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Standing up to Putin’s anti-gay crusade

Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is public enemy No. 1 for LGBT people as he continues an assault on gay Russians. (Photo courtesy of

The news from Russia keeps getting worse as gays flee the country fearing for their safety, just as hordes of international tourists prepare to descend on Sochi for the Winter Olympics next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a de facto dictator, is cynically using anti-gay animus to distract the nation’s attention from his own domestic failures. Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The law is so vaguely written that in Russia it’s now illegal for gay couples to publicly display affection or even hold hands. The law can also be interpreted to bar broadcasting news stories about LGBT people, which could prove tricky for NBC as it gears up to cover the Olympics.

A second statute bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. And LGBT advocacy groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires NGOs that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

All of this amounts to an all-out assault on the liberty and safety of LGBT people in Russia and American corporations must act to avoid complicity in these atrocities — starting with NBC, which owns the U.S. broadcast rights to the Winter Games. The Olympics are so important to NBC’s fortunes that NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke went so far as to announce, “The soul of this company is the Olympics.”

That doesn’t bode well for a tough approach to covering the anti-gay push. Bob Costas, who will head NBC’s primetime coverage, said he wants to interview Putin and suggested that NBC would address the issue. But the media giant isn’t off to a good start, given MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts’ recent visit to Moscow as host of the Miss Universe pageant. Roberts is a stooge who was used by Putin; NBC’s actual journalists must do better next month in shining a bright light on Putin’s attacks on gays.

In this issue of the Blade, you’ll find the heartbreaking stories of several gay men forced to flee Russia. It’s not just the anti-gay law that’s the problem — it’s the hatred and violence that it encourages against anyone who publicly comes out.

Arkady Gyngazov, former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months, told the Blade last week he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

President Obama has so far admirably stood up to Putin, canceling a planned September meeting with him and, more recently, boldly naming Billie Jean King and two other gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to Sochi. A host of world leaders is skipping the games at least partly in protest of the anti-gay crusade. And leaders from left and right, including Sen. John McCain, have assailed Putin’s actions.

But so far all the criticism hasn’t been enough to change the law. And that’s why it’s now incumbent on NBC to allow its journalists to do their jobs next month. Sunshine is the best antiseptic and NBC is in a unique position with its unfettered access to Sochi, to Russian public officials and to the athletes to expose what’s happening to gays under Putin’s dictatorship. American corporate interests and profits must not get in the way of covering the big story. The very lives of gay Russians likely depend on it.


Anti-gay law prompts LGBT Ugandans to go ‘underground’

Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson

A Ugandan HIV advocate told the Washington Blade on Friday that gays and lesbians in his country have gone “underground” since President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

“The community is very scared, very worried,” said Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation during a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. “They’re underground.”

Mujuni said LGBT Ugandans remain afraid of blackmail and extortion since Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24.

He told the Blade the police will “make sure you talk about all your other neighbors” if someone turns a person whom they suspect is gay into the authorities. Mujuni added Ugandan media outlets have published more pictures of gays and lesbians since a tabloid on Tuesday published a list of the country’s “200 top homos.”

“That’s the situation that is very, very bad on the ground,” said Mujuni.

Mujuni and a Canadian friend who has lived with HIV for three decades opened a clinic in a poor area of the Ugandan capital to treat women, young children, men who have sex with men and others who have the virus. The RPL AIDS Foundation was planning to build a hospital, but Mujuni said it has had to “close shop” because of the anti-gay law.

“We can’t continue,” he told the Blade.

This reporter initially asked Mujuni to speak with him on Skype, but he said those in the Internet café would have potentially assaulted him if they heard him talking about LGBT-specific issues.

“That’s how bad the situation is,” Mujuni told the Blade. “Even when you’re receiving a phone call, you have to talk in such a way that the person next to you does not understand exactly what you’re talking about because if you’re very open in your conversation, it’s very unpredictable. Anything can happen because here we have mob justice… if you’re Skyping and you’re talking about that, you could get beaten up.”

Mujuni spoke with the Blade a day after World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced the postponement of a $90 million loan that would have bolstered Uganda’s health services after Museveni signed the anti-gay law. The Obama administration on Feb. 24 announced it had begun a review of its relationship with the East African country.

“Cutting aid to Uganda would affect Ugandans on the ground,” Mujuni told the Blade. “I do not support aid cuts to Uganda personally as an activist.”

Mujuni instead stressed Western governments should put pressure on the Ugandan government with regards to HIV/AIDS funds, noting Kampala receives nearly $300 million a year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the epidemic in the country.

“The money that is coming from the U.S. through PEPFAR, basically doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said.

Mujuni told the Blade LGBT rights advocates who are financially able to do so have already left the country because of the anti-gay law. He said he plans to seek asylum in Canada if he obtains a visa to attend a conference in Montréal in June.

“The situation has gotten worse because now even people who are not concerned before are now supporting the president and the government about passing such a bill,” Mujuni told the Blade. “They think the West is trying to promote this vice in Africa.”


Cartoon: elephant in the room

elephant, Pope Francis, Barack Obama, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

The elephant in the room. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)


Kennedy Library showcases Kameny letters to JFK

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade, letters

‘In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words,’ Frank Kameny wrote to President Kennedy. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is taking steps this month to publicize the dozens of letters, pamphlets and press releases that D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny sent to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.

In a prominent write-up on the Kennedy Library website, library official Stacey Chandler, a reference archives specialist, said the letters poignantly document Kameny’s role as one of the nation’s first advocates for the rights of gay people before the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Chandler said the letters and other documents from Kameny are part of the library’s archives and are available for viewing online. Kameny died at the age of 86 in 2011.

“In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens,” Kameny told Kennedy in a letter dated May 15, 1961 that’s part of the archive collection.

“In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945,” wrote Kameny. “This letter is part of that fight.”

In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1962 Kameny told Kennedy, “You have said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ We know what we can do for our country; we wish to do it; we ask only that our country allow us to do it.”

Kameny wrote the letters in his role as president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization that Kameny co-founded in 1961 and led through the 1960s and early 1970s.

Chandler noted in her article that the Mattachine Society of Washington came into being shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case of a legal challenge that Kameny filed against the then U.S. Civil Service Commission.

In a first-of-its-kind action, Kameny contested the Civil Service Commission’s decision in 1958 to fire him from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in Washington following an investigation into alleged homosexual activity by Kameny.

Among other things, the Commission cited a 1953 executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower that barred from the federal workforce anyone with a history of “sexual perversion” and other “immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Homosexual acts between consenting adults were considered among the prohibited conduct.

“Kameny wrote an astounding number of letters throughout his lifetime of advocacy, most of which are now in the Library of Congress,” Chandler wrote in her Kennedy Library article. “The huge volume of his correspondence makes the personal nature of his letters to President Kennedy especially surprising for archivists here,” she said.

“In these letters, he tenaciously argued for the right of gay Americans to work as civil servants,” she said.

In the same May 15, 1961 letter in which he told of his combat service in World War II, Kameny told Kennedy, “Yours is an administration that has openly disavowed blind conformity…You yourself have said, in your recent address at George Washington University, “…that (people) desire to develop their own personalities and their own potential, that democracy permits them to do so.’

“But your government, by its policies certainly does not permit the homosexual to develop his personality and his potential,” Kameny wrote.

In a Feb. 28, 1963 letter, Kameny told Kennedy about his fledgling effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

“Homosexuality is neither a sickness, disease, neurosis, psychosis, disorder, defect, nor other disturbance, but merely a matter of the predisposition of a significantly large minority of our citizens.”

Chandler said the Kennedy Library’s archivists could find no response from Kennedy or anyone else at the White House to Kameny’s letters.

“In fact, the only response we’ve found in our archives is a brief note from John W. Macy, Chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, to Bruce Schuyler, Secretary of the Mattachine Society, who requested a meeting,” Chandler wrote.

In his note to Schuyler, Macy said, “It is the established policy of the Civil Service Commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.”

Chandler said that in a March 6, 1963 letter to Kennedy, Kameny appeared to be referring to the government’s lack of response to his and the Mattachine Society of Washington’s overtures to the Kennedy administration.

“We wish to cooperate in any way possible, if the chance for friendly, constructive cooperation is offered to us by you,” Kameny wrote, “but if it continues to be refused us, then we will have to seek out and to use any lawful means whatever, which seem to us appropriate, in order to achieve our lawful ends, just as the Negro has done in the South when he was refused cooperation.”

In 1975, after several court rulings against the Civil Service ban on gay employees that Kameny played a role in organizing, the Civil Service Commission ended its prohibition on gay federal workers. In 2009, John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the successor to the Civil Service Commission, presented Kameny with an official government apology for his 1958 firing.

“Things have changed,” Chandler quoted Kameny as saying around the time Berry issued the apology with the full backing of President Obama. “How they have changed. I am honored and proud that it is so.”

The Kennedy Library, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, highlighted its collection of Kameny correspondence this month as a follow-up to a video that the NARA released in support of the It Gets Better Project, Chandler said.

LGBT rights advocates led by gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the It Gets Better Project to draw attention to bullying targeting LGBT youth. With President Obama among the political leaders and celebrities who have spoken in an “It Gets Better” video, organizers say the project has helped lift the spirits of many LGBT youth that have suffered from taunts and physical violence.

NARA director David S. Ferriero, who holds the title of Archivist of the United States, recorded a recent “It Gets Better” video that is available for viewing on the NARA website.

“It is so exciting that the Kennedy Library is highlighting Kameny’s letters to President Kennedy,” said Charles Francis, founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for Kameny’s voluminous correspondence and writings to be given to the Library of Congress.

Francis noted that copies of the Kameny letters to President Kennedy are among the collection at the Library of Congress but that the letters at the Kennedy Library are the originals.

“This was done on Frank’s typewriter from Frank’s living room,” Francis said.

“It’s progress. It’s real progress,” he said of the prominent treatment the Kennedy Library is giving to the Kameny letters.

See the Kennedy Library article on Kameny letters here.



DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.


Obama touts 7 million enrollees in health care reform

Barack Obama, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama touted the 7 million people who reportedly enrolled in health insurance coverage before the deadline. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama celebrated the more than 7 million new enrollees into health insurance programs Tuesday on the day after deadline for enrollment, as some advocates expressed disappointment that the number of LGBT enrollees is unknown.

Speaking before supporters of the Affordable Care Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Obama touted the estimated 7.1 million new enrollees through the federal health insurance exchange as a sign of success for a law often criticized for its implementation rollout.

“Despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through the marketplace,” Obama said.

But those numbers may be skewed. On one hand, they may be conservative estimates because they don’t count those who enrolled through state insurance exchanges, or those who received coverage through the Medicaid expansion under the health care reform law.

On the other hand, they may be inflated because they don’t count those who had to reapply after losing health insurance and don’t take into account that people need to pay their first month’s premium to enroll fully.

Obama notably did not mention Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius during his remarks. She’s been criticized for allowing the faulty rollout of the federal health insurance exchange website. Obama also didn’t disclose any demographic data on the 7 million enrollees into health care reform.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his press briefing prior to the remarks that he doesn’t yet have the demographic information for any category, even though the administration collected it during the enrollment period.

Earlier data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid demonstrate that information was collected on the basis of gender and age. Information was also collected on the basis of race, but it was optional for enrollees to identify as they were applying for health insurance.

The federal government did not collect information from enrollees about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Laura Durso, director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said “unfortunately” there’s no way to know how many of the estimated 7 million new enrollees are LGBT.

“We all need to continue to advocate for more and better data collection so that in the future we can assess enrollment numbers among LGBT communities, along with other important aspects of health and wellbeing,” Durso added.

The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether it would be open to a change in policy that allows future enrollees to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gary Gates, distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles said information on LGBT enrollees would be helpful in discerning health concerns related to LGBT people.

“Tracking access to health insurance and healthcare use more generally by LGBT individuals may assist in better service provision for these needs,” Gates said. “Williams Institute research has shown that many LGBT individuals…and those in same-sex couples are less likely than non-LGBT individuals and those in different-sex couples to have health insurance. The availability of affordable health insurance as a result of the ACA could help to reduce this disparity.”

Although the process for collecting LGBT data on certain national health surveys is underway, Gates said the Obama administration could take another step to enhance the available findings.

“This may include administrative data collection activities like enrollment data, but should also include health-related surveys like the National Health Interview Survey (which still does not include any measurement of gender identity) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (where sexual orientation and gender identity measures are not included on surveys in all states),” Gates said.

Obama said during his address he’s generally open to the idea of changing the Affordable Care Act to make it work better for everyone.

“There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved,” Obama said. “And if we can stop refighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked, then we could actually make the law work even better for everybody. And we’re excited about the prospect of doing that. We are game to do it.”


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.”

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.


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.


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.”