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Kerry: LGBT rights are human rights

John Kerry, State Department, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Secretary of State John Kerry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian LGBT rights advocate and journalist Masha Gessen are among those who spoke at the annual Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies Pride celebration that took place at the State Department on Thursday.

“LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights,” said Kerry.

Kerry during his speech highlighted a number of policy changes and other developments that have taken place since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. These include the ability of gays and lesbians to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes and the recognition of marriages of foreign diplomats who are assigned to the U.S.

“That’s what it means to fight and that’s what it means to win in a battle that we all know matters enormously, not as a matter of making these things a privilege, but to make sure that they are, in fact, a right,” said Kerry.

GLIFAA, Robyn McCutcheon, gay news, Washington Blade

GLIFAA President Robyn McCutcheon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kerry praised GLIFAA President Robyn McCutcheon, who is the first foreign service officer to come out as transgender, for her work with the Office of Personnel Management in support of efforts to end the ban on federal employee health plans from covering gender transition-related care.

OPM last Friday announced as of next year it would no longer require federal health insurance plans to include the so-called “transgender exclusion.”

Kerry also applauded Gessen, who fled Russia last December with her wife and their three children because of the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown, for “her own special perseverance and advocacy.”

“When all the repressive anti-LGBT laws in Russia threatened literally to break apart her family, she put up a fight,” said Kerry. “The government in Moscow may look at Masha as a troublemaker to contend with, but here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person — a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human rights defender — and we are honored by her presence here.”

Masha Gessen, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Masha Gessen (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The GLIFAA Pride event took place shortly after the White House announced travel bans against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their country.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their respective countries from entering the U.S. The gay Democrat’s proposal would also mandate the State Department to document anti-LGBT human rights abuses in its annual human rights reports.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would create a special envoy within the State Department who would coordinate Washington’s efforts in support of global LGBT rights.

“From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights,” said Kerry. “We each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.”

20
Jun
2014

Susan Rice criticizes Russia, others over LGBT records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25
Jun
2014

2013 in photography

2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) buyphoto 

03
Jan
2014

House race divides LGBT advocates

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei said he would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans if elected. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

The controversial decision earlier this year by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to endorse gay Republican Richard Tisei over pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has prompted five openly gay or bisexual U.S. House members, all Democrats, to sign on as supporters of a fundraiser for Tierney.

The fundraiser, scheduled for June 25 in Washington, is being backed by at least two-dozen prominent LGBT Democrats and straight allies, including the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, and transgender advocate and Maryland State Senate candidate Dr. Dana Beyer.

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is among those signing on as an honorary co-chair of the fundraising event, which is being organized by two of Frank’s former staff members.

The former staffers, Joseph Racalto and Maria Giesta, principals in the Washington political consulting firm Giesta Racalto, said they initiated the event to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.

Tisei is a former Massachusetts State senator. He has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. He backed a transgender rights bill that came up before the legislature.

Racalto and other LGBT Democrats supporting Tierney said they have no objection to an LGBT supportive gay Republican running for Congress.

But they said the Victory Fund should not have endorsed such a candidate in a race against a longtime straight ally such as Tierney, who has received a perfect 100 percent rating on LGBT issues from HRC.

“Although I applaud Tisei – and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent,” Racalto said in a Blade commentary.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tisei told the Blade he would be a champion for LGBT issues if elected to the House and would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans.

He said he would not hesitate to defy House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by signing a discharge petition to force Boehner and other House GOP leaders to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, to the House floor for a vote.

ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination against LGBT people, has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year.

Racalto said that while Tisei has personally been supportive on LGBT issues, his commitment to push for those issues came into question last month when he formed a joint fundraising committee with conservative Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running for a House seat in New Hampshire.

Guinta opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights and had considered aligning himself with the ultra conservative Tea Party.

Tisei said the joint fundraising arrangement will enable the two candidates to share expenses and won’t in any way compromise his positions in support of LGBT rights.

“During the past 10 years I have seen a lot of people’s positions change and evolve, including the president’s, by the way,” Tisei said.

He added that he sees his role as an advocate for change within the Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the House.

“A lot of people are re-examining their positions on marriage equality and other LGBT issues,” he said. “And I’m going to work with as many different types of people on as many types of issues as I can…And I can serve, especially within the Republican caucus, as someone who helps bring people over to the right side of the issue.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the group endorsed Tisei last week. Angelo said he isn’t troubled over Tisei’s joint fundraising effort with Guinta.

“The more interesting aspect of this story to me is that ‘Tea Party’ types who contribute to this fund will be donating money to a gay Republican running for the House of Representatives,” Angelo said. “That’s the real story here.”

Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group saw Tisei as a change agent for the Republican Party along with Tisei’s longstanding record in support of LGBT rights when it endorsed him.

“I think it is sometimes shortsighted for folks to focus on the kind of short-term gains that can be made right now instead of the long-term goal that this world would be very different if we had more Republicans that supported us on our issues,” Thai said. “And the only way we’re ever going to get to that point is by electing openly gay Republicans that care about our issues.”

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who signed on as a member of the host committee for the Tierney fundraiser, said he agrees with the Victory Fund’s mission of helping to elect LGBT-supportive candidates but not at the expense of long-time LGBT-supportive incumbents like Tierney.

“I don’t see this as a conflict with my support for the Victory Fund,” he said in referring to his role in the Tierney fundraiser. “I support the Victory Fund but not all of their candidates.”

Political observers in Massachusetts say Tisei has a shot at unseating Tierney in part because he’s perceived by many voters as a moderate Republican with a progressive record as a state legislator for more than 10 years.

Tisei came within just one percentage point of beating Tierney in the 2012 election at a time when Tierney’s wife and two brothers-in-law became embroiled in an illegal gambling scheme that landed his wife and one brother-in-law in jail.

Tierney himself was cleared of any wrong-doing in the scandal, in which his wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in 2010 to filing false tax returns in connection with a checking account belonging to one of her brothers. As much as $7 million in illegal gambling funds passed through the account, according to law enforcement officials.

Politico reported that Tierney blames his brothers-in-law for duping his wife into believing the funds were part of a legal sports gambling business based in the Caribbean island of Antigua, which the brothers claimed to have been operating.

Republican Party operatives both in Massachusetts and outside the state have been raising the gambling scandal in attack ads targeting Tierney.

As if that were not enough, Tierney is being challenged by two Democrats in the state’s Democratic primary in September. One of the candidates, former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, raised more money than Tierney in the most recent campaign reporting period, raising concern among Tierney supporters. On his campaign website, Moulton has expressed support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

The gay House members signing on as honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also signed on as an honorary co-chair.

The name of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, is conspicuously absent from the list of honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser. Racalto said organizers invited Baldwin to participate but have not heard back from her office.

A Baldwin spokesperson didn’t respond to a request from the Blade for a comment on why Baldwin hasn’t signed on to the fundraiser. The Victory Fund endorsed Baldwin in her hotly contested Senate race in 2012 and helped raise money for her successful campaign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has signed on as an honorary co-chair for the Tierney fundraiser along with Tierney’s eight House colleagues from Massachusetts, all of whom are Democrats. The state’s other senator, Elizabeth Warren (D), has so far not signed on as an honorary co-chair.

Other supporters of the event, in addition to Solmonese, Rosenstein, and Beyer, include former Barney Frank staffers Peter Kovar and Diego Sanchez; Brad Luna; John Weinfurter; Tucker Gallagher; Lane Hudson; and Paul Hazen.

Racalto said he didn’t extend an invitation to participate in the event to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay last year and who has been endorsed by the Victory Fund in his race for governor of Maine.

“We didn’t invite him simply because of his run for governor,” Racalto said. “The Victory Fund played no part in that decision.”

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank and several of his former staffers are involved in a June fundraiser for Rep. John Tierney. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

07
May
2014

Jamaica’s ‘unique’ brand of homophobia

Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, an organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was walking with a friend in a town outside of Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2009 when two men robbed them.

Jackson, now 24, said during a Capitol Hill reception on May 21 that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attended, that the two men who were stepbrothers forced her to perform oral sex on them at gunpoint. The two men raped Jackson’s friend before bringing them to one of their mother’s homes two hours later.

Two female police officers came to Jackson’s home after she told her mother about the alleged incident. She said one of them told her that she “should leave this lifestyle and go back to church.”

“I looked at her,” said Jackson as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. “I was like, you mean the same night that this has just happened to me this is the response that you give me as an officer of the law.”

Jackson, who co-founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in January 2013 alongside Jalna Broderick, met with New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark and officials with the U.S. State Department while in D.C. last week. She also spoke with the Washington Blade on May 21 at the offices of Human Rights First.

“The quality of citizenship of LGBT people needs to be at the same standard as heterosexuals so that within the country everybody can be moving forward,” said Jackson.

Lesbian, bi Jamaicans face discrimination, violence

A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) says the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his Kingston home in 2004.

The murder of Dwayne Jones last July near Montego Bay after a group of partygoers stabbed him to death after they realized the teenager was cross-dressing sparked global outrage.

Jamaica, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates protested outside the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle last August. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

Jackson noted to the Blade that gay men and “butch” women are more likely to experience physical violence, in part, because of the way she said Jamaican society views male homosexuality. She said sexual violence is more likely to be perpetrated against “feminine” LGBT women.

“A male being gay means that somebody’s making themselves a woman,” said Jackson. “You’re making yourself a girl; you’re making yourself less than and so the way the male relationships are looked at is different than female relationships.”

“Our culture is this melting pot of religion, culture, music and misogyny,” she added. “All four of them just combine to give us this unique Jamaican homophobia.”

Jamaica has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence with a third of women reporting they have been raped.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica last year conducted the first survey of LGBT Jamaicans designed to collect information about education, health care and other basic needs. Jackson said her organization is also trying to determine any possible connection between sexual violence and the sexual orientation of those who experience it.

“We know because of that, it must mean that the same thing is happening within the LB (lesbian, bisexual) community,” Jackson told the Blade. “We just don’t know what it is. We’re trying to ascertain what that figure is.”

Jackson said anti-LGBT harassment — particularly against those who live in lower-income areas of Kingston where Quality of Citizenship Jamaica is based — remains pervasive.

She noted to the Blade a group of people stoned a lesbian couple. Jackson discussed another reported incident during which a man who saw a lesbian couple walking to their respective homes in Kingston called them a “sodomite” and asked them whether it was “a good man you want” or “a good cock you want to change you.”

She said she receives “certain looks” if her hair is cut “too low” or she dresses in “a certain way.” Jackson added she has also “gotten the stares” and questions about whether she is a lesbian or a “sodomite” or “a boy” when she wears a large T-shirt or cuts her hair short.

“I’m usually more of the in-between look that people can’t figure out whether I’m butch or femme,” she said. “They kind of leave me alone.”

Jackson told the Blade she spends more money when she travels to make sure she remains safe. She said she takes public transportation only for short distances or when she is with a friend.

“It doesn’t always boil down to actual violence,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the mere fear of violence and the attack. It can cripple you or it can force you to take precautions. I prefer to be safe than sorry.”

Jackson said she used to wear a mask, hat and glasses when she attended pro-LGBT protests because she was afraid.

“When we started QCJ we decided this is not going to be the face of this organization,” she told the Blade. “There is going to be a face, and unfortunately that meant it was me.”

Jamaica is among the Caribbean and Central American countries in which same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaican Prime Minister elect, gay news, gay politics DC

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said shortly before her December 2011 election that her government would review the country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to a decade in prison with hard labor. She said she would call for a so-called conscience vote of her taking office that would allow parliamentarians to consult with their constituents on the issue.

A vote has yet to take place.

“I do not agree with the vote,” Jackson told the Blade. “I do not think that rights — fundamental human rights — should be put up for a vote.”

The Jamaica Supreme Court in November is expected to hear a complaint against the colonial-era law that AIDS-Free World filed on behalf of Javed Jaghai who alleges his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation.

The new constitution that Jamaican lawmakers unanimously approved in 2011 explicitly guarantees the right to privacy.

Jackson referenced to the Blade a newspaper account of two older men convicted under the sodomy law who were caught having sex inside their home in 1999 after police officers patrolling their Mandeville neighborhood saw them having sex.

“Jamaicans tend to forget that means male and female as well, conveniently,” she said, referring to privacy and her group’s desire to amend the law to criminalize only non-consensual sex. “So if it’s consensual sex, you leave the people alone.”

The University of the West Indies last week terminated the contract it had with Dr. Brendan Bain to direct a program that uses a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to train doctors and other health care providers throughout the Caribbean to work with groups at risk for HIV after he testified on behalf of religious groups defending Belize’s anti-sodomy law. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s Kingston campus on Monday to protest the decision as the Associated Press reported.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society in 2011 hosted a symposium at the University of the West Indies in Kingston at which Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Paul Diamond, a British lawyer, spoke about what Jackson described as the need to keep the sodomy law in place.

Brian Camenker of MassResistence spoke at a Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society rally that took place at a Kingston park last December. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, and Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern in the U.K. are among those who spoke at a conference the group organized alongside the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship earlier that month in the Jamaican capital.

“Keep your crazies at home,” Jackson told the Blade when asked whether the U.S. government has done enough to address anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Jamaica. “Keep the fundamentalist people at home; the people who have the crack science that you know has been discredited here or has been discredited in their respective countries.”

She also urged LGBT rights activists in the U.S. and other countries to work directly with Quality of Citizenship Jamaica and other advocacy groups on the ground.

“It’s a problem, this savior complex,” said Jackson. “These white people come in with a savior complex to save LGBT people and tell Jamaica what to do. And it doesn’t work well because then it backfires.”

28
May
2014

Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.

20
Jun
2014

Congressional LGBT Pride

The Victory Institute joined with Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff (GLASS) Caucus, the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, Library of Congress GLOBE and the LGBT Equality Caucus to host the Congressional LGBT Pride Reception at Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday. Speakers included Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade photos by Damien Salas) buyphoto 

06
Jun
2013

Watch members of Congress’ LGBT Equality Caucus react to Supreme Court rulings

Watch as members of the LGBT Caucus in the U.S. Congress react to today’s Supreme Court rulings.

Representatives Polis, Cicilline, Malone and more share their feelings immediately after marriage decisions come down.

26
Jun
2013

Ros-Lehtinen, Cicilline criticize Russia over LGBT rights record

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, Florida, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Council for Global Equality

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) speaks about Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Council for Global Equality reception at the Rayburn Building in D.C. on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Gabriella Boffelli)

U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Monday criticized Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Center for Global Equality reception on Capitol Hill.

“I strongly believe that every person deserves to live a life that is free from persecution and harassment and I am committed to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of universal rights for all members of LGBT community,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Unfortunately, the situation in Russia for the LGBT community has been rapidly deteriorating.”

The Florida Republican criticized the Kremlin for passing a law that bans gay propaganda to minors and other laws she maintains “restrict free speech and free association of LGBT individuals.” Ros-Lehtinen also blasted Russian lawmakers who are reportedly seeking to remove children of gay and lesbian parents from their homes.

“The actions of an increasingly hostile Russian government takes the country far backwards in time, just as much of the world is moving forward towards tolerance and equality,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “No government ought to be able to dictate who we love. And no government ought to be able to use children as pawns to punish those who are different.”

Cicilline, who is gay, categorized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record as “one part of a much bigger human rights problem” in the country.

“It was really sponsored or authorized or approved by government actors in a really profoundly different way,” Cicilline said. “We see experiences like this around the world where organizations or individuals are engaging in bad behavior, but this I think was very different and I think really requires our full attention.”

The Center for Global Equality reception took place against the backdrop of mounting outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage, Cleve Jones and other LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

President Obama, who met with two Russian LGBT rights activists last month during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, is among those who oppose any effort to boycott the Sochi games. He, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have repeatedly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government over its LGBT rights record.

International Olympic Commission President Thomas Bach on Sunday said before the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece that Olympic values include “respect without any form of discrimination.”

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun in August told RIA Novosti, an online Russian newspaper, that American athletes should comply with the laws of the countries in which they compete. USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky later sought to clarify Blackmun’s comments by tweeting Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles.”

Sandusky added in the same tweet that the USOC has “shared our view with the IOC.”

LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world last week expressed outrage after IOC Coordination Commission Chair Jean-Claude Killy appeared to suggest the statute does not violate the Olympic Charter.

Ros-Lehtinen, who met with Russian LGBT rights advocate Igor Kochetkov and two other gay activists from Ukraine and Georgia last month, criticized the USOC during a brief interview with the Washington Blade after she spoke at the Council for Global Equality reception.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee has been complicit in this act of aggression because they say we respect Russia’s right to do this,” the Florida Republican said. “That is not worthy of Olympic standards.”

Ros-Lehtinen and gay California Congressman Mark Takano continue to seek additional signatories for a letter they plan to send to the USOC that asks it to explain the steps it plans to take to ensure the safety of American athletes who plan to compete in the Sochi games. She applauded both Obama and Kerry for publicly criticizing Putin over his government’s LGBT rights record, but she suggested to the Blade they can do more to respond to concerns over athletes and others who will travel to Russia for the games.

“It’s up to the U.S. to step up,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “[It is] time to step up and tell Putin what you think so he knows that the eyes of the world are upon Russia.”

The USOC did not immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Ros-Lehtinen’s criticisms.

01
Oct
2013

Victory Congressional Celebration

buyphotoThe Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute held a celebration at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Friday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

05
Jan
2013