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Despite calls, anti-gay RNC member won’t resign post

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Dave Agema won’t resign for anti-gay comments despite calls from Reince Priebus.

A member of the Republican National Committee who’s taken heat for expressing anti-gay views indicated Friday he won’t resign from his post, despite calls from the head of his party to step down.

Dave Agema, a former Michigan state lawmaker, said in a statement on his website that he intends to continue his role representing Michigan on the Republican National Committee in the face of “a few strident advocates for homosexual marriage.”

“I have learned much over the last several weeks and will use the lessons learned to improve on my abilities to further the best interests of all people of Michigan, through my role as a proud member of the Republican National Committee,” Agema said. “I have received great response at packed audiences, drawing voters to the GOP. I fully intend to honor the trust and fulfill the responsibilities to those in the Michigan Republican Party that elected me.”

Agema refuses to resign just hours after the RNC announced Reince Priebus and Michigan Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak have called on him to relinquish his post “for the good of the party.” The RNC didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on Agema’s refusal to step down.

The embattled Republican faced criticism for anti-gay remarks, saying via Facebook that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is “common sense” and posting an article saying gay people are sexually promiscuous, rife with diseases and responsible for half responsible for the majority of murders in the country.

But Agema’s comments aren’t limited to anti-gay views. Agema also posted an old online attack piece questioning whether Muslims have contributed anything positive to American society.

Prior to Priebus’ call for Agema’s resignation, he faced criticism from gay Republicans and high-profile Michigan Republicans, most notably Betsy Devos, a former Michigan Republican Party chair and significant party donor. Reps. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich) also called on him to step down.

Faced with this controversy, Agema is absent during the RNC winter meeting currently underway and has sent in his place former RNC member Chuck Yob.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, has also called on Agema and called his defiance “truly pathetic.”

“If Mr. Agema’s views are as popular as he believes them to be, I would ask him to provide one — just one — individual who is willing to speak up in his defense,” Angelo said. “To date there have been zero.”

Renewing his request for Agema to resign, Angelo said if the Michigan Republican is so concerned about his leadership responsibilities “he should know that those responsibilities require him to resign and to resign immediately, for the best of the Party.”

In his statement, Agema professes that he could have handled the situation better, but blames others for stirring controversy.

“My personal beliefs and public statements expressing them as a public figure, has been attacked by a few strident advocates for homosexual marriage seeking to change Republican, Michigan and America’s mores and laws,” Agema said. “Despite our American heritage of the right to speak freely — or perhaps because of it, my personal views on the sanctity of marriage have led to loud and heated statements among some, on all sides of this issue.”

In regards to the anti-Muslim comments, Agema apologizes for the posting the online piece and expresses it was reposted as his words.

“I stand with peaceful Muslims who share my concern with radicalism and look forward to continuing to work with people of all faiths that uphold American values,” Agema said.

Additionally, Agema swears he’ll continue to use his position to defend Christians and others whom he said are victimized by the Obama administration.

“As an American who has spent his entire life remaining faithful to his religion, his family, and his country, I have been unwilling to compromise my principles, traditional values or support for the Word of God,” Agema said.

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan, said the RNC must show Agema the exit if he refuses to step down.

“This is an unprecedented and extraordinary situation that can only be resolved by the removal of Dave Agema from the Republican National Committee,” Lennox said. “The Republican Party cannot afford to allow him to remain in his position even in his disgraced state. He must be defrocked or our party and our candidates and officeholders will be forced to continue discussing his hateful, bigoted and deeply offensive statements that have no place in our party.”

Sources familiar with the RNC say no mechanism is in place in the rules to remove a rogue committee member. But, as Lennox observed, “There’s nothing that doesn’t allow it.”

25
Jan
2014

Obama’s State of the Union light on LGBT issues

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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.

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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.”

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

29
Jan
2014

Conservative struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC

Ralph Reed, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Ralph Reed speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — To witness the conservative movement’s struggle with the widely held perception that nationwide marriage equality is imminent, you need not look further than the stage of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.

After remaining silent on the first day of the conference, voices against same-sex marriage emerged on Friday, although they were restricted to certain conservative activists as others expressed conflict over the issue and elected Republican officials ignored LGBT rights altogether in their speeches.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was among the most vociferous in his opposition to same-sex marriage as he accused U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of committing a “brazen act of lawlessness” by counseling state attorneys general not to defend marriage laws against litigation.

It should be noted that during his speech to the National Association of Attorneys General, Holder said he believes it’s OK for state attorneys general not to defend a ban on same-sex marriage if they believe they’re unconstitutional, but he never instructed them to take that course of action.

“From now on, we’re going to accept — in 2014, 2016 and beyond — nothing beyond unapologetic, unalloyed ‘conservative’ that defends the principles upon which this nation was founded, including the biblical principles of freedom of religion, the sanctity of life and the sacred institution of marriage,” Reed continued.

Also injecting anti-gay sentiment before the estimated 8,500 attendees at CPAC was Oliver North, a Fox News commentator known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Ending his speech, North equated the conservative struggle to stop the advancement of marriage equality to abolitionists’ efforts in 19th century America to end slavery.

“Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, religious freedoms,” North said. “I say those are not social issues, they are deeply moral and spiritual issues and should be part of America’s elections.”

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Oliver North speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

North also made a veiled criticism of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, saying the administration is treating U.S. troops like “laboratory rats” as part of a “social experiment.”

These conservative activists are pushing back against the advancement of marriage equality as numerous federal courts — most recently in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Utah and Oklahoma — have struck down state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage amid expectations the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a final ruling on the issue in 2015.

The anticipated resolution of the marriage issue in the courts invoked the ire on stage of Eric Metaxas, a conservative pundit who insisted voters must decide the issue of marriage equality instead of judges.

“The idea of same-sex marriage, the idea of paying for contraceptions, we should let the voters decide,” Metexas said. “This is the United States of America. We don’t need the ‘Mandarins of Justice’ to make these decisions; we’re supposed to trust the voters to make those decisions, and let the voters decide.”

But those considered possible 2016 presidential candidates shied away from the issue of marriage equality.

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rick Santorum, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, expressed regret on stage that he became known for that viewpoint over the course of his 2012 presidential bid.

“I don’t want to talk about redefining marriage; I want to talk about reclaiming marriage as a good for society and celebrating how important it is for our economy,” Santorum said to applause.

Santorum continued to discuss the importance of the institution of marriage itself, saying businesses could advance it by offering marriage counseling as a benefit.

Amid the (often disputed) perception that Pope Francis is more lenient on gay rights, particularly after his recent suggestion he could support civil unions, Santorum, who’s Catholic, commended the pontiff for saying the Catholic Church should steer away from social issues.

“He’s going out there and not talking about what the Christian faith is against, he’s going out there and talking about what we’re for,” Santorum said. “He hasn’t changed a single policy. He won’t change a single policy. But what he’ll do is he’ll go out there and talk about the good news to a hurting world because he believes that that’s what the world needs.”

One event at CPAC that demonstrated the tension within the conservative movement on marriage equality, although the discussion wasn’t completely dedicated to the issue, was a panel titled, “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”

One question debated was protecting religious liberties of individuals as marriage equality advances. The issue for panelists wasn’t so much whether there should be marriage equality, but whether it should be imposed by judicial fiat.

Michael Medved, a conservative pundit and host of “The Michael Medved Show,” said the issue has come down to religious liberty and insisted social conservatives and libertarians should agree that states should be able to decide for themselves the marriage issue without interference from the federal government.

“The idea that New York and California may have legitimated, or recognized, decided that those states should sponsor gay marriage doesn’t mean that Texas should be compelled by overreaching courts, or anyone else, to sponsor and legitimate gay marriage,” Medved said.

Alexander McCorbin, executive director of Students for Liberty, represented the opposite end of the conservative spectrum and said on the panel that marriage equality is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

“There’s state-sponsored discrimination against various associations between individuals,” McCorbin said. “We’re talking about the denial of basic rights and privileges of individuals in committed relationships — the only difference being their sexual orientation.”

But McCorbin was rebuked on stage by Medved, who said believing a fundamental right to same-sex marriage is inconsistent with libertarianism.

“You are saying that nine unelected judges should impose their will and their judgement on the sovereign states, all 50 sovereign states and the citizens therein, in terms of something as fundamental to society as the definition of family and the definition of marriage,” Medved said.

Making a point that was derided by gay bloggers and the watchdog group Media Matters, Medved also said the idea that any state had prohibited same-sex marriage is “a liberal lie” — possibly because same-sex weddings have been allowed, even though 33 states don’t recognize them as valid.

But Medved also signaled he nonetheless supports adoption by same-sex parents, which triggered applause in the audience (although one observer could be heard booing).

Matthew Spaulding, associate vice president of Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, insisted that religious liberties for objectors must be upheld and denied any link between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage.

“The fact of one’s color of one’s skin is a coincidence,” Spaulding said. “It has nothing to do with your character, right? The difference between a male and a female is something that is self-evident and obvious that we need to deal, and we can’t shut aside and turn it over to judges to tell us what to do.”

No one who is gay, nor any LGBT political group, had a voice on the panel despite its attention to the marriage issue. In an op-ed penned earlier this week in the Daily Caller, Log Cabin Republicans executive director Gregory Angelo asserted he had sought participation on a CPAC panel this year, but was rebuffed because the American Conservative Union, which runs the event, never responded to the request.

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Members of the CPAC panel, ‘Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?’ discussed same-sex marriage. From left, Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, Matt Spaulding of the Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, Michael Medved of the ‘Michael Medved Show’ and Alexander McCorbin of Students for Liberty. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ignoring the issue of marriage, prominent Republicans speaking before the panel chose to tackle other issues, although they weren’t afraid to take Obama to task.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a known opponent of LGBT rights including allowing openly gay people in the Boy Scouts, turned his attention to deriding the advancement of welfare states under the Obama administration.

“The vision that wins out — either this big-government, protectionist nanny state version offered by liberal leaders or the limited-government, unsubsidized, freedom state offered by conservative leaders — will determine the future of our nation,” Perry said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has a reputation as a libertarian, delivered a speech criticizing the exposed data collection by the National Security Agency as he urged adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

“There is a great battle going on, it’s for the heart and soul of America,” Paul said. “The Fourth Amendment is equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this.”

Even 2008 Republican presidential candidate turned Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, known for championing social issues, was silent on stage about the issue of marriage equality, although he spoke more generally about upholding religious liberties in the country.

This struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC following the publication this week of a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing a record-high 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while only one-in-three Americans oppose it.

That support is even higher among young voters, which make up the preponderance of attendees at CPAC. The poll found three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage.

Following the speeches on Friday, Log Cabin’s Angelo said there’s only one way for the debate to end if the conservative movement wants to thrive.

“The conservative movement can keep its head in the sand at its own peril — with the potential to lose more votes — or it can acknowledge us as here to stay, and grow the base, especially among millennial voters,” Angelo said. “That’s where we’re at in this movement. We want conservatives to win, but they need to acknowledge us as part of that winning coalition.”

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

08
Mar
2014

Will new voices call on Obama to sign ENDA exec order?

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

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among those who haven’t articulated support for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new letter is being circulated among members of Congress urging President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT workers, raising questions about whether pro-gay lawmakers who have previously made no explicit calls for the directive will take the opportunity to do so.

Key members of the Democratic leadership have yet to call for the executive order as have Republicans who’ve already articulated support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter that’s being circulated among lawmakers calls on Obama to sign the order in the wake of his declaration that 2014 will be a “Year of Action” through administrative means if Congress doesn’t act on his legislative agenda.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter states.

A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign it would close at the end of Monday.

Although this is the first letter intended to include signatures from members of both the House and Senate, it’s not the first time lawmakers signed letters calling for the executive order. Last year, 110 House Democrats signed a letter seeking the directive and 37 senators signed a letter to that effect.

But neither of those letters included names of lawmakers in Democratic leadership or Republicans — even though many had previously articulated support for the executive order or ENDA in some capacity. The newly circulated letter presents an opportunity for those lawmakers to augment the call with powerful voices and create a bipartisan effort to push Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

The top members of the House Democratic Caucus — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-Calif.) — each refrained from signing the House version of the letter in 2013. None of the offices for those lawmakers responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether they’d sign the letter this time around.

[UPDATE: Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Monday following the initial publication of this article that the Democratic Whip "is signing onto the letter."]

Even though she didn’t sign the letter, Pelosi has been on the record in support of the executive order since 2011, when the Blade asked her during her weekly news conference if she’d support that action. She also said Obama “of course” should sign the directive in January when speaking with The Huffington Post.

Clyburn was quoted as saying by The Huffington Post he feels “very strongly” that Obama should sign the executive order just months ago, reportedly adding “I don’t know where I would be today if the executive order had not been used to get rid of slavery.” The Blade is unaware of any public comments from Hoyer on the LGBT executive order.

At the time the 2013 letter was made public, Pelosi’s office cited a policy that she refrains from signing group letters because of her position in Democratic leadership. However, she had earlier signed her name to letters seeking action from the administration to help bi-national same-sex couples in addition to signing amicus briefs calling on federal courts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

[UPDATE #2: Following publication of this article, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss won't sign the letter currently being circulated, noting she rarely signs group letters, and said she'll instead take her own course of action.

"Leader Pelosi has publicly expressed support for this executive order and will be sending her own private letter to the President on this matter," Hammill said.]

Also conspicuously absent from the 2013 letter is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee and is known for her support of LGBT rights. In the past week, she’s announced the DNC would form a lesbian leadership council and hired a gay operative as the DNC’s national political director.

Neither Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office in D.C. nor the DNC responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether she’d sign the letter this time around.

In January, Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post she broadly supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority, but refused to say whether that principle applies to an executive order for LGBT workers.

Wasserman Schultz’s name was also absent from letters seeking support of bi-national same-sex couples. At the time one letter was signed in 2011, Wasserman Schultz told reporters during an Immigration Equality fundraiser she supported the action, but didn’t feel comfortable making demands on the administration because of her position in the DNC.

“Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “So I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.”

On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also didn’t sign his chamber’s version of the letter in 2013. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’ll add his name this time around.

Reid has offered a nuanced position on the executive order. In February, he told The Huffington Post, “If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it.”

But on either the letter signed by the House or the Senate in 2013, not a single Republican signed their name. If a single one did so this time around, it would represent the first time that a Republican lawmaker had called on Obama to sign an executive order.

None of the offices of 10 Republican senators who voted for ENDA on the Senate floor responded to a request for comment on the letter. Those are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Despite being an original co-sponsor of ENDA, Kirk has previously spoken against an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all of which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said in 2011. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

In the House, six Republicans co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.).

According to the Huffington Post, Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the executive order. Of those six Republicans, only Dent’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the letter, and the response was negative.

“Congressman Dent believes that the regular legislative process is the best way to proceed in making this critical legislation outlawing workplace discrimination the law of the land,” said Dent spokesperson Shawn Millan.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t know whether Republicans will sign the letter, but hopes to see some GOP names calling for the executive order.

“I’m not going to engage in speculation, but with declared GOP support for ENDA among House members of both the House and Senate, I would hope to see some Republican representation on any letter holding the president accountable to a promise he made to Americans six years ago,” Angelo said.

Neither the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is handling circulation of the letter in the House, nor the office of ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which is handling it in the Senate, responded to the Blade’s request for comment over the weekend about expected signers of the letter.

10
Mar
2014

How bad would a GOP Senate takeover be for LGBT people?

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, Republican Party, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would likely become majority leader if Republicans win a majority in the Senate.  (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The congressional mid-term elections are more than six months away, but political observers are already warning Democrats they could lose control of the U.S. Senate — an outcome that has tongues wagging over its potential impact on LGBT issues.

While analysts agree that Republicans could claim at least six seats to win control of the chamber — such as by knocking off pro-LGBT senators in New Hampshire and Colorado — the general sense is draconian anti-gay measures like the Federal Marriage Amendment won’t emerge even with GOP control of the Senate.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at City University of New York, noted seven incumbent Democrats are seeking re-election in states Mitt Romney won in 2012 and conservatives like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through “Super PACs” to affect those races.

“So I think the prospect of a Republican takeover is very close — a virtual tossup right now,” Pinello said. “Everything will depend on the degree to which Democratic voters turn out at the polls in crucial states.”

Republicans are optimistic about their prospects on Election Day 2014 — and virtually no one is suggesting that Democrats can retake control of the House. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” anti-gay GOP strategist Karl Rove predicted GOP victory in the Senate.

“With 14 seats in play on the Democratic side and a couple of seats in play potentially on the Republican side, I think it’s highly likely that Republicans pick up the majority,” Rove said.

On the same day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer defied the predictions by saying he believes “we will keep the Senate.” But his former colleague in the White House, Robert Gibbs — who landed in hot water in 2010 by saying Republicans could take control of the House — expressed a contrary view, saying the Senate is “definitely” in danger in 2014.

“So as a consultant, I can say all these things now,” Gibbs said. “They’ve got to pick up six seats, which is not a small number. But what gives them a huge advantage, obviously, is the states that they’re in…Louisiana and in North Carolina, in Montana, places that the president didn’t do well.”

The heads of both political parties are both bullish about their prospects in 2014. On Tuesday, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus predicted at a National Press Club breakfast a “tsunami” and said it’s “going to be a very big win, especially at the U.S. Senate level.” Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that Democrats are running “aggressive bottom-up campaigns” and she’s confident her party will hold the Senate.

But political analysts have forecasts more favorable to Republicans. As of Monday, Cook Political Report forecast that Republicans will pick up somewhere between four and six seats, but expected the ultimate gains will be “at the higher end of – and may exceed – that range.”

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said it’s too early to provide a firm prediction on the extent of Republican gains, but said Republicans would net at least four to six seats.

“It’s easy to see how they could get six or even more if President Obama stays in the low 40s and the economy continues to be balky,” Sabato said. “This year, in the sixth-year of President Obama’s administration, you’d much rather be in the GOP’s electoral position than the Democrats’.”

Pro-LGBT Democrats face challenging re-election bids

Democrats elected to the Senate at the start of the Obama administration and who built a reputation for  supporting LGBT rights are among those facing uphill re-election bids.

Among them is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) who has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the flow of spousal benefits to veterans in same-sex marriages as chief sponsor of the Charlie Morgan Act. A potential challenger for her is former U.S. senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown. Although he voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during his tenure in the Senate, Brown penned an op-ed for Bay Windows suggesting the pursuit of LGBT rights was a “pet project.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also faces a tough re-election bid now that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has announced he will run for the Senate. Udall has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, an end to the Defense of Marriage Act and has written at least two letters to the Obama administration to ensure gay veterans can receive spousal benefits in whichever state they live. Gardner hasn’t articulated a position on same-sex marriage, but voted in favor of an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Democrat who’ll likely face the most challenging re-election campaign is Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). An early supporter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, she voted for a repeal amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee even before the Pentagon report on open service. Hagan came out in favor of same-sex marriage last year on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8. She could face any one of a number of Republicans vying for the nomination in the state’s primary.

Also of note is the re-election bid of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who as chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act oversaw a bipartisan vote in favor of the bill in the Senate late last year. Merkley has also been the leading voice in the Senate calling on President Obama to sign an executive order barring LGBT employment discrimination among federal contractors. A number of Republican candidates have lined up to challenge Merkley, although he’s expected to win re-election in the heavily “blue” state.

The only Republican who’s expected to face a tough re-election challenge is the one who’s likely to handle the floor schedule in the Senate if the GOP ekes out a win: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In addition to facing a Tea Party challenge, McConnell faces a stiff challenge in the general election from Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Would anti-LGBT legislation move forward?

If the Republicans win control of the Senate, it would create a Congress in which the GOP leads both chambers at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a nationwide ruling on marriage equality.

Speaking to the Washington Blade after her event at the National Press Club, Wasserman Schultz initially responded to an inquiry about what a GOP takeover of the Senate would mean for LGBT people by saying, “Oh, God.”

Wasserman Schultz predicted Republicans would curtail the expansion of rights she said are “deserved” by LGBT people in addition to engaging in an “aggressive attempt” to roll them back. But the DNC chair emphasized that won’t happen because Democrats are on track to maintain control of the Senate.

Asked by the Blade whether she thinks Republicans would want to push through a Federal Marriage Amendment, Wasserman Schultz said that “wouldn’t surprise me” because the Republicans endorsed the amendment as part of the 2012 party platform.

But political observers say even with Republicans in control of both chambers, the trend in favor of same-sex marriage — which a recent poll pegged at 59 percent support — would deter Congress from passing a measure that already failed twice under the Bush administration when Republicans had large majorities.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t foresee a situation in which Republicans would push forward in either chamber with a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“Considering the move for a Federal Marriage Amendment in the House following the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision last year went absolutely nowhere tells me that there is little appetite among Republicans to engage in culture wars either in the House or the Senate — in this election cycle and in 2016,” Angelo said.

But there are other pieces of anti-gay legislation that could be seen as an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have introduced legislation known as the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have introduced the State Marriage Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in states where it’s not allowed. The bill may be moot in the event of a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Sabato nonetheless said he doesn’t see much of an opportunity for anti-LGBT legislation of any kind to make it through the Senate – given the growing support for LGBT rights among Republican senators.

“I think it is very unlikely Susan Collins or Rob Portman would support any stand-alone, anti-LGBT legislation,” Sabato said. “I could see other Republicans joining them, such as Lisa Murkowski. I can’t see a single Senate Democrat voting for such legislation. So I doubt the Senate would pass it.”

In the event that an anti-gay bill was approved by both chambers of Congress, Sabato said the legislation would never become law because President Obama would veto it once it reached his desk.

But Republican control over the Senate could mean an end to progress on pro-LGBT legislation. Under Democratic control, the Senate just barely invoked cloture on ENDA by a vote of 61-30 before approving it on final passage. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has yet to take up ENDA months after the Senate voted to approve it as House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on it during a meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus.

Pinello said the danger for the LGBT community in the aftermath of a Republican takeover of the Senate lies in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges — perhaps on the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy before the final ruling on marriage equality.

“The federal bench is now the most hopeful source of remedy for the denial of marriage equality nationwide, and a Senate controlled by the Republican Party might diminish those prospects,” Pinello said. “Thus, there is very good reason for LGBT voters to turn out for Democratic candidates next November.”

18
Mar
2014

Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign ENDA discharge petition

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen supports marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has vowed not to sign a discharge petition for ENDA (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

As proponents of non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers seek ways to institute them at the federal level, one Florida Republican is throwing cold water on one means of advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, said through a spokesperson that she would not sign a discharge petition to force House leadership to move the bill to the floor.

“Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will not be signing a discharge petition as it is a partisan political tool,” said Keith Fernandez, a Ros-Lehtinen spokesperson.

The Washington Blade reached out to all seven Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the U.S. House to ask whether they’d be willing to sign a discharge petition, but Ros-Lehtinen’s office was the only one that responded.

In addition to Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican co-sponsors are Reps. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Michael Coffman (Colo.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).

Ros-Lehtinen’s refusal to sign a discharge petition for ENDA means that the potential procedural move is almost certainly doomed. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures to move a bill forward, which is the same as the number of votes required to pass a bill in the House.

In the Republican-controlled House, at least some Republicans would be needed for the discharge petition to reach the 218 number to move ENDA to the floor. It’s hard to see how any other Republican would sign the petition if the original Republican co-sponsor of ENDA has vowed not to sign it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said in response to Ros-Lehtinen’s position that “several options” remain to move ENDA in the House.

“Others include attaching it to the defense authorization bill and also pushing for a straight-up vote once we demonstrated that there are 218 supporters,” Almeida said. “We will keep pushing forward on all fronts.”

A House vote is all that’s necessary to send ENDA to President Obama’s desk; he has pledged to sign it. The bill passed last year in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, but continues to languish in the House.

Asked whether there’s any value in moving forward with a discharge petition even though Ros-Lehtinen says she won’t sign it, Almeida replied, “No option should be taken off the table.”

But there are difficulties with other options as well. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation when asked if he would allow a vote on the bill. Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus who met with him at the start of the year said he told them it wouldn’t come up before Election Day, although some lawmakers left thinking a vote in the lame duck session is possible.

As for the defense authorization bill, that path didn’t work for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. Republicans twice filibustered a vote on the defense bill with the repeal component. It wasn’t until repeal was removed that both the defense authorization and legislation to repeal the military’s gay ban could pass on their own.

Placing a measure inside the defense authorization bill did work for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, but that was when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA in the House, told the Blade last month at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual brunch that a discharge petition may happen at some point with ENDA.

“We’re currently pushing one for immigration reform,” Polis said. “If the speaker and majority leader continue to fail to schedule a vote on ENDA, a discharge petition could be our only outlet to get it to the floor. It would still continue to be an uphill battle because ultimately for a discharge petition to succeed, you need 218 signatures.”

Asked at what point a discharge petition would become necessary, Polis said, “At this point, we’re focused on adding co-sponsors to show that it has support.”

There have been mixed reactions to the idea of a discharge petition in Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) endorsed the idea as a means to advance ENDA in the House during a news conference immediately after Senate passage of ENDA. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said during a roundtable with LGBT press he doesn’t think a discharge petition would work because if it got close to 218 names, House leadership would back away additional Republican signers.

Under pressure because Obama hasn’t signed an executive order to bar LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the White House has hinted it supports the idea of a discharge petition. In March, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said, “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization isn’t disappointed that Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign a discharge petition, but didn’t elaborate. The Human Rights Campaign has not endorsed the idea of a discharge petition.

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he supports Ros-Lehtinen’s position on the discharge petition as other ways to pass ENDA are on the table.

“We support Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s position,” Angelo said. “While all options should be on the table for passage of ENDA, a discharge petition is the option of last resort, and our options to pass ENDA are far from exhausted at this point. These Democrats need to hold their horses, otherwise they run the risk of turning what has been bi-partisan progress on ENDA into a polarizing political fight.”

03
May
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

House Republican who backs ENDA doesn’t want to change bill

Charlie Dent, Charles Dent, Republican Party, Pennsylvania, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) supports ENDA as written with the current religious exemption. (Photo public domain)

One of the eight Republican co-sponsors of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act opposes rewriting the bill despite the controversy over its religious exemption, saying that the language could enable a successful vote as an amendment to a larger legislative vehicle.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a Republican known for his support for LGBT rights, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that ENDA should remain as it’s currently written when asked if he would support a bill with a narrower exemption.

“I’m standing by the bill that I co-sponsored, and that’s been introduced in the House and has passed the Senate,” Dent said. “That’s the bill that I support. I don’t believe that the religious exemption should be amended in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby case.”

A major theme among groups that pulled support from ENDA last week was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, but Dent said he would advise against looking to that decision for guidance on the ENDA religious exemption given the lawsuit’s outcome.

“In fact, I would argue very strenuously that we ought not be looking to the health care law for guidance on how to draft this exemption given how that whole situation has gone,” Dent said.

Counting Dent, the eight Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the House are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.)

Dent, who’s also a supporter of marriage equality, asserted the religious exemption in ENDA isn’t controversial because he says it’s consistent with the Civil Rights of 1964.

LGBT opponents of the bill say they dropped support for the religious exemption because it’s broader than the exemption under existing law. Even if ENDA were signed into law, religious organizations could still discriminate against or fire someone in a non-minsterial role based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Informed that LGBT opponents of ENDA believe the religious exemption in the bill is broader than civil rights laws protecting other groups, Dent maintained the current language is important because that version of the bill passed the Senate.

“In order to get further bipartisan support, I believe weakening, or narrowing the religious exemption, will limit our ability to get further support from the Republican side of the aisle,” Dent said. “So, I guess the issue is I believe we need to maintain the broader religious exemption in order to pass the bill.”

Despite the withdrawal of support from many, including the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the American Civil Liberties Union, Dent noted the Human Rights Campaign still backs the bill and said he does not sense a groundswell of opposition to the bill.

Dent’s position is along the lines of other LGBT Republican groups — such as Log Cabin Republican and the American Unity Fund — that continue to support the bill with its current religious exemption, despite the withdrawal of support from LGBT groups.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization’s position on ENDA is aligned with the Pennsylvania Republican’s views.

“I spoke with Congressman Dent personally on Friday, and our position on ENDA is the same as his: This version of ENDA received broad bi-partisan support in the Senate and has bi-partisan support in the House,” Angelo said. “We support ENDA as-is and will continue to push for its passage in this Congress.”

Spokespersons for Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who were among the 10 Republicans to vote for ENDA in the Senate last year, also said they continue to support ENDA with its current language.

And even though House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said he opposes the legislation and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said the chances are “not very good” ENDA will pass the Republican-controlled House, Dent envisioned a way to the pass the current bill by attaching it to another legislative vehicle.

“There’s always the possibility that some other legislative vehicle would come before the House that could be amended to include the House and Senate ENDA language,” Dent said. “And that possibility still remains. The question is, will there be an appropriate legislative vehicle to be amended? That’s the issue.”

Dent said he wasn’t sure which bill would be appropriate to amend.

Amid controversy over ENDA, a number of groups, including HRC, have endorsed the idea of a comprehensive bill that in addition to banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment would cover other categories like public accommodations, housing and credit.

Asked whether he would support such a bill, Dent said he thinks it’s important to pass legislation first that’s pending before Congress.

“I say let’s walk before we run. Let’s pass the bill that’s under consideration,” Dent said. “I suppose we can always cross those other bridges when we come to that. For some people, the perfect will always be the enemy of the good. I think one has to accept incremental progress.”

There’s speculation that groups dropped support for ENDA to make a stronger case against a religious exemption in a planned executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

Faith-based groups, including Catholic Charities USA, are calling for an exemption in the upcoming directive to allow religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT workers while receiving federal contractors.

Asked whether he would support a religious exemption in the executive order, Dent he prefers addressing the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination legislatively without resorting to administrative action.

“I believe we should deal with this issue legislatively as opposed to administratively. President Obama can issue an executive order if he’d like,” Dent said. “But frankly, President Obama doesn’t have a particularly good record with religious exemptions.”

Asked if that response means a religious exemption in the planned executive order would be a good idea, Dent replied, “Yeah, sure.” But he expressed skepticism the Obama administration would find the right language to withstand scrutiny from the courts.

“I just don’t see them writing a religious exemption that will be not used against us is [like] the one that they provided for under the health care law with respect to Hobby Lobby case,” Dent said. “This falls to religiously affiliated institutions like schools, hospitals and charities, where there is also pending litigation. I just believe the administration has been walking on thin ice with respect to these religious exemptions.”

14
Jul
2014

As LGBT rights advance, House takes aim at immigrants

U.S. Capitol, immigration reform, immigrant, Michele Bachmann, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. House voted to take action against child refugees and DREAMers, but not the LGBT executive order. (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

As President Obama prepares an anticipated executive order on immigration, some see a noteworthy shift in GOP focus away from attacking LGBT rights in favor of targeting the immigrant community.

The final act of the U.S. House of Representatives before adjourning for August recess was passing a bill aimed at addressing the influx of Central American child refugees seeking relief at the Texas border.

But instead of passing an emergency $3.7 billion in supplemental funding requested by the White House to enhance capacity for detainment, the chamber passed by a 223-189 vote a much lower $694 million put together by conservatives like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for a different purpose.

The legislation would adjust anti-trafficking laws so the child refugees can be sent home quickly and without deportation hearings. Additionally, it would terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, which enables deferred action on deportation for young, undocumented immigrants who entered the country at an early age, also known as DREAMers.

The House passed the legislation following a hostile floor debate amid expectations that President Obama is prepared to use executive authority in some way to protect as many as five million undocumented immigrants living in the United States from deportation.

In a floor speech just before passage of the House bill, Bachmann said the legislation was intended to block Obama from taking any additional administrative action.

“So with this DACA bill, effectively, we will put forward the strongest possible legislative response that this body could put forward,” Bachmann said. “We say in this bill that the president has no power, no authority administratively to grant permits which would effectively grant amnesty to 5 to 6 million foreign nationals illegally in the United States. In other words, Mr. Speaker, we will put a handcuff on one of the president’s hands.”

Bachmann later said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should bring the Senate back into session to “put the other handcuff on this lawless president’s hands.” Those remarks incensed gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) to the point that he called for them to be stricken from the congressional record, but that request was rejected by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), on the grounds the request wasn’t timely.

The legislation, which President Obama has vowed to veto and has no chance of passing in the Senate, was criticized in a statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest upon passage.

“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program prioritizes the limited resources of the Department of Homeland Security to deport dangerous criminals rather than DREAMers,” Earnest said. “It is extraordinary that House Republicans are demanding that we reverse that prioritization as a price for getting the resources needed to deal with the urgent humanitarian situation at the border, reduce the immigration court backlog, and address the root cause of child migration.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Republican control of Congress often meant attacks on LGBT rights. In 1996, former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia led efforts in Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill to prohibit federal recognition of same-sex marriages, after a court ruling in Hawaii suggested the state could legalize same-sex marriage. President Clinton signed the law after his administration assured Congress of the bill’s constitutionality.

Even under the Obama administration, the chamber under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner during the first two years of Republican control passed measures against LGBT people, although they were more under the radar. In addition to defending DOMA in court after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law, the House voted to affirm the federal ban on same-sex marriage legislatively on at least three separate occasions.

But that same hostility against LGBT people has considerably diminished in the current Congress, despite Republican control. After the Supreme Court issued rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced the State Marriage Defense Act to limit the ruling to marriage-equality states, but the bills saw no movement.

The chamber was quiet after President Obama signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors. Not even the threat of backlash emerged in Congress. When Boehner was asked during a routine press conference whether he had a reaction to the executive order, he replied, “Nope. The president signs a lot of executive orders.”

The responses to two separate executive actions from Obama on DREAMers and LGBT workers has led to speculation about why the two underrepresented groups are being treated differently.

Robert Raben, who’s gay and president of the D.C. consulting firm the Raben Group, said the difference boils down to a single factor: Influential white men are working on behalf of LGBT rights, but not immigration rights.

“The single most important variable is the presence or absence of white men,” Raben said. “I believe LGBT issues have mercifully done so well in the last 20 years because so many white men are affected by it, and they have exercised their money, their access and their establishment orientation to fight for our rights, and white men basically get what they want in this country.”

That same involvement from white men, Raben said, isn’t found in other social justice issues, such as immigration, voting rights, women’s rights and domestic violence.

Raben added the vote in the House against child refugees and DREAMers is “absolutely” evidence of the disparity resulting from the participation of white men on LGBT issues, but not other progressive causes.

“Ken Mehlman, Ted Olson and David Boies — all these white men stand up and fight for this right, and you don’t see that on affirmative action, reproductive rights, voting rights, right?” Raben said.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, accounted for the difference by saying the American people are clamoring for congressional action at the border, but aren’t making the same request to curtail LGBT rights.

“From a purely anecdotal perspective, I can say that whenever I’m visiting members of the House, the phones are ringing off the hook with constituents demanding that Republicans address border security first before tackling any other immigration-related issue,” Angelo said. “It’s relentless. When it comes to opposition to LGBT protections, Republicans have not seen the same fervor among voters in their districts.”

But not all observers see a difference in the way that Congress is treating the immigration community and the LGBT community.

Matt Foreman, director of gay and immigrant programs at the San Francisco-based Haas Jr. Fund, pointed to the lack of movement in the House on LGBT federal non-discrimination protections as evidence that LGBT people aren’t out of the woods when it comes to GOP disfavor.

“The facts just don’t bear that out: LGBT-inclusive civil rights legislation remains dead as a door nail; our movement hasn’t been able to win a basic civil rights bill in any state for more than six years due to Republican intransigence,” Foreman said.

Foreman said Republicans acted on immigration, but not the LGBT executive order, because the executive order that Obama may take to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation in the United States would be much more sweeping.

“The executive order involved simple amendments to two executive orders that are both over 40 years old and which have been amended by Democratic and Republican presidents,” Foreman said. “No one is contesting a president’s authority in this area. That’s certainly not the case with the relief extended to DREAMers through administrative action or with the potential of the president extending similar relief to up to five million more undocumented people.”

Regardless of whether the two groups are differently situated, advocates of immigration reform are already impressing upon the LGBT community that its resources are needed to help the immigration community, especially when needs for the two communities overlap.

On July 30 just before Congress adjourned, the grassroots group Southerners On New Ground and Familia: Trans & Queer Liberation held a sit-in for six hours at the offices of the LGBT Equality Caucus urging the group to call for LGBT inclusion on any executive action that Obama may take on immigration reform.

The demands of the protesters were four-fold: expand Deferred Action to the fullest extent of the law; end all programs involving law enforcement and U.S. Immigration & Custom Enforcement collaboration; elimination of the use of solitary confinement; and the expansion of protections for LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations under police and ICE custody in detention centers.

“We are proud that our country has a congressional Equality Caucus and as LGBTQ people we understand its role is to represent our whole community,” says a letter to the caucus accompanying the protest. “Ending deportations and other key issues are of equal importance to the LGBTQ community as issues such as employment and marriage.”

Days after the protest, the LGBT Equality Caucus issued a statement agreeing that any executive action Obama takes on immigration must be LGBT-inclusive and include non-discrimination policies.

“Any activity that discriminates against the LGBT community, whether it is targeting policing, bias in enforcement, harassment in detention, failure to provide medically necessary care, the unnecessary use of solitary confinement, or failure to respect gender identity cannot be supported,” the caucus statement says.

It’s those kinds of contributions from the LGBT community to the immigrant movement that the Haas Jr. Fund’s Foreman said is a good thing and already underway.

“There are tens of thousands of LGBT people who are disproportionately being harmed by the current, broken system and we can’t abandon them,” Foreman said. “Moreover, the LGBT movement cannot secure basic civil rights protections in the 29 states that still lack them without allies. And if we stand by immigrants and their families now, they will be with us in the future.”

12
Aug
2014

Agema responds to criticism over anti-gay remarks

Dave Agema responds to anti-gay criticism against him on Facebook. (Screenshot provided by anonymous source).

Dave Agema responds to anti-gay criticism against him on Facebook. (Screenshot provided by anonymous source).

Dave Agema continues in his response to criticism over his anti-gay remarks (Screenshot courtesy anonymous source).

Dave Agema continues in his response to criticism over his anti-gay remarks (Screenshot courtesy anonymous source).

A member of the Republican National Committee who has been criticized for making a series of anti-gay comments has apparently responded ahead of an upcoming national party meeting in D.C.

Dave Agema, who formerly served in the Michigan State House, issued the response via Facebook posting Sunday night, according to an individual with access to his news feed and an apparent screenshot of the message.

Saying he’s been on vacation for the past eight days, Agema said his intent with his previous messages — which have riled both gay Republicans and GOP leadership — was to “encourage discourse.”

“While I was gone it seems the same people are feeding half truths to the news within the GOP, stirring up divisiveness,” Agema apparently said. “I stand on the same issues I always have — God, family and country.”

Agema, who recently called Russia’s controversial anti-gay propaganda law “common sense” via Facebook, asserts he doesn’t necessarily align himself with the views expressed in items he posted.

“There are times I have posted or linked an article to encourage discourse,” Agema apparently said. “This does not constitute endorsement of that position, but some capture a controversial snippet and allege those are my words. It is an unfortunate and uncivil tactic meant to ruin a person’s reputation.”

Further, Agema apparently takes on the mantle of the victim, saying he’s faced retaliation for his remarks, including threats and vulgar messages.

“The Party platform is clear and the State Constitution is clear,” Agema looks to have said. “I have tried to uphold them but have been threatened, sent vulgar T-shirts, called nasty names at all times of night and day. I have never used name calling. Political correctness is taking the place of free speech via fear and intimidation.”

Agema concludes his posting by calling for “supporters and friends to turn the other cheek and not show the intolerance some of the opposition have shown.”

As seen in the screenshot, Agema made the posting visible to only his friends on Facebook, so the Blade is unable to independently view it to confirm its accuracy. Agema didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment to verify the posting.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, dismissed the notion that his postings merely fostered discourse, saying the RNC member “needs to look in the mirror.”

“His statements go far beyond polite debate about civil marriage equality; they’re outright bigotry,” Angelo said. “When GOP leadership across your state make a point of distancing themselves or explicitly denouncing you, it’s time to rethink your role in the party.”

Further, Angelo, who previously called for Agema’s ouster from the RNC, said it’s time for the Michigan Republican to relinquish his post.

“If Mr. Agema was truly as serious about getting conservatives elected as he professes, he would do the right thing and vacate his seat at the RNC,” Angelo said.

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan, expressed his continued displeasure with Agema in an email on Monday sent to all 168 members of the Republican National Committee and obtained by the Washington Blade.

“Our party should be focused on defeating Democrats, not defending Republican candidates and incumbents from a toxic committeeman who has proved himself unfit for the duties and responsibilities entrusted to him as a member of the RNC,” Lennox said.

Controversy continues to brew over Agema just before the RNC is scheduled meet in D.C. between Thursday and Saturday. Lennox said the party should take the opportunity to act against Agema.

“I know many of you will be cautious to take action for a variety of reasons,” Lennox told RNC members. “However, the time is now for the RNC to repudiate and defrock Dave Agema by word or action. Staying silent will do nothing but help Democrats.”

Asked if he shares the view that the RNC should address Agema in some capacity at the upcoming meeting, Angelo said, “We called for Agema to resign; that demand still stands.”

Over the past year, Agema has reportedly made a series of anti-gay comments and postings on Facebook. In addition to calling Russia’s propaganda law “common sense,” he reportedly made a similar anti-gay posting when oral arguments were taking place on marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was titled, “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” and appeared under the byline Frank Joseph, M.D. According to the Detroit Free Press, it reportedly depicted gays as sexually promiscuous, rife with sexually transmitted diseases and responsible for “half the murders in large cities.”

Additionally, while expressing views in opposition to same-sex marriage at a Republican fundraiser, Agema reportedly said he’s seen gay people working for American Airlines falsely claim to have HIV-infected partners to obtain spousal health coverage. He was also the sponsor of a resolution approved in April by the RNC reaffirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

But Agema’s comments aren’t limited to anti-gay remarks. According to Mlive.com, Agema also posted an old online attack piece that questions whether Muslims have ever contributed positively to American society.

Republicans at both the state and local level have joined in the criticism against Agema, although no action has been taken against him despite repeated calls for him to step down.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade on Monday, RNC Chair Reince Priebus repudiates Agema’s remarks, taking particular exception to the Michigan Republican’s comments about the Muslim community.

“While I have already commented on this issue before, people should be treated with grace and respect and these comments don’t reflect that principle,” Priebus said. “Additionally, the most recent comments regarding Muslim people living in America are patently wrong, lack merit and are devoid of any meaningful value. These comments don’t represent the Republican Party.”

In an interview with Detroit News, Betsy Devos, a former Republican National Committee member and former head of the Michigan Republican Party, said she’s personally called Agema to ask him to step down, and, when he didn’t respond to her messages, called on Preibus to dump Agema or marginalize him.

“He has a right to express his ideas and opinions, but he also has a responsibility to the party,” DeVos was quoted as saying. “He has damaged his position and his party. He reflects badly on Republicans and on Michigan.”

In his State of the State address last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made a veiled criticism of Agema. Without mentioning the RNC member by name, Snyder said in the state of Michigan, people have made “derogatory” and “negative” comments and called for “a greater degree of civility and respect to others of different backgrounds and different views.”

20
Jan
2014