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ENDA lands new Republican co-sponsor

Michael Grimm, New York, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) has become a co-sponsor of ENDA (Photo public domain).

A new House Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as LGBT advocates continue to push for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber, the Washington Blade has learned.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in Congress, elected to co-sponsor the bill Monday, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA, commended Grimm for supporting the bill, which would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I am happy to welcome Rep. Grimm as the 200th cosponsor of the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Polis said. “This is common sense legislation that is supported by a majority of Americans and was passed overwhelmingly by the United States Senate. I look forward to working with Rep. Grimm and all of the co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill and protect all Americans from discrimination in the work place.”

Grimm’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on the New York Republican’s decision to sign on as an ENDA supporter.

Counting Polis, Grimm’s support brings the total number of sponsors in the House to 201. A total of 218 votes is necessary to pass legislation in the chamber.

Grimm is the sixth Republican co-sponsor of ENDA. The other five are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.).

Elected during the Republican wave in 2010, Grimm is generally looked upon as having an unfavorable record on LGBT issues. The Human Rights Campaign gave him a rating of “0″ in the latest congressional scorecard.

A former FBI agent who served in the 1990s Persian Gulf War as a Marine, Grimm is an opponent of same-sex marriage. He expressed his opposition in 2011 when the New York state legislature was preparing to legalize gay nuptials.

“I believe, by definition, that marriage is between a man and a woman, just as President Clinton did in 1996 when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, defining it as such,” Grimm said.

Still, beyond his decision to back ENDA, he’s a co-sponsor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, legislation that would require schools to develop to policies against bullying, including the discrimination and harassment of LGBT students.

Christian Berle, legislative director for Freedom to Work, said Grimm’s co-sponsorship of ENDA reflects growing Republican support for the legislation.

“We applaud Congressman Grimm for joining the growing number of Republicans supporting LGBT workplace protections, Freedom to Work along with Log Cabin Republicans have been lobbying broadly within the House GOP Conference and we hope to build momentum with more ENDA supporters in the weeks and months to come,” Berle said.

But Grimm also signs on as a co-sponsor to ENDA as he’s facing additional challenges and is being investigated for possible corruption.

The House Ethics Committee is deferring an investigation into Grimm for possible campaign finance violations to the Justice Department, which is conducting a criminal probe. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month Grimm may have used “donor swapping” to skirt fundraising limits.

The Senate last year already passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis by a 64-34 vote. Supporters have said the legislation already has the votes to pass the House, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation when asked if he’ll bring it up for a vote.

Polis has previously said the best way to encourage Boehner to bring ENDA to a vote is adding additional Republican co-sponsors to the bill. Boehner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on whether Grimm’s sponsorship changes things in terms of a possible House vote.


DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

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

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.


Queery: Torey Carter

Torey Carter, gay news, Washington Blade

Torey Carter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Torey Carter joined the Victory Fund staff four years ago, he says the organization’s singularity of focus was the main draw.

“The thing that strikes me is that we’re now seeing victories in places where you don’t readily or quickly think of there being LGBT officeholders,” the 37-year-old Hertford, N.C., native says. “I’m not talking about California or New York but in the heartland and in the South, I have the opportunity to work for an organization that works to get people elected in the kinds of towns like where I grew up. It hasn’t happened there, but it’s a reality that’s completely possible now and it wasn’t then. That’s why I still come to work every day.”

Victory Fund has its champagne brunch, one of its key annual events, Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel (1919 Conn. Ave., N.W.). Individual tickets are $250 and several sponsorship brackets are available. Several LGBT elected officials such as Maine’s Rep. Mike Michaud and Rep. Jared Polis will speak. Tickets are still available at

Carter has been in the D.C. area for about 25 years and worked many years as an accountant before joining Victory Fund.

Carter and partner Mike Conneen live together in Washington’s Takoma neighborhood. Carter enjoys home improvement projects, gardening, cooking, exercise and playing with Rex, his 6-year-old Quaker parrot, in his free time.


How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

I’ve been out about 15 years. It was hardest to tell my grandmother because her health at the time was poor and I worried it would add to her worries. But she welcomed my truth and embraced me with unconditional love.


Who’s your LGBT hero?

Bayard Rustin was a man ahead of his time.


What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?

Nothing compares to standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, gazing out at the stars over the reflecting pool with the Capitol Building in the distance, reflecting on the history that unfolded at that site.


Describe your dream wedding.

Matching suits, family, friends and lots of Beyonce on the dance floor.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Every child deserves a quality education. It’s the best resource for folks that come from a place like me to level the playing field.


What historical outcome would you change?

I’d change who shot J.R. It would have been more interesting if one of the main characters, like Sue Ellen, had done it. And I’d make sure the Bible was properly translated.


What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

I’ll never forget where I was when I found out who shot J.R.


On what do you insist?

No pork, no chocolate, no diet soda.


What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

“What is this white stuff falling from the sky???” (Sunday, March 30, 2014)


If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“Torey Carter: A Model Life”


If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would

you do?

I would welcome all newly converted straight people to the gay community.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world?

I was raised Baptist and I believe in a just but loving God. I also still believe Pluto is a planet, regardless of what scientists say.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

The momentum is in the blue states. But the laws, minds and hearts to change are in the red states.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

My future children, and my children’s future.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

That gay men and lesbians don’t/can’t get along.

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Broken Hearts Club” has a special place in my heart.


What’s the most overrated social custom?

Family-style portions are excessive. And second and third place are unnecessary; there’s only one winner.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I should win an Oscar for my ability to impersonate select reality TV stars.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

My father — I wish I would have known that we only had 10 years to fix almost 30.


Why Washington?

Washington is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. But when my mom and I moved here from North Carolina (at age 12), it was also a city of hope and opportunity. And it still is.


Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe told Sunday’s crowd about his recent heart attack and thanked supporters for their work during his absence. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last Sunday was the annual Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch and by all accounts it was a success. There were fewer people than last year but that could be attributed to the steep price increase for tickets.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, began the program and spoke of his recent heart attack and thanked the staff and board for all their hard work during his illness. It was good to see him back. He is often seen as the heart and soul of the Victory Fund and deserves much of the credit for its success in recent years. He introduced Steve Elmendorf, board chair, along with Kim Hoover, board treasurer and event co-chair.

The brunch is often a moving event in which LGBT leaders from across the nation gather to celebrate how far we have come and remind each other how far we still have to go for full equality. Each year there is a featured speaker and this year it was Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who is running for governor and recently came out as gay. If elected, he would be the first openly gay person to be elected as a governor. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced him and remarked that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the first of anything in the LGBT community because of the successes we have had in recent years.

We had a New Jersey governor who came out in office and a gay governor who never came out in another state, but this would still be a first. Polis talked about how hard it must have been for Barney Frank when he was the only out person in Congress while today when Michaud came out there were others there to throw him a coming out party. They served pink cupcakes and the musical selections included “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When Michaud spoke he said, “never before, and most likely never again will I eat pink cupcakes.” He also commented on the beautiful people in the room and reminded everyone that he is still single and was going to be in Washington all weekend. The line formed to the right.

Among the other candidates who spoke to the welcoming crowd were Maura Healey, who’s running for attorney general in Massachusetts, and Mary Gonzalez, a candidate for the House of Representatives in Texas. David Catania, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate, also spoke and talked about his record in D.C. and how the Victory Fund has been instrumental in his past races. He commented on how far behind he is in the polls at this point but said he could make that up. The applause for him was definitely on the lighter side as many in the room are from D.C. and supporting the Democratic nominee.

It is my understanding that the Victory Fund will be going through a strategic planning process in the coming months. All good organizations do this and it is time for the Victory Fund to reaffirm its mission and to look at what they are doing well and what they need to work on. There were people I spoke to who didn’t come to this year’s brunch for reasons other than the cost. Some stayed home because of the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Republican Richard Tisei in his bid for Congress from Massachusetts. Others didn’t come because of the early endorsement of Catania, which occurred before he even announced. These and other issues surely will be part of the discussion during the strategic planning process.

The Victory Fund should find a way to let their huge mailing list and those visiting their website know about LGBT candidates they aren’t endorsing. There are many such candidates around the nation running for posts from county commission to school board to town council. They are running for the first time and may not meet the criteria for an endorsement. But these candidates deserve to have people know they are stepping up to the plate. Others, like longtime activist Dana Beyer, who is running for State Senate in Maryland against an LGBT incumbent endorsed by Victory Fund, at least deserves recognition on the website to let people know she is running even if she isn’t endorsed.

These candidates are part of the future and they make up, as they say in baseball, our bench.


Polis, Miller seek House hearing on ENDA

Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) seeks a House hearing on ENDA (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

In an attempt to build off the momentum of a successful Senate committee vote, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and the lead House Democrat on workplace issues are calling for a House hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In an open letter dated July 11, Polis, who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, seek a hearing in the Republican-controlled House on ENDA. The letter is addressed to Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.).

“It is time for this committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Polis and Miller write.

The letter comes on the heels of a successful vote on ENDA in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in which 12 Democrats were joined by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.,) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in voting in favor of the bill.

Polis and Miller emphasize that a House hearing on ENDA would capitalize on the momentum that the measure enjoys after the committee vote in the Senate.

“The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice,” Polis and Miller write. “The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.”

The last time the House held a hearing on ENDA was in 2009. Democrats at the time were in control of the chamber and Miller was chair of the committee, which was then known as the House Education & Labor Committee.

Kline’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. The Minnesota lawmaker voted against a version of the legislation in 2007 and he spoke out against ENDA during the hearing in 2009.

“H.R. 3017 represents a significant departure from longstanding civil rights law,” Kline said at the time. “It creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Polis and Miller “should be commended” for acting quickly in the aftermath of the Senate committee vote on ENDA.

But in the event that Kline is unresponsive, Almeida invited Polis and Miller to ask Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.,) a committee member with experience on ENDA, to hold a hearing on the legislation in the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee, which Andrews co-chairs.

“The Democrats could set that hearing without Republican approval for September or October, and they could call two or three LGBT victims of workplace discrimination and some pro-LGBT business leaders to testify about how ENDA is good for business,” Almeida said. “I’d love to see the Democrats invite Exxon’s CEO to testify and explain why they refuse to adopt the same LGBT fairness policies that competitors like Chevron have adopted.”

Such a hearing, Almeida said, would lay the foundation for a successful discharge petition on ENDA in the House and a successful Senate floor vote between 60 and 70 votes.

The complete letter from Polis and Miller follows:

July 11, 2013

The Honorable John Kline
Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Kline:

We write to respectfully request that you hold a committee hearing as soon as possible on H.R. 1755, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would end employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and make clear that Americans in the workplace should be judged on whether they can do the job.

We believe that the strong bipartisan vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on June 10in favor of ENDA reflects the overwhelming consensus that LGBT Americans should have the freedom to work and be full participants in our economy.  The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice.  The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.

As you may know, H.R. 1755 enjoys bipartisan support in the House and currently has 177 cosponsors. The legislation would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.  More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

Chairman Kline, business leaders, advocates, and an overwhelming supermajority of Americans – nearly 75 percent – support prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time for this Committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We look forward to working with you on this and many other issues important to our nation.


Senior Democratic Member
Member of Congress


House lawmakers speak out for LGBT-inclusive education bill

House lawmakers spoke out this week in favor of legislation aimed at prohibiting the bullying and harassment of LGBT students as Republican lawmakers refused a vote on such a measure as part of an education reform bill.

The lawmakers, including gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), spoke in favor of an amendment akin to the Student Non-Discrimination Act on Wednesday during a House Rules Committee hearing for an education reform bill known as the Student Success Act and on the House floor Thursday when the rule for the bill was debated.

During the rules committee hearing, Polis said the Student Non-Discrimination Act is necessary — even with other options on the table like school of choice — because some students have only one choice for a school in certain places in the country.

“If you come from a small town with a thousand families, you have a school, you go there, and it’s tough,” Polis said. “It might be tough to grow up if you’re the only African-American family in town, it might be tough to grow up if you’re the only gay kid in town, it might be tough to grow up if you’re the only Catholic in town, or the only Muslim or the only Jew in town.”

During the hearing, Polis offered a proposal to allow an amendment akin to the Student Non-Discrimination Act to come up on the House floor, but that proposal was defeated 5-7 largely along party lines in the GOP-controlled panel.

The only Republican in committee to vote in favor of the proposal was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s an original co-sponsor of the legislation and also spoke out in favor of the bill in committee. She’s among 155 co-sponsors of the bill in the House.

“Through the years, we have seen a lot of bullying taking place at our schools, and LGBT students are particularly vulnerable to education and harassment in our education system,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “They currently lack the protections that would prohibit this dreadful behavior.”

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Student Non-Discrimination Act establishes sexual orientation and gender identity  as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

Brad Jacklin, executive director of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said the proposal that Polis submitted to the Rules Committee was virtually the same as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, although a minor change was made related to cause of action to make the amendment budget neutral.

The next day on the House floor, a number of lawmakers joined Polis in speaking out in favor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, including Reps. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Cicilline said he opposes the education bill as a whole because it “fails students in so many ways it’s difficult to know where to begin,” but also because it fails to provide protections for LGBT students.

“The federal government has a responsibility, Mr. Speaker, to do all that we can do to ensure the safest and best possible environment in which students can learn,” Cicilline said. “When students are bullied and harassed because of who they are, they’re denied the opportunity to achieve their full potential.”

Despite these objections, the House approved on Friday the education reform bill by a vote of 221-207 after two days of debate. In a statement after the bill’s passage, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised the legislation for consolidating federal programs and eliminating red tape for schools.

“Like the original No Child Left Behind Act, which actually reduced the number of federal K-12 education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Student Success Act eliminates ineffective and duplicative federal programs, consolidating many of the programs that have grown and multiplied in the decade since NCLB was enacted,” Boehner said. “It protects local schools from new requirements and red tape, and lets school districts identify, recruit, and keep the best teachers possible.”

The Senate version of education reform legislation, known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, includes the Student Non-Discrimination Act as well as another anti-bullying bill known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. In June, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out the legislation on a party-line 12-10 vote. A Senate floor vote in expected this fall.

Watch videos of House Democrats speaking out on the House floor here:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.)

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.)


Why coming out still matters

Mike Michaud, Democratic Party, Maine, gay news, Washington Blade, coming out

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) (Photo public domain)

Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who’s running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

“My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, “Why should [being gay] matter?”

Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with “a muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.”

“At a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90′s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?” Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker’s Smith reveal.

At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear.  When I was young, I felt like I was in an “After School” special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we’d attended. Jim Parsons of the “Big Bang Theory” came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he’s gay, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

Michaud’s being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make.  Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn’t a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn’t come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he’s queer. “I wasn’t surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,” Michaud wrote in his op-ed. “They want people to question whether I am gay.  Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.”

Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it’s unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.

My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. “Her 19-year-old nephew just came out,” she said, “ His father said to him, ‘being gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?’”

This young man’s story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.


Polis confident ENDA would pass House

Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) says he’s “confident” the House would pass ENDA if it came up for a vote (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

The champion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House is joining the choir of those who assert that the bill would pass — if Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) allows it to come to the floor.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, predicted during an interview with the Washington Blade Friday that ENDA would pass the House and said the next step for the bill is to pressure Republican leaders to bring it to the floor. He added that a number of undeclared Republicans have privately told him they’d vote “yes.”

“The next step is, of course, to continue to apply pressure to the speaker and the majority leader to bring it to the floor, where I’m confident it has enough support to pass,” Polis said. “The best way to do that is to demonstrate it has that support and continuing to add co-sponsors, particularly more Republican co-sponsors to ENDA so that we can have a stronger case to make that we need to bring it before the House to the floor for a vote.”

Although he acknowledged that the House has 13 months remaining in the current congressional calendar, Polis said “it would be nice to act sooner” because as Election Day draws near in November 2014, lawmakers will spend less time in Washington.

Polis said his assessment that the House would pass ENDA is based on the 10 Republicans in the Senate who joined all 54 Democrats present in voting for the measure on Thursday. ENDA would prohibit most employers from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“Slightly less than a quarter of Republicans in the Senate voted for it,” Polis said. “That would be similar in the House. About 20 percent of the Republicans would vote for it, which would give it the majority it needed to pass. A number of Republicans have told me on the floor they would vote for it; they’re not ready to add their name as co-sponsors. But they’re strongly supportive of this direction.”

Polis envisions that the House would pass ENDA with “between 20 and 40 votes — possibly more,” which he said was along the lines of the margin for House passage of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization earlier this year. That bill, which included explicit protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence, passed the House in February by a 286-138 vote.

“I think [ENDA] would win by a sizable majority in the House as the Violence Against Women Act did, which included gays and lesbians,” Polis said. “I’m confident that it would pass by that margin.”

According to the Polis, the best way to pressure Republicans to bring ENDA to the floor is the continued growth of co-sponsors for the bill.

“We have 5 Republican co-sponsors and gaining 20 or more is the best way to pressure Republican leadership to bring ENDA up for a vote,” Polis said.

Reps. Terry Sewell (D-Ala.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) both signaled this week they’re coming on board as co-sponsors, according to Polis’ office, bringing the total number of sponsors to 196. That’s just 22 votes short of 218 necessary to pass the legislation on the House floor.

By predicting that ENDA would pass the Republican-controlled House if it came to the floor despite the opposition stated by Boehner earlier this week, Polis joins others who’ve make similar predictions like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Human Rights Campaign. Speaking with the Washington Blade prior to the ENDA vote in the Senate, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s chief sponsor in that chamber, said the Senate-passed version of ENDA “would pass the House.”

Polis said the process for bringing the legislation to the floor would either be House leadership bringing the bill directly to the floor or regular order after a committee vote in the House Education & The Workforce Committee, but Polis said his preference is the former.

“It can go through committee as a House bill, in which case amendments would very likely be added that could change the bill, and it could pass the House, or, the preferred route, which is what we needed on the Violence Against Women Act, is we simply took up the Senate version under a closed rule with no additional amendments and passed it,” Polis said. “That would certainly be the easiest route to achieve a successful result.”

The Education & The Workforce Committee seems as opposed to bringing ENDA to the floor as Boehner is. Even after the calls from Polis and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to hold a hearing on ENDA, the committee has remained silent and didn’t immediately respond to a request from the Washington Blade to discuss moving the bill following the Senate vote.

Asked if having 10 Senate Republicans vote for ENDA would encourage House Republicans to do the same, Polis emphasized public support for measures barring LGBT workplace discrimination, which one recent poll showed at 69 percent, would be the driving factor.

“I think there are some members of Congress who want to vote for it because their constituents want it and demand it,” Polis said. “There are gay and lesbian families across America, they want to know that they can’t be fired from their jobs because of who they love, and they let their members of Congress know that — Democrat or Republican. That’s why there’s such broad and immense support on the Democratic side and why it has increased on the Republican side.”

Polis was generally dismissive about ideas for workaround strategies to bring ENDA up on the House floor if leadership doesn’t act, but acknowledged a discharge petition is an option if “the normal process” doesn’t work.

“We’ll have to work with them to schedule it for consideration on the floor, or if the committee, the Education & The Workforce Committee, continues to refuse to schedule it, then there is that avenue available called the discharge petition,” Polis said. “It’s not one that often leads to success, that would be more a final attempt, if we’re unable to get it through the normal order.”

Asked whether inserting ENDA into a larger vehicle, such as the defense authorization bill, would be a strategy to consider, Polis maintained all options are on the table.

“We will look at all the legislative tactics available to us, including different vehicles that we can use to protect gay and lesbian Americans, including discharge petitions,” Polis said. “So, all the different legislative tactics under the rules of the House would be considered to move this important legislation forward.”

Polis, who became the first public official to call on President Obama to issue an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, said that option remains viable for the White House if the House Republican leadership refuses to bring up the bill.

“We want to protect all people in America, but if Congress is unable to accomplish that, I continue to advocate that the president should move forward to issue an executive order to ban workplace discrimination for federal contractors,” Polis said.

Polis called Michaud after coming out

Also during the interview, Polis addressed the recent announcement from Maine Congressman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud that he’s gay. Polis said the news was a surprise to him.

“I had no idea, and called and congratulated him,” Polis said. “It must have been a heavy cross all these years, having to worry about who knew and who didn’t know. I’m sure it’s an enormous load off of his shoulders, and I think he’ll be an even more effective public servant — both in Congress and potentially as governor of Maine.”

The announcement from Michaud, who’s served in Congress since 2003, ends Polis’ distinction of being the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House. The Colorado Democrat started serving his first term in 2009. Still, Polis remains the longest-sitting member of the House who has served in his seat while being openly gay.

Polis said he hasn’t yet discussed the possibility with Michaud about being a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus as are other openly LGB members of the House, but suggested those conversations may happen when the House goes back into session next week.

“We’ve been in our districts, and I’ll be seeing him for the first time next week,” Polis said. “But when the news came out, I called and we had a nice conversation where I congratulated him and wished him well — and assured him I didn’t think this would be more than a couple days story and said I think people will respect his integrity and his honesty.”

Polis said he hopes Michaud’s announcement will inspire other gay members of Congress to come out.

“There’s not political reprecussions at all for people being honest about their orientation,” Polis said. “Hopefully, members of Congress who have chosen to hold that kind of information close will see that it’s simply easier to live an honest life and be honest with your constituents.”

Asked whether he knows of other closeted gay members of Congress, Polis said he hasn’t asked any of them about their sexual orientation.

“I’ve never asked,” Polis said. “Working with our colleagues, unless they bring it up, you really wouldn’t ask that kind of thing. And I certainly never discussed this before with Mike Michaud.”


LGBT Asian Americans lobby Congress for immigration reform

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Activists met with at least five House members, including gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance delivered more than 2,700 postcards to members of the U.S. House of Representatives last month as part of a stepped up lobbying campaign to push for immigration reform legislation.

In meetings with at least five House members, including gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a contingent of activists affiliated with the NQAPIA urged the lawmakers to push for a compromise immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in July.

“As the congressional session is nearing its close, NQAPIA is bringing voices of Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and our allies from across the country to keep the Congress’ attention focused on the need to fix the broken immigration system,” the group said in a statement.

“As Asian Americans, we know that the ability to keep our families together from an overly aggressive deportation system and a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, over 10 percent of which are from our communities, is at stake,” said Ben de Guzman, NQAPIA’s co-director.

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Ben de Guzman, co-director of NQAPIA, speaking at the NQAPIA Awards Gala last July. (Washington Blade file photo by Blake Bergen)

“We also know as LGBT people that what constitutes a family is also at stake, and the overly narrow definition of family is something we are all too familiar with,” de Guzman said. “We also fight for a humane immigration system that allows real opportunities for asylum seekers and reform that keeps people, especially transgender immigrants, out of harm’s way in the detention system.”

The bipartisan bill passed by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32, among other things, calls for a path to citizenship over a 13-year period for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

While optimistic over the Senate approval of the measure, immigration reform advocates encountered a setback in the House when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that the GOP-controlled House would not take up the bill. Instead, he said Republicans would introduce their own far more limited bill that would not include a provision to provide citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Most national LGBT advocacy groups have expressed support for the Senate bill and have joined immigration rights organizations, including NQAPIA, in calling on the House to pass the Senate measure.

However, some LGBT activists have expressed concern that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June overturning the main provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) might result in a decline in interest in immigration reform within the gay community. The Supreme Court ruling immediately ended the provision in DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized such marriages.

With the federal government now fully recognizing same-sex marriage, immigrant partners among bi-national gay and lesbian couples who for years were unable gain access to U.S. immigration rights now have the ability to become U.S. citizens just as their heterosexual counterparts can.

The discrimination against bi-national gay and lesbian couples brought about by DOMA had long been a rallying cry for the LGBT community to join the fight for overall immigration reform.

“We have seen a little loss of steam in the movement from the collective LGBT community,” de Guzman told the Blade as a result of the DOMA decision.

But he said NQAPIA was optimistic that strong allies like Rep. Polis would “keep the momentum” of LGBT community support for immigration reform moving forward.

“We’re also learning that new parts of the community used the [Supreme Court] decision not as an excuse to let up, but as an introduction to learning about other aspects of how immigration affects the LGBT community,” he said.

NQAPIA official Pabitra Benjamin said the group plans to organize more lobbying visits to Capitol Hill within the next few months to continue its push for immigration reform legislation.

De Guzman said members and supporters of NQAPIA and representatives of allied LGBT groups would be taking part on Friday, Dec. 6, in national “Fast for Families” organized by immigration rights groups to draw attention to what they believe is the urgent need for immigration reform legislation.


LGBT-inclusive education reform bill introduced in Senate

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to move ENDA this year (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to advance ENDA this year. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The lead Democrat on education issues in the U.S. Senate introduced on Tuesday an education reform bill that includes provisions aimed at prohibiting bullying and discrimination of LGBT students.

For the first time, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the LGBT-inclusive legislation to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act with language along the lines of  the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe School Schools Improvement Act.

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Harkin touted the inclusion of the LGBT bills in his 1,150-page long bill known as the  Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013

“Because every child deserves a safe and healthy place to learn, we have included the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act in this year’s reauthorization of ESEA,” Harkin said. “These provisions will help to ensure that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated fairly and afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom.”

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the SNDA-like provision in the bill establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

The bill also contains provisions similar to SSIA that advocates for a positive school climate and requires reporting on incidents of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Plans are already underway to advance the bill out of committee. In a statement, Harkin announced he’ll start the markup of the bill, which is co-sponsored by every Democratic member of the committee, starting Tuesday.

The LGBT provisions are a small portion of the bill. The reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, which intends to restructure “No Child Left Behind,” aims to support teachers and principals to help provide high-quality instruction and focus federal attention on supporting states in turning around low-performing schools.

Given that every Democrat on the panel is a co-sponsor of the education reform bill, the measure should have sufficient support for a successful committee vote. It remains to be seen whether any Republicans will vote in favor of the measure.

On the same day that Harkin introduced the education reform bill, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the standalone version of the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

“No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe,” Franken said. “Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school.”

Franken’s legislation has 30 co-sponsors, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), although the co-sponsors are Democrats.

In the House, SNDA has already been introduced. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker who’s sponsoring the bill, commended Harkin for including the LGBT measure as part of his education reform bill.

“SNDA’s inclusion in this important bill is reflective of how important protecting all students is and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Education & Workforce Committee to move forward on our bipartisan bill in the House,” Polis said.

SSIA has also already been introduced in the House and Senate. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) while in the Senate, the chief sponsor is Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Last year, Harkin introduced a version of ESEA reauthorization that lacked either SNDA or SSIA. During committee markup, advocates pressured Franken and Casey to introduce their legislation as amendments during the committee markup. They ultimately withdrew their amendments in committee while promising to offer the bills as amendments on the Senate floor. However, the full Senate never considered ESEA reauthorization.

LGBT advocates praised Harkin for introducing the LGBT-inclusive education reform bill and said they’d work to make sure the measure is signed into law.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organization is “very pleased” Harkin included in ESEA reauthorization a piece of LGBT legislation the ACLU has long sought.

“The fact that there is still no federal law – in the year 2013 – that explicitly protects LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in our nation’s public schools is unacceptable,” Thompson said. “We look forward to working with Chairman Harkin and Sen. Franken, SNDA’s longtime Senate champion, to advance this much-needed and long-overdue civil rights measure through the HELP Committee.”

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, called the introduction of the LGBT-inclusive bill “a significant moment for our nation’s education system.”

“We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment” Byard said. “This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments. We will continue to work with the Senate as the process moves forward to make sure that key provisions remain intact so that every student can reach their fullest potential.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, also expressed support for working with Congress on issues of bullying and harassment as the legislation goes forward.

“As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment,” Inouye said.