Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Will new voices call on Obama to sign ENDA exec order?

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

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among those who haven’t articulated support for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new letter is being circulated among members of Congress urging President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT workers, raising questions about whether pro-gay lawmakers who have previously made no explicit calls for the directive will take the opportunity to do so.

Key members of the Democratic leadership have yet to call for the executive order as have Republicans who’ve already articulated support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter that’s being circulated among lawmakers calls on Obama to sign the order in the wake of his declaration that 2014 will be a “Year of Action” through administrative means if Congress doesn’t act on his legislative agenda.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter states.

A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign it would close at the end of Monday.

Although this is the first letter intended to include signatures from members of both the House and Senate, it’s not the first time lawmakers signed letters calling for the executive order. Last year, 110 House Democrats signed a letter seeking the directive and 37 senators signed a letter to that effect.

But neither of those letters included names of lawmakers in Democratic leadership or Republicans — even though many had previously articulated support for the executive order or ENDA in some capacity. The newly circulated letter presents an opportunity for those lawmakers to augment the call with powerful voices and create a bipartisan effort to push Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

The top members of the House Democratic Caucus — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-Calif.) — each refrained from signing the House version of the letter in 2013. None of the offices for those lawmakers responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether they’d sign the letter this time around.

[UPDATE: Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Monday following the initial publication of this article that the Democratic Whip "is signing onto the letter."]

Even though she didn’t sign the letter, Pelosi has been on the record in support of the executive order since 2011, when the Blade asked her during her weekly news conference if she’d support that action. She also said Obama “of course” should sign the directive in January when speaking with The Huffington Post.

Clyburn was quoted as saying by The Huffington Post he feels “very strongly” that Obama should sign the executive order just months ago, reportedly adding “I don’t know where I would be today if the executive order had not been used to get rid of slavery.” The Blade is unaware of any public comments from Hoyer on the LGBT executive order.

At the time the 2013 letter was made public, Pelosi’s office cited a policy that she refrains from signing group letters because of her position in Democratic leadership. However, she had earlier signed her name to letters seeking action from the administration to help bi-national same-sex couples in addition to signing amicus briefs calling on federal courts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

[UPDATE #2: Following publication of this article, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss won't sign the letter currently being circulated, noting she rarely signs group letters, and said she'll instead take her own course of action.

"Leader Pelosi has publicly expressed support for this executive order and will be sending her own private letter to the President on this matter," Hammill said.]

Also conspicuously absent from the 2013 letter is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee and is known for her support of LGBT rights. In the past week, she’s announced the DNC would form a lesbian leadership council and hired a gay operative as the DNC’s national political director.

Neither Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office in D.C. nor the DNC responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether she’d sign the letter this time around.

In January, Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post she broadly supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority, but refused to say whether that principle applies to an executive order for LGBT workers.

Wasserman Schultz’s name was also absent from letters seeking support of bi-national same-sex couples. At the time one letter was signed in 2011, Wasserman Schultz told reporters during an Immigration Equality fundraiser she supported the action, but didn’t feel comfortable making demands on the administration because of her position in the DNC.

“Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “So I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.”

On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also didn’t sign his chamber’s version of the letter in 2013. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’ll add his name this time around.

Reid has offered a nuanced position on the executive order. In February, he told The Huffington Post, “If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it.”

But on either the letter signed by the House or the Senate in 2013, not a single Republican signed their name. If a single one did so this time around, it would represent the first time that a Republican lawmaker had called on Obama to sign an executive order.

None of the offices of 10 Republican senators who voted for ENDA on the Senate floor responded to a request for comment on the letter. Those are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Despite being an original co-sponsor of ENDA, Kirk has previously spoken against an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all of which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said in 2011. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

In the House, six Republicans co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.).

According to the Huffington Post, Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the executive order. Of those six Republicans, only Dent’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the letter, and the response was negative.

“Congressman Dent believes that the regular legislative process is the best way to proceed in making this critical legislation outlawing workplace discrimination the law of the land,” said Dent spokesperson Shawn Millan.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t know whether Republicans will sign the letter, but hopes to see some GOP names calling for the executive order.

“I’m not going to engage in speculation, but with declared GOP support for ENDA among House members of both the House and Senate, I would hope to see some Republican representation on any letter holding the president accountable to a promise he made to Americans six years ago,” Angelo said.

Neither the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is handling circulation of the letter in the House, nor the office of ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which is handling it in the Senate, responded to the Blade’s request for comment over the weekend about expected signers of the letter.

10
Mar
2014

How bad would a GOP Senate takeover be for LGBT people?

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, Republican Party, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would likely become majority leader if Republicans win a majority in the Senate.  (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The congressional mid-term elections are more than six months away, but political observers are already warning Democrats they could lose control of the U.S. Senate — an outcome that has tongues wagging over its potential impact on LGBT issues.

While analysts agree that Republicans could claim at least six seats to win control of the chamber — such as by knocking off pro-LGBT senators in New Hampshire and Colorado — the general sense is draconian anti-gay measures like the Federal Marriage Amendment won’t emerge even with GOP control of the Senate.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at City University of New York, noted seven incumbent Democrats are seeking re-election in states Mitt Romney won in 2012 and conservatives like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through “Super PACs” to affect those races.

“So I think the prospect of a Republican takeover is very close — a virtual tossup right now,” Pinello said. “Everything will depend on the degree to which Democratic voters turn out at the polls in crucial states.”

Republicans are optimistic about their prospects on Election Day 2014 — and virtually no one is suggesting that Democrats can retake control of the House. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” anti-gay GOP strategist Karl Rove predicted GOP victory in the Senate.

“With 14 seats in play on the Democratic side and a couple of seats in play potentially on the Republican side, I think it’s highly likely that Republicans pick up the majority,” Rove said.

On the same day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer defied the predictions by saying he believes “we will keep the Senate.” But his former colleague in the White House, Robert Gibbs — who landed in hot water in 2010 by saying Republicans could take control of the House — expressed a contrary view, saying the Senate is “definitely” in danger in 2014.

“So as a consultant, I can say all these things now,” Gibbs said. “They’ve got to pick up six seats, which is not a small number. But what gives them a huge advantage, obviously, is the states that they’re in…Louisiana and in North Carolina, in Montana, places that the president didn’t do well.”

The heads of both political parties are both bullish about their prospects in 2014. On Tuesday, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus predicted at a National Press Club breakfast a “tsunami” and said it’s “going to be a very big win, especially at the U.S. Senate level.” Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that Democrats are running “aggressive bottom-up campaigns” and she’s confident her party will hold the Senate.

But political analysts have forecasts more favorable to Republicans. As of Monday, Cook Political Report forecast that Republicans will pick up somewhere between four and six seats, but expected the ultimate gains will be “at the higher end of – and may exceed – that range.”

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said it’s too early to provide a firm prediction on the extent of Republican gains, but said Republicans would net at least four to six seats.

“It’s easy to see how they could get six or even more if President Obama stays in the low 40s and the economy continues to be balky,” Sabato said. “This year, in the sixth-year of President Obama’s administration, you’d much rather be in the GOP’s electoral position than the Democrats’.”

Pro-LGBT Democrats face challenging re-election bids

Democrats elected to the Senate at the start of the Obama administration and who built a reputation for  supporting LGBT rights are among those facing uphill re-election bids.

Among them is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) who has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the flow of spousal benefits to veterans in same-sex marriages as chief sponsor of the Charlie Morgan Act. A potential challenger for her is former U.S. senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown. Although he voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during his tenure in the Senate, Brown penned an op-ed for Bay Windows suggesting the pursuit of LGBT rights was a “pet project.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also faces a tough re-election bid now that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has announced he will run for the Senate. Udall has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, an end to the Defense of Marriage Act and has written at least two letters to the Obama administration to ensure gay veterans can receive spousal benefits in whichever state they live. Gardner hasn’t articulated a position on same-sex marriage, but voted in favor of an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Democrat who’ll likely face the most challenging re-election campaign is Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). An early supporter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, she voted for a repeal amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee even before the Pentagon report on open service. Hagan came out in favor of same-sex marriage last year on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8. She could face any one of a number of Republicans vying for the nomination in the state’s primary.

Also of note is the re-election bid of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who as chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act oversaw a bipartisan vote in favor of the bill in the Senate late last year. Merkley has also been the leading voice in the Senate calling on President Obama to sign an executive order barring LGBT employment discrimination among federal contractors. A number of Republican candidates have lined up to challenge Merkley, although he’s expected to win re-election in the heavily “blue” state.

The only Republican who’s expected to face a tough re-election challenge is the one who’s likely to handle the floor schedule in the Senate if the GOP ekes out a win: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In addition to facing a Tea Party challenge, McConnell faces a stiff challenge in the general election from Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Would anti-LGBT legislation move forward?

If the Republicans win control of the Senate, it would create a Congress in which the GOP leads both chambers at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a nationwide ruling on marriage equality.

Speaking to the Washington Blade after her event at the National Press Club, Wasserman Schultz initially responded to an inquiry about what a GOP takeover of the Senate would mean for LGBT people by saying, “Oh, God.”

Wasserman Schultz predicted Republicans would curtail the expansion of rights she said are “deserved” by LGBT people in addition to engaging in an “aggressive attempt” to roll them back. But the DNC chair emphasized that won’t happen because Democrats are on track to maintain control of the Senate.

Asked by the Blade whether she thinks Republicans would want to push through a Federal Marriage Amendment, Wasserman Schultz said that “wouldn’t surprise me” because the Republicans endorsed the amendment as part of the 2012 party platform.

But political observers say even with Republicans in control of both chambers, the trend in favor of same-sex marriage — which a recent poll pegged at 59 percent support — would deter Congress from passing a measure that already failed twice under the Bush administration when Republicans had large majorities.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t foresee a situation in which Republicans would push forward in either chamber with a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“Considering the move for a Federal Marriage Amendment in the House following the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision last year went absolutely nowhere tells me that there is little appetite among Republicans to engage in culture wars either in the House or the Senate — in this election cycle and in 2016,” Angelo said.

But there are other pieces of anti-gay legislation that could be seen as an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have introduced legislation known as the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have introduced the State Marriage Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in states where it’s not allowed. The bill may be moot in the event of a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Sabato nonetheless said he doesn’t see much of an opportunity for anti-LGBT legislation of any kind to make it through the Senate – given the growing support for LGBT rights among Republican senators.

“I think it is very unlikely Susan Collins or Rob Portman would support any stand-alone, anti-LGBT legislation,” Sabato said. “I could see other Republicans joining them, such as Lisa Murkowski. I can’t see a single Senate Democrat voting for such legislation. So I doubt the Senate would pass it.”

In the event that an anti-gay bill was approved by both chambers of Congress, Sabato said the legislation would never become law because President Obama would veto it once it reached his desk.

But Republican control over the Senate could mean an end to progress on pro-LGBT legislation. Under Democratic control, the Senate just barely invoked cloture on ENDA by a vote of 61-30 before approving it on final passage. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has yet to take up ENDA months after the Senate voted to approve it as House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on it during a meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus.

Pinello said the danger for the LGBT community in the aftermath of a Republican takeover of the Senate lies in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges — perhaps on the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy before the final ruling on marriage equality.

“The federal bench is now the most hopeful source of remedy for the denial of marriage equality nationwide, and a Senate controlled by the Republican Party might diminish those prospects,” Pinello said. “Thus, there is very good reason for LGBT voters to turn out for Democratic candidates next November.”

18
Mar
2014

Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign ENDA discharge petition

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen supports marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has vowed not to sign a discharge petition for ENDA (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

As proponents of non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers seek ways to institute them at the federal level, one Florida Republican is throwing cold water on one means of advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, said through a spokesperson that she would not sign a discharge petition to force House leadership to move the bill to the floor.

“Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will not be signing a discharge petition as it is a partisan political tool,” said Keith Fernandez, a Ros-Lehtinen spokesperson.

The Washington Blade reached out to all seven Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the U.S. House to ask whether they’d be willing to sign a discharge petition, but Ros-Lehtinen’s office was the only one that responded.

In addition to Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican co-sponsors are Reps. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Michael Coffman (Colo.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).

Ros-Lehtinen’s refusal to sign a discharge petition for ENDA means that the potential procedural move is almost certainly doomed. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures to move a bill forward, which is the same as the number of votes required to pass a bill in the House.

In the Republican-controlled House, at least some Republicans would be needed for the discharge petition to reach the 218 number to move ENDA to the floor. It’s hard to see how any other Republican would sign the petition if the original Republican co-sponsor of ENDA has vowed not to sign it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said in response to Ros-Lehtinen’s position that “several options” remain to move ENDA in the House.

“Others include attaching it to the defense authorization bill and also pushing for a straight-up vote once we demonstrated that there are 218 supporters,” Almeida said. “We will keep pushing forward on all fronts.”

A House vote is all that’s necessary to send ENDA to President Obama’s desk; he has pledged to sign it. The bill passed last year in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, but continues to languish in the House.

Asked whether there’s any value in moving forward with a discharge petition even though Ros-Lehtinen says she won’t sign it, Almeida replied, “No option should be taken off the table.”

But there are difficulties with other options as well. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation when asked if he would allow a vote on the bill. Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus who met with him at the start of the year said he told them it wouldn’t come up before Election Day, although some lawmakers left thinking a vote in the lame duck session is possible.

As for the defense authorization bill, that path didn’t work for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. Republicans twice filibustered a vote on the defense bill with the repeal component. It wasn’t until repeal was removed that both the defense authorization and legislation to repeal the military’s gay ban could pass on their own.

Placing a measure inside the defense authorization bill did work for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, but that was when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA in the House, told the Blade last month at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual brunch that a discharge petition may happen at some point with ENDA.

“We’re currently pushing one for immigration reform,” Polis said. “If the speaker and majority leader continue to fail to schedule a vote on ENDA, a discharge petition could be our only outlet to get it to the floor. It would still continue to be an uphill battle because ultimately for a discharge petition to succeed, you need 218 signatures.”

Asked at what point a discharge petition would become necessary, Polis said, “At this point, we’re focused on adding co-sponsors to show that it has support.”

There have been mixed reactions to the idea of a discharge petition in Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) endorsed the idea as a means to advance ENDA in the House during a news conference immediately after Senate passage of ENDA. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said during a roundtable with LGBT press he doesn’t think a discharge petition would work because if it got close to 218 names, House leadership would back away additional Republican signers.

Under pressure because Obama hasn’t signed an executive order to bar LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the White House has hinted it supports the idea of a discharge petition. In March, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said, “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization isn’t disappointed that Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign a discharge petition, but didn’t elaborate. The Human Rights Campaign has not endorsed the idea of a discharge petition.

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he supports Ros-Lehtinen’s position on the discharge petition as other ways to pass ENDA are on the table.

“We support Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s position,” Angelo said. “While all options should be on the table for passage of ENDA, a discharge petition is the option of last resort, and our options to pass ENDA are far from exhausted at this point. These Democrats need to hold their horses, otherwise they run the risk of turning what has been bi-partisan progress on ENDA into a polarizing political fight.”

03
May
2014

House race divides LGBT advocates

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei said he would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans if elected. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

The controversial decision earlier this year by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to endorse gay Republican Richard Tisei over pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has prompted five openly gay or bisexual U.S. House members, all Democrats, to sign on as supporters of a fundraiser for Tierney.

The fundraiser, scheduled for June 25 in Washington, is being backed by at least two-dozen prominent LGBT Democrats and straight allies, including the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, and transgender advocate and Maryland State Senate candidate Dr. Dana Beyer.

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is among those signing on as an honorary co-chair of the fundraising event, which is being organized by two of Frank’s former staff members.

The former staffers, Joseph Racalto and Maria Giesta, principals in the Washington political consulting firm Giesta Racalto, said they initiated the event to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.

Tisei is a former Massachusetts State senator. He has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. He backed a transgender rights bill that came up before the legislature.

Racalto and other LGBT Democrats supporting Tierney said they have no objection to an LGBT supportive gay Republican running for Congress.

But they said the Victory Fund should not have endorsed such a candidate in a race against a longtime straight ally such as Tierney, who has received a perfect 100 percent rating on LGBT issues from HRC.

“Although I applaud Tisei – and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent,” Racalto said in a Blade commentary.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tisei told the Blade he would be a champion for LGBT issues if elected to the House and would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans.

He said he would not hesitate to defy House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by signing a discharge petition to force Boehner and other House GOP leaders to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, to the House floor for a vote.

ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination against LGBT people, has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year.

Racalto said that while Tisei has personally been supportive on LGBT issues, his commitment to push for those issues came into question last month when he formed a joint fundraising committee with conservative Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running for a House seat in New Hampshire.

Guinta opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights and had considered aligning himself with the ultra conservative Tea Party.

Tisei said the joint fundraising arrangement will enable the two candidates to share expenses and won’t in any way compromise his positions in support of LGBT rights.

“During the past 10 years I have seen a lot of people’s positions change and evolve, including the president’s, by the way,” Tisei said.

He added that he sees his role as an advocate for change within the Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the House.

“A lot of people are re-examining their positions on marriage equality and other LGBT issues,” he said. “And I’m going to work with as many different types of people on as many types of issues as I can…And I can serve, especially within the Republican caucus, as someone who helps bring people over to the right side of the issue.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the group endorsed Tisei last week. Angelo said he isn’t troubled over Tisei’s joint fundraising effort with Guinta.

“The more interesting aspect of this story to me is that ‘Tea Party’ types who contribute to this fund will be donating money to a gay Republican running for the House of Representatives,” Angelo said. “That’s the real story here.”

Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group saw Tisei as a change agent for the Republican Party along with Tisei’s longstanding record in support of LGBT rights when it endorsed him.

“I think it is sometimes shortsighted for folks to focus on the kind of short-term gains that can be made right now instead of the long-term goal that this world would be very different if we had more Republicans that supported us on our issues,” Thai said. “And the only way we’re ever going to get to that point is by electing openly gay Republicans that care about our issues.”

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who signed on as a member of the host committee for the Tierney fundraiser, said he agrees with the Victory Fund’s mission of helping to elect LGBT-supportive candidates but not at the expense of long-time LGBT-supportive incumbents like Tierney.

“I don’t see this as a conflict with my support for the Victory Fund,” he said in referring to his role in the Tierney fundraiser. “I support the Victory Fund but not all of their candidates.”

Political observers in Massachusetts say Tisei has a shot at unseating Tierney in part because he’s perceived by many voters as a moderate Republican with a progressive record as a state legislator for more than 10 years.

Tisei came within just one percentage point of beating Tierney in the 2012 election at a time when Tierney’s wife and two brothers-in-law became embroiled in an illegal gambling scheme that landed his wife and one brother-in-law in jail.

Tierney himself was cleared of any wrong-doing in the scandal, in which his wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in 2010 to filing false tax returns in connection with a checking account belonging to one of her brothers. As much as $7 million in illegal gambling funds passed through the account, according to law enforcement officials.

Politico reported that Tierney blames his brothers-in-law for duping his wife into believing the funds were part of a legal sports gambling business based in the Caribbean island of Antigua, which the brothers claimed to have been operating.

Republican Party operatives both in Massachusetts and outside the state have been raising the gambling scandal in attack ads targeting Tierney.

As if that were not enough, Tierney is being challenged by two Democrats in the state’s Democratic primary in September. One of the candidates, former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, raised more money than Tierney in the most recent campaign reporting period, raising concern among Tierney supporters. On his campaign website, Moulton has expressed support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

The gay House members signing on as honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also signed on as an honorary co-chair.

The name of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, is conspicuously absent from the list of honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser. Racalto said organizers invited Baldwin to participate but have not heard back from her office.

A Baldwin spokesperson didn’t respond to a request from the Blade for a comment on why Baldwin hasn’t signed on to the fundraiser. The Victory Fund endorsed Baldwin in her hotly contested Senate race in 2012 and helped raise money for her successful campaign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has signed on as an honorary co-chair for the Tierney fundraiser along with Tierney’s eight House colleagues from Massachusetts, all of whom are Democrats. The state’s other senator, Elizabeth Warren (D), has so far not signed on as an honorary co-chair.

Other supporters of the event, in addition to Solmonese, Rosenstein, and Beyer, include former Barney Frank staffers Peter Kovar and Diego Sanchez; Brad Luna; John Weinfurter; Tucker Gallagher; Lane Hudson; and Paul Hazen.

Racalto said he didn’t extend an invitation to participate in the event to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay last year and who has been endorsed by the Victory Fund in his race for governor of Maine.

“We didn’t invite him simply because of his run for governor,” Racalto said. “The Victory Fund played no part in that decision.”

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank and several of his former staffers are involved in a June fundraiser for Rep. John Tierney. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

07
May
2014

Gay Republican advances in bid for Congress

Carl DeMaio, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Carl DeMaio will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Scott Peters in the general election. (Photo public domain)

There are seven openly gay members of the U.S. House – all of whom are Democrats. But Republican Carl DeMaio, who emerged as one of the top two candidates in a primary election for California’s 52nd congressional district Tuesday, hopes to change that.

DeMaio trailed one-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters by about six percentage points in the four-way open primary Tuesday night, meaning the two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

“Tonight’s win sends a national message to the Republican Party: San Diegans are fed up and frustrated,” DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, said Tuesday. “We want the party to return to its traditional roots of standing up for personal freedoms where we allow individuals to decide social issues in the context of their own personal views on faith and family without interference from their government.”

DeMaio featured his husband in a campaign advertisement. He’s found himself the victim of smear campaigns: Shortly before the primary, his campaign office was vandalized, leaving computers destroyed and the floors flooded.

DeMaio has been by-and-large unable to win the backing of the mainstream LGBT establishment. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Peters, noting his “stellar record on LGBT equality.” The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBT candidates, stayed out of the race.

DeMaio, who was booed at a San Diego Pride parade when running for mayor of the city in 2012, has said in the past he wouldn’t “push the gay special agenda” if elected. He did, however, garner support from GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, two conservative LGBT groups.

Although he has said he “obviously” supports same-sex marriage, he has accepted donations from individuals who contributed to Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court — but DeMaio, who has a partner, never took a public stance on the controversial measure.

Here’s how other LGBT candidates fared in California’s Tuesday primaries:

• Lesbian candidate for San Diego county clerk Susan Guinn failed in her attempt to unseat Ernest Dronenburg. During his tenure, he tried to delay same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling to strike down Prop. 8.

• San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a lesbian Republican, won her re-election effort.

• Long Beach, Calif., elected its first openly gay mayor, Robert Garcia. The 35-year-old is also the city’s first Latino mayor.

05
Jun
2014

Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.

20
Jun
2014

Larry Hogan: Position on same-sex marriage has ‘evolved’

Larry Hogan, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Larry Hogan (Photo by Marrh2; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Republican Maryland gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan on Friday said his position on marriage rights for same-sex couples has “evolved.”

Hogan said on News Talk with Bruce DePuyt on News Channel 8 in response to a question about whether he voted for the state’s same-sex marriage law in a 2012 referendum on it that he was “originally for civil unions.”

“I was a supporter of traditional marriage,” he told DePuyt. “It’s an issue that I fully understand. The voters have made their decision. I support their decision and will uphold the law. I’ve evolved I guess on the issue.”

Hogan said marriage rights for same-sex couples, extending in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and other social issues “are really decided in Maryland.”

“They have no part in this campaign whatsoever,” he said. “We’ve been completely focused on the issues that all Marylanders are focused on right now, and that’s economic issues.”

Hogan, who was a member of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration, told the Washington Post in June he would not seek to repeal Maryland’s same-sex marriage law if elected governor.

Hogan told the Baltimore Sun editorial board ahead of the June 24 primary that he opposes a transgender rights bill that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law earlier this year.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, welcomed Hogan’s comments on same-sex marriage.

“Hogan’s evolution on marriage equality reflects the reality of many Marylanders who have kept an open heart and open mind on this issue,” she told the Washington Blade. “It is valuable when people share their evolution to demonstrate it is possible.”

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, echoed Evans.

“I’ve had some great conversations with the Hogan campaign over the last several weeks and it’s encouraging to see this evolution on the issue,” Angelo told the Blade. “Mr. Hogan is just one of many Marylanders who has evolved on this issue. He, like many Marylanders, evidently sees civil marriage for committed same-sex couples as no threat to his way of life, and, like an increasing number of Republicans, sees getting beyond the marriage issue as a way to grow the GOP voting base and win.”

Hogan easily defeated Harford County Executive David Craig, state Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel County) and former congressional candidate Charles Lollar in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

He will face Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown — who publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples and Maryland’s trans rights law that takes effect on October 1 — in the general election.

08
Aug
2014

Life beyond marriage equality

Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There are people both in the Republican Party and in the gay community who strongly believe that gays do not belong in the Grand Old Party.

To my brothers and sisters in the gay community, while the Democratic Party has been much better on equality, when you step away from that string of issues, there is a wealth of policy positions where there is room for discussion and differing opinion.

As Urvashi Vaid says in her book, “Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics,” “Beyond a shared basic rights agenda, there is no political unity between progressives and conservatives in the LGBT community.”  This is highlighted on issue after issue with gun control, abortion, immigration, tax, and a panoply of other items that comprise our daily lives.

When you listen to some national gay organizations, they speak of the evils of Republicans. They often imply ALL Republicans. Either they are not mindful that we have a growing number of Republican allies in the House and Senate and around the country who support us on many of our core issues, or they are simply party hacks. It’s OK to be a party hack. I am. Just don’t masquerade as a non-partisan national LGBT organization if that’s what you really are — an operative of the Democratic Party.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would not have been repealed three years ago without the six Republican senators who supported ending the law. Nor would the Senate have passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide employment protections for LGBT individuals in the workplace, without the votes of 10 Republicans.

Fifteen years ago, those votes would have been unheard of. The Republican Party is going through a cultural shift (albeit slowly) as more Republican legislators consistently step up for LGBT Americans. States like New York, Maryland and Illinois bear witness to that.

Conversely, there are those in leadership positions within the Republican Party to whom it is anathema for gays to be in the GOP and, worse yet, that we exist at all. It would be dishonest to say that, for gay Republicans, the last 20 years have been easy.  The ascension of many within the Christian right into the party has often made life rough. That is, however, not a blanket statement.  There are many good people who are part of the Christian right.

The tenor of the marriage equality debate, on both sides of the aisle, has been nasty at times. Within the GOP, it uncovered the fact that there are those who see the party as a closed, inward-looking operation who view defeat in the pursuit of ideological purity as acceptable. The tone of the marriage equality debate by certain members of the GOP fails to recognize that, beyond marriage, there are other issues where the LGBT community can contribute to a winning coalition for Republicans.

What the Democratic Party fails to understand is that families cannot live on love alone. As my counterpart, John Fluharty, executive director of the Delaware GOP, often says, the GOP message of education, job creation, and economic growth and less government in our lives, are indeed the Republican Party and speak to many in the LGBT community when hate is not interjected.

Sadly, it’s the David Agemas of the party, with their ecclesiastical rants, who are the squeaky wheel. And it is because of their boisterous noise that the Republican Party is on the brink of shrinking instead of growing.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus has done a great job of starting to reach out to minority groups that have not supported the party in recent elections.  And while he does not have a plank in his Growth and Opportunity Project for gays and lesbians, he shows no malice toward us either.

We simply can’t throw a temper tantrum and leave an organization or a political party when we don’t get our way. That’s what they want.

We persevere. We engage. We listen. And then we continue to change hearts and minds. We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right.

Robert Turner is executive director of the D.C. Republican Party and former president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at robert.turner@dcgop.com or @RobertTurnerDC.

21
Jan
2014

As LGBT rights advance, House takes aim at immigrants

U.S. Capitol, immigration reform, immigrant, Michele Bachmann, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. House voted to take action against child refugees and DREAMers, but not the LGBT executive order. (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

As President Obama prepares an anticipated executive order on immigration, some see a noteworthy shift in GOP focus away from attacking LGBT rights in favor of targeting the immigrant community.

The final act of the U.S. House of Representatives before adjourning for August recess was passing a bill aimed at addressing the influx of Central American child refugees seeking relief at the Texas border.

But instead of passing an emergency $3.7 billion in supplemental funding requested by the White House to enhance capacity for detainment, the chamber passed by a 223-189 vote a much lower $694 million put together by conservatives like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for a different purpose.

The legislation would adjust anti-trafficking laws so the child refugees can be sent home quickly and without deportation hearings. Additionally, it would terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, which enables deferred action on deportation for young, undocumented immigrants who entered the country at an early age, also known as DREAMers.

The House passed the legislation following a hostile floor debate amid expectations that President Obama is prepared to use executive authority in some way to protect as many as five million undocumented immigrants living in the United States from deportation.

In a floor speech just before passage of the House bill, Bachmann said the legislation was intended to block Obama from taking any additional administrative action.

“So with this DACA bill, effectively, we will put forward the strongest possible legislative response that this body could put forward,” Bachmann said. “We say in this bill that the president has no power, no authority administratively to grant permits which would effectively grant amnesty to 5 to 6 million foreign nationals illegally in the United States. In other words, Mr. Speaker, we will put a handcuff on one of the president’s hands.”

Bachmann later said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should bring the Senate back into session to “put the other handcuff on this lawless president’s hands.” Those remarks incensed gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) to the point that he called for them to be stricken from the congressional record, but that request was rejected by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), on the grounds the request wasn’t timely.

The legislation, which President Obama has vowed to veto and has no chance of passing in the Senate, was criticized in a statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest upon passage.

“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program prioritizes the limited resources of the Department of Homeland Security to deport dangerous criminals rather than DREAMers,” Earnest said. “It is extraordinary that House Republicans are demanding that we reverse that prioritization as a price for getting the resources needed to deal with the urgent humanitarian situation at the border, reduce the immigration court backlog, and address the root cause of child migration.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Republican control of Congress often meant attacks on LGBT rights. In 1996, former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia led efforts in Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill to prohibit federal recognition of same-sex marriages, after a court ruling in Hawaii suggested the state could legalize same-sex marriage. President Clinton signed the law after his administration assured Congress of the bill’s constitutionality.

Even under the Obama administration, the chamber under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner during the first two years of Republican control passed measures against LGBT people, although they were more under the radar. In addition to defending DOMA in court after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law, the House voted to affirm the federal ban on same-sex marriage legislatively on at least three separate occasions.

But that same hostility against LGBT people has considerably diminished in the current Congress, despite Republican control. After the Supreme Court issued rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced the State Marriage Defense Act to limit the ruling to marriage-equality states, but the bills saw no movement.

The chamber was quiet after President Obama signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors. Not even the threat of backlash emerged in Congress. When Boehner was asked during a routine press conference whether he had a reaction to the executive order, he replied, “Nope. The president signs a lot of executive orders.”

The responses to two separate executive actions from Obama on DREAMers and LGBT workers has led to speculation about why the two underrepresented groups are being treated differently.

Robert Raben, who’s gay and president of the D.C. consulting firm the Raben Group, said the difference boils down to a single factor: Influential white men are working on behalf of LGBT rights, but not immigration rights.

“The single most important variable is the presence or absence of white men,” Raben said. “I believe LGBT issues have mercifully done so well in the last 20 years because so many white men are affected by it, and they have exercised their money, their access and their establishment orientation to fight for our rights, and white men basically get what they want in this country.”

That same involvement from white men, Raben said, isn’t found in other social justice issues, such as immigration, voting rights, women’s rights and domestic violence.

Raben added the vote in the House against child refugees and DREAMers is “absolutely” evidence of the disparity resulting from the participation of white men on LGBT issues, but not other progressive causes.

“Ken Mehlman, Ted Olson and David Boies — all these white men stand up and fight for this right, and you don’t see that on affirmative action, reproductive rights, voting rights, right?” Raben said.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, accounted for the difference by saying the American people are clamoring for congressional action at the border, but aren’t making the same request to curtail LGBT rights.

“From a purely anecdotal perspective, I can say that whenever I’m visiting members of the House, the phones are ringing off the hook with constituents demanding that Republicans address border security first before tackling any other immigration-related issue,” Angelo said. “It’s relentless. When it comes to opposition to LGBT protections, Republicans have not seen the same fervor among voters in their districts.”

But not all observers see a difference in the way that Congress is treating the immigration community and the LGBT community.

Matt Foreman, director of gay and immigrant programs at the San Francisco-based Haas Jr. Fund, pointed to the lack of movement in the House on LGBT federal non-discrimination protections as evidence that LGBT people aren’t out of the woods when it comes to GOP disfavor.

“The facts just don’t bear that out: LGBT-inclusive civil rights legislation remains dead as a door nail; our movement hasn’t been able to win a basic civil rights bill in any state for more than six years due to Republican intransigence,” Foreman said.

Foreman said Republicans acted on immigration, but not the LGBT executive order, because the executive order that Obama may take to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation in the United States would be much more sweeping.

“The executive order involved simple amendments to two executive orders that are both over 40 years old and which have been amended by Democratic and Republican presidents,” Foreman said. “No one is contesting a president’s authority in this area. That’s certainly not the case with the relief extended to DREAMers through administrative action or with the potential of the president extending similar relief to up to five million more undocumented people.”

Regardless of whether the two groups are differently situated, advocates of immigration reform are already impressing upon the LGBT community that its resources are needed to help the immigration community, especially when needs for the two communities overlap.

On July 30 just before Congress adjourned, the grassroots group Southerners On New Ground and Familia: Trans & Queer Liberation held a sit-in for six hours at the offices of the LGBT Equality Caucus urging the group to call for LGBT inclusion on any executive action that Obama may take on immigration reform.

The demands of the protesters were four-fold: expand Deferred Action to the fullest extent of the law; end all programs involving law enforcement and U.S. Immigration & Custom Enforcement collaboration; elimination of the use of solitary confinement; and the expansion of protections for LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations under police and ICE custody in detention centers.

“We are proud that our country has a congressional Equality Caucus and as LGBTQ people we understand its role is to represent our whole community,” says a letter to the caucus accompanying the protest. “Ending deportations and other key issues are of equal importance to the LGBTQ community as issues such as employment and marriage.”

Days after the protest, the LGBT Equality Caucus issued a statement agreeing that any executive action Obama takes on immigration must be LGBT-inclusive and include non-discrimination policies.

“Any activity that discriminates against the LGBT community, whether it is targeting policing, bias in enforcement, harassment in detention, failure to provide medically necessary care, the unnecessary use of solitary confinement, or failure to respect gender identity cannot be supported,” the caucus statement says.

It’s those kinds of contributions from the LGBT community to the immigrant movement that the Haas Jr. Fund’s Foreman said is a good thing and already underway.

“There are tens of thousands of LGBT people who are disproportionately being harmed by the current, broken system and we can’t abandon them,” Foreman said. “Moreover, the LGBT movement cannot secure basic civil rights protections in the 29 states that still lack them without allies. And if we stand by immigrants and their families now, they will be with us in the future.”

12
Aug
2014

Agema won’t attend RNC winter meeting

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22
Jan
2014