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Chile civil unions bill advances

National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

National Congress of Chile (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile advanced in the country’s Senate on Tuesday.

The 28-6 vote to move the proposal out of committee took place more than six hours after lawmakers began to debate it.

“We have been given an opportunity to go one step further towards no discrimination,” said Sen. María Isabel Allende. “It is important to take steps that allow partners to gain access to rights they are now denied.”

Sen. Fulvio Rossi, who in 2010 introduced a bill that sought to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the South American country, also testified in support of the measure.

“[The bill] is of great importance because it recognizes that there is another way to build families that goes beyond marriage,” he said.

Opponents of the civil unions measure held signs inside the Senate chamber that said “Return to Christ.”

Oscar Rementería, spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, said on Twitter that police had to remove a “belligerent” Evangelical pastor and his supporters from the Senate chamber. Lawmakers who voted against the measure and other opponents also reacted angrily after the vote.

“Conservatism is afraid of change,” said Sen. Alejandro Navarro as he spoke in support of the measure. “I have news for you: The changes have already occurred.”

Movilh praised the vote.

“All partners who live together are going to benefit, especially the poorest families that lack any judicial and social protections,” the group said in a statement. “These families that every day seek help from our organization can now see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Movilh in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.

The tribunal last July gave the Chilean government a two month deadline to respond to the case. Two members of Piñera’s cabinet told Movilh during an October meeting the government has already begun the “process of internal consultations” to respond to the lawsuit.

President-elect Michelle Bachelet, who regained the Chilean presidency last month after defeating Evelyn Matthei, supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. Bachelet also backs a proposal that would allow transgender Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex-reassignment surgery, hormonal treatments and psychiatric or psychological evaluations.

Bachelet’s platform also supports efforts to strengthen Chile’s LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination law named in honor of Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old man whom a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death inside a park in Santiago, the country’s capital, in 2012 because he was gay. The convicted mastermind of the attack in October received a life sentence for the crime.

Andrés Ignacio Duarte Rivera, founder of the Organization of Transsexuals for the Dignity of Diversity, told the Washington Blade he expects senators will consider whether to advance the trans rights measure later on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Senate is expected to consider proposed amendments to the civil unions bill in the coming weeks.


Olympic athletes urged to speak out against Russia LGBT record

Queer Nation, NYSE, Russia, Russia Day, New York Stock Exchange, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Queer Nation NY protest outside of the New York Stock Exchange. (Image via Queer Nation’s YouTube Page)

With less than a month until the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, LGBT activists hope athletes who take part in the games will speak out against the Kremlin’s gay rights record.

“It’s important for the athletes to speak out, in Russia, about their belief that the way the Russian government is treating its gay and lesbian citizens is unacceptable,” said Andrew Miller of Queer Nation NY, which has held a number of protests in New York over the last few months to highlight Russia’s LGBT crackdown.

Speaking out against Russia’s gay propaganda to minors law and other anti-LGBT measures while in Sochi could prove easier said than done.

The Olympic Charter that the International Olympic Committee adopted in 2001 states “no form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic games” outside of a manufacturer’s logo. Any athlete who violates this rule could face disqualification or a loss of their accreditation at the Sochi games.

“I am very reluctant to call on athletes to do anything that would explicitly jeopardize their ability to compete in the games or jeopardize their ability to win a medal,” Hudson Taylor, a former University of Maryland wrestler who founded Athlete Ally in 2010 to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Taylor, who is currently an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University, described the Sochi games as “an enormous moment where international attention is going to focus on sport.” He also told the Blade the athletes who compete in the Olympics will have a platform they could potentially use to highlight LGBT rights abuses in Russia.

“I would like athletes if they are asked about their opinions on these laws, to give their opinion on the laws or give their opinion around support for the LGBT community,” said Taylor.

Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, made a similar point.

“A lot’s on the line for athletes who may speak out in ways that the IOC does not like, such as losing their medal,” said Cobb. “I would never want to advocate for someone to put themselves in a situation to lose their medal or be chastised by the IOC, but at the same time we would support any athlete in their effort to really highlight what’s going on with LGBT Russians and to show solidarity with their fight.”

Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King, whom President Obama last month tapped alongside gay figure skater Brian Boitano and others to join the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games, discussed the issue on Tuesday during an appearance on “The Colbert Report.”

“I probably won’t protest,” King told Stephen Colbert. “But if the media asks me a question, I’m going to answer it.”

Doubts about enforcement of law remain

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters during an October press conference in Sochi with IOC President Thomas Bach that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. The IOC maintains it has received repeated assurances from the Kremlin the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to Sochi, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who attend the Olympics.

Taylor acknowledged it is highly unlikely Russia will repeal the gay propaganda law and other anti-LGBT statutes before the Sochi games begin.

“At this stage of things I think the most that we can hope for is to make sure these laws are not being enforced for the duration of the games,” he said, noting Russian officials have created specific areas where they say people can gather and protest. “I’m not convinced those same people protesting will be safe once they leave the protest zones.”

Miller told the Blade he would like to see the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with Coke and other Olympic sponsors pressure the Russian government to overturn the country’s anti-LGBT laws. He said members of Queer Nation NY will continue to hold protests and other actions during and after the Sochi games to highlight Putin’s LGBT rights record.

“He may be counting on the world’s attention focusing elsewhere after the Olympics,” said Miller. “It’s important to pressure them.”

He also said NBC, which will broadcast the Sochi games, can “cover what’s going on in Russia beyond the Olympics.”

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law in a series of interviews he gave before he co-hosted the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow last November with singer Mel B. Neither he, nor pageant participants discussed the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event that NBC Universal co-owns with Donald Trump.

“They’ve done little to nothing about speaking out against the anti-gay laws and have done little to nothing about covering them or their effect,” said Miller.

Bob Costas, who will anchor the network’s prime time coverage of the Sochi games, told the Associated Press in November he welcomes the opportunity to directly ask Putin about the gay propaganda ban as opposed to offering his own commentary about it. He sought to clarify his comments during a Jan. 7 press conference in New York with NBC executives.

“If Putin doesn’t drag his butt into the studio, then we’ll talk about it without him,” said Costas as the Huffington Post reported. “But if he shows up, we’d rather talk to him. Wouldn’t you rather hear it from the horse’s mouth? I would. That’s what I was trying to say.”

State Department issues Sochi travel alert

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued a travel alert to Americans planning to travel to Sochi following two suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd late last month that killed 34 people. The advisory also highlighted the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia,” reads the State Department alert. “Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’”

Cobb acknowledged security remains a serious concern ahead of the Sochi games. He stressed, however, those who plan to travel to the Olympics need to know about the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown of LGBT rights and other issues that include freedom of speech.

“It’s important for the State Department to be very clear with people traveling to Sochi about what the laws are in Russia,” Cobb told the Blade.

Hudson also said those who plan to attend the games should be “mindful of” the ongoing security concerns.

“We have to be careful and measured in how we are speaking out or how someone is protesting,” he said. “I don’t want somebody to expose themselves to potential physical harm. However, I think that there will be opportunities to speak your mind, to show support for the LGBT community without exposing yourself to those risks.”


Nevada AG invokes bigamy, incest to defend marriage ban

Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. (Photo public domain)

Ask the attorney general of Nevada about the definition of marriage, and she’ll tell you it doesn’t include the union of a same-sex couple. But in the same breath, she’ll tell you it also doesn’t include incest or bigamy either.

In a 55-page brief filed on Tuesday, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto urges the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the basis that it reflects the will of the people.

“The interest of the State in defining marriage in this manner is motivated by the state’s desire to protect and perpetuate traditional marriage,” Masto writes. “In establishing this criterion and others — e.g., age, consanguinity, unmarried status, etc. — the state exercises its prerogative as a State, and that exercise is entitled to respect.”

But in a section titled “Marriage Defined” explaining “what marriage is” and “what marriage is not,” Masto reminds the court that in addition to not being for same-sex couples under Nevada law, marriage is also not for those engaging in bigamy or incest.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.02.07 AM

The invocation of bigamy and incest in Nevada’s brief before the Ninth Circuit recalls the first legal brief the Obama administration filed in support of the Defense of Marriage Act when it was still defending the law in court. That brief invoked bigamy and pedophilia to assert the constitutionality of the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage, which riled LGBT advocates.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, took Masto to task for making an implicit comparison between same-sex marriage and bigamy or incest while saying she makes no solid argument against allowing gay nuptials in Nevada.

“Marriage is not ‘defined’ by who is denied it, and nothing in the brief explains why loving and committed couples of the same sex should be denied the legal commitment and bundle of obligations and protections that are available to different-sex couples,” Wolfson said. “To invoke bigamy and incest, as the attorney general does — at least she stopped short of bestiality! — doesn’t supply an explanation; it makes clear that the state has nothing to offer to justify the discrimination against same-sex couples in Nevada.

But Wolfson said he concurs with another argument within the attorney general’s brief: domestic partnerships, which are permitted under Nevada law, aren’t equivalent to and don’t provide a substitute for marriage.

The brief was filed in the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, a challenge filed by Lambda Legal against Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2012.

Jon Davidson, Lambda’s legal director, said “of course, we find any such comparison objectionable” between same-sex marriage and bigamy or incest. The organization is slated to file its formal response to the attorney general’s brief next month.

Masto is a Democrat and has served in the role of attorney general for Nevada since 2007. Other Democrats holding the office in other states — most recently Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — have elected not to defend marriage bans in the state on the basis that they’re unconstitutional.

Notably, Masto argues at length that the Ninth Circuit shouldn’t apply heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to the ban on same-sex marriage. That argument is somewhat dated after the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday applied heightened scrutiny in ruling that a juror cannot be excluded from a trial based on sexual orientation — a decision that will have precedent in the marriage case.

“Under an objective application of due process and equal protection analyses, there is no basis for heightened review of the State’s purpose in defining marriage by its traditional meaning,” Masto writes. “There exists neither fundamental right, nor suspect or quasi- suspect class, justifying a different standard of review.”

But the invocation of bigamy and incest isn’t the only part of the brief that is raising concerns among LGBT advocates.

Responding to the various friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the case on behalf of same-sex marriage, Masto takes issue with the way some say marriage is about children and others say it isn’t.

“There is some irony in the inconsistency in certain arguments made by amici,” Masto writes. “A brief by the Family Equality Council, et al., posits that the policy issue is primarily about children, presenting ‘testimonials from the children raised in such families [those with same-sex parents].’ In a separate brief, Family Law Professors (who are ‘scholars of family law’) argue that marriage is not about children.”

Masto concludes these divergent views on the role of children in marriage serve to “reinforce the conclusion that the state’s legislature is the democratic crucible where the issues should be debated and decided.”

Emily Hecht-McGowan, the Family Equality Council’s director of public policy, slammed the attorney general for her interpretation of its brief in favor of marriage equality.

“The Attorney General is missing the primary point of our Voices of Children brief, which is not that marriage is primarily about children but rather that the denial of marriage equality fundamentally harms children being raised by same-sex couples by rendering them and their families second-class citizens,” Hecht-McGowan said. “We trust that the Justices reading our brief and hearing oral arguments will reach the same conclusion that Justice Kennedy reached in his majority opinion in U.S. v. Windsor — that laws denying marriage recognition to same-sex couples ‘humiliate children’ and are a violation of equal protection under the law.”


Carney riled by questions on ENDA executive order

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had a testy exchange with the Blade over the ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had few answers on Friday about a heavily sought executive order from President Obama barring LGBT workplace discrimination during an exchange with the Washington Blade that ended testily.

Responding to the Blade report that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would get done this year, Carney said when asked if it’s time for the federal contractor executive order that House leadership often brings up bills even after making such declarations.

“I would simply say that that is the wrong approach,” Carney said. “The president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.”

UPDATE: In a subsequent tweet, Carney clarified that he was referring to the speaker’s remarks as the “wrong approach,” not the executive order.

President Obama continues to withhold the executive order as LGBT advocates say the directive is a campaign promise from his 2008 president campaign.

Asked whether the president shares the view the executive order is a campaign promise, Carney dodged.

“I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors,” Carney said. “We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.”

The exchanged ended with Carney calling on another reporter in the White House briefing room without responding to the final question from the Blade.

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. The Washington Blade reported this week that Speaker Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will get done this session. Given that forecast from the speaker, is it time for the president to sign an executive order to protect LGBT workers from discrimination?

Jay Carney: Well, I would simply say that that is the wrong approach, and the president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.

Blade: But if the president is saying he “strong supports” the legislation, and the president is saying there’s “no way” the bill is coming up, so what will it take for the president to sign that executive order?

Carney: Chris, you know, we’ve talked about this a lot. The president believes that an Employment Non-Discrimination Act signed into law is the right way to go here. And we strongly support, and put a lot of energy behind that effort. I don’t think a lot of people predicted it would pass the Senate, but it did, and one person’s opposition to it in the House does not dissuade us from pressing for its passage, and its arriving on the president’s desk so he can sign it into law. We’re going to keep pushing on that.

Blade: LGBT advocates who are pushing for that executive order say it’s a campaign promise from the president. Is that a view the president shares?

Carney: I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors. We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.

Blade: In an apparent 2007 questionnaire —

Carney: I want to give others —

Blade: — one last question in. In an apparent 2007 questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus signed by then-candidate Obama, the president was asked if he supports for a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.” How is that not a campaign promise?

Carney: Chris, I’ve answered this question. We believe that right way to go is to pass legislation that applies to everyone that enshrines in law the equal rights that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spells out. So, I don’t have an update for you on the other issue —

Blade: So you’re disputing the assertions of the president’s supporters on this issue?

Carney: Cheryl.

NOTE: Although the Blade stated during the White House briefing the apparent questionnaire response was from 2007, it was actually dated in 2008.


Nevada AG will no longer defend marriage ban in court

Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto withdrew her brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage (Photo public domain).

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced on Monday she has sought to withdraw her earlier legal brief that argued against marriage equality — an action one advocate says indicates she’ll no longer defend in court her state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Masto, a Democrat, said she wants to withdraw her brief — which stirred controversy because it invoked bigamy and incest while defending Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage — based on a related case decided by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined jurors should not face discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“After thoughtful review and analysis, the State has determined that its arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable,” Masto said. “Additionally, the legal evolution referenced by SmithKline is undeniably a ‘doctrinal development’ that vitiates the State’s position. Thus not only is the State’s equal protection argument undermined, so is its Baker v. Nelson argument.”

Masto had previously indicated that he was reconsidering her position on the Nevada marriage lawsuit, which is currently before the Ninth Circuit, in the days after her initial filing based on the SmithKline ruling.

She had filed her brief before the court on the same day it rendered its decision in SmithKline v. Abbott, which determined laws in the Ninth Circuit related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional. That ruling established precedent in the Ninth Circuit that will likely lead to marriage bans being struck down within that jurisdiction.

The case in which Masto withdrew her filing is known as Sevcik v. Sandoval, which was filed in 2012 by Lambda Legal and other legal firms on behalf of eight same-sex couples.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the decision means that Masto will no longer defend the marriage ban in court in the same way that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is not defending a similar ban in his state.

An LGBT advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Masto’s position isn’t quite the same as Herring’s, but, in practice, it ends up being about the same position.

In the nine-page motion to withdraw, Masto walks through her logic in why the brief she previously submitted no longer holds up.

“SmithKline’s holding sets a new standard of review for cases in the Ninth Circuit,” Masto writes. “Because the State’s argument was grounded upon equal protection and relied on High Tech, and thus was constructed upon the premise that only rational basis review applied to laws categorizing on the basis of sexual orientation, the State’s argument cannot withstand legal scrutiny.”

The earlier brief cited as precedent Baker v. Nelson, a marriage case in the 1970′s that the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to hear for lack of federal question, and an earlier ruling by a federal judge in Nevada upholding the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. But with the more recent ruling in the gay juror case, Masto writes “both of these holdings have been vitiated.”

Masto’s request to withdraw her brief follows the earlier decision by Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover to withdraw his brief, which was also motivated by the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline.

Tara Borelli, a staff attorney at Lambda Lambda, praised Masto and Gov. Brian Sandoval for withdrawing their earlier brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage.

“In the wake of the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Governor has recognized that the writing is on the wall, and that arguments seeking to perpetuate discrimination are becoming extremely difficult to justify,” Borelli said. “Denying marriage to same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest and is intended solely to perpetuate discrimination.”

Derek Washington, lead organizer for GetEQUAL Nevada, said more action is needed from Masto after her initial brief invoking bigamy and incest.

“While we applaud the Attorney General for hearing the voices of Nevadans who let her know — loud and clear — that hatred and disrespect would not be tolerated in our state, we stand firm in demanding an apology for her past comments and have requested a face-to-face meeting between the Attorney General and LGBTQ community leaders immediately,” Washington said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this posting indicated Masto has withdrawn from the case. She cannot do so without the court’s permission.


White House silent on judicial nominee with anti-gay record

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest has no comment on a judicial nominee with an anti-gay record. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on Thursday regarding a controversial judicial nominee with an anti-gay record — despite calls from progressive groups on President Obama to take back the selection.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Earnest professed to have no knowledge of calls to remove Michael Boggs, whom President Obama tapped in December for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

“I haven’t seen the statements from the groups that you mentioned,” Earnest said. “I’ll see if we can collect some more information and get back to you with a specific reaction.”

Earnest declined comment during the briefing after the White House for more than a week hasn’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on calls to remove Boggs.

Progressive groups say they’re troubled by Boggs because of his record as a state legislator in Georgia. Among his votes were against removing the Confederate emblem from Georgia’s state flag; in favor of a “Choose Life” license plate that helped fund anti-abortion groups; and in favor of strengthening parental consent laws to require a photo ID and for parents to accompany daughters under the age of 18 to abortion clinics — with no exception for rape or incest.

More relevant to the LGBT rights movement, Boggs in 2004 voted for legislation authorizing the referendum on the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia. It’s unclear whether he still holds that position, or, like many other lawmakers, he has since evolved to support marriage equality.

On Thursday, a group of 27 progressive groups — including a trio of LGBT groups, the Human Rights Campaign, GetEQUAL Action, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — wrote to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to reject Boggs.

“We believe that Boggs’s record on reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights is especially troubling in a nominee to the federal bench,” the letter states. “Litigants in Georgia, and the nation as a whole, deserve a judge whose commitment to equal justice is clear.”

A Senate aide said the committee doesn’t have all of the paperwork in for Boggs and hasn’t yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Boggs, who received his law degree in 1990 from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, has since 2012 served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In 2000, Boggs was elected as a Democrat to the Georgia State House, where he held office until 2004. From 2004 to 2012, he was a Superior Court Judge of the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia of the Georgia Superior Court, where he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program.

Although the Task Force has already called on Obama to recall the nomination, the presence of HRC on the letter is notable because the organization had previously said it was awaiting Boggs’ hearing before making a judgment on the nominee.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he had no comment Thursday on the White House’s continued silence and deferred questions about HRC’s change in position to the letter.

According to The Huffington Post, Obama’s choice of Boggs is part of a package deal struck between the president and Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Four of the six nominees are GOP picks, and just one is black, but the trade-off is that other Georgia nominees in the package will now move forward after years of going nowhere.

Obama faces requests to remove Boggs as he met with black civil rights leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues including criminal justice reform and income inequality.

Asked whether Boggs came up during these discussions, Earnest referred to a White House blog posting on the event without mentioning in the controversial judicial nominee.

“I think there’s a blog post available at about the conversations that the president had with those leaders,” Earnest said. “They talked about the Affordable Care Act, and work in communicating to the American public, and particularly to individuals in the African-American community, the potential benefits that are available to them at, and some of the protections that were put in place for consumers because of the Affordable Care Act. I know they had conversations about some of the ideas to criminal justice reform that the president and the attorney general both discussed. In terms of specifics, I can’t go beyond that, in terms of whether or not a specific judicial nominee came up.”


Final Maryland Senate vote on trans bill expected next week

Rich Madaleno, Maryland, Democratic Party, Montgomery County, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland state. Sen. Rich Madaleno introduced Senate Bill 212 (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–A final vote on a bill that would ban discrimination against transgender Marylanders is expected to take place in the Maryland Senate next week.

Lawmakers on Friday approved Senate Bill 212 – the Fairness for All Marylanders Act – by a voice vote on its second reading. They also backed an amendment to the measure state Sen. Joseph Getty (R-Carroll County) introduced that clarifies the definition of gender identity and expression.

“Everyone agrees we want fairness for all Marylanders,” said state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County).

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who introduced SB 212 last month, applauded his colleagues for “their support in strengthening and approving the Fairness for All Marylanders Act” the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved last week. The Montgomery County Democrat also praised Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign and other members of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality for their efforts in support of the measure.

Observers expect that SB 212, which has 24 co-sponsors in the state Senate, will pass.

“We’ve come too far in the fight for civil rights in Maryland to exclude a vulnerable group of citizens from their right to equal treatment under the law,” said Madaleno. “Now is the time for full equality for all Marylanders.”

Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard Counties currently include gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination laws. Hyattsville in December became the first jurisdiction in Prince George’s County to pass a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance.

All three Democratic gubernatorial candidates – Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur – support SB 212. Brown is expected to testify for the measure next week on behalf of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) also back SB 212.

“In case anybody wants to know, I’m going to vote for the bill,” said Miller on Thursday before senators moved to delay the measure’s second reading by a day.

Neighboring Delaware is among the 17 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and other states have introduced similar measures.

The Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee on March 5 is scheduled to hold a hearing on a trans rights bill that state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced. The chamber approved a similar measure in 2011.

“I fully expect the Senate to finish the job and pass this important legislation early next week,” said Madaleno.


Lesbian judicial nominee confirmed to fed’l court in Michigan

United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Judith Levy to the federal bench by a 97-0 vote. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate added to the increasing number of openly LGBT people on the federal judiciary Wednesday by confirming an out lesbian by a unanimous vote.

The Senate voted to approve Judith Levy, whom President Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, by a vote of 97-0 along with other judicial nominees.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, commended the Senate for confirming Levy and for increasing LGBT representation on the federal judiciary.

“Judith Levy will make an incredible addition to Michigan’s judiciary,” Kemnitz said. “LGBT representation in our courts is critical and speaks to the tremendous advocacy and support our community has received.”

Levy, who was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, has been an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan since 2000 and chief of the civil rights unit for that office over the past three years. The American Bar Association gave her a rating of “unanimously qualified.”

According to her questionnaire, Levy has been a member of the Human Rights Campaign from 2001 to present and is board member for DOJ Pride, the affinity group for LGBT employees at the Justice Department. She’ll become the first openly LGBT person to serve on federal court in Michigan.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, commended the Senate for confirming Levy and said her record will make her an excellent contribution to the federal judiciary.

“The President welcomes the confirmation of Judith Levy,” Inouye said. “She will serve the American people well from the Eastern District of Michigan bench.”

But the Levy confirmation wasn’t the only news on Wednesday related to LGBT judicial nominees. Earlier in the day, Staci Michelle Yandle, nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois, sailed through her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition from panel members.


Mayor honors ‘Sheroes’ of LGBT movement

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Kelley Robinson of Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health received their Sheroes of the Movement awards at a ceremony in the Fannie Mae Conference Center on Friday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On behalf of his Office of GLBT Affairs, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on March 21 presented the city’s 2014 Sheroes of the Movement Award to three women chosen for outstanding contributions to the “LGBT movement and community” of the District of Columbia.

In a ceremony at the federal Fannie Mae Conference Center on Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Gray handed the awards to Cathy Chu, Youth Leadership Manager for the local LGBT youth advocacy and services group SMYAL; Amy Nelson, Supervising Attorney at Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services Program; and Kelley Robinson, Assistant Director for Youth Engagement at Planned Parenthood.

“The purpose of these awards is to honor Sheroes of the District of Columbia GLBT community for their achievement and community service during Women’s History Month,” said Earl Fowlkes, chair of the Mayor’s GLBT Advisory Committee, which selected this year’s honorees.

“These unsung Sheroes have contributed so much to our community and are often not recognized for their work in helping to make the District one of the most vibrant GLBT communities to live and work in the United States,” Fowlkes in a statement in the ceremony’s program book.

A statement released by the mayor’s office says the Office of GLBT Affairs organized this year’s 3rd annual Sheroes of the Movement Award program with the Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives and the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs.

The statement describes the 2014 awardees as “three lesbian, bisexual or queer women who have made significant contributions to the LGBT movement and community in the District.”

Chu, among other things, develops programs and training initiatives “designed to empower young LGBTQ-identified individuals in the District, Maryland and Virginia,” according to biographical information released by the mayor’s office. She also serves on the Steering Committees for the National Association of Gay-Straight Alliance Networks and Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters.

As part of her work at SMYAL, she facilitates the Women’s Leadership Institute, which provides a weekly discussion group and overnight retreats for more than 100 “young LGB women and gender non-conforming youth” in the D.C. area, information released by the mayor’s office says.

Nelson, an attorney, among other things, oversees Whitman-Walker Health’s client intake, supervises staff attorneys and represents clients — about half of whom are LGBT — in the areas of health care access, public benefits, consumer rights and workplace rights cases.

She is credited with playing the lead role in launching the city’s first Name and Gender Change Clinic to assist transgender people in updating their legal identity documents and personal records. In partnership with the local group TransLAW, the Name and Gender Change Clinic has served more than 270 clients and has trained more than 150 volunteers to carry out its services.

Among other things, Nelson has served on the board of Miriam’s House, a residence for HIV-positive, homeless women.

Robinson operates Planned Parenthood’s national youth and campus engagement programs known as the Planned Parenthood Generation, which is a project of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, information released by the mayor’s office says.

“She is dedicated to cultivating, engaging, and supporting a broad, diverse network of young leaders, especially young people of color and LGBTQ youth,” a statement in the program book says. “Kelley has doubled Planned Parenthood’s campus presence over the last two years, for a total of 250 campus groups nationwide, nearly 100 teen advocacy programs and thousands of individual activists,” it says.

“It’s a real honor to be here,” Gray told the awards gathering. “I’ve said there’s a lot of people who have done a lot for the residents of the District of Columbia to bring about a level of understanding and acceptance that otherwise might not exist in the District of Columbia – maybe more so than any other city or state.”

Gray added, “We need to recognize people who work and do this kind of advocacy. I’m proud to be in a city that is a leader on the issues that are important to us…I want to again congratulate the honorees tonight.”

Kelley told the Blade after the ceremony that she was “so proud” to have been selected as an honoree.

“It is an incredible honor and I’m just honored and privileged to be able to do the work that I do every day working with young people, working with communities of color, working with queer folks,” she said.

Nelson said she, too, was “honored and humbled to be recognized along with” Chu and Robinson. “And I’m thrilled that the mayor and his office decided to honor us and create this event.”

Chu said after the ceremony that an important part of her work is to monitor the growing number of Gay-Straight Alliance groups or GSAs that students are forming in D.C.-area high schools as well as some middle schools.

“We definitely see growth. We know of 93 GSAs right now,” she said in both public and private schools in the D.C. metro area.


Boy Scouts remove gay scoutmaster from post

boy scouts, gay news, Washington Blade

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday removed an openly gay Seattle scoutmaster from his position. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday announced the removal of an openly gay Seattle scoutmaster over his sexual orientation.

NBC News reported Geoff McGrath, 49, founded a gay-friendly troop in the Emerald City’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. Seattle’s top Boy Scouts of America official told the network she did not know McGrath was gay in spite of his claims that he never hid his sexual orientation.

“It’s extremely disappointing to not be fully supported and defended in my membership,” McGrath, who is married to his husband of 20 years, told NBC News. “They are complaining that the problem [his status as an openly gay man] is a distraction to Scouting and they don’t seem to understand that the distraction is self-inflicted.”

Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America, defended the decision to ban McGrath from the organization.

“Our policy is that we do not ask people about their sexual orientation, and it’s not an issue until they deliberately inject it into Scouting in an inappropriate fashion,” Smith told NBC News in an e-mail. “We spoke with Mr. McGrath today and based on the information he provided, the National Council has revoked his registration.”

The Boy Scouts of America National Council last May voted to partially end its long-standing policy banning openly gay boy scouts. The prohibition of openly gay adult volunteers and scoutmasters remains in place.