2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) Â
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said extending rights to LGBT residents is good for his cityâ€™s economy.
â€śWeâ€™re a big city; weâ€™re a young city; weâ€™re a city that got hammered during the recession,â€ť he told the Washington Blade in an interview this week. â€śI need every single person in my city to have every opportunity to be successful.â€ť
Stanton spoke to the Blade a day after the Human Rights Campaign released its annual index that ranks cities based on whether their laws and policies specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It also examined other factors that include whether a cityâ€™s police department has an LGBT liaison and if officials reported 2011 hate crimes statistics to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Phoenix is among the 25 cities around the country that include Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta that received a perfect score in the index. The Arizona capital, which is the sixth largest city in the U.S., is one of only eight cities in states without LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws that garnered such a ranking.
â€śItâ€™s a recognition by me that I want the very best and brightest people to stay here in Phoenix, including our LGBT community,â€ť Stanton told the Blade. â€śI want them to make sure they feel fully supported by their city government.â€ť
Arizona voters in 2006 rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. They approved an identical measure two years later.
Gov. Jan Brewer in 2009 signed a budget into law that eliminated health benefits for same-sex partners of state employees.
Lambda Legal and the D.C. law firm Perkins Coie subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of 10 state employees. The U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to hear Brewerâ€™s appeal of a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals injunction that blocked the governor from enforcing the benefits ban.
The Phoenix City Council in February approved a measure that bans anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and government contracts. Stanton also co-chairs a Freedom to Marry coalition of nearly 400 mayors from across the country who support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
â€śCompanies want to move to or increase jobs in locations where the laws are similar to their corporate policies about supporting all of their employees, including the LGBT community,â€ť Stanton told the Blade. â€śFor us to be able to retain the best and the brightest and attract the best and the brightest, we have to have laws that say we want the best and the brightest.â€ť
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake are among the 10 Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted for a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Nov. 7.
Stanton said he is â€śvery proudâ€ť of the GOP lawmakers for backing ENDA and for what he described as their leadership on efforts in support of a comprehensive immigration reform measure that remains stalled in Congress.
â€śI cannot believe the House will not take that up,â€ť Stanton told the Blade, discussing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)’s reluctance to allow an ENDA vote in his chamber. â€śENDA is a no-brainer.â€ť
Stanton also applauded bisexual Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema who represents portions of south Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler and the city of Tempe.
He told the Blade that Sinema was â€śpublic about her sexualityâ€ť during the time they worked together when he was on the Phoenix City Council and she was in the state legislature. Stanton said he doesnâ€™t give her sexual orientation â€śa second thought.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m proud of her for who she is and how she represents our state,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™m proud she represents us in Washington for all that she does, including the diversity that she brings to Congress. Sheâ€™s an amazing person as people in Washington are learning, but weâ€™ve known about her here for a long time already.â€ť
A group of 10 House members comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats is amping up the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring to the floor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In a Dec. 3 missive, the bipartisan group of lawmakers â€” led by gay Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) â€” call on Boehner to “bring this timely and commonsense legislation to a vote” before the end of the 113th Congress.
“Job discrimination against any American creates an uneven playing field that runs contrary to the basic notion of equality and our economic efficiency,” the lawmakers write. “What matters most is not that we share the exact same beliefs as our co-workers or employees, but that we take pride in our work, respect our co-workers and customers, and get the job done.”
The five Republicans who signed the letter are the five Republican co-sponsors of the bill: Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.).
On the other side of the aisle, the five Democrats who signed the letter are Maloney and Sinema as well as gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
The legislation already passed the Senate last month in a historic 64-32 bipartisan vote. Ten Republicans voted with the Democratic caucus in approving the bill.
In the push to bring it to a House vote, proponents of the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House, have said sufficient votes are present for passage if the legislation comes to the floor.
The lead signers of the letter â€” Maloney and Sinema â€” had previously incurred the wrath of progressive LGBT leaders for joining the House Republicans in votes over Obamacare that led to the shutdown of the federal government.
In remarks about economy mobility at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday, President Obama encouraged passage of ENDA as he rattled off a series of legislative items he supports.
“Itâ€™s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers canâ€™t be fired for who they are or who they love,” Obama said.
Despite these efforts, a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act seems in doubt. Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, said in response to the letter, “The Speaker has been clear on this issue.”
In fact, momentum on the bill seems to have stalled in the weeks following the Senate vote. Although the bill was gaining supporters in the House at the time of the Senate vote and now has 201 sponsors, the latest additions are all Democrats and no additional co-sponsors have been added since Nov. 18.
LGBT workers are apparently caught in a standoff between the White House and Congress as Boehner has consistently said he opposes the legislation and President Obama continues to withhold an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
Asked by the Washington Blade during his news conference last week whether the growth of co-sponsors demonstrates the need for allowing a vote on the bill, Boehner reiterated he sees no need for ENDA.
“As I said last week, I’m opposed to discrimination in any case, but I don’t believe that we need additional frivolous litigation in the employment area,” Boehner said.
Two Democratic members of Congress â€” one gay and one bisexual â€” are incurring the wrath of LGBT activists for voting with House Republicans to delay certain portions of Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government in operation.
Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were among nine Democrats on Monday who voted for a Republican-led resolution that provided funds for the government for fiscal year 2014, but included a provision delaying the individual mandate andÂ requiring members of Congress and their staffs to pay the full cost of insurance without the government subsidy.
Additionally, Maloney voted for another measure that includes the above policy items in addition to calling for a conference committee with the Senate, which would likely mean some give on health care reform.
Both Maloney and Sinema also joined Republicans on Sunday to vote for repeal of the tax on medical devices as part of Obamacare.
Each House proposal was rejected by the Senate, which has insisted on a bill that only continues funding for the government, leading to the stalemate that caused the government shutdown on Tuesday.
Michael Rogers, a D.C.-based LGBT rights advocate, said the vote means Sinema and Maloney are Democrats in name only.
“I am a progressive so I wish Sinema and Maloney were more concernedÂ about the American people than with their reelection,” Rogers said. “When DemocratsÂ stand for Democratic principles we win. If these two people won asÂ out LGBT people, surely they would not have been tossed out stickingÂ with their caucus. It is sellouts like Sinema and Maloney who, asÂ DINOs, are more than willing to cave in to the crazy demands of theÂ right.”
Michaelangelo Signorile, a gay New York activist and radio host on SiriusXM, took to Twitter to express his indignation.
— Mike Signorile (@MSignorile) October 1, 2013
John Aravosis, who’s gay and editor of AMERICAblog, also had harsh words for the two lawmakers, who ran as openly gay/bi candidates and took donations from the LGBT community.
“I think it’s abominable,” Aravosis said. “No Democrat, let alone a gay or bisexual one,Â should be working to undercut health care protections for Americans,Â let alone helping John Boehner do anything.”
The other openly gay lawmakers in the U.S. House â€” Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicciline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) â€” didn’t join Maloney or Sinema in these votes.
Maloney and Sinema voted against the most drastic proposal from House Republicans to attach a one-year delay of health care reform to the spending bill for fiscal year 2014.
In a statement, Maloney defended his vote for delaying the individual mandate by pointing to the administration.
â€śI strongly support the presidentâ€™s decision to give employers more time to comply with the law, and I believe that we should give families the same flexibility weâ€™re giving to our small businesses,” Maloney said.
Maloney also explained his support for eliminating health care subsidies for government employees by saying the playing field for public and private workers should be equal.
â€śFamilies and businesses in the Hudson Valley are not getting special subsidies from Obamacare and neither should members of Congress or the White House,â€ť Maloney said.
In a separate statement, Sinema defended her votes by saying they ensure individuals can sign up for health care plans without “being punished” for failing to purchase adequate healthcare coverage.
“Itâ€™s now been proven that too many states are not ready to implement the marketplaces,” Sinema said. “Itâ€™s not fair to punish people who donâ€™t have the information they need to make informed decisions. Arizonaâ€™s hard-working families need transparency and certainty about this healthcare law and its implementation. A one-year delay of the individual mandate will ensure that Arizonans get that certainty.”
SinemaÂ also said health care subsidies for government employees shouldn’t happen with a government shutdown in effect.
“Additionally, I supported tonight’s amendment because members of Congress should not ask the government to pay for their healthcare while Americans at home suffer during government shutdown,” Sinema said.
Neither the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor the Democratic National Committee responded to the Blade’s request for comment on Sinema and Maloney joining House Republicans. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, is on furlough and unable to respond to media requests.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which endorsed the openly gay/bi candidates and called for donations from LGBT people for the candidates, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Human Rights Campaign also endorsed both candidates and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sinema and Maloney have been active on LGBT-specific issues since their election to Congress. They voted for an LGBT-inclusive version of Â the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Dana Beyer, a Chevy Chase, Md.,-based transgender activist, said the LGBT community shouldn’t judge Sinema and Maloney too harshly for their votes because “these late nightÂ political machinations areÂ generally theater” and don’t say anything about the lawmakers’ overall voting records.
“This issue isn’t about the LGBT community; it’s about America,” Beyer said. “They should be judged on a much broader set of criteria and values than this one vote, and I hope people take the context into account.”
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute held a celebration at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Friday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)
Speaking before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, President Obama delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term that included one overt reference to gay people in addition to a veiled reference to the LGBT community as he highlighted other initiatives.
Obama’s most explicit gay reference came when he pledged to “do whatever we must” to protect U.S. troops serving the country overseas. At that point, Obama touted the extension of limited partner benefits to gay troops that was announced by the Pentagon a day earlierÂ â€” possibly alluding to further benefits upon repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“As long as I’m commander in chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world,” Obama said. “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal treatment for their families â€” gay and straight.”
Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said Obama “was very clear” that gay service members and their families should be treated equally â€” but noted the work isn’t finished.
“To finish the task, the Supreme Court must strike down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” Robinson said. “Secretary Panetta’s successor must enact equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies that protect LGBT troops and ensure America’s military can attract and retain America’s best. And outmoded, obsolete policies that bar qualified American patriots who are transgender from military service must be eliminated.”
A less overt â€” but more forward looking â€” reference to the LGBT community came at the beginning of his speech when Obama alluded to gay people when talking about removing barriers preventing Americans from joining the middle class “no matter … who you love.”
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth,” Obama said. “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country â€” the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, or who you love.”
That remark has been interpreted as a call on Congress to pass employment non-discrimination protections because the absence of such a law is seen as an impediment to LGBT workers reaching economic prosperity. Prior to the address, advocates were hopeful Obama would use the occasion of the State of the Union address to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and pledge to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT job bias.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was among those who interpreted the remarks as an allusionÂ ”to the need to outlaw workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans” â€” but called on Obama to take more action.
“First, the president should sign the executive order adding LGBT workplace protections to almost 25 percent of all American jobs,” Almeida said. “Second, he should encourage Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep his three-year-old promise to bring ENDA to a vote on the Senate floor for a long overdue vote.”
Almeida added he wants Obama to “explicitly call on both chambers of Congress to pass ENDA” in another speech sometime before the Senate vote expected this year.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, took a broader view.
“I think that it’s broader and more significant in that it includes kind of a broad sweep of the inclusion of gay people in the middle class,” Sainz said. “And so, it has everything to do with employment and opportunity and every hope and dream that LGBT have.”
Asked whether the language satisfies his previous call for Obama to lay out plans for the LGBT executive order during the State of the Union, Sainz said he thinks it falls short of that request, but said it’s still significant.
“I don’t think he necessarily speaks to it directly, but I do think that it is further evidence of … mainstreaming of LGBT people in all aspects of American life,” Sainz said.
The LGBT references build off the stronger references that Obama made during his inaugural speech when he invoked the Stonewall riots and saidÂ ”the love we commit to one another must be equal.” In his three previous State of the Union speeches,Â Obama has also mentioned the LGBT community and talked about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Obama also made a reference to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic when he talked about the United States pushing to make progress in poorer countries.
The president hit on “realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation,” then, diverting from his prepared remarks, said it’s “within our reach.” That term was coined by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of the Obama administration’s pledge to rid the world of the disease.
Kali Lindsey, director of legislative and public affairs for theÂ National MinorityÂ AIDSÂ Council, said in a statement Obama’s remarks are a call to action “to makeÂ AIDSÂ this centuryâ€™s polio.”
“This includes continued funding for PEPFAR, the Presidentâ€™s Emergency Plan forÂ AIDSÂ Relief, and the Ryan White HIV/AIDSÂ Program,” Lindsey said. “It also means continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act in a way that meets the needs of those living with and vulnerable to chronic and communicable diseases, like HIV.”
Obama also made an implicit LGBT reference when he called on the House to pass the version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization that the Senate had passed on a bipartisan vote just hours earlier. The Senate version of the bill has explicit LGBT language to help LGBT victims of domestic violence.
“Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago,” Obama said. “I urge the House to do the same.”
But an LGBT references was notably left out of Obama’s speech when he talked about the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform without mentioning the potential separation that bi-national same-sex couples face in the United States.
Instead, Obama talked about “a responsible pathway” to citizenship that includes a background check and learning English and fixing problems in the legal immigration system. Obama included gay couples in the plan he unveiled for reform.
The LGBT grassroots group GetEQUAL expressed disappointment in the State of the Union address.
“As someone who would qualify for the DREAM Act and who is part of a bi-national family, I know first-hand that true comprehensive immigration reform must include LGBTQ families, a fair and just pathway to citizenship, and an end to harsh enforcement that separates families,”Â said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, GetEQUAL’s national field director.
Heather Cronk,Â GetEQUAL’s managing director, criticized Obama for not committing to signing an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT job bias for federal contractors â€” noting he announced other directives, such as one related to cybersecurity. She was among thoseÂ who protested at the White House on Sunday over the non-discrimination directive.
“He had his pen out today to sign other executive orders â€” it’s incumbent on the LGBT community to ask why he decided to put that pen away before protecting 25 percent of the American workforce from workplace discrimination,” Cronk said.
Local members of the LGBT community were among the guests during the State of the Union. The White House invited Tracey Hepner, a lesbian Arlington, Va., resident and co-founder of Military Partners and Families Coalition, to sit with first lady Michelle Obama. She’s the spouse of the military’s first openly gay flag officer, Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith.
Also in attendance was Kelly Costello, a lesbian Potomac, Md., resident, who was invited by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act. Costello and her Peruvian native spouse Fabiola Morales, who married in Washington, D.C., are a bi-national same-sex couples fighting to stay together in the United States.
While some advocacy groups were calling on Obama to take more action after the State of the Union address, LGBT lawmakers praised Obama when speaking with the Blade in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall after the speech.
Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Obama’s LGBT-inclusiveness builds off the remarks that he gave on LGBT issues during his inaugural address.
“We started on the inaugural address,” Baldwin said. “We talked about the fact that the inclusion was poetic, and sort of weaving into the larger fabric of movements throughout our nation’s history. Today, I was pleased with the power of his language, especially with regard to seeing through the implementation of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and respecting not only the right to serve, but the right to full recognition for families and service members.”
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the only openly bisexual member of Congress, said she was pleased with the move to expand benefits for gay troops.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Sinema said. “I think the fact that not only did the Department of Defense take this action, but the president referenced it in his speech shows that there is widespread acceptance. Not only that, but this is not a controversial issue.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the first openly gay Asian-American in Congress, was seated next to Sinema in the gallery and said they nudged each other when Obama mentioned partner benefits for gay troops.
“I certainly applaud the president for not only mentioning it in his inaugural speech, but he also made a reference to LGBT equality in my first State of the Union,” Takano said. “What a thing that is, so I’m hopeful we’ll move forward in this Congress.”
One member of Congress who wouldn’t speak to the Blade about the State of the Union was anti-gay Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.). Asked whether she would provide a comment for the Blade, Hartzler replied, “Ah, that’s OK.”
A record number of lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates were elected to the U.S. House this year, nearly doubling the number of out representatives serving in the lower chamber of Congress.
Gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) won re-election, and on the same night, out candidates Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Takano of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin won their races. The new additions â€” minus Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who are leaving the U.S. House â€” means LGB representation in the chamber will jump from four lawmakers to seven.
Maloney, who will be the first openly gay U.S. House member from New York, said upon the announcement that he won his bid to unseat Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) that voters in the state’s 18th congressional district voted for change.
â€śAcross four counties on two sides of the Hudson River, in hundreds of schools, firehouses, community centers, in the Democratic vote of a quarter million of our neighbors, the people have settled this debate,” Maloney said. “They have closed this campaign.”
Sinema will become the first openly bisexual member of Congress and Takano will become the first openly gay person of color to have a House seat. Pocan’s election means Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district will maintain gay representation as Baldwin heads to the U.S. Senate.