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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

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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?

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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?

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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

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

Agema won’t attend RNC winter meeting

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Dave Agema won’t show for the RNC winter meeting after facing criticism over his anti-gay views.

A member of the Republican National Committee who has taken considerable heat from members of his own party for expressing anti-gay views is skipping the upcoming GOP meeting in D.C.

As first reported by the Detroit Free Press, Dave Agema, a former lawmaker in the Michigan House, has opted out of coming to D.C. for the RNC winter meeting, citing concerns over “liberal critics” within his ranks.

“My liberal critics within the Republican Party have chosen to elevate this discussion to the RNC meeting and make it a drawn-out fight between liberals and conservatives within the party,” Agema was quoted as saying. “For this reason, I have decided it is best for the party that I not attend the meeting this week and instead, I have sent a proxy who will vote how I want on rules.”

Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokesperson, confirmed for the Washington Blade that Agema won’t attend the meeting — which is set to take place between Thursday and Saturday — and will send in his place Chuck Yob, a former RNC member.

Agema skips the meeting amid calls for him to step down and for the RNC to oust him from his membership. RNC Chair Reince Preibus has said Agema’s comments “don’t represent the Republican Party.”

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan who’s been vocal in calling for Agema’s ouster, said the embattled Republican’s absence demonstrates he’s unfit for his position.

“By avoiding his responsibility to represent Michigan Republicans on the Republican National Committee, Dave Agema has made it clear he does not care about our party,” Lennox said. “It’s time for Dave Agema to do what’s right and abdicate.”

Agema’s absence at the RNC meeting isn’t the same thing as resignation from his post, but it raises questions about whether he can keep his position within the Republican Party. The Detroit Free Press quoted a Republican Party source as saying Agema hadn’t submitted his resignation as of Wednesday.

Over the past year, numerous media reports have emerged of Agema expressing anti-gay views, which has riled both gay Republicans and senior members of the party.

In Facebook postings, he’s called Russia’s controversial anti-gay propaganda law “common sense” and posted an article titled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” that depicts gays as sexually promiscuous and rife with sexually transmitted diseases.

At a Republican fundraiser in Michigan, Agema reportedly said he’s seen gay people working for American Airlines falsely claim to have HIV-infected partners to obtain spousal health coverage. Agema also sponsored a resolution approved by the RNC in April reaffirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

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

After being criticized publicly by former Michigan Republican Party chair Betsy Devos and after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made a veiled attack on him during his State of the State address, Agema responded in another Facebook posting, saying he merely intended to “encourage discourse” with his remarks.

But criticism within his own party didn’t let up. Reps. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) this week each called on Agema to give up his position within the Republican Party.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, has previously called on Agema to resign and said his no-show at the winter meeting demonstrates his views are out-of-sync with his party’s.

“Clearly Agema is feeling the heat,” Angelo said. “And if Dave Agema thinks Fred Upton, Rick Snyder and Justin Amash and others condemning his remarks are ‘liberals,’ we should all have reason to suspect what his definition of ‘conservative’ is.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is taking pot shots at the Republican Party over the Agema imbroglio, saying the embattled member’s views represent the GOP’s failure to embrace LGBT equality.

“Dave Agema’s rhetoric is hateful and has no place in the public discourse,” said DNC spokesperson Ian Sams. “But his position as a Republican National Committee member exemplifies the failure of the GOP to change its opposition to basic equality for all Americans, regardless of who they love. Predictably, Republicans see Dave Agema as a messaging problem. But until the GOP fully embraces LGBT equality, they will continue to be rejected by Americans, just like they were in the last election.”

22
Jan
2014

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

Log Cabin denounces ‘tyrannical’ Obamacare

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama’s signature legislative achievement is again under attack by Republicans. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The national gay group Log Cabin Republicans this week joined 21 conservative organizations, including some that oppose LGBT rights, in signing a letter calling on Congress to gut President Obama’s health care reform law.

The letter came shortly before the House began debate Friday morning on a bill introduced by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) that would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from becoming involved in any way in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including providing tax credits to individuals and small businesses to lower their health insurance premiums.

The bill, which Obama supporters say would effectively kill the health care reform law, marks the 40th attempt by House Republicans to kill the controversial law.

“I wanted you to know that today Log Cabin Republicans joined Americans for Tax Reform and a broad coalition of national conservative leaders as co-signers of a letter demanding that the United States Congress remove the Internal Revenue Service from any role in the implementation of the tyrannical Obamacare law,” Log Cabin Executive Director Gregory Angelo said in an Aug. 1 letter to the group’s members.

“The healthcare of the American people is one of the most personal and private aspects of our lives – even more so for LGBT Americans,” Angelo said in his letter. “Recent controversies about IRS targeting are bad enough, but with present scandals set aside, the last thing any member of the LGBT community needs is the IRS involved in any way in our heath care,” he said.

Angelo was referring to allegations that IRS officials gave greater scrutiny to conservative groups applying for a non-profit, tax-exempt status. A congressional investigation into the allegations prompted the IRS to apologize for the actions of a few officials who reportedly gave greater scrutiny to conservative groups. However, IRS officials said the agency also challenged tax-exempt applications of liberal-leaning groups.

Among the organizations co-signing the letter to Congress with Log Cabin were Concerned Women for America, which opposes virtually all LGBT rights legislation pending in Congress; the American Conservative Union, which barred Log Cabin and the gay conservative group GOProud from participating in its annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in March; and Restore America’s Mission, which advocates against same-sex marriage.

Angelo told the Blade Log Cabin has made it clear that it doesn’t agree with the LGBT-related positions of some of the co-signers. But he said Log Cabin and each of the co-signers shares the strongly held position that the Obama health care reform law is harmful to the nation and should be repealed.

Angelo noted that the joint letter was initiated by Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist, who has been supportive of Log Cabin.

The House was scheduled to vote Friday on the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act, known as HR 2009. The bill would prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury, who has jurisdiction over the IRS, from enforcing the Obamacare law, which is officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Democratic leaders in the House, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have called the latest GOP bill to kill the Obamacare law a publicity stunt aimed at diverting attention from Republican lawmakers’ opposition to a compromise deficit reduction measure and other pending bills opposed by House Republican leaders.

“It is only fitting that Republicans would waste the last week at work this summer voting for the 40th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act and continue their record of no jobs bills, no budget agreement, and no solutions for the middle class,” Pelosi said in a statement.

All of the GOP-sponsored bills calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act have died in the Senate. Senate Democratic leaders said the bill being debated on Friday, if approved by the GOP-controlled House, would be dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate.

In his letter to Log Cabin members announcing that he co-signed the joint letter supporting HR 2009, Angelo also asked members to make a contribution to the gay GOP group.

“Your financial support of Log Cabin Republicans today allows us to continue to fight for choice in healthcare, your right to privacy, and to keep gay Americans -— and all Americans — free. Please give today and tell the IRS: Hands off my healthcare!”

02
Aug
2013

Roundup from ENDA ‘Situation Room’ in NYC

Dave Montez, Kim Taylor, Gregory Angelo, Melissa Sklarz, Brad Sears, Tico Almeida, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Speakers talk at Freedom to Work’s “Situation Room” (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson).

NEW YORK — LGBT advocates across the political spectrum spoke at the LGBT group Freedom to Work’s first-ever “Situation Room” in New York City on Thursday, offering a variety of perspectives on the way forward to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Below are notable snippets from the speakers from both of the two panels.

Tico Almeida

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, announced his organization has expanded its work in submitting fictional matched-paired resumes to different companies to find anti-LGBT bias in hiring practices.

That consists of sending one resume from a well-qualified LGBT applicant to a company and another from a less qualified non-LGBT candidate to see who gets a call back to determine if anti-gay bias exists.

The group has already alleged anti-gay bias as a result of testing at the oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil, but Almeida said Freedom to Work is submitting resumes to 12 companies in 12 states.

“We are testing in Pennsylvania, we are testing in Ohio, we are testing in Michigan and Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, Utah,” Almeida said. “We are testing in all of the next battleground states where we expect to have a strong push, maybe not in the next six months, but in the next year, have a strong push and a real chance at passing a state-level ENDA law.”

This testing in additional states, Almeida said, could be used as a proof that anti-LGBT discrimination is happening as LGBT advocates make the case that a non-discrimination law is needed in states that currently lack them.

Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in addition to expressing concerns about the religious exemption in ENDA, was critical about the lack of personal stories from LGBT people affected by workplace discrimination.

“I don’t think there’s been the same comparable, assiduous sustained focus on generating those stories, figuring out how best to tell them,” Wolfson said. “You need a campaign to give people the tools, the language, the encouragement, the impetus, the urgency of telling those stories.”

Almeida responded by saying finding personal stories can be difficult because individuals who sue after facing workplace discrimination often sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for making settlements with their employers.

But Wolfson said there are ways around confidentiality, including finding stories other individuals other than LGBT people directly affected by discrimination and the testing work that Almeida previously mentioned.

“There’s a set of stories where you might have that problem, but there are a lot of stories out there,” Wolfson said. “There are a lot of people, including business leaders and others who can talk about the values of non-discrimination. It’s a mix of things that we need to be putting forward.”

Melissa Sklarz

Melissa Sklarz, a trans activist and president of the Stonewall Democrats of NYC, devoted much of her remarks to distinguishing between the Democratic and Republican party on LGBT rights.

One noteworthy quip cast the Republican Party in a particularly ghoulish light amid competing views from the Tea Party and other more LGBT friendly factions of the party like Log Cabin Republicans.

“I take a look at it sort of like Frankenstein’s monster,” Sklarz said. “All their little things, they have a piece. They’re going to put the arms and the legs and all that. But now they’re in the operating room, and they’re fighting. Who puts in the brain? And it’s a mess.”

Gregory Angelo

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, responded to Sklarz by saying he didn’t come to “litigate the differences” between the Democrats and Republicans.

Angelo identified in his remarks additional Senate Republicans who could be in play to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the Senate floor: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Each of the senators voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.

“This is a bill that included protections specifically for LGBT individuals,” Angelo said. “The fact that gay and lesbian protections existed in that bill does not make, in our perspective, LGBT protections a poison pill for those senators.”

Kim Taylor

Kim Taylor, a New Jersey lesbian activist and first black woman named to the Log Cabin Board of Directors, touted a New Jersey law signed by Democratic Gov. James Florio (D) in 1992 protecting workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

“Maintaing one’s viability as a self-sustaining worker is important,” Taylor said. “One needs to know that he or she will be free from bias, discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace based on who they are or whom they love … There is never a good reason to be discriminated against, and we must come to that understanding.”

Babs Siperstein, a Democratic trans activist and member of the audience, later noted that the 1992 New Jersey law protected only against sexual orientation discrimination. Gender identity wasn’t added until 2007.

Brad Sears

Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Log Angeles, talked about the research that his institution produced on LGBT employment.

Sears brought up a report examining the wages that LGBT people earn compared to their straight counterparts and said similar gaps exist between gay men and straight male workers as are known to exist between women and men.

“What this research consistently shows is that there is a wage gap ranging from about 10 to 30 percent in the wages of gay men and their…counterparts,” Sears said.

Sears continued that other groups within the LGBT community are more disadvantaged in terms of wages, including LGBT people of color, transgender workers, women, couples with children and non-citizens.

The Williams Institute’s wage gap report — which found that lesbians make as about as much as straight women, but less than straight or gay men — can be downloaded here.

Dave Montez

Dave Montez, acting president of GLAAD, touted the organization’s Spanish-language media capabilities and said his organization would employ those resources in Arizona, Florida and Nevada — states that have undecided senators on ENDA and large Latino populations.

“GLAAD is the only organization within the movement that has a dedicated Spanish-language media team,” Montez said. “We will deploy that team to help educate people in those states about why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is important.”

According to Montez, Latinos represent 15 percent of registered voters in Nevada, 14 percent in Florida and the Latino population is just under two million and represents 30 percent of the state’s population in Arizona.

14
Sep
2013

U.S. Chamber of Commerce stays neutral on ENDA

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is neutral on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. (Photo by Almonroth; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Amid growing support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act from companies large and small ahead of an expected Senate vote this fall, the nation’s largest lobbying group representing business and trade interests remains neutral on the legislation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s neutrality on ENDA is noteworthy in the aftermath the AFL-CIO adopting a resolution to “redouble” efforts to pass the bill.

Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokesperson, affirmed the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA adding the organization continues conversations with supporters of the bill.

“Since ENDA’s introduction, the Chamber has been in contact with proponents of the bills, both on the Hill and off,” Holmes said. “Consistent with our prior positions on the bill, the Chamber remains neutral on ENDA.”

Holmes didn’t respond to a follow-up email asking whether any change could be made to ENDA to win the Chamber’s endorsement.

But LGBT advocates working to pass the bill say they’re happy with the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA because the lack of interference of a powerful business lobbying group enables Republicans to support the bill.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the neutrality of the Chamber on ENDA is “a huge victory” considering the group regularly opposes expansions of workplace protections proposed to Congress.

“It may be that the Exxon Mobils of the world, who are dragging their feet on LGBT workplace fairness are the reason the Chamber cannot get to an official ‘yes,’” Almeida said. “But regardless of the reasoning, the Chamber’s neutrality is incredibly helpful and we raise their neutrality when we speak to Republican senators, Republican members of the House and Republican staff on Capitol Hill.”

Still, Almeida said he’d like the Chamber to come out in favor of the legislation. He declined to comment on whether Freedom to Work has had conversations with the Chamber to convince the organization to support ENDA.

The Chamber was neutral on ENDA in 2007, when a gay-only version of the bill lacking trans-inclusive language came to a vote on the House floor.

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, said he doesn’t expect the Chamber’s neutrality to change even though many companies have now expressed support for ENDA.

“The fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not oppose ENDA is helpful,” McTighe said. “While we don’t expect the Chamber to alter their current position, an ever-increasing number of businesses of all sizes in the U.S. do support the legislation.”

Earlier this month, as McTighe noted, UBS and Moody’s — two leading financial services firms — joined the business coalition of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses that have come out in support of ENDA.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT Republican group American Unity Fund, said his group is working with members of the business community to pass ENDA when asked about his views on the Chamber’s position.

“The private sector has been leagues ahead of government on non-discrimination for years,” Cook-McCormac said. “Business and labor leaders alike both recognize that non-discrimination is not only the right thing to do, it’s the best policy for businesses that need to compete for talented individuals and want their employees focused on getting the job done instead of fearing discrimination.”

The Family Research Council didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the Chamber’s neutrality on ENDA was helping its opposition to the bill.

Despite the general satisfaction, some LGBT advocates say an endorsement from the Chamber would bring the organization into alignment with the companies it represents and provide a much needed boost to ENDA.

Michael Fleming, executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, which contributes funds to LGBT causes, said having the Chamber endorse ENDA would have a positive impact.

“So many companies — big and small — are on the record supporting policies like ENDA, because they know they’re both the right thing to do and good for their bottom lines,” Fleming said. “Having the Chamber endorse ENDA would likely reflect the internal policies of their members. It would also, I think, move some members of Congress from considering supporting ENDA to fully and publicly endorsing the bill.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s comfortable with the Chamber’s current position on ENDA, but the organization could help by coming out in favor of the bill.

“Eagerness to know the Chamber’s position on ENDA comes up a lot in my meetings with Republicans on the Hill,” Angelo said. “Knowing that the Chamber is neutral on ENDA is always welcomed; having their full support would only help bring more Republican supporters to the bill.”

18
Sep
2013