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Obama nominates black lesbian to serve on federal judiciary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16
Jan
2014

Calendar: Feb. 14-20

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, calendar, events, gay news, Washington Blade

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs a romantic-themed concert twice on Saturday. (Washington Blade file photo)

Calendar of D.C. LGBT events for the week ahead.

Friday, Feb. 14

The Barns at Wolf Trap (1635 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va.) presents “Love and Kisses, Swings and Misses, A Valentine’s Day Celebration” performed by D.C. jazz band Chaise Lounge tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For details, visit wolftrap.org.

American University (4400 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.) hosts “Lavender Languages,” an academic conference on language use in LGBT life, today through Sunday.  Topics include the Sochi Olympics controversy, queer language and hip-hop, neoliberal homophobia, varieties of speech in the drag speech community and more. Tickets are $20-$30. For details, visit american.edu/cas/anthropology/lavender-languages.

Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education Services (WAVES) at George Mason University (4400 University Dr., Fairfax, Va.) presents “The Vagina Monologues,” a play celebrating female sexuality, today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the Harris Theatre. Tickets are $25. For details, visit waves.gmu.edu.

BreakfastClub presents “Love is a Battlefield,” an ‘80s dance party, at 18th and U Duplex Diner (2004 18th St., N.W.) tonight from 9 p.m.-midnight. ‘80s costumes are encouraged.

Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) presents “A Very Kylie Valentine’s,” a dance party playing music by Kylie Minogue, tonight from 10 p.m.- 3 a.m. There is an open vodka bar from 10-11 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 15

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents “Passion” at Church of the Epiphany (1317 G St., N.W.) today at 3 and 8 p.m.  The chorus sings popular songs from Dolly Parton to Pink as well as songs from “Miss Saigon,” “La Traviata” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” Tickets range from $44-49. Tickets can be purchased online at gmcw.og.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton hosts a tax preparation fair at Washington Convention Center (801 Mt. Vernon Pl., N.W.) this morning from 10 a.m.-noon. Get help filling out a FAFSA form, receive housing and mortgage counseling, credit counseling and more. The fair is only for D.C. residents with income less than $52,000 a year whose earnings come from wages, salaries and pensions. Admission is free. For details, visit norton.house.gov.

Burgundy Crescent, a gay volunteer organization, volunteers today for the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation at the Falls Church PetSmart (6100 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, Va.) at 11:45 a.m. You will be paired with a dog on a leash to walk around and play with. Wear casual clothes. For more information, visit burgundycrescent.org.

The Media Takeout Ball,” hosted by Treashay Khan and Shauna Balenciaga, is tonight at the Upscale Ballroom (3900 Bexley Rd.,) from 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Dress up in costume to compete in various categories for trophies and money. Categories include “RuPaul or Nah?,” for best looking drag queen, best looking transman, best looking butch and more.

Lure D.C. presents “Bare I V’day Edition,” a Valentine’s ladies dance party, tonight at Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Cover is $7 before midnight and $10 after. Admission is limited to guests 21 and over. For more information, visit cobaltdc.com.

Rainbow Youth Alliance hosts a Valentine’s Day dance tonight at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockville (100 Welsh Park Dr., Rockville, Md.) tonight from 7-11 p.m. The dance is for LGBT youth and allies ages 12-18 and will be chaperoned by Rainbow Youth Alliance adults. For more details, visit thedccenter.org.

Sunday, Feb.16

Human Rights Campaign and Lure D.C. presents “Washington D.C. Her HRC” at Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) tonight from 8 p.m.-midnight. The night features all female DJs playing old school music. For details, visit towndc.com.

WTF presents the 2014 HOMOlympics, an Olympics watch party with music, at Town (2009 8th St., N.W.). Doors open at 10 p.m. Admission is free before 11 p.m. and $5 after. Guests must be 21 and over. For details, visit towndc.com.

Monday, Feb. 17

Queer for Christ, a young-adult LGBT Christian group, hosts a February happy hour at Larry’s Lounge (1836 18th St., N.W.) today from 7-9 p.m. For details, visit facebook.com/groups/QFDC.

Us Helping Us  (3636 Georgia Ave., N.W.) holds a support group for gay black men to discuss topics that affect them, share perspectives and have meaningful conversations. For details, visit uhupil.org.

Tuesday, Feb. 18

Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) hosts its weekly ”FUK!T Packing Party” from 7-9 p.m. tonight. For more details, visit thedccenter.org.

Whitman Walker holds free and confidential HIV testing at Crew Club (1321 14th St., N.W.) today from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. For details, visit whitman-walker.org.

SMYAL (410 7th St., S.E.) hosts “Café SMYAL,” a fun event to get out of the cold, today from 4-5 p.m. Drink hot cocoa, play board games and make new friends. For more information, visit smyal.org.

Wednesday, Feb. 19

Bookmen D.C., an informal men’s gay literature group, discusses selections from “Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets” today at the American Foreign Service Association (2101 E St., N.W.) at 7 p.m. All are welcome. For details, visit bookmendc.blogspot.com.

The Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project presents an organ showcase today in the Concert Hall  (2700 F St., N.W.) at 7 p.m. The showcase features students from various music schools all over the country. Admission is free. For details, visit kennedy-center.org.

Thursday, Feb. 20

The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) hosts its monthly Poly Discussion Group at 7 p.m. People of all different stages are invited to discuss polyamory and other consensual non-monogamous relationships. This event is for new comers, established polyamorous relationships and open to all sexual orientations. For details, visit thedccenter.org.

SMYAL (410 7th St., S.E.) provides free and confidential HIV testing drop-in hours today from 3-5 p.m. For more information, visit smyal.org.

13
Feb
2014

DNC treasurer says lack of ENDA directive ‘frustrating and perplexing’

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias says the lack of an ENDA executive order is "frustrating and perplexing" (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias says the lack of an ENDA executive order is “frustrating and perplexing” (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias has joined those expressing concern over why President Obama hasn’t signed an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, saying it should be signed and its absence is “frustrating and perplexing.”

Amid renewed questions over why Obama hasn’t signed the order following a speech from Vice President Joseph Biden in which he called the lack of LGBT protections “close to barbaric,” Tobias articulated his own concerns as he maintained that fighting for Democratic control of Congress is of utmost importance.

The DNC treasurer made the comments in an off-the-record listserv for LGBT donors via an email that was leaked to the Washington Blade.

“I agree 100% with those who say it should be signed, 100% with those who believe we should keep pressing, and 100% with those who say it’s frustrating and perplexing,” Tobias wrote. “But I think we would be crazy to let it diminish our efforts to hold the Senate, get Nancy her gavel back, and lay the groundwork for a huge LGBT supporter to win the White House in 2016. (All our plausible 2016 nominees are huge LGBT supporters.)”

Tobias, who’s gay, confirmed to the Washington Blade the email indeed came from him as did other individuals on the listserv, who said the message came from his email account on Wednesday. Notably, these individuals said Tobias told LGBT donors in his email that listserv members should feel free to quote him as expressing those views. Tobias also told the Blade to quote him as such.

The remarks are noteworthy for Tobias, who has a reputation for tamping down criticism and concern over the Obama administration and the DNC for not doing enough on LGBT rights. It has particular significance because it comes at a time when the DNC is busy raising money to hold onto the Senate during the congressional midterms.

Last year in another email to the listserv following concerns at that time over the executive order, Tobias maintained everyone within the administration supports it, but that a “process” is holding it up.

Tobias’ latest remarks follow continued frustration with Obama over why he continues to withhold the executive order, which LGBT advocates maintain is a 2008 campaign promise of his, after the No. 2 person in his administration called the lack of federal prohibition on LGBT workplace discrimination “close to barbaric.”

Biden made the remarks while calling on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, while speaking to about 1,000 attendees at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“If you think about it, it’s outrageous we’re even debating this subject,” Biden said. “I really mean it. I mean it’s almost beyond belief that today, in 2014, I could say to you, as your employee in so many states, you’re fired, because of who you love.”

The vice president never mentioned the much sought executive order in his speech, but LGBT advocates questioned why Obama hasn’t acted on the directive if the lack of protections is so barbaric. Some advocates also projected a scenario in which Obama would sign the order as a result in the days ahead.

After all, Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality on “Meet the Press” in 2012 preceded Obama’s own endorsement of marriage equality by just three days and was seen as a trigger for the president’s announcement.

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, was among those envisioning the executive order coming shortly from Obama as a result of the Biden address.

“As we saw with marriage equality, Vice President Biden is sometimes the person who will preview a presidential decision,” Nipper said. “So let’s hope his recent comments means that a non-discrimination executive order is imminent from President Obama.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment about any updates on the possible executive order. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s preference for legislation to bar LGBT workplace discrimination when asked by the Washington Blade about a letter signed by more than 200 Democrats calling for the directive.

“There is no question, I think, in anyone’s mind that the passage of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would provide those protections broadly in a way the EO would not,” Carney said. “And as I’ve said before, opposition to that legislation is contrary to the tide of history and those lawmakers who oppose this will find, in the not too distant future, that they made a grave mistake and that they will regret it.”

But Biden’s description of the lack of LGBT workplace non-discrimination rules as “close to barbaric” and the continued absence of an executive order that would institute them riled members of the LGBT donor listserv, who pestered Tobias with emails over why it hasn’t been done.

In another email earlier in the week, the DNC treasurer said the best approach to the situation is highlighting stories of people harmed by the lack of the directive as well as studies showing the scale of the problem — in addition to working for Democratic electoral gains in 2014 and 2016.

Heather Cronk, managing director of the LGBT grassroots group GetEQUAL, said Biden’s use of “barbaric” to describe anti-LGBT workplace discrimination should be the driving force prompting Obama to take executive action.

“In fact, Biden’s remarks are exactly where the rest of the country is — given that 90 percent of Americans think there is already a federal law in place, one would think that this comment from Biden would kick start a commitment by the Obama administration to lead on this issue and to sign this executive order without delay,” Cronk said. “Anything less is simply dangling equality in front of our noses, hoping that we’ll show up for midterms — which is, indeed, barbaric.”

For its part, the White House continues to advocate for ENDA as pressure builds on Obama to sign the executive order.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, referenced the idea of ENDA supporters starting a discharge petition in the House to bring the bill up for a vote. A successful discharge petition requires 218 names, the same number of individuals needed to pass legislation on the House floor.

“The President continues to believe that the House should join the Senate and pass ENDA so he can sign it into law,” Inouye said. “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”

LGBT advocates have told the Blade that a discharge petition should be considered a last resort to pass ENDA because the tactic is viewed as a criticism of leadership for not advancing a bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed the idea of the petition when speaking with reporters late last year, saying Republican leadership would discourage members from signing it before it reached 218 names.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates have amped up their efforts to encourage U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to bring up ENDA for a vote in the House. The coalition known as Americans for Workplace Opportunity, which helped guide the Senate to pass ENDA on a bipartisan basis in September, is putting up more than $2 million to pass ENDA in the chamber. Much of the money is coming from Republican superdonors Paul Singer and Seth Klarman, who each donated $375,000.

Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said even with the push for ENDA, Obama has “absolutely no reason” to delay in signing an executive order on behalf of LGBT workers.

“This easily has to be the most studied and mulled-over executive order in history,” Sainz said. “The leadership of this president and his entire administration on issues important to LGBT equality has been absolutely tremendous. The decision to apply nondiscrimination protections to the workers of federal contractors will fit in nicely with his historic legacy on LGBT equality.”

27
Mar
2014

Will Obama ‘use the pen’ to protect LGBT workers?

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney won’t say whether Obama’s use of his pen will include action to protect LGBT workers. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

President Obama pledged this week to take executive action if Congress fails to pass certain items on his legislative agenda, but so far the strategy of bypassing Congress doesn’t extend to the issue of barring discrimination against LGBT workers.

In public remarks before a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Obama said he intends to make clear that Congress isn’t the only path for policy change, saying “we are not just going to be waiting for legislation” to provide aid to Americans.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders, and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, and making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

That situation could apply to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would bar most employers from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. Although the bill passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan basis, it has languished in the House. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes the legislation.

LGBT advocates are jumping on Obama’s remarks as another opportunity to push him to sign the executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization “certainly hope[s]” the president’s words — and similar words from other administration officials — indicates Obama is preparing to take action to institute LGBT non-discrimination protections.

“The White House’s statements were a perfect description of the executive order that hardworking LGBT Americans need,” Sainz said.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the “time is right for more action” in the wake of Obama’s words that he’ll use his pen to advance his agenda.

“If politics is local, then all the administration has to do is take a look at what Virginia’s new Gov. Terry McAuliffe did as his first act — signing an executive order that protects LGBT state employees from discrimination,” Carey said. “With one stroke of his pen, the president can immediately improve the lives of LGBT people across the country; we encourage him to use it.”

But the White House maintains the legislative route to protecting LGBT workers from discrimination is the path it prefers.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday he doesn’t “have any change or update” from the administration’s previously stated preference for passage of ENDA over an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

“So our view has always been that the best way to address this important matter is through broad, comprehensive employment non-discrimination legislation,” Carney said. “And we support action on that legislation in the House so that the president can sign it.”

Asked by another reporter why the president would take executive action to advance his policies on issues such as gun control and education, but not on LGBT discrimination, Carney reiterated the administration’s position.

“We are very focused on the potential for further action in the Congress — for the progress that we’ve seen around the country and in Congress in recognizing that these are fundamental rights that ought to be recognized,” Carney said. “And we expect that Congress will, as I said, get on the road toward progress that so many in this country have been traveling on these issues.”

Obama’s words this week mark a significant change in tone from what he’s previously said on the issue of bypassing Congress and issuing executive orders to enact new policy.

In November during a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in San Francisco, Obama was heckled by an audience member who kept shouting “executive order.” Although the protester didn’t make clear on what issue he was seeking executive action, Obama responded that his belief generally is that he shouldn’t bypass Congress.

“There is no shortcut to politics,” Obama said. “And there’s no shortcut to democracy. And we have to win on the merits of the argument with the American people. As laborious as it seems sometimes, as much misinformation as there is out there sometimes, as frustrating as it may be sometimes, what we have to do is just keep on going, keep on pushing.”

The reason for the change in tone could be attributable to a new face on the White House staff. John Podesta has recently joined the staff as a counselor to Obama. During his time building the Center for American Progress as its founder, Podesta was a strong advocate of use of executive power by the president.

In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness and to improve education, health care and security.

“Concentrating on executive powers presents a real opportunity for the Obama administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage,” Podesta writes. “Instead, the administration can focus on the president’s ability to deliver results for the American people on the things that matter most to them.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, insisted that Obama has asserted he has the prerogative to exercise executive authority, saying she supports him doing so for LGBT workers.

“I think his comments this week and comments from others who are senior advisers at the White House that he will act if Congress doesn’t is in keeping with what he has said in his first term and in the past year in his second term,” Stachelberg said. “He has been clear that he wants to work with Congress on issues that challenge our country, but where and when Congress won’t act, he will use the authority that he has.”

Obama will likely flesh out what he intends to pursue through executive action during his annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28. Although the details of the speech are under wraps, Obama has already disclosed he’ll talk about mobilizing the country around a national mission of ensuring the economy offers all hardworking Americans a fair shot at success.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, identified another item that Obama should bring up during the State of the Union speech: pushing the U.S. House to finish the job on ENDA.

“We will keep pushing for an ENDA vote in the House of Representatives in 2014, and we hope the president will use the State of the Union Address to call for that vote, but the very best thing he can do right now is lead by example and sign the executive order,” Almeida said.

Advocates of workplace protections pushed Obama to sign the directive prior to his campaign to win a second term, but the White House announced it wouldn’t happen at that time. Despite a presumption the president would sign the measure once re-elected, there was no change in the White House position following Election Day.

After first lady Michelle Obama was heckled during a DNC fundraiser over the executive order, renewed pressure was placed on the White House, and advocates had renewed hopes Obama would announce he would sign the order at the annual Pride reception at the White House. Instead, Obama took the opportunity to renew his call for ENDA passage.

Finally, amid questions over whether Obama would sign the executive order once ENDA made it halfway through Congress and passed the Senate, the White House indicated there was still no change in plans.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at the City University of New York, didn’t put much stock in the notion that things would change this time around — despite the president’s words.

“My guess is that Obama would not issue an executive order that might unduly upset the business community,” Pinello said. “He’s been fairly deferential to them.”

Pinello added most federal contractors are large enough business entities that they likely have LGBT non-discrimination provisions already in place with regard to LGBT people.

“Thus, there might be significantly diminished returns from such an executive order, especially in light of the antagonism potentially felt by those small contractors who’d feel put upon by the action,” Pinello said. “So I’d be surprised if Obama did it.”

17
Jan
2014

Cartoon: Ellen Page comes out

Ellen Page, Human Rights Campaign, Juno, coming out, HRC, gay news, Washington Blade

Ellen Page comes out. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

19
Feb
2014

Bowser’s gay campaign manager shuns spotlight

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, Washington D.C., D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser’s gay campaign manager says she’ll be a champion for LGBT issues if elected mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls placing her in a statistical tie with Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, some of Bowser’s LGBT supporters are pointing to the efforts of her campaign manager, Bo Shuff, who has shied away from the media spotlight.

Shuff, who’s gay and has worked in the past for the LGBT rights groups Equality Ohio and the Human Rights Campaign, has been serving as Bowser’s campaign manager since last September.
Beginning in 2000, as regional field director for the Florida Democratic Party, Shuff has worked on political campaigns for candidates and progressive advocacy groups for more than a dozen years as a specialist in grassroots organizing and field operations.

Since 2009 he has provided campaign-related consulting services to a wide range of clients as owner of the D.C. firm Top Shelf Consulting.

Shuff said he joined the Bowser campaign after mutual friends informed him that Bowser was looking for a campaign manager.

“They introduced us and I interviewed,” Shuff said, both with Bowser and former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot (I-At-Large), who is serving as chair of the Bowser campaign.

When asked about assertions by Gray’s LGBT supporters that Gray’s record on LGBT issues is far more extensive than Bowser’s, Shuff said Bowser would be a champion for LGBT people both on LGBT issues and other issues that impact their lives.

“Muriel voted for every piece of legislation that’s been positive for the LGBT community that’s come across her desk,” he said. “She’s going to be a strong advocate for minority populations across the board, not just LGBT but the full diversity of this city.”

31
Mar
2014

State Dept. quiet on Nigeria gay arrests

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department won’t articulate options to address anti-gay activity in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was unable on Friday to articulate any options to address Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the arrests that have followed other than restating U.S. concerns about the situation.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki provided little additional information on U.S. efforts to confront the anti-gay law as reports continue to emerge of hostilities toward gay men in the country.

“I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point,” Psaki said. “I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on the State Department to employ all available tools to stop the anti-gay situation in Nigeria described in media reports that has troubled many observers.

“The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The Obama administration has previously said the anti-gay law itself violates Nigeria’s international legal obligations and is inconsistent with human rights protections in its constitution.

But one option that Psaki took off the table on Friday was a potential loss of U.S. financial aid to Nigeria, saying the United States funds programs in Nigeria that are critically important.

“It’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR,” Psaki said. “Those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support.”

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the new anti-gay law signed on Jan. 7 by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan goes further than the existing statutes.

It bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, but also membership in LGBT organizations. Entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and membership in an LGBT organization is punishable with jail time of up to 10 years.

The State Department had previously said it was trying to verify reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 168 others are being pursued following passage of the anti-gay law. The Associated Press reported on Friday that arrests are spreading across Nigeria and dozens more individuals perceived to be gay have been rounded up and questioned.

But Psaki on Friday said wasn’t able to provide any confirmation about arrests in terms of numbers as she reiterated U.S. concern about the media reports.

“I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there,” Psaki said. “Obviously, we have expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well…It’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines.”

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later told the Blade the U.S. embassy in Nigeria is working to ascertain the number of individuals perceived to be gay arrested under the law. Stevens said the State Department would provide a response by Tuesday, but it’ll probably be a “squishy number” because of the changing situation.

Asked to respond to media reports that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has returned the “anti-homosexuality” bill to parliament, which passed the measure last month, Psaki said she was unaware of the development.

“I haven’t seen that,” Psaki said. “I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.”

A State Department official later told the Blade the United States continues to raise concerns about the legislation in Uganda and “welcome[s] reports” that some Ugandan leaders have expressed their  opposition to the bill.

“Since the 2009 introduction of this legislation, we have consistently registered our opposition at the highest levels of government, both in Washington and in Kampala, reiterating our long-standing opposition to legislation that discriminates against LGBT individuals,” the official said.

18
Jan
2014

Kerry: U.S. ‘deeply troubled’ over Gambian president’s speech

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is “deeply troubled” by the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used in a Feb. 18 speech (photo public domain).

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the U.S. is “deeply troubled” over the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used during a speech that commemorated the country’s independence from the U.K.

Jammeh described gay men as “vermin” in remarks he gave in Banjul, the West African country’s capital, on Feb. 18. The Gambian president also said during his speech the acronym LGBT “can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

“All people are created equal and should be able to live free from discrimination, and that includes discrimination based on sexual identity and sexual orientation,” said Kerry. “We call on the government of the Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.”

Jammeh’s comments come less than six months after he said during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”

Gambia, which is sandwiched between Senegal, is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 14 announced he will sign a controversial bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual acts in his country. A draconian measure that bans same-sex marriages, gay “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group in Nigeria became law last month.

The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday urged Kerry to recall U.S. ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria in response to the aforementioned issues.

“The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries.”

LGBT people in Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other African countries also continue to face systematic violence widespread discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

“It is all our responsibility to end hate and to end violence,” said Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, a lesbian South African activist who was raped in 2009, during a U.N. panel last December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yahya Jammeh, Gambia, gay news, Washington Blade

President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. (Photo courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin; courtesy Creative Commons)

20
Feb
2014

Team D.C. Sportsfest

Team D.C., the umbrella organization for D.C.-area LGBT sports teams and leagues, held its annual Sportsfest at Room & Board on Thursday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) Sportsfest 

11
Apr
2014

Putin: Gay rights protesters won’t face prosecution during Olympics

ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) in Sochi, Russia, on Jan. 17. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview his network aired on Sunday that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under Russia’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things,” Putin told Stephanopoulos through a translator during an interview with him and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K., that took place in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. “They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children.”

Putin once again sought to downplay concerns over the gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi games that begin on Feb. 6 during his interview with Stephanopoulos that aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their non-traditional orientation,” he told Stephanopoulos. “In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one’s religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.”

Putin said during the interview that “homosexuality remains a felony” in some U.S. states — Stephanopoulos pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these anti-sodomy laws.

The Russian president also noted homosexuality remains a crime in 70 countries — and seven of these nations impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.

“Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world’s nations,” said Putin.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized Putin’s comments to Stephanopoulos.

“President Putin’s public interpretation of the country’s anti-LGBT law is beyond comprehension,” said Griffin in a statement. “This law was designed to do nothing less than secure second class status for LGBT Russians and visitors. It does nothing to protect children, but goes great lengths to harm families.

Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K. a day before authorities detained a protester who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

Putin on Friday once again sought to downplay concerns over Russia’s gay propaganda law during a meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said the Russian president as the Associated Press reported. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”

LGBT rights advocates blasted Putin’s comments.

“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Blade on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has frequently criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted ongoing security concerns and the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The job to Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors,” Putin told Stephanopoulos. “We will do whatever it takes.”

19
Jan
2014