2008 — In a heated primary with Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows in an open letter to the LGBT community to “place the weight of my administration” behind the enactment of a fully inclusive ENDA.

June 2009 — Following the inauguration of President Obama, Frank again introduces a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA, saying “we’re beyond” any possibility of removing that language.

August 2009 — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduces a trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s the first time a Senate version of the bill contains protections for the transgender community.


Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2009 — Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testifies on behalf of the Obama administration before the Senate, calling the bill “a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”


Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2010 — After the House votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tells the Washington Blade a House vote on ENDA won’t take place until the Senate acts on the military’s gay ban. The House never acts on ENDA before Democrats lose control of the chamber.


Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2012 — Kylar Broadus testifies on behalf of ENDA before the Senate HELP Committee, becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the chamber.

April 2013 — Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduces ENDA as its new chief sponsor in the U.S. House following the retirement of Barney Frank.

June 2013 — President Obama makes ENDA passage a major component of his speech during a Pride reception at the White House, saying, “We can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

July 2013 — Under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reports out on ENDA by 15-7 vote, marking the first time a trans-inclusive bill has passed out of committee.

November 2013 — The Senate votes 64-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve ENDA, marking the first time the chamber has passed ENDA and the first time either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with transgender protections.


John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2013 — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he sees “no basis or no need” for ENDA when asked by the Washington Blade if he’ll allow a vote on the bill. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.


Anti-gay Russian lawmaker sanctioned over Ukraine

Yelena Mizulina, Ukraine, gay news, Washington Blade

Yelena Mizulina (Photo by Dmitry Dozhkov; courtesy Wikimedia)

A Russian lawmaker who introduced a bill that bans gay propaganda to minors is among those who face sanctions over the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine.

President Obama on Monday issued an executive order that authorizes U.S. officials to freeze the American assets of Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy, and six other Russian officials over escalating tensions between Moscow and Kiev that include Sunday’s referendum on whether Crimea should declare its independence from Ukraine.

“We have fashioned these sanctions to impose costs on named individuals who wield influence in the Russian government and those responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine,” said the White House in a statement.

The Treasury Department also brought sanctions on two Crimean politicians, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Medvedchuk who chairs the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian Choice party. The European Union on Monday imposed travel bans and froze the assets of Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Dmitry Rogozin and more than a dozen other Russian and Crimean officials as the Moscow Times reported.

“Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation,” said the White House. “The United States, together with international partners, will continue to stand by the Ukrainian government to ensure that costs are imposed on Crimean separatists and their Russian backers.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed Mizulina’s bill into law after the state Duma unanimously approved it. Controversy over the statute, the Kremlin’s human rights record and escalating tensions between Moscow and Kiev overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place last month in Sochi.

Gay journalist Jamie Kirchick and András Simonyi, the former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. who is the managing director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations in D.C., and Spectrum Human Rights are among those who have urged the Obama administration to use a 2012 law to freeze the assets of Mizulina and others directly responsible for Russia’s anti-LGBT crackdown and prevent them from entering the country. The White House did not add the names to the Magnitsky Act named in honor of the eponymous Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after authorities arrested him following his investigation into a $230 million tax fraud scheme before last December’s deadline passed.

Members of Spectrum Human Rights last month gathered in Dupont Circle to protest Mizulina and other Russian and Ukrainian lawmakers.


The sexually stifled kingdom

John Kerry, State Department, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, gay news, Washington Blade

US Secretary of State John Kerry with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. (Photo public domain)


Middle Eastern media recently reported that the administrator of Saudi Arabia’s largest online network for lesbians was harassed and intimidated into closing up shop. The network, which reportedly had more than 4,000 participants, was described by some as a vice ring, but appears to have been just a networking site for consensual, same-sex relationships among Saudi women.

This incident is just the latest reminder of Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on LGBT rights, a topic that was regretfully absent from President Obama’s agenda during his recent trip to the sexually stifled kingdom.

The State Department advises LGBT travelers that consensual intercourse between same-sex individuals is “criminalized in Saudi Arabia” and that “potential penalties include fines, jail time or death.” The department also notes the possibility of “flogging” and documented that in 2012 the regime’s strident religious police declared that LGBT individuals would be banned from public schools or universities.

Our research has found that the Kingdom’s official curriculum continues to indoctrinate the next generation against LGBT rights. High school textbooks currently in use suggest that the most important debate about gay people is how best to murder them. When the State Department recently discovered as much from a taxpayer-funded study, it unfortunately chose to withhold its results.

Authorities in the region like to paint homosexuality as a foreign imposition. Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Kuwait made headlines recently for saying that all six monarchies in the Gulf would explore using intrusive medical testing to make it harder for LGBT individuals to visit the region. And yet, ironically, because the Gulf monarchies have such strict laws against the mixing of men and women, many believe that daily life in some ways encourages social and sexual relationships between same-sex partners.

Even before the recent dismantling of the Kingdom’s online lesbian network, more than 40 gay and transgender individuals were reported arrested in the Saudi city of Jeddah since President Obama’s visit in late March.

And when the president arrived in Saudi Arabia for his meeting with the king, that morning a widely republished Friday sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca specifically singled out the LGBT community for condemnation.

Imam Salah bin Humeid’s March 28 sermon at the Grand Mosque lashed out at homosexuality as an affliction that “seeks to strip man of his humanity” and inevitably “darkens and covers the soul.” He also claimed that homosexuality “violates the sanctity of Allah, kills chastity, and slaughters virtue.” He described organizations and legislation accepting this lifestyle as “frightening and terrifying,” insisting that being gay is at odds with common sense and “normal souls.”

Islamic scholars debate whether or not the Quran explicitly prohibits men having sex with men, but Bin Humeid clearly chose to emphasize the most homophobic possible theological view. He also made claims about contemporary society that were both offensive and factually erroneous. For instance, Bin Humeid claimed that homosexuality is outlawed by all religions (it’s not). In addition, he argued that 68 percent of all LGBT people suffer from public health maladies as a result of their behavior, including HIV/AIDS, herpes, hepatitis, gay bowel syndrome, and “feelings of inferiority that could lead to homicide or suicide.” He even declared that because homosexuality makes human beings “lower than a beast,” public health organizations should focus on preventing the “crimes” of gays and lesbians, not striving to address public health threats to the LGBT community.

This bigoted sermon was not delivered at any old house of worship — it was given by a longtime regime figure and adviser to the king from the pulpit of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where the Saudi regime appoints the imams.

It is also reported that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs regularly vets sermons before they are delivered in important Saudi mosques.

The Obama administration broke new ground in 2011 by recognizing that “gay rights are human rights.” However, senior administration officials have ceded that the president did not raise human rights issues of any kind during his meeting in March with the king. And there apparently has been no high-level, public critique of Saudi Arabia’s intolerance toward gays since then from either the embassy in Riyadh or the executive branch.

America is not alone in downplaying its concerns about Saudi Arabia’s systematic human rights abuses, including against the LGBT community. On the same day as President Obama’s visit and Bin Humeid’s sermon, retired heads of state from Germany, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Brazil were guests of honor at the Saudi King’s center for religious tolerance based in Vienna. Apparently none of them raised public concerns about this religious intolerance.

But as Saudi Arabia’s superpower patron, America has a special responsibility to help the royal family do better. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So, when a U.S. ally broadcasts state-sponsored hate on the day our president comes to visit, it deserves more than turning a blind eye.

Oren Adaki is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Foundation.


Russian professor pressured to resign after U.S. trip

Oleg Klyuenkov, Lyudmila Romodina, Russia, LGBT, Rakurs, gay news, Washington Blade

Oleg Kluenkov and Lyudmila Romodina of the Russian LGBT advocacy group Rakurs in D.C. on Nov. 8, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Reports that emerged late on Wednesday indicate Russian authorities have targeted an LGBT rights advocate who traveled to the U.S. last November.

Human Rights First said in a press release the Federal Security Service launched an investigation into Oleg Kluenkov of Rakurs, an LGBT advocacy group in Arkhangelsk, after meeting with activists and local officials in Portland, Maine, which has a sister city partnership with the Russian city. He discussed Russia’s gay rights record with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus staffers and State Department officials while in D.C.

Human Rights First noted FSB officials raided Kluenkov’s office at the Arkhangelsk university where he teaches psychology. The group said Russian security personnel seized documents related to his work to determine whether he was teaching during his 9-day trip to the U.S.

The organization said administrators at the university where Kluenkov teaches asked for his resignation after the FSB investigation, citing absenteeism and discussing it with his colleagues. Human Rights First noted Kluenkov has refused to leave his position.

“We were alarmed to learn that Oleg may be forced out of his teaching position for promoting the rights of Russia’s LGBT community as part of Arkhangelsk’s Sister City delegation,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First. “We urge the city government of Portland, Maine, along with the appropriate federal officials to immediately condemn the actions targeting Oleg and to offer support and assistance to the members of Rakurs and Arkhangelsk’s LGBT community.”

Gaylord told the Washington Blade that media attention surrounding Kluenkov’s trip to the U.S. may have prompted the FSB to investigate him. This coverage includes an interview with this reporter while he and a colleague were in D.C.

“We’re concerned by reports that LGBT activist Oleg Kluenkov was targeted and harassed by Russian authorities,” Carole Jackson of the State Department told the Blade.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Blade on Thursday that other Russian educators have either been asked to resign or have been terminated “just because of their support for equality or the promotion of LGBT rights” since President Vladimir Putin last June signed into law a bill that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“This situation is absolutely unacceptable,” said Zakharova.

Arkhangelsk officials in 2011 banned propaganda that promotes homosexuality and bisexuality. They quietly repealed the law last October, but Kluenkov told the Blade the statute was a “test pilot” for the nationwide gay propaganda ban.

“The informational campaign that surrounded the regional ban in Arkhangelsk was a miniature version of the mass media campaign that surrounded the adoption of the federal ban,” he said. “It was quite aggressive as we were just slandered and slimed. We were accused of undermining the demography of Russia, undermining traditional values, being a threat to traditional values.”

The Kremlin’s LGBT rights record overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

The U.S. and other European countries have sharply criticized Putin over escalating tensions between his country and Ukraine that includes last month’s annexation of Crimea. President Obama last month authorized sanctions against the Russian lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay propaganda bill over her role in support of the March 16 referendum on whether the strategic peninsula should declare its independence from Kiev.

“It is crucial that the United States continue to support and protect Russian human rights defenders, who often face persecution and discrimination for their work promoting equality,” said Gaylord.

Zakharova said the Russian LGBT Network plans to launch a public campaign to highlight the scrutiny that Russian officials who discuss and promote gay rights face.

The Blade will provide further updates on this story as they become available.


Obama urged to highlight LGBT rights during Africa summit

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates have urged President Obama to highlight LGBT rights during an upcoming summit with African heads of state in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

More than a dozen advocacy organizations on Friday urged President Obama to highlight LGBT rights during an upcoming Africa summit that will take place in D.C. early next month.

“Unfortunately, across much of the African continent today, the contributions of LGBT communities are denied
 or denigrated; their relationships and organizations are criminalized,” wrote the organizations that include the Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Amnesty International in a letter to Obama. “Hostile political rhetoric seeks to deny their rightful place in African society.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is among those who are expected to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that will take place at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington between Aug. 4-6.

Obama is scheduled to speak at the summit on Aug. 5 before the White House hosts a dinner in honor of the gathering.

“Given how some African governments deny the rights of their LGBT citizens, and the unique role that civil society plays in defending those rights, we urge you to include civil society voices in the official meeting of African leaders during the summit,” reads the letter from the LGBT advocacy groups.

The summit will take place less than six 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 cut aid to the East African country that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration last month announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

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.

Nigeria is among the dozens of African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of northern Nigeria and Somalia.

Secretary of State John Kerry in February said he was “deeply troubled” by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s description of gay men as “vermin” during a speech that commemorated the West African country’s independence from the U.K. The U.S. in recent years has also criticized Cameroon and Zimbabwe over crackdowns on LGBT rights advocates.

Anti-LGBT violence remains rampant in South Africa, even though the country is among those that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the Summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” write the LGBT advocacy groups in their letter to Obama. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

“We are grateful for your leadership in recognizing the rights of LGBT individuals in this country, and for your administration’s principled stand in support of the rights of LGBT citizens abroad,” they add. “We trust you will use the opportunity of the Africa Leaders Summit to advance these commitments to human rights and human dignity for all.”


Obama blasts Uganda president over anti-gay bill

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama on Sunday blasted Uganda President Yoweri Museveni over his announcement that he plans to sign his country’s so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

President Obama on Sunday sharply criticized Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni after announcing he plans to sign a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda,” said Obama. “It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights.”

Obama further stressed his administration has “conveyed” to Museveni that “enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”

“At a time when, tragically, we are seeing an increase in reports of violence and harassment targeting members of the LGBT community from Russia to Nigeria, I salute all those in Uganda and around the world who remain committed to respecting the human rights and fundamental human dignity of all persons,” said Obama.

Obama’s statement comes two days after Museveni signaled to Ugandan parliamentarians that he intends to sign the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Museveni told Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy, two of her organizations staffers and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during a Jan. 18 meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, that he would reject the “fascist” measure that lawmakers in the East African country approved late last year. The RFK Center said at the time the Ugandan president “promised” the organization during a meeting last March that he would not sign “any bill that discriminates against any individual.”

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month signed a draconian bill into law that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians, same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in LGBT advocacy groups. Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in neighboring Cameroon, Zimbabwe and other African countries have also made headlines over the last year.

“When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” said Obama last June during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall that took place in Dakar, Senegal, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8. “I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view. And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.”

Obama reiterated this sentiment in response to Museveni’s announcement that he plans to sign his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

“As a country and a people, the United States has consistently stood for the protection of fundamental freedoms and universal human rights,” said Obama. “We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love.”


Maya Angelou remembered as ‘extraordinary human being’

Maya Angelou, gay news, Washington Blade

Maya Angelou (Photo by Damien Salas)

LGBT rights advocates continue to celebrate the life and legacy of writer, poet and actress Maya Angelou who passed away at her North Carolina home on Wednesday at the age of 86.

The National Black Justice Coalition noted Angelou “never shied away from embracing her LGBT brothers and sisters.”

“On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she read at former President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, specifically mentioned gays.

Angelou in 2000 spoke at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Atlanta. She later lobbied members of the New York Senate to support a same-sex marriage bill that lawmakers ultimately struck down in 2009 — gays and lesbians began to legally tie the knot in the state two years later.

PFLAG in 2009 also honored Angelou during its first-ever Straight for Equality Gala.

“PFLAG will always cherish the memories of the time that we had with her and the lifelong lessons she taught us about the quest for equality and the bold courage to love,” said PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby.

Rev. Meredith Moise, an ordained lesbian minister of color in Baltimore, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that Angelou’s 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing” is one of the first books she read as a child.

“She was an inspiration to me personally and to millions globally,” said Moise, noting the way she told stories in the African tradition. “She was an extraordinary human being whose example lights the way for others towards the path of liberation.”

President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and HRC President Chad Griffin are among those who also paid tribute to Angelou who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being,” said Angelou’s son, Guy B. Johnson, in a statement posted to his mother’s website that officially announced her death. “The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., who testified in support of marriage rights in Maryland in 2012, described Angelou’s passing as a “tragic loss” on Wednesday during an interview with the Blade at his Prince George’s County church.

The Maryland Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate said “our country is better” because of her example.

“Her spirit continues to live within all of us and we want to continue her commitment to civil and human rights and freedom and equality for all people,” said Coates.


A reality check from Uganda

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Our movement for full equality for LGBT people continues to gain momentum. We’ve seen tremendous strides in terms of marriage equality (a total of 17 states now grant the freedom to marry) and most recently with the increased visibility of black LGBT public figures. But Uganda’s current crisis and the close call in Arizona remind us that we must remain vigilant—that despite the many trails being blazed, we are still very much in the heat of the battle and all is not won yet.

Basketball star Jason Collins recently made history as the first openly gay male player in a major sports league when he joined the Brooklyn Nets. Earlier this year, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts spoke about her longtime girlfriend for the first time on national television. Trans legends-in-the-making Laverne Cox, breakout actress of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, hate crime survivor CeCe McDonald, and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock are leading the national conversation around transgender equality.

On the policy front, a U.S. district judge ruled that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. The Maryland State Senate recently passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which now heads to the House. And Washington, D.C. now requires insurance companies to provide health coverage to trans residents, including gender reassignment surgery.

Paints a pretty picture of progress, doesn’t it? Well, look a little closer.

Just this month alone, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans; Arizona passed then vetoed a piece of legislation that would have made it legal for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers; and the 2014 Olympics brought to light the persecution of our Russian brothers and sisters. This all happened in February, the shortest month of the year. Even worse, it happened on our watch.

Under Ugandan’s anti-gay law, anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts will be sentenced to life in prison. President Museveni has cited “science” and other unfounded claims to justify this atrocious injustice against our black LGBT family overseas. Not only is it imperative that the U.S. Department of State expedite the asylum process for all Ugandans affected by this oppressive and inhumane law, it is critical that the U.S. take responsibility for and address its ties to homophobia in African countries. The truth is that when the radical right started losing ground on American soil, they invested their anti-LGBT tactics elsewhere and capitalized on a painful legacy of colonialism and white supremacy.

Addressing what is happening in Uganda goes deeper than threatening to pull U.S. foreign aid. Furthermore, our national response to what is happening in the East African nation and in countries like Nigeria speaks to our complacency and lack of urgency around matters that are literally life and death for black and brown LGBT bodies.

After Arizona’s legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, some Ugandans pointed out our hypocrisy. Everyone from local advocates to President Obama condemned the Ugandan bill, but we could barely get our own affairs together stateside. The biggest irony was the hundreds of activists that rallied and urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the Arizona legislation. Where were the crowds for our Ugandan brothers and sisters who will be trying to seek asylum?

It’s time we truly treat a threat to injustice anywhere with the gravity it deserves. It’s time we recognize that progress takes full partnership. Despite of our recent advancements, we still need all hands on deck, especially when it’s the lives of black LGBT people at stake—because chances are the level of outrage and action will be utterly delayed, if present.

National campaigns launched around the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, speaking against the country’s ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda.” And rightfully so. There are laws that limit adoption by same-sex couples and Russian President Vladimir Putin has equated LGBT people to pedophiles. But where was the mass mobilization when a Ugandan tabloid printed a list of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans with their photographs—a “witch hunt” reminiscent of the 2010 paper that ran both photos and addresses with the heinous headline “Hang Them?” Where was the global outcry?

That is why here at the National Black Justice Coalition, we are revising our institutional policy to take a stand internationally. We have begun turning directly to advocates abroad and asking what is the international support that they need. Going forward, increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people in every corner of the globe will guide the organization’s agenda as we continue to build a safer and more inclusive nation and world.

Our movement has certainly come a long way but we have so much further to go. Uganda is our reality check. And it doesn’t get realer than that.

Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. For more information, visit


Obama touts 6 years of achievements at Pride reception

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, White House Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The annual Pride reception held at the White House on Monday revealed a sense that many leaders of the LGBT movement are satisfied with the progress of the last six years.

Guests mingled in the East Room of the White House as they munched on hors d’oeuvres — cookies, salads and sandwiches — served on silver platters on tables adorned with bouquets of pink and purple flowers. The guests consisted of LGBT advocates as well as openly gay Obama administration officials and lawmakers.

During his 13-minute remarks, Obama reiterated the checklist of LGBT accomplishments under his administration.

“And this tremendous progress we’ve made as a society is thanks to those of you who fought the good fight, and to Americans across the country who marched and came out and organized to secure the rights of others,” Obama said. “So I want to thank all of you for making the United States a more just and compassionate place.”

Although Obama has hosted Pride receptions at the White House in June during each of his six years in office, this year is perhaps the first time the event has taken place without frustration from the LGBT community.

His first Pride reception in 2009 took place amid anger over a recently filed legal brief that not only defended the Defense of Marriage Act, but invoked incest. In 2010, the question was whether Obama would succeed in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and in 2011, LGBT advocates were urging him to complete his evolution on marriage equality. Last year’s reception took place amid consternation that hadn’t signed an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

But each of those complaints has been rectified. Earlier this month, the White House announced Obama has directed his staff to prepare the LGBT executive order for non-discrimination — a plan that Obama touted during his remarks as he re-upped his call for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“We’ve still got a little more work to do,” Obama said. “I’ve repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Right now, there are more states that let same-sex couples get married than there are states who prohibit discrimination against their LGBT workers.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, who was among the loudest voices calling for the LGBT federal contractor executive order, attended the reception and had kind words for Obama.

“The president gave tremendous remarks, acknowledging all of the progress that we’ve made over the past years, and also calling on all of us to push for more change, and more progress,” Almeida said. “We should do that with his upcoming executive order and we should do that with a continued push for federal workplace protections through Congress.”

Obama also touted one accomplishment under his administration that doesn’t always make headlines: his appointment of openly gay judges to the federal bench.

As Obama said during his speech, only one openly gay person served on the federal bench prior to his administration, but that number has now jumped to 11. According to the White House, three openly gay federal judges who were confirmed during his administration — Todd Hughes, Nitza Quinones Alejandro and Judith Levy — were present during the reception.

Despite the reflection on past accomplishments, some news was made. In addition to the federal contractor executive order, Obama said for the first time he’s instructed his staff to prepare a second executive order to make clear discrimination against transgender federal employees is prohibited — a move that would build on a non-discrimination memorandum he previously signed in 2009.

Almeida said this second action would be an important move to build off protections made in Obama’s first year in office and would serve as a companion to the federal contractor executive order.

“It’s critically important to have those transgender protections rise to the level of executive order,” Almeida said. “Before they were just sort of administrative interpretation, and I think it’s hugely important and the president deserves our praise for taking transgender protections so seriously.”

The highlight of Obama’s speech was anecdotes of experiences he’s had with gay people over the course of his life, such as with Jim Darby and Patrick Bova, who recently married in Illinois after 51 years together.

Obama had special words for one of the attendees — his college professor when he was a freshman at Occidental College, Lawrence Goldyn.

“Lawrence was not shy,” Obama said. ”And I took a class from him, and because he was one of the young professors, we became really good friends. But also, he was the first openly gay person that I knew who was unapologetic, who stood his ground. If somebody gave him guff, he’d give them guff right back, and was I think part of a generation that really fought so many battles that ultimately came into fruition later.”

To be sure, LGBT advocates are pushing for more. Not mentioned during his remarks was an item that has recently gained heightened attention and one that has been left for the Pentagon to fulfill: openly transgender service in the U.S. military. And the timing and exact content of the executive orders — such as whether they’ll include a religious exemption — remains unknown.

“You guys have shown what can happen when people of good will organize and stand up for what’s right,” Obama said.”And we’ve got to make sure that that’s not applied just one place, in one circumstance, in one time. That’s part of the journey that makes America the greatest country on Earth.”