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HRC urges feds to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is calling on the Obama administration to recognize Utah same-sex marriages. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The nation’s largest LGBT organization is formally calling on the Obama administration to recognize as valid the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

In a letter dated Jan. 9 and obtained by the Washington Blade, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, writes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “there is no legal reason to question” the validity of same-sex marriages performed in the state before the Supreme Court issued a stay on the weddings.

“Given this landscape of facts, there is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples,” Griffin writes.

Griffin ticks off several reasons why the marriages should be considered valid — despite a recent decision from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to hold off on recognizing Utah same-sex marriages until the litigation that enabled them is complete.

“Each was legally performed by a clerk representing the State of Utah, in accordance with the state’s statutes and constitution,” Griffin writes. “Even the office of the governor of Utah—whose formal political position is one of opposition to marriage equality—urged state agencies to extend state marriage recognition to these couples during that 20 day period when same-sex marriages were being performed. Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions.”

A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined further comment. Earlier this week, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said the department is reviewing the Utah governor’s as part of its determination on whether the federal government will recognize the unions.

Same-sex couples began marrying in Utah on Dec. 20 as a result of ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Amendment 3, as unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court placed a stay on these marriages on Monday, resulting in Utah saying it would place on hold recognition of these unions until the litigation is resolved in the courts.

But the letter to Holder isn’t the only missive HRC sent out on Thursday. The organization also sent out a letter to each of the attorneys general in the 18 states where same-sex marriage is recognized to urge them to recognize the Utah same-sex unions.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other, and I urge you to issue an advisory opinion declaring that treating all legally-conferred marriages consistently as a matter of equal protection and basic justice is consistent with the public policy of your state,” Griffin writes.

Notably, D.C. isn’t included in the letter, even though same-sex marriage was legalized there in 2009.

According to Utah TV affiliate Fox 13, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes suggested that others states may be able to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah, even though Utah won’t recognize them.

“It’s not invalidating it in the same way that if they went to Hawaii, they could potentially apply for benefits there based on the marriage that took place. They can’t be recognized (here),” Reyes reportedly said. “There is a very fine distinction, but a very important distinction based on those two things.”

09
Jan
2014

Gays behaving badly

Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

A squabble broke out at the Equality Forum panel discussion of national politics I moderated last week in Philadelphia.

A woman in the audience objected forcefully after the Victory Fund’s Torey Carter discussed his organization’s controversial endorsement of two gay candidates for Congress.

One is Richard Tisei, a gay Republican from Massachusetts seeking to unseat pro-LGBT (but straight) incumbent John Tierney. The race is dividing LGBT voters and donors, with some saying we should remain loyal to our allies in Congress while others like the Victory Fund see an opportunity to add an openly gay voice to the GOP caucus.

The other race is in New York where the Victory Fund and other LGBT advocates are backing Sean Eldridge over a Republican incumbent who opposes marriage equality. The race is controversial because Eldridge has a thin resume but deep pockets — he’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The woman at Equality Forum nearly leapt from her seat, angry at the notion of a candidate buying a seat in Congress and questioning whether the LGBT community should play along with such unsavory tactics.

Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement. LGBT advocates should reconsider supporting Eldridge’s vanity campaign for Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Or is it the 18th district? It’s hard to keep track of where Eldridge and his wealthy husband — who won the lottery by ending up Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate as he was creating Facebook — are buying their latest multi-million-dollar home.

We should abandon the term “carpetbagging” and call it “Eldridgeing” because he gives new meaning to the cynical practice of picking up and moving to a new district to buy a seat in Congress.

Eldridge is taking on incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who opposes marriage equality but is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Of course, no one would mistake Gibson for a gay rights advocate — he earned a zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard — but gay voters and donors should resist lining up behind an alternative just because he’s gay and rich. Surely there’s a viable, experienced Democrat living in the district. We won’t know because anyone contemplating a run was scared off by the Hughes war chest.

In sharp contrast to most newbie politicians, Eldridge shuns the media. He has refused multiple Blade interview requests. Politico last month published a profile of Eldridge and noted that he not only refused its interview requests, but locked the campaign headquarters door when a reporter showed up knocking.

Despite Eldridge’s arrogant approach to campaigning, LGBT voices are embracing him.

“They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination,” Richard Socarides told the New York Times in a predictable display of sycophantic ass kissing.

There’s no disputing they are rich. Hughes’ net worth has been reported to be between $600-700 million. The money came from his connection to Facebook’s Zuckerberg. As the New York Times put it, “For Mr. Hughes, a history and literature student with no programming skills, it later seemed to outsiders a lucky break.”

The couple bought an estate in Garrison, N.Y. along with 80 acres in 2011 for $5 million, the Times noted, quoting Eldridge as saying that’s where they “put down roots.” But just two years later, when the congressional seat in that area appeared out of reach for Eldridge, they bought a new, $2 million spread just north in the 19th congressional district.

Eldridge is just 27 but has a “deep commitment” to public service, according to his bio on Victory Fund’s website. It continues, “He helped lead the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State in 2011.” That’s almost as ridiculous and brazen as author Jo Becker comparing HRC’s Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks in her new book “Forcing the Spring.”

Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book last month. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York.

We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims.

As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.

And, as the insightful Maya Rupert of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told our audience at the Equality Forum: We don’t need a gay Rosa Parks. The original belongs to everyone.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

08
May
2014

Maryland to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler on Friday said his state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Maryland will continue to recognize valid out-of-state same-sex marriages as we continue to strengthen the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law,” said Gansler. “It is an affront to the idea of basic human rights that the battle for full marriage equality in this country remains in headlines and courtrooms.”

Gansler told the Washington Blade his office on Thursday received a call from a gay Maryland couple who married in Utah about whether the state would recognize their union.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on the same day urged him and attorneys general in the 17 other states that have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians to recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 same-sex couples who exchanged vows after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby struck down the Beehive State’s gay nuptials ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah until the case is resolved.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other,” wrote Griffin.

HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz described Gansler’s announcement to the Blade as “another win for justice, dignity and equality.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder earlier on Friday announced the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6. This announcement came two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would not recognize the aforementioned unions pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling.

Gansler in 2008 became the first statewide official to back marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland when he testified in support of gay nuptials during a state Senate committee hearing. He wrote an opinion in 2010 that said Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve just said of course based on our previous opinion, we of course would welcome those couples here,” Gansler told the Blade. “Public policy would dictate that least in those 18 states (in which nuptials for gays and lesbians are legal) the marriages from Utah would be recognized.”

Gansler added he hopes the Supreme Court will agree to hear the Utah case and determine whether the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is constitutional.

“The hope is that this Utah case would be taken at the Supreme Court, which issued the injunction,” he told the Blade. “Staying the decision is indication the Supreme Court would take the case and finally put to rest the issue of whether or not the prohibition of same-sex marriage is constitutional. And clearly it’s not.”

Gansler is currently running to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He will face Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) in the Democratic primary in June.

10
Jan
2014

Michael Sam becomes first out gay man drafted to NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jones apologized.

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

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

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

Sam on Thursday signed an endorsement deal with Visa.

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

10
May
2014

State Dept. quiet on Nigeria gay arrests

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department won’t articulate options to address anti-gay activity in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was unable on Friday to articulate any options to address Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the arrests that have followed other than restating U.S. concerns about the situation.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki provided little additional information on U.S. efforts to confront the anti-gay law as reports continue to emerge of hostilities toward gay men in the country.

“I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point,” Psaki said. “I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on the State Department to employ all available tools to stop the anti-gay situation in Nigeria described in media reports that has troubled many observers.

“The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The Obama administration has previously said the anti-gay law itself violates Nigeria’s international legal obligations and is inconsistent with human rights protections in its constitution.

But one option that Psaki took off the table on Friday was a potential loss of U.S. financial aid to Nigeria, saying the United States funds programs in Nigeria that are critically important.

“It’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR,” Psaki said. “Those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support.”

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the new anti-gay law signed on Jan. 7 by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan goes further than the existing statutes.

It bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, but also membership in LGBT organizations. Entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and membership in an LGBT organization is punishable with jail time of up to 10 years.

The State Department had previously said it was trying to verify reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 168 others are being pursued following passage of the anti-gay law. The Associated Press reported on Friday that arrests are spreading across Nigeria and dozens more individuals perceived to be gay have been rounded up and questioned.

But Psaki on Friday said wasn’t able to provide any confirmation about arrests in terms of numbers as she reiterated U.S. concern about the media reports.

“I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there,” Psaki said. “Obviously, we have expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well…It’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines.”

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later told the Blade the U.S. embassy in Nigeria is working to ascertain the number of individuals perceived to be gay arrested under the law. Stevens said the State Department would provide a response by Tuesday, but it’ll probably be a “squishy number” because of the changing situation.

Asked to respond to media reports that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has returned the “anti-homosexuality” bill to parliament, which passed the measure last month, Psaki said she was unaware of the development.

“I haven’t seen that,” Psaki said. “I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.”

A State Department official later told the Blade the United States continues to raise concerns about the legislation in Uganda and “welcome[s] reports” that some Ugandan leaders have expressed their  opposition to the bill.

“Since the 2009 introduction of this legislation, we have consistently registered our opposition at the highest levels of government, both in Washington and in Kampala, reiterating our long-standing opposition to legislation that discriminates against LGBT individuals,” the official said.

18
Jan
2014

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.

29
May
2014

Putin: Gay rights protesters won’t face prosecution during Olympics

ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) in Sochi, Russia, on Jan. 17. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview his network aired on Sunday that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under Russia’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things,” Putin told Stephanopoulos through a translator during an interview with him and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K., that took place in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. “They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children.”

Putin once again sought to downplay concerns over the gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi games that begin on Feb. 6 during his interview with Stephanopoulos that aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their non-traditional orientation,” he told Stephanopoulos. “In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one’s religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.”

Putin said during the interview that “homosexuality remains a felony” in some U.S. states — Stephanopoulos pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these anti-sodomy laws.

The Russian president also noted homosexuality remains a crime in 70 countries — and seven of these nations impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.

“Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world’s nations,” said Putin.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized Putin’s comments to Stephanopoulos.

“President Putin’s public interpretation of the country’s anti-LGBT law is beyond comprehension,” said Griffin in a statement. “This law was designed to do nothing less than secure second class status for LGBT Russians and visitors. It does nothing to protect children, but goes great lengths to harm families.

Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K. a day before authorities detained a protester who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

Putin on Friday once again sought to downplay concerns over Russia’s gay propaganda law during a meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said the Russian president as the Associated Press reported. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”

LGBT rights advocates blasted Putin’s comments.

“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Blade on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has frequently criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted ongoing security concerns and the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The job to Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors,” Putin told Stephanopoulos. “We will do whatever it takes.”

19
Jan
2014

HRC urges Obama to take action on Uganda

South, Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. (Washington Blade file by Michael Key).

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin penned a letter to the Obama administration this week, asking the president to take a more aggressive stance against harassment, property loss and violence against LGBT Ugandans ever since the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes a life sentence on any person engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.

“I respectfully ask that you direct the Administration’s interagency review to begin issuing immediate, concrete results that will illustrate the United States’ commitment to protecting human rights in Uganda,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in the letter.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Blade in a statement Tuesday that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act “runs counter to universal human rights and to human dignity.”

For the past three months, the Obama administration has said it plans to “review” its relationship with Uganda.

Ventrell noted that when Uganda’s anti-gay law was first instituted, the administration responded by diverting funds away from anti-gay tourism programs and religious groups in Uganda. Additionally, the Department of Defense cancelled scheduled events in the country, and Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to discuss “why what he did could not be based on any kind of science or fact.”

The HRC’s letter pushes the administration to take more definitive steps – not only in Uganda, but also in other nations with equally discriminatory legislation on the books.

“An immediate demonstration of significant consequences, moreover, will put other leaders who are considering similar bills on notice that enacting anti-LGBT laws will effect their country’s relationship with the United States,” Griffin wrote. “A further review that incorporates Nigeria, Russia, and Brunei – countries that recently passed heinous anti-LGBT laws – is also imperative to signal to the world that these consequences are not directed solely towards Africa.”

American leaders have said that diverting funds from Uganda – especially dollars previously aimed toward groups fighting HIV/AIDS like the anti-gay Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – could cause trouble for the country if it continues to cling to the Anti-Homosexual Act.

“The backwardness of the new law is damaging Uganda’s international reputation and could jeopardize progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, attracting foreign investment and promoting tourism,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in February.

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” Museveni said in a statement Feb. 18. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality.”

Uganda is one of more than 70 countries where homosexuality remains criminalized and next week, the nation’s anti-gay ideals could gain more prominence on the international stage.

Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, who supports the anti-gay law, was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly. He’ll assume that post next week after being elected by the African Union “acclamation,” without a single ballot being cast.

04
Jun
2014

Obama’s State of the Union light on LGBT issues

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama was criticized by LGBT advocates over his State of the Union address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama had few words in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night on LGBT issues, disappointing advocates who had wanted him to address the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Devoting a large portion of his speech to income equality, Obama called on on Congress to pass other initiatives — such as a Voting Rights Act, a measure to ensure equal for pay women, immigration reform — and pledged to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors.

“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing Obama to include in his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Obama’s continued decision to withhold the LGBT executive order became more pronounced after he promised during his speech to take executive action if Congress doesn’t pass legislation, and enumerated a specific plan to boost the minimum wage through executive order. That raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same for LGBT workers.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. “Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t completely devoid of any references to the LGBT community. The president identified marriage equality as one of those issues with which the White House is partnering with “mayors, governors and state legislatures” on throughout the country.

Further, he said the administration pursues a robust foreign policy because “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being” regardless of categories like sexual orientation. Obama also said American values “equality under law” in his speech, which is of importance as courts decide the issue of marriage equality.

Joe Biden, John Boehner, Democratic Party, Republican Party, State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nonetheless, the speech fell short of what LGBT advocates were calling in terms of federal workplace non-discrimination policy, prompting disappointment.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded the president’s failure to address LGBT issues in his speech with criticism, a striking change in tone from the organization’s usual praise of Obama as a strong LGBT ally.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy,” Griffin said. “Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors.”

Griffin added Obama “missed a real opportunity” to commit in the State of the Union to “executive action to address anti-LGBT discrimination for the millions of Americans employed by federal contractors.”

The absence of ENDA was particularly noteworthy because just months ago, for the first time in history, the Senate approved the measure on bipartisan basis, leaving the House as the only obstacle toward passage.

Although the president made no mention of ENDA during his speech, the White House included the legislation as part of a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the address, identifying LGBT non-discrimination as an issue in which the administration is “continuing to work with Congress.”

“Today, federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and disability,” the fact sheet states. “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, so that no American worker can lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. ”

After noting that the Senate last year passed ENDA by a bipartisan vote, the fact sheet says Obama “renews his call for the House to do the same.”

Others advocates said they would continue to push Obama on the executive order despite the president’s exclusion of the directive from the State of the Union address.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama’s pledge to issue an executive order on minimum wage was “great news” because it means there’s an opportunity for Obama to sign an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“It’s disappointing ENDA did not make it into the State of the Union,” Almeida said. “But no matter what was omitted from this one address, we can still make 2014 a year of action for LGBT workplace protections by pushing the House of Representatives to allow an ENDA vote and pushing the President to keep his promise of the federal contractor executive order.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, gave Obama mixed reviews after previously calling on Obama to use the word “transgender” and address immigration reform during his speech in addition to LGBT workplace protections.

“The President is right to urge congress to fix our broken immigration system this year, the creation of more jobs, equal pay for women, and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act,” Carey said. “We are also pleased that the President is using his pen like he said he would to move things forward: in this instance by signing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. However, he must go further and sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT.”

Carey noted some of the workers who are set to receive pay raises because of the minimum wage executive order are vulnerable without the executive order for LGBT workplace non-discrimation.

“The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love,” Carey said. “The longer the President waits the more damage LGBT people will face; discrimination is a painful reality that is too often the lived experience of LGBT people. The President has to act when Congress won’t.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, took issue with the speech as a whole, not simply for Obama’s handling of workplace issues.

“For a moment, I thought the news accidentally re-ran last year’s State of the Union, because all I really saw was more of the same,” Angelo said. “In the midst of a stagnant economy, understated unemployment, and ballooning debt, the only new ideas presented by the President involved using ‘a pen and a phone’ to push a liberal agenda for which hard-working Americans have no appetite.”

Coming off a victory in which Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) agreed to sign on as co-sponsor of ENDA, Angelo also chided Obama for his lack of attention in the State of the Union to LGBT non-discrimination in the workforce.

“While the President’s calls for a more equal nation are welcome, there is a profound irony in the absence of any mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for LGBT workers tonight, and likewise in the President’s threat to exercise unilateral Executive actions with the explosive potential to ignite class warfare, while at the same time remaining silent on signing a common-sense Executive Order barring federal workplace discrimination: an empty promise to LGBT Americans that stands unfulfilled after six years,” Angelo said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, defended the speech by saying it wasn’t “a comprehensive list of all of the president’s positions or priorities. ”

“The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the President’s belief that Congress needs to act,” Inouye said.

Among the guests seated behind first lady Michelle Obama in her box during the speech was Jason Collins, a former Washington Wizards center who made headlines last year after coming out as gay.

Following the speech, lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill said they noted the absence of the ENDA in his speech, but felt assured by the president’s leadership.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she thinks the minimum wage executive order will be a “down payment” on an LGBT directive the president will issue at a later time, but took issue with the lack of any mention of ENDA.

“I would love to have seen a mention, and I don’t think I saw, other than a passing mention of the LGBT community,” Norton said. “I think the way to have done it, frankly, would have been with ENDA, because ENDA is overwhelmingly supported by the American people. It’s already been supported by the Senate. It’s ripe, so I am disappointed that that did not occur, but I’m heartened that he’s going to move, and, frankly, I think we can get ENDA out of here in the next year or two.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House, said he was confident Obama would take executive action to protect LGBT workers based on his previous actions.

“I tell you, 2013 was one of the gayest years in the history of human kind, and this president has used his executive orders already in how he’s interpreted the Supreme Court decisions, the way he’s applied in the ruling in the Windsor case, in ways that have been very favorable,” Takano said. “He’s done that through executive orders and interpretations, so he’s already used his executive order in the gayest way possible. So, I have hope that he’ll continue to do so.”

Mark Takano, California, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, State of the Union Address, 2014

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

29
Jan
2014

Night Out at the Nationals

Team DC hosted its 10th annual Night Out at the Nationals on June 17. The Nats beat the Astros 6-5 as thousands of LGBT fans cheered them on. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) Night Out at the Nationals 

25
Jun
2014