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Mizeur not included in Victory Fund’s initial 2014 endorsements

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Heather Mizeur is seeking to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur is not among those whom the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund backed in the first round of 2014 endorsements it announced on Monday.

The group endorsed gay Maine Congressman Mike Michaud in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The Victory Fund also backed Massachusetts lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Kerrigan and Maura Healey in her bid to succeed Attorney General Martha Coakley who announced her campaign to succeed outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick last fall.

Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe described Michaud in a statement as the “nation’s first openly gay candidate to win a gubernatorial election,” although it will not take place until November. Michaud, who has represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District since 2003, last November came out in an op-ed he submitted to the Associated Press, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.

“He’ll also be a strong voice for fairness, freedom and equality for all Americans coast-to-coast,” said Wolfe.

Mizeur could also become the country’s first elected openly LGBT governor if Maryland voters elect her to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley in November.

“We will absolutely welcome their support,” Mizeur campaign manager Joanna Belanger told the Washington Blade.

Denis Dison, senior vice president of programs for the Victory Fund, said his organization generally does not comment on potential endorsements until one is made.

The Victory Fund endorsed the Montgomery County Democrat for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006 and 2010. Steve Elmendorf, chair of the Victory Fund board of directors, last January hosted a fundraiser for Mizeur’s gubernatorial campaign at his D.C. home.

The Victory Fund’s announcement comes two weeks after Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, endorsed Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown for governor. Mizeur described the apparent snub to the Blade and other media outlets as a “puzzling choice.”

EMILY’s List last month announced it would encourage its members to contribute to Mizeur’s campaign.

“Heather Mizeur is a progressive powerhouse who will fight for the rights of Maryland’s women and working families from day one,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

The Victory Fund on Monday also announced it has endorsed incumbent U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) for re-election. The group additionally backed North Carolina congressional candidate Marcus Brandon, former Freedom to Marry staffer Sean Eldridge who hopes to unseat incumbent Republican New York Rep. Chris Gibson, Florida state Rep. David Richardson and Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims.

Maryland state Dels. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane are also among those whom the Victory Fund endorsed. Former Equality Maryland staffer Kevin Walling, who announced his candidacy to represent portions of Montgomery County in the House of Delegates last summer, also received the group’s backing.

06
Jan
2014

Rubio wins battle against gay black judicial nominee

Marco Rubio, Florida, Republican Party, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won his battle against a gay black judicial nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has won his battle against the White House over the confirmation of a gay black judicial nominee to the federal bench.

At the start of the year, the White House submitted to the Senate a list of more than 200 nominations previously named by Obama. But, as first reported by The Huffington Post, William Thomas, whom Obama named for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, isn’t among the nominees.

A White House official confirmed for the Washington Blade that Thomas wasn’t resubmitted.

“The nomination of Judge William Thomas was returned by the Senate and Sen. Rubio has made his objection clear, so the president chose not to renominate him,” the official said.

Had Thomas been confirmed by the Senate, he would have been the first openly gay black male to sit on the federal bench. (Deborah Batts, confirmed to the federal bench in 1994 and the first-ever out person to sit on the federal judiciary, is also black.)

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those expressing disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed.

“We supported the Thomas nomination,” Sainz said. “We are disappointed that Judge Thomas was not re-nominated but we know that Sen. Rubio’s opposition to Thomas is unwavering and that the senator would not have let this exceptionally qualified judge move forward.”

Over the course of more than a year since Obama first nominated Thomas in November 2012, the nomination has been blocked. Rubio refused to hand in the “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow the nomination to go forward, even though the Florida senator initially recommended Thomas and the nominee received a rating of “well-qualified” from the American Bar Association.

Faced with accusations that he was holding up Thomas because of his race and sexual orientation, Rubio pointed to the way Thomas as a state judge in the Miami-Dade Circuit handled two cases as reasons for holding up the nomination. The objection in one case was for being too lenient; the objection in the other was for being too harsh.

One was the case of Michael Traverso, who killed a cyclist in a hit-and-run accident while driving on a suspended license. Rubio’s office cites concerns that Thomas sentenced Traverso to the minimum sentence of 22.8 months in jail, less time served, amounting to only 364 days.

The other involves Joel Lebron, who took part in the 2002 gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel. According to Rubio’s office, Thomas twice suppressed confessions of perpetrators of the crime including the confession of Lebron, who pulled the trigger.

The reasons that Rubio’s office offered for blocking the nomination are in dispute. Attorneys involved in the cases wrote letters to Rubio last year, saying Thomas acted responsibly.

A Senate staffer confirmed for the Blade this week that Rubio had never returned his “blue slip” to allow the Thomas nomination to move forward.

LGBT advocates who had been pushing the Thomas expressed disappointment over the missed opportunity of confirming the first openly gay black male to the federal bench.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the fallout was troublesome because more diversity is needed on the federal bench.

“We need more diversity in the federal judiciary, not less and it’s disappointing that Judge William Thomas was not included among the nominees the White House submitted to the Senate this week,” Carey said. “Sen. Marco Rubio’s procedural maneuvering to stop this nominee was unacceptable and harmful given that the vacancy on the Southern District Court of Florida has been classified as a judicial emergency.”

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also expressed disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed. The Presidential Appointment Project, a Victory Fund-led initiative, recommended Thomas to the White House.

“It’s hard to see how Sen. Rubio’s bizarre behavior with regard to this nomination is anything but politically motivated, and that’s a shame,” Dison said. “Judge Thomas is highly qualified and his nomination enjoyed broad support. The fact that he is openly gay should have no bearing on the Senate confirmation process.”

But Thomas wasn’t the only pending LGBT judicial nominee before the Senate. One other remains: Judith Levy, a lesbian whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Her nomination is still before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brooke Sammon, a Rubio spokesperson, pointed to a previous statement she issued on Thomas when asked if the Florida senator was satisfied his nomination didn’t succeed.

“The nomination of Judge Thomas has also been thoroughly reviewed, and Sen. Rubio has determined that Thomas’s record on the state court raises serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment,” Sammon said. “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases of Michael Traverso and Joel Lebron last year. After reviewing Thomas’s record, Sen. Rubio cannot support moving forward with the nomination.”

11
Jan
2014

Obama nominates black lesbian to serve on federal judiciary

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama added to his list of openly gay judicial appointments on Thursday by naming a black lesbian to serve on the federal court.

Obama nominated Staci Michelle Yandle for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Thursday as part of a group of four nominees.

“I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Yandle, who was recommended by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), will need confirmation from the U.S. Senate before she’s seated on the bench.

In a statement, Durbin called Yandle an “excellent candidate” to serve on the federal judiciary in Illinois.

“She will bring a wealth of knowledge and litigation experience to the position,” Durbin said. “I am pleased that President Obama has nominated her today. I will be working with Senator Kirk to see her nomination approved by the Senate.”

The U.S. Senate has already confirmed a total of eight openly gay judges to the federal bench, and Obama named seven of the them. If confirmed, Yandle would be the first openly gay person to serve Illinois on the federal judiciary.

In an interview with Trial Associate in July, Yandle said she thinks the plaintiff bar can be more diverse “whether you are talking about ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation diversity” — a rule she said could apply to any profession.

“The plaintiff bar needs to be more embracing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” Yandle said. “When I first started practicing, for a while I did not feel comfortable acknowledging my sexual orientation because I didn’t want it to cost me my job. I wanted to be judged on my merit and my merit alone. Many members of the LGBT community still have that fear. We are a traditional profession that is conservative in many ways.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Yandle has served as a solo practitioner in southern Illinois since 2007, where she focused her practice on civil litigation in federal and state court. She received her law degree in 1987 from the Vanderbilt University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1983.

Yandle has also engaged in public service, serving by appointment on the Illinois Gaming Board from 1999 to 2001 and on the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the 1990s.

LGBT advocates praised the Yandle nomination for its potential to add diversity to the federal judiciary.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those praising Obama for his choice.

“The nomination of Staci Michelle Yandle is further evidence that the administration is committed to building a judiciary that reflects the diversity of our country,” Cole-Schwartz said. “She is a highly qualified nominee who will serve with distinction.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the confirmation of Yandle to the federal judiciary would enhance the diversity of the courts.

“Our government, including the judiciary, works best when it benefits from the perspectives and experiences of all Americans, so we applaud the president’s effort to increase diversity on the federal bench,” Dison said. “Staci Yandle’s nomination is also a reminder of the enormous talent, professionalism and diversity that exists within the American LGBT community, and we congratulate her on this achievement.”

But Yandle wasn’t the only openly LGBT nominee that Obama named on Thursday. Shamina Singh, executive director for the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, was nominated for a seat on the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National & Community Service

Yandle wouldn’t be the first openly lesbian African American to serve on the federal judiciary. That distinction belongs to Deborah Batts, whom the Senate confirmed during the Clinton administration in 1994 for a seat on the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

It’s also not the first time that Obama has nominated an openly LGBT black person to serve on the federal judiciary. In November 2012, Obama nominated William Thomas for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

However, after initially recommending the nominee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to Thomas and held up the nomination. After no action was taken on the nomination over more than a year, Obama didn’t renew his recommendation of Thomas at the start of the year.

In related news, another openly LGBT judicial nominee advanced in the Senate on the same day that Obama named Yandle for a seat on the federal courts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out Judith Levy, whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, by voice vote as part of a group of 32 nominees. She currently serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in Michigan.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, praised the committee for moving forward with the Levy nomination and urged the full Senate to confirm her.

“Just as women, African Americans, Latinos and others have made our judicial system stronger through their expertise and experiences, openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender judges and attorneys also ensure our courts reflect our country,” Kemnitz said. “We now call on the full Senate to vote on Levy’s nomination without delay.”

16
Jan
2014

Frank seeks appointment as interim U.S. senator

Rep. Barney Frank is actively seeking an interim appointment as a U.S. senator (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Rep. Barney Frank expressed interest in an interim appointment as a U.S. senator. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who retired after his last term as a U.S. House member on Wednesday, publicly expressed interest in the position of interim U.S. senator on Friday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said he’s spoken to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick about the role.

“I’ve told the governor that I would now like frankly to do that because I would like to be a part of that,” Frank said. “It’s only a three-month period; I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”

Frank noted during the interview that two weeks ago he said he wasn’t interested in the position because it was “kind of like you’re about to graduate, and they said ‘You have to go to summer school,’” but has since changed his mind.

The opportunity for the interim appointment has come up in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he’ll nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state. Under Massachusetts law, Patrick will have to select an interim replacement for Kerry, and between 145 and 160 days after Kerry steps down a special election must be held to find a permanent replacement.

Last week, Frank told Politico that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, saying his answer to whether he wants the job was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’”

In a later interview with the Boston Globe, Frank expanded on his reasons for seeking the position, saying he wants to take part in the talks to stave off major budget cuts to federal programs now that the sequester under the “fiscal cliff” deal has been pushed off two months.

“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history,” Frank was quoted as saying. “I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues.”

Frank reportedly continued, “I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against [Tea Party Republicans] on the debt limit is important. A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise, and find a way to reach a deal.”

The Washington Blade reported earlier this week that the cuts under the sequester could impact federal programs relevant to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS, potentially placing as many as 12,000 people on the waiting list for assistance under AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.

Patrick hasn’t yet indicated whom he’ll designate for the position. Other names that have emerged in media reports are Vicky Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and former Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. A Patrick aide said the governor hasn’t made a decision yet.

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Frank’s experience as a U.S. House member would make him well-qualified for the position of U.S. senator as Congress approaches budget cuts.

“As a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, few people understand better the complexities facing federal lawmakers in the coming months,” Dison said. “Beyond the history-making nature of such an appointment, it would serve the people of Massachusetts well to have someone with his experience and knowledge working on these very tough issues as they choose their next senator.”

If Frank is appointed the role, he would join Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the U.S. Senate and would become the second openly gay lawmaker to serve in that chamber.

Frank’s new interest in the role marks a change from the viewpoint he expressed to the the Blade on Monday during an interview in previously unpublished comments.

Asked about his previous comments in Politico, Frank replied, “The only way to deal with that is to ignore it. Ignore the question. Talk about being in awkward situation. I am ignoring that.”

Pressed on whether he had any conversations with Patrick by that time, Frank offered more details and said he was ready to leave Congress.

“I have not had any conversations with the governor,” Frank said. “There’s a couple who’ve said, ‘Gee, you should be a senator. Want me to tell the governor?’ I said, ‘Please do not do that.’ I don’t want anyone doing that. I’m ready to get out of here, and my mind is set for that.”

Frank’s interest in becoming a U.S. senator is noteworthy because he’s come out in opposition to the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary based on the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay remarks against James Hormel and his anti-gay voting record. If appointed as a senator, Frank would be in a position to vote against confirming Hagel.

04
Jan
2013

Still waiting for first LGBT Cabinet appointment

California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez is set to be in contention as labor secretary, but are LGBT groups pushing for his nomination? (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez is set to be in contention as labor secretary, but are LGBT groups pushing for his nomination? (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama is facing a flurry of requests to take administrative action on behalf of the LGBT community at the onset of his second term. One call that has so far been ignored is for the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member.

In recent months, LGBT groups — such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — have said the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member is important because it would provide visibility to the community and break a key remaining glass ceiling. No president has ever appointed an openly LGBT Cabinet member.

In November, Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, told the Washington Blade the LGBT community is “rightly interested” in a Cabinet appointment as well as a G-20 ambassadorship.

But in comparison to other requests, such as participation in the lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court against California’s Proposition 8 or an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the issue of appointing an LGBT Cabinet member hasn’t yet received significant attention.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate and proponent of an LGBT Cabinet appointment, said he couldn’t say whether action from advocacy groups on the appointment is sufficient because he doesn’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but acknowledged the public pressure is “rather muted.”

“I think that right now the organized political gay community in Washington has a very strong connection with, and relationship with the president, and he has delivered for us in many ways,” Socarides said. “So I think that there is, no doubt, a reluctance to rock the boat for the most part.”

Jim Burroway, a gay editor of the Tuczon, Ariz.-based blog Box Turtle Bulletin, said he hasn’t given the issue the “thought it deserves,” but acknowledged the importance of pushing for high-profile LGBT appointments.

“I’m always reluctant to say that this appointment or that appointment needs to be an LGBT person, but in the general scheme of things, it’s certainly time that an appointment somewhere reflects the diversity of the nation, or even of corporate America, when it comes to LGBT inclusion,” Burroway said.

HRC and the Victory Fund had no comment last month when Obama selected Sally Jewell, a Washington State-based businessperson, for the role of interior secretary, even though that selection meant John Berry, the gay head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, didn’t get the job. Although Berry was passed over, Jewell is a known advocate of the LGBT community and helped drive business support for marriage equality when it was on the ballot last year in her state.

Media speculation that Berry would be tapped to head the Interior Department was widespread because of his close ties to the administration and his background as a lower-level official in the department during the Clinton years and service as head of the National Wildlife Federation and National Zoo.

Comparatively, LGBT groups like HRC and OutServe-SLDN were aggressive in calling on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend the available benefits to gay troops with same-sex partners, which ultimately led to the Pentagon taking action.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said in response to the comparative silence that HRC has “been clear from the start” that it would like high-profile LGBT appointments during Obama’s second term.

“We have not called for any specific position to be filled by any specific individual and it is not our intent to comment on every personnel decision,” Cole-Schwartz said. “As the president continues to make nominations in his second term, there remains an abundance of exceptional LGBT Americans willing and able to serve and it is our hope that we will see an openly gay Cabinet secretary and other historic appointments.”

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, touted the success of the Presidential Appointments Project in response to a similar inquiry. The Project has helped facilitate the appointment of at least 260 openly LGBT officials within the Obama administration.

“The Project continues to advocate for qualified, experienced openly LGBT individuals who are capable of becoming leaders at all levels of government, including at the Cabinet level,” Dison said. “Because personnel decisions are by their nature sensitive, we believe our advocacy is best done privately.”

Even though the position of interior secretary will be off the table once Jewell receives Senate confirmation, other positions are open in the Cabinet that are possibilities for LGBT appointments.

One that has sparked media attention recently is the potential appointment of gay California Assembly Speaker John Perez as a replacement for Hilda Solis as labor secretary.

John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said Perez would be an excellent choice as labor secretary because he’s a champion of both LGBT people and the working class.

“Perez has built bridges between the LGBT community and labor,” O’Connor said. “Given his legacy of accomplishment in our state, we are incredibly supportive of his candidacy and would be so proud to see it happen.”

Fred Hochberg, the gay head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, has been viewed as a potential candidate for the role of commerce secretary. In December, an administration official told the Blade the White House is “looking carefully” at Hochberg for the position. However, he may have been passed over as well if media reports are correct that Obama is close to nominating banker Penny Pritzker for the role.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in response to a Blade inquiry on whether the administration values sexual orientation and gender identity as an element of diversity in high-profile appointments that he has “no personnel announcements.”

20
Feb
2013

Gay mayoral candidate murdered in Mississippi

Marco McMillan, gay news, Washington Blade

Marco McMillan (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The motive for the murder of an openly gay candidate for mayor of the City of Clarksdale, Miss., and the exact cause of his death remained unclear on Friday, one day after sheriff’s deputies charged a 22-year-old man with the candidate’s slaying.

The Sheriff’s Office said the body of Marco McMillian, 34, one of four candidates running in the May 7 Democratic primary for mayor, was found Wednesday on an earthen levee next to the Mississippi River just outside of Clarksdale.

Although Sheriff’s Office officials said the motive for the murder was unclear, they said there was no evidence to indicate the incident was a hate crime or politically motivated.

The body was found one day after Lawrence Reed, the man arrested for the murder, was inside McMillian’s sports utility vehicle when it became involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle at a location miles away from where McMillian’s body was found, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said.

McMillian was not in the vehicle at the time of the collision. Authorities have not said whether they learned how Reed happened to be in the vehicle at the time of the accident or whether Reed and McMillian knew each other.

Lawrence Reed. (Photo courtesy Coahoma County Miss. Sheriff's Office)

Lawrence Reed. (Photo courtesy Coahoma County Miss. Sheriff’s Office)

At the time they arrested Reed, the Sheriff’s Office also declined to disclose whether it was Reed or someone else who was driving the SUV at the time of the collision.

An emergency medical team airlifted Reed to a nearby hospital for treatment, the sheriff’s spokesperson, Will Rooker, said. The discovery that the SUV belonged to McMillian prompted the Sheriff’s Office to begin a search to find the candidate, whose campaign supporters said he failed to show up for a scheduled campaign meeting.

“We’re just all devastated over his loss,” said Jarod Keith, McMillian’s campaign spokesperson.

Keith told the Blade that although McMillian was viewed as an underdog in the race, he was considered a viable candidate who had a shot at winning.

“We had double the number of Facebook friends the other candidates had,” Keith said. “He would have been a great mayor.”

Clarksdale, which has a population of about 18,000, is a majority black city with an overwhelming majority of voters who are registered as Democrats. No Republican filed to run in the mayoral election.

An independent candidate entered the race and was expected to be on the ballot for the general election, which is scheduled for June 4.

McMillian was a Democrat with ties to Democratic Party activists in other parts of the country. His Facebook campaign page includes photos of him with former President Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama.

He was competing against three other Democrats in the May primary, including Chuck Espy, the son of incumbent Mayor Henry Espy, who announced he was not running for re-election.

Henry Espy became Clarksdale’s first black mayor when he first won election to the post in 1989. Except for a four-year hiatus in the 1990s, Henry Espy has served as the city’s mayor since 1989, making it clear that the barrier of electing a black person as mayor of the Mississippi delta city had long been broken.

Keith said McMillian had hoped to break another barrier by becoming Mississippi’s first openly gay elected official. Although his sexual orientation was known to Clarksdale’s political establishment and the media, Keith said his campaign focused on McMillian’s vision for lifting the economy and quality of life for a community faced with poverty and a crime rate far higher than the national average.

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that provides financial and logistical support for LGBT candidates for public office, said McMillian attended the Victory Fund’s annual LGBT Leadership Conference last November, where he promoted his candidacy.

McMillian served for four years as executive director of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., an internationally known black fraternity. He most recently served as CEO of MWM & Associates, a consulting firm for non-profit organizations. A biography on his website says he worked in the past at Alabama A&M University and Jackson State University.

01
Mar
2013

Does Obama’s Cabinet lack diversity?

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama values LGBT status as a element of diversity (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama values LGBT status as a element of diversity (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment Tuesday on media reports indicating President Obama won’t appoint an openly LGBT person as part of his second-term Cabinet, but maintained sexual orientation and gender identity are “absolutely” elements of diversity the president values at the highest levels of the administration.

“I certainly am not confirming any speculation in the press about possible announcements the president might make,” Carney said under questioning from the Washington Blade. “I would refer you, again, to what I said and what the president has said about the value he places on diversity, and encourage you to assess the diversity of his appointments once they’ve all been made.”

According to media reports, Obama is close to making nominations for two vacancies in his Cabinet. His reported choice for labor secretary is Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The president is also reportedly poised to nominate as commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, a Chicago hotel mogul and finance chair for his presidential campaign.

LGBT advocates had asked Obama to make the first-ever openly LGBT Cabinet appointment in history. If Obama makes his nominations in accordance with those reports, LGBT advocates will have to wait for another vacancy for that to happen.

Gay California Assembly Speaker John Perez was reportedly on the short list for labor secretary. In December, an administration official told the Blade that Fred Hochberg, who’s gay and chair of the Export-Import Bank, was being looked at for the role of commerce secretary.

The questioning from the Blade came after inquiries from American Urban Radio’s April Ryan about a letter from Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marsha Fudge (D-Ohio) saying Obama has an insufficient number of black appointees in his Cabinet. In response to that question, Carney said Obama is “deeply committed to diversity in his Cabinet.”

“He believes that having a diverse Cabinet and a diverse set of advisers enhances the decision-making and deliberation process for him and for any president,” Carney said. “And so he values it greatly and that’s why he has pursued it both in his first term and continues to pursue it in his second term.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, affirmed that Obama should consider sexual orientation and gender identity when making decisions about diversity in his administration and reiterated the call to appoint an openly LGBT Cabinet official.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity should absolutely be considered when the goal is diversity,” Dison said. “President Obama has appointed more openly LGBT Americans to his administration than all previous presidents combined, but nobody from the LGBT community has ever served in the Cabinet. We hope this president takes the historic opportunity to destroy that glass ceiling once and for all.”

It should be noted that Thomas Perez has a strong record on LGBT issues at the Justice Department. In 2009, Perez testified before the Senate on behalf of the administration in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He’s also overseen the implementation and execution of the hate crimes protections law signed by Obama in 2009.

Additionally, Perez has spoken out against anti-gay bullying and had a role in the settlement that the Obama administration reached with Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota over anti-gay school bullying.

A partial transcript of the exchange between Carney and the Blade follows:

Washington Blade: I just want to follow up on April’s questioning there.  There are new reports that the President is close to making his nominees for the labor and commerce secretary.  There was a lot of hope within the LGBT community that the President would take the opportunity with those vacancies to appoint the first-ever LGBT Cabinet member. But it looks like it’s not going to happen now. And you just mentioned how the President values diversity, and I’m just wondering if that excludes LGBT people. Does the President not believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are elements of diversity that you want to see at the highest levels of the administration?

Jay Carney: Again, Chris, I have no personnel announcements to make. I certainly am not confirming any speculation in the press about possible announcements the President might make. I would refer you, again, to what I said and what the President has said about the value he places on diversity, and encourage you to assess the diversity of his appointments once they’ve all been made.

Blade: But is sexual orientation –

Carney: Again, I think — I don’t have any — you’re asking me to make a statement about appointments that haven’t been made and I’m not going to do that.  I’m not going to get ahead of the president.

Blade: But I’m asking you to make a statement on value.

Carney:  The President values diversity.

Blade: And is sexual orientation and gender identity part of that diversity? 

Carney: Absolutely. And the president values diversity.

12
Mar
2013

Kerry nomination excites int’l LGBT advocates

Sen. John Kerry has been tapped to become the next secretary of state (photo public domain)

Sen. John Kerry has been tapped to become the next secretary of state (photo public domain)

The nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state has excited advocates on global LGBT issues.

On Friday, President Obama formally announced he would nominate Kerry to serve as secretary of state. Noting Kerry’s service as a Vietnam veteran and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Obama said, “In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role.”

“Over these many years, John has earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world,” Obama said. “He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training. He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans. I think it’s fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers, or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry.”

But Kerry is also receiving praise for his work on LGBT issues as a U.S. senator. During his tenure as a senator, Kerry has been a supporter of LGBT issues and earned perfect rating of “100″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard.

In the previous Congress, Kerry voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protection legislation. That support goes back to 1996, when Kerry was among 14 senators to cast a vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. He’s also been a key voice in encouraging the Obama administration to take additional action to protect bi-national same-sex couples and ending the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

In 2004, Kerry’s LGBT support wasn’t as strong on the issue of marriage as he pursued his run as the Democratic presidential nominee. As President George W. Bush campaigned on the Federal Marriage Amendment, Kerry would uncomfortably respond that he believes marriage is one man, one woman, but didn’t cast a vote when the FMA came up for a vote that year. He also came out in support of the state constitutional amendments in Missouri and Massachusetts banning same-sex marriage.

That changed after his presidential bid as the nation became more accepting of marriage equality. Kerry voted against the amendment in 2006 and has since come out for same-sex marriage. Just this year, he called for the inclusion of marriage-equality plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, commended Obama’s decision to nominate Kerry in statement while recognizing the senator’s previous work on LGBT issues.

“Sen. Kerry has been a trailblazer in the fight for LGBT equality, both domestically and internationally,” Griffin said. “His leadership in repealing the HIV travel ban, as well as his steadfast support for employment non-discrimination protections and addressing the needs LGBT homeless youth demonstrate his dedication to equality and to the rights of LGBT people worldwide.”

Kerry is nominated for the role as secretary of state at a time when LGBT human rights abuses overseas has received heightened attention. Efforts in Uganda to pass an anti-gay bill that would institute a penalty of life imprisonment — and perhaps even death — have worried LGBT advocates across the globe. In Russia, the lower chamber of parliament is set to consider legislation that would impose fines on the spread of pro-LGBT information to minors.

And just last week in Cameroon, an appeals court upheld a three-year jail sentence against Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, a man found guilty of homosexual conduct after he sent a text message to another man saying, “I’m very much in love with you.”

Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, a grassroots organization for international LGBT rights, called on Kerry to continue work already being done at the State Department against LGBT human rights abuses overseas.

“All Out encourages Senator Kerry to continue the State Department’s advocacy for LGBT people around the world, both publicly and through quiet diplomacy,” Banks said. “There are 76 countries where it is a crime to be LGBT, and 10 that carry life in prison or the death penalty. The U.S. must be a strong voice for decriminalization around the world.”

Upon confirmation, Kerry’s work on LGBT issues at the State Department will have to follow the often-praised work by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her LGBT accomplishments include providing global benefits to LGBT employees and diplomats representing the country overseas. However, she’s among a few high-profile Democrats who hasn’t publicly endorsed marriage equality.

Perhaps Clinton’s most high-profile pro-LGBT act was speaking to the United Nations in Geneva last year against LGBT human rights abuses, telling LGBT people across the globe who feel isolated in their countries, “You have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Kerry has been exemplary on LGBT issues as a U.S. senator and expects him to continue Clinton’s work.

“Sen. Kerry has been a strong defender of equality for LGBT citizens in this country, and a strong supporter of human rights abroad, so we certainly expect that he will continue to advance Secretary Clinton’s legacy of support for LGBT communities globally,” Bromley said.

Will Frank serve as interim U.S. senator?

But the Kerry nomination is also noteworthy for the LGBT community because it creates the opportunity for Gov. Deval Patrick to appointment as a temporary replacement a high-profile LGBT lawmaker: retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

In a brief interview with Politico on Thursday, Frank, who’s set to retire from Congress at the end of this year, wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, although he said he hasn’t received an offer from Patrick.

“The governor ought to be free to make whatever choices he makes,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In Massachusetts, you’re talking about an interim, not a permanent appointment. I certainly would not take on any long-term appointment. As for an interim thing, I think accepting offers that haven’t been made is kind of presumptuous.”

Asked to clarify, Frank reportedly said his answer was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’ Rejecting an offer that hasn’t been made is also presumptuous.”

After the Senate confirms Kerry, Patrick must appoint an interim replacement. A special election must be held in Massachusetts between 145 and 160 days later, and the winner of that election would retain the seat until 2014. Besides Frank, another name that’s been floated as possible interim choice is Vicki Kennedy, the spouse of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

On Friday, Patrick said during a news conference he’ll move quickly to fill the seat upon Kerry’s confirmation, but wouldn’t confirm any names that he’s considering.

Lesbian Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin is set to be sworn in on Jan. 3, It’s possible Baldwin and Frank, who’ve served together as U.S. House members, could also alongside each other in the Senate.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the selection of Frank as an interim senator would well serve Massachusetts — provided Frank is interested in the role.

“I would say if he is offered it and he wants it, very few people would be more qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate,” Dison said. “Even on a temporary basis, it would be kind of neat capstone to a pretty remarkable career in public service.”

 

22
Dec
2012