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Obama must keep promise to LGBT workers

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

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently the White House press office stated that the president believes that signing this order would be redundant. The Washington Blade reported that Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign referring to the executive orders the president signed said, “Issuing these executive orders helps build momentum for Congress to act on paycheck fairness legislation. The exact same logic applies to the executive order that would afford protections to the LGBT workers of federal contractors. By the stroke of his pen, the president can immediately protect over 16 million workers and pressure Congress to pass ENDA. There is simply no reason for President Obama to wait one second longer.”

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

17
Apr
2014

Cartoon: Big shoes to fill

Jo Becker, Chad Griffin, Rosa Parks, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

22
Apr
2014

New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

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 lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
2014

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

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

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

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

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

Gay couples can marry immediately in California

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, DOMA, Gay Marriage, Gay News, Washington Blade

Gay couples like the Prop 8 plaintiffs will finally be able to marry in California (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Gay couples can begin to marry immediately in California thanks to the last procedural hurdle being overcome in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down to California Proposition 8.

On Friday, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lift its stay on the injunction against the enforcement of Prop 8 that was put in place by U.S. District Vaughn Walker.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised the development in a statement from San Francisco prior to the city’s Pride celebration.

“After four and a half long and painful years, justice for committed gay and lesbian couples has finally been delivered,” Griffin said. “In California, a time of struggle and indignity are over, and love, justice and freedom begin anew. And now, no election, no judge – no one – can take this basic right away. At long last, marriage has finally returned to the most populous state in the nation.”

Griffin said the news is welcome relief to the gay plaintiff couples in the lawsuit that he helped to initiate to put an end to Prop 8 in addition to the many thousands of same-sex couples in California.

“Kris Perry and Sandy Stier’s twin sons were just starting high school when their moms’ right to marry was taken away, now, as they prepare to start college, they will finally see their family recognized in the eyes of their state and their country,” Griffin said. “Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, now free to marry, can finally plan the family they’ve always wanted. Thousands upon thousands of lives are about to change for the better, for good. And young LGBT people across the Golden State will can today look forward to a future where they are truly and fully equal.”

The American Federation for Equal Rights, which was responsible for the lawsuit, said in statement the plaintiff couples would be the first to marry in California in the aftermath of Prop 8. Perry and Stier are set to marry in San Francisco while Katami and Zarrillo are set to marry in Los Angeles. California Attorney General Kamala Harris said via Twitter she’d officiate over the ceremony in San Francisco.

Griffin concluded, “Today is a day of profound celebration, but tomorrow – and every day from here on out – we will fight until joy, dignity, and full equality in all its forms reach each and every corner of this vast country.”

UPDATE: At 4:45 pm, Harris married Perry and Stier in San Francisco City Hall, saying, “Today, we witness not only the joining of Kristen and Sandy, but the realization of their dream: marriage. They have waited, hoped and fought for this moment. Today, their wait is finally over.”

28
Jun
2013

Walmart to offer domestic partner benefits

Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade

Walmart will begin to offer domestic partnership benefits to employees (Photo by Bobby P.; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

The nation’s largest retailer will begin to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees in same-sex relationships, although LGBT advocates are calling on the company to go further.

Walmart — which, with more than two million workers, is the biggest private employer in the world — announced that it would begin to offer these benefits along with other changes on Monday in a postcard that was sent to workers obtained by the Washington Blade and other media outlets.

Under the heading “Enrolling domestic partners,” the postcard states, “Beginning in 2014, if you’re a full-time associate you can cover your spouse/domestic partner in the medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness or accident plans.”

Randy Grove, a Walmart spokesperson, said the “full suite” of benefits will be available starting Jan. 1 to employees who have domestic partners.

“The benefits that we will be offering will be available to an associate’s same or opposite-sex spouse, or an unmarried partner, whether it’s the same or opposite-sex,” Grove said.

The company, Grove said, defines domestic partnership as someone living in a relationship similar to marriage. The parties in the relationship must be living together for at least 12 months and intend to continue sharing a household indefinitely.

But Grove said the company isn’t looking for proof from employees that they have met requirements and is working off an honor system.

“Walmart’s beliefs are built on a foundation of integrity, and so no proof will be required to enroll a spouse or partner, just as no proof is not required today to enroll a spouse,” Grove said.

Grove said the company isn’t taking a position on same-sex marriage, but is adopting the new policy as different states enact different laws on marriage equality.

“We haven’t taken a view on that, but what we’ve done is we’ve developed a single definition for all our associates that can provide consistency across all of our markets because different states are developing different definitions of marriage and domestic partnerships, civil unions,” Grove said. “By adopting a single definition, we’ll offer clarity and consistency for our associates.”

While Grove said the company has provided benefits to employees in opposite-sex marriages, he said the company hasn’t recognized same-sex marriages and those couples will have to go through the domestic partnership system to receive benefits.

Grove said the policy change came about after discussions within the company, but not the result of any kind of board vote.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement provided to the Washington Blade that as a teenager he worked at his local Walmart in Arkansas — the home state of the company’s corporate headquarters.

“Now, as president of the Human Rights Campaign, I am moved by my former employer’s historic action that further proves equality is good business,” Griffin said. “Having worked for years to improve their HRC Corporate Equality Index score, Walmart, as America’s largest employer, has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT people is the simplest of mainstream values and we look forward to continuing to work with them.”

According to HRC’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index, Walmart previously offered an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy, but in addition to lacking partner benefits also didn’t provide transgender-inclusive health insurance or LGBT competency training or resources.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said the institution of domestic partner benefits will change Walmart’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s CEI score, but HRC is still assessing what that will mean in terms of points.

“They are likely not at 100 percent so after we figure their final score there will definitely be more for them to do,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Walmart has been on a slow but steady progression of LGBT inclusion and we expect that will continue.”

News that Walmart will begin to offer domestic partner benefits comes amid controversy after the company announced it has halted plans to build stores in D.C. after the District passed a law requiring large retailers to pay at least $12 an hour to employees.

Darren Phelps, executive director of the LGBT labor group Pride at Work, said he welcomes the change to offer domestic partner benefits to employees, but wants to see more from the company in terms of wages for employees.

“Our issue with Walmart first of all is workplace safety,” Phelps said. “While they are extending domestic partnership to same-gender loving people in our community, our workers should receive their living wages. We have great issues around that. While they have an extended an olive branch, Walmart needs to step up and do what is right to make sure that all workers are receiving liveable, fair wages.”

28
Aug
2013