Hillary Clinton. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
There isnât much Hillary Clinton does these days that doesnât come under scrutiny for how it potentially impacts her possible 2016 presidential campaign. Last week she stoked the fires by having lunch with President Obama and breakfast the next morning with Vice President Biden. Many would have liked to be a fly on the wall at those meals.
Having made no bones about my desire to see Hillary run I was pleased to read the Huffington Post story by Steve Peoples that reported the super PAC âReady for Hillaryâ raised more than $1.25 million just this spring. But even more exciting was hiring whiz kids, including Jeremy Bird who developed the Obama field operation and then founded 270 Strategies to get ready a volunteer and field operation should Hillary decide to run.
Why all the continued excitement about a woman who has been in the public eye since Bill Clinton was elected Arkansas attorney general in 1977? A woman who received her baptism by fire on the national level when she appeared on â60 Minutesâ doing her so-called âstand by your manâ appearance? Clearly there is something about Hillary that intrigues people and makes them want more.
No other woman in America has had more press, both good and bad. There are two projects â a TV mini-series about her and a documentary film on her life â currently in the works. The appetite to see and hear more about her seems insatiable. Organizations that have hired her to make a speech have reported huge increases in attendance at their meetings. The American Society of Travel Agents said its keynote in 2012 drew 800 people and more than 5,000 are expected to come hear Hillary speak at their 2013 meeting in Miami. Another group in Chicago reported long lines at the convention center with more than 17,000 coming to hear her. She can command more than most former presidents for a speech and is only matched by her husband in what people will pay to have her speak.
A recent invitation for a Clinton Foundation reception and dinner at the Italian embassy on Sept. 9 listed $1,000 for the reception and $25,000 a couple for dinner. And thatâs cheap when you consider that for that amount you get Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. Beginning in 2015 if Hillary announces, it will be at least $37,500 a couple to attend a dinner and that will be with just Hillary.
What makes her potential presidency so exciting is the depth of passion she brings to the causes she cares about and the scope of her knowledge and understanding of what can be done to make a real difference in our world. Her intellect goes without question but she also has a work ethic that surpasses anyone elseâs. She is now a recognized expert on foreign affairs but maintains her razor focus on issues that impact children, women and girls, and families. She has it all and if elected would be the most prepared person ever to enter the White House for a first term. She wonât need that first term to find the levers of power as she knows where they are and how to use them. She has seen the operation of the White House in person and also spent time in Congress. She knows what makes people tick and even what ticks them off.
By her actions and positions Hillary Clinton is a moderate. A moderate who supports national healthcare; marriage equality; a womanâs right to choose; promotes a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants who came here illegally to work and find a better life for their families. But she takes second place to none in her belief that we need to maintain a strong national defense. Her positions over the years have gotten those on the left and the right mad at her. Somehow that makes her the candidate I can support. She understands and believes in the separation of church and state and fights for children because she knows that the future success of our nation depends on them.
Speaking as a Democrat it is important to keep together the coalition that elected President Obama. That includes the middle class, young people, minority voters, and LGBT Americans. Hillary speaks to those voters but she also speaks to women across the political spectrum who can rightfully say, âIt is our time.â Hillary has the ability that no other potential candidate has to change the political landscape and win not only the Northeast and West but to add states like Texas, West Virginia and Arkansas, among others, to the Democratic column. Those are some of the reasons so many are âReady for Hillary.â
President Obama (right) could follow Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower, who both federalized National Guard units. (Photos of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy public domain. Washington Blade photo of Barack Obama by Michael Key).
As National Guard units in several states refuse to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, one advocate says thereâs a unique â yet unlikely â solution: President Obama could federalize the state units.
Ret. Lt. Col. Chris Rowzee, spokesperson on National Guard affairs for the American Military Partner Association, raised the possibility of federalizing the National Guard units to ensure states offer spousal benefits to gay troops.
“This would be an extreme example, but they could âŠ federalize the troops, and in that case, the state governor would have zero say over what the guard unit then does,” Rowzee said. “We certainly hope that it doesn’t come to something like that. We hope that the governors of these states recognize that the right thing to do for these guardsman and these families is to give them support and the entitlements to which they are entitled.”
Rowzee added she’s not calling for Obama to take control of the National Guard units, but noted she wants some kind of response from the Obama administration.
At least four states â Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana â are refusing to give troops in same-sex marriages military IDs for their partners by denying these couples’ applications at state-run facilities. That hampers the couples’ ability to receive health, pension and housing benefits afforded to other service members.
DespiteÂ an Aug. 13 directive from Defense Secretary Chuck HagelÂ saying these benefits should be available nationwide, even in non-marriage equality states, these four states are citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage as the reason they cannot enroll these couples into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
The American Military Partners Association has called for a response from the Obama administration to prompt a change from the state National Guards. The more obvious method that has been discussed before is a deprivation of federal funds for these installations as a result of disobeying a federal directive.
Chris Jenks, a former Army judge advocate general and law professor at Southern Methodist University, said federalizing elements of the National Guard and withholding funds are both viable options for Obama.
“Ultimately, if the governors of the four states persist in their order to their state National GuardsÂ to not provide benefits to same-sex marriedÂ guardÂ members, the governors run a risk that the president will federalize those state nationalÂ guards,”Â Jenks said. “One hopes it wouldn’t come to that. But if the gay rights movement is the civil rights struggle of our time, it will be interesting to see how far the first African-American president will allow state governors to countermand him.”
In the 1950s, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard when the governor of that state was using it to enforce racial discrimination at Little Rock Central High School. In 1963, President Kennedy took similar action in Alabama to desegregate the University of Alabama.
The situation today, of course, isnât exactly parallel.Â Eisenhower and Kennedy federalized the units in Arkansas and Alabama to force integration of schools â not to make the guard units themselves operate in a non-discriminatory manner.
Under the relevant statute, the president would have to declare a national emergency in order to bring the National Guard units of those states under his direct command.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is asking for a federal response to the situation, but does not endorse the idea of federalizing the National Guard units.
“We are urging Secretary Hagel to talk to these state governments about the need to have uniformity and fairness for all service members in accessing the benefits to which they are entitled by law,” Sainz said.
The Obama administration has been quiet on the issue of individual National Guard units resisting the order for nationwide spousal benefits for gay troops.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no immediate answer when the Washington Blade asked if Obama was aware of the issue and believes these units are violating federal policy. Carney deferred to the Pentagon, but also said he could take the question and talk about the issue later. As of last week, the Blade had not received a White House response.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, would only say troops in same-sex marriages are able to enroll at federal installations.
“All Federal Military installations (in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana) will issue IDs to all those who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” Christensen said.
But Rowzee maintained that directing troops to travel to a federal installation isn’t an adequate solution to the problem. For starters, the issue isn’t just enrollment for benefits, but also participation in guard activities like family readiness programs.
“The rationale that they are using to deny giving me the ID cards to begin with is rationale that very easily could be applied to even something as simple at the spouse being given access to the base, being able to drive to the base to pick up her guardsmen from a deployment,” Rowzee said.
Legal experts who spoke with the Blade agreed the decision to refuse to process these applications violates federal law.
SMU’s Jenks said these states are caught between state and federal governments, but are ultimately exceeding their authority.
“I think the state governments have overreached and it’s unfortunate that they are using the National Guard in a politicized fashion, thatâs not why the National Guard exists,” Jenks said. “Ultimately these efforts by the states will not be successful.”
One initiative that has emerged as states have begun to withhold these benefits from gay troops is a petition led by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Military Partner Association calling on the Pentagon to reaffirm that all married military personnel are eligible for these benefits.
Another group that is pursuing action on the issue in Texas is Lambda Legal. Representing Alicia Butler and Judith Chedville, a lesbian military couple denied benefits at Camp Mabry, Lambda sent a letter on Sept. 13 to Texas Military Forces saying current policy âfails its troops and their families.” The letter requests a response in 10 days.
Paul Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said he “absolutely” thinks Texas is violating federal law by denying benefits to troops in same-sex marriages.
“The state law does not inhibit the National Guard from completing a federal mission,” Castillo said. “The DEERS system and benefit administration is federally funded along with the personnel operating the system, so there’s no reason for them to discriminate in issuing the spousal IDs and enrolling them in the DEERS system.”
Castillo said Texas confirmed receipt of the letter. Since that time, Castillo said communications between Lambda and the state are ongoing, although he couldn’t elaborate on them.
Whether a lawsuit is in the works by any of these groups remains to be seen. None would rule out the possibility of litigation if nothing changes at these guard units.
For Rowzee, the decision of these guard units to withhold benefits is particularly disappointing in the wake of advancements in marriage equality throughout the country following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
“Do I honestly believe that the governor of Texas will be forever able to defy a DOD directive? No, and I think he knows that,” Rowzee said. “I think he’s using this issue to try to gain political points, and the problem is it harms people in the meantime. It harms our military families.”
Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias (Blade file photo by Michael Key)
The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee is telling LGBT donors that “a process” is underway that would lead to President Obama signing an executive order banning LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
In an email dated May 30 from an off-the-record listserv leaked to the Washington Blade, Andy Tobias, who’s gay, said in response to questions about the directive that he’s spoken to officials within the administration and “everyone’s for it,” but the hold up is related to “process.”
“I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is â and to lobby for its getting done,” Tobias wrote. “Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item. To which I basically respond: can I share more of the specifics? (‘Please don’t') and can you please get a move on?! (‘we hear you brother; keep the faith’).”
Tobias, who’s gay, concludes by saying other LGBT agenda items were achieved under President Obama, including hate crimes protection legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the completion of the president’s evolution on same-sex marriage. He added, “But they got done and this will get done too.“
The email is a follow-up to an email that Tobias wrote already published by the Washington Blade from the same listserv responding to criticism over first lady Michelle Obama’s speech during a DNC LGBT gala in New York. The second email is in response to a question from Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida.
Tobias declined to comment on the emails, although multiple individuals on the listserv confirmed they came from his email address.
Other emails from Tobias leaked to the Blade reveal that he’s attempted to tamp down concerns among some on the listserv over the White House withholding the executive order. The second email is the one in which he talks most explicitly about a process potentially leading to the directive.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, reiterated that an executive order is a “hypothetical” matter for the administration.
“As weâve said before, the White House has no updates regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors,” Inouye said.
Still, this assertion of a process is consistent with indications from the White House that some kind of study is underway â or possibly completed â on LGBT discrimination protections.
In April, Inouye alluded to an examination in a previously unpublished response to the Blade over a little-noticed year-old quote from the Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg about a study on the issue from the Council of Economic Advisers. Inouye said, “We continue toÂ studyÂ the issue.”
That year-old quote came after a high-level White House meeting in which Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett told LGBT advocates the administration wouldn’t at the time issue an executive order for LGBT workplace protections.Â A source familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said White House officials didnât say CEA would conduct a study, but noted there are multiple options for how to study the issue and gave CEA as an example.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney didn’t deny the existence of the study last week when questioned about it during a news briefing, saying, “I don’t have any updated status on that for you.”Â The White House didn’t respond to further requests from the Blade to elaborate.
Internal work within the Obama administration on the executive order reportedly was done more than a year ago. Sources told the Blade last year that the Labor and Justice departments indicated they could implement the order if Obama signed it.
But if a study is underway within the White House, it’s being kept under tight wraps.
The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Williams Institute said they’re unaware of such a study. Center for American Progress didn’t respond to requests for comment about it.
Groups that did respond said LGBT advocates â particularly Stachelberg and then-HRC president Joe Solmonese â strongly pushed back on the idea of a White House study a year ago, saying additional information was unnecessary amid other reports that have already been published.
For example, LGBT groups led by the Movement Advancement Project, HRC and CAP last week unveiled a 131-page report, titled “A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers” detailing the harms of the absence of any federal LGBT workplace discrimination protections. Among the findings were 67 percent of small business owners support federal workplace non-discrimination protections and 63 percent of Americans believe religious beliefs aren’t an acceptable reason to fire LGBT workers.
Meanwhile, advocates, particularly at Freedom to Work, say the executive order is a campaign promise from President Obama based onÂ a response to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 2008 indicating that he supports a non-discrimination policy for all federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It’s possible the administration is awaiting the rulings from the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases before the end of this month to evaluate what further action to take.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom of Work, said he’s hopeful that the administration is in the middle of a process that will lead to Obama signing the order sometime in June in accordance with Pride, but would “bet on a signature at some point later this year.”
“I have never lost faith that President Obama is a man of his word who will fulfill his written campaign promise and sign the executive order,” Almeida said. “He will build on his unmatched record as the best president ever for advancing LGBT equality. I’m keeping faith in President Obama.”
The full email from Tobias follows:
Hey, Tico. Â I can only give you an unsatisfactory answer. Â But here it is.
I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done. Â Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.
To which I basically respond: can I share more of the specifics? (“Please don’t”) and can you please get a move on?! (“we hear you brother; keep the faith”).
If this just serves to make you more angry, then of course I should have ignored your question. Â But it’s a completely fair question and I’d rather be damned for trying to provide at least a little context, unsatisfactory though it surely is, than for failing to respond.
If we all keep pushing, not least with this Exxon action to focus around, we’ll get there â later than we should have but a great deal sooner than we would have if we hadn’t helped reelect the President.
Hate crimes was done too slowly â we deserved it 20 years ago. DADT and evolution on marriage and all the rest. But they got done and this will get done too.
Push and support. Â Both directly in our self interest.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration is “not having” a conversation about an Olympics boycott (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed on Thursday that President Obama opposes a controversial anti-gay law in Russia, but he said a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics isn’t on the table for the administration.
Under questioning from ABC News’ Jon Karl, Carney said Obama has made clear that he opposes anti-gay laws in other countries that persecute LGBT people.
“The president absolutely opposes and has made clear in other countries laws that discriminate against individuals, whether for race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” Carney said.
Pressed by Karl on whether that specifically includes the anti-gay law in Russia that makes pro-LGBT propaganda a crime, Carney replied, “Yes.Â Sure, yes.”
On Tuesday, Obama expressed opposition to the anti-gay law in Russia during a pre-taped appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” when he said he has “no patience” for laws that discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
The next day, the White House announced Obama canceled a planned bilateral summit in Russia between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. An administration official told the Blade recent events regarding LGBT people were a factor.
In response to another question from Karl on whether the president is concerned about the persecution of LGBT athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Carney referred to Obama’s remarks from earlier in the week.
“What I think the president made clear the other night is that it is in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success,” Carney said. “And that’s certainly true of other host countries when they have the privilege of hosting an Olympics. And he would expect them to take the necessary measures to ensure their success.”
In response to further questioning from Sky News’ Jon-Christopher Bua on the point at which Obama would support a boycott of the Olympics akin to what happened in 1980 when Moscow hosted the summer games, Carney said “thatâs a conversation weâre not having.”
“The president was very clear about his views on the issues of gay rights, LGBT rights, and concerns that have been raised internationally about laws in Russia, and his expectation that, as host of the Olympics, Russia will conduct them in a way that shines a favorable light on them as well as ensures the absolutely necessary and proper treatment of delegations and athletes,” Carney said.
Carney said he has no knowledge of whether the administration has engaged with talks in Russia over the anti-gay law and deferred those questions to the State Department. Last week, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Washington Blade during another news briefing she had no conversations to predict or read out between the United States and Russia on this issue.
The transcript between reporters and Carney follows:
ABC News: Jay, I want to ask you about the so-called homosexual “propaganda” law in Russia.Â Of course, the President was asked by Jay Leno about this, and he said, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”Â So my question is, does the President condemn this Russian law?
Jay Carney: The President absolutely opposes and has made clear in other countries laws that discriminate against individuals, whether for race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
ABC News: Jay, with due respect, I’m asking specifically this law.Â Does the President condemn this law?
Carney: Yes.Â Sure, yes.
ABC News: And are you concerned that American delegations going over to the Olympics could face prosecution under this law for so-called promoting homosexuality?
Carney: Â What I think the President made clear the other night is that it is in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success.Â And that’s certainly true of other host countries when they have the privilege of hosting an Olympics.Â And he would expect them to take the necessary measures to ensure their success.
ABC News: And has this issue been raised directly with the Russians, both in terms of condemning this law and for ensuring that American citizens traveling to the Olympics, including the athletes, won’t be detained?
Carney: You would have to direct that question to the State Department.Â I don’t know the answer to that.
ABC News: You don’t know if the administration has brought this issue up with the Russians?
Carney: I would ask you to address that question to the State Department.Â I don’t personally know whether those conversations have been held.Â It’s our clear position that we oppose laws like that in any country, and that includes Russia.
ABC News: And what do you say to those who say that there should be a boycott of the Olympics over this issue?
Carney: I would refer you to the President’s remarks, which clearly stated his views and our position, and our expectation that it’s in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success.
ABC News: This is a basic human rights issue.Â Itâs a pretty clear â
Carney: Yes, Jon, I think Iâve answered the question.Â The President answered it on television.Â The Olympics are not for a while.Â I think that our view is clear.Â And we certainly expect the host of any Olympics to ensure that they are a success, and that includes ensuring that delegations and athletes are all treated appropriately and with respect.
ABC News: And thereâs a movement to — for those who say it shouldnât be boycotted, but the position should be made clear that American athletes, athletes everywhere should wear symbols expressing displeasure and condemnation of this law, and that that’s something the American delegation should do.Â What does the White House say about that?
Carney: I havenât heard that. I can tell you what our views are, what the Presidentâs views are, which he himself expressed, and what our expectations are.
Sky News: May I just add another quick question? In 1980, President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics, brought 64 other nations along with him, including China and Japan, West Germany and Canada. What would be the tipping point for the President to go down this road? Is there any one thing that would â
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I think that thatâs a conversation weâre not having. The President was very clear about his views on the issues of gay rights, LGBT rights, and concerns that have been raised internationally about laws in Russia, and his expectation that, as host of the Olympics, Russia will conduct them in a way that shines a favorable light on them as well as ensures the absolutely necessary and proper treatment of delegations and athletes.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has yet to respond to the issue of National Guard units withholding benefits for same-sex spouses. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama expects immediate action after learning military families aren’t receiving death benefits during the government shutdown, which are given to the families of troops who fall in the line of duty.
“The president was very disturbed to learn of this problem, and he directed the Department of Defense to work with the Office of Management and Budget and his lawyers to develop a possible solution … and the president expects this to be fixed today,” Carney said.
Military death benefits weren’t included in the Pay Our Military Act, legislation passed by Congress that Obama signed into law on Sept. 30 to keep the armed forces in operation during the government shutdown. Following the briefing, the Pentagon announced a charity known as the Fisher House Foundation would step in to keep the payments flowing to families without need for congressional action.
Despite calls for federal action, the administration hasn’t similarly moved to ensure gay troops in same-sex marriages can apply for spousal benefits at National Guard installations throughout the country.
At least five states â Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina â have decided against enrolling the same-sex spouses of troops for spousal benefitsÂ into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, despite an August directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying those benefits should be available nationwide.
In South Carolina, the National Guard has decided against processing spousal benefits altogether and is directing all military spouses to apply for benefits at federal installations.
Advocates, most notably the American Military Partner Association, have said these actions are in violation of federal law andÂ called for federalÂ responseÂ to units denying troops these benefits. Some advocates say federalizing control of these units by President Obama could be a possible, although extreme, resolution to the problem.
But, thus far, there’s been nothing from the administration. On Sept. 19, Carney pledged to take a question from the Washington Blade on whether Obama thinks these units are violating federal policy, but no one at the White House has yet provided a response.
The Pentagon, which has said troops that were denied benefit applications can obtain them at federal installations, similarly won’t comment on the National Guard units.
Asked Monday if any kind of federal response was in the works, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christiansen, a Pentagon spokesperson, replied, “Nothing new.”
The White House “strongly objects” to “conscience” language aimed to make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues that was inserted to the House version of major defense budget legislation â while exercising a veto threat over the bill as a whole.
In a Statement of Administration Policy on Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget says the language would undermine a commander’s authority to maintain discipline in his unit.
“The administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member,” the statement says. “By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”
The language was added last week to the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill as an amendment during the committee markup by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)
Flemingâs measure puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an âactual harmâ to good order and discipline in refusing to accommodate them. It’s seen as way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.
The language expands on existing “conscience” provision that were signed into law last year by President Obama, who at the time called them “unnecessary” and gave assurances the Pentagon would implement it in a way that was consistent with good order.
The White House enumerates other concerns over the defense legislation, such as the restrictions on the administration to align the armed forces in a way consistent with Obama’s military strategy.
The statement also objects to the way the defense authorization bill “assumes adoption of the House Budget Resolution framework,” saying Obama’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if the legislation were sent to this desk under this framework. No such veto threat is explicitly made for the conscience provision in the bill.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the ACLU is “pleased” the administration has objections to the language and called on Congress to remove language as the legislative process goes further.
“We are pleased to see the administrationâs very strong objections to this unnecessary, dangerous provision,” Thompson said. “Members of Congress should heed the warnings about this provision having a ‘significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment’ by removing it before the defense bill is sent to President Obama later this year.”
Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the White House’s objections to the lawmaker’s amendment.
The House is expected to vote on its version of the defense authorization bill this week. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Democrats hold a majority, was set to consider its version of the legislation on Wednesday.
The White House said gay civil rights activist Bayard RustinÂ and lesbian Sally Ride would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Washington Blade photo of Rustin by Doug Hinckle; photo of Ride public domain).
The White House announced on Thursday that a gay black activist who helped advance civil rights in the 1940s would posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bayard Rustin, who promoted non-violent resistance and helped organize the 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge racial segregation, was among the 16 Â recipients that President Obama named on Thursday for the nation’s highest civilian honor.
âThe Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” Obama said. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”
Rustin sexual orientation was known because he was arrested in 1953 for homosexual acts, which were illegal at the time. He was spurned for being gay both by segregationists and black power militants. Later in his life, he became outspoken about gay rights. He publicly announced his views on gay rights in essays called, âThe New âNiggersâ Are Gays” and âThe Importance of Gay Rights Legislation.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Obama’s choice of Rustin for the distinction highlights his important work in the civil rights movement.
âWe are delighted that Bayard Rustin is receiving one of our nationâs most prestigious honors,â Carey said. âAs an openly gay man, he inspired millions through his leadership and courage at a time when being openly gay would likely lead to persecution, arrest, violence and even death. This award will help to inspire millions more people in the quest for freedom, justice and equality.â
Rustin is also known for his work in convincing President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an executive order barring racial discrimination among defense contractors â similar to the present day effort to push President Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, invoked Rustin’s legacy in his continued calls for the executive order â saying the directive should be named after the civil rights activist.
“Now, 72 summers after Rustin organized a national march to focus America’s attention on workplace discrimination, LGBT Americans and our straight allies are calling on President Barack Obama to immediately sign the federal contractor executive order giving LGBT Americans the freedom to work without discrimination,” Almeida said. “President Obama should sign it today in honor of Bayard Rustin. If it were up to me, we’d even name the Obama executive order after Bayard Rustin. It would be a fitting honor that would bring our nation’s civil rights history full circle.”
In addition to Rustin, the White House noted the late astronaut Sally Ride was also among the 16 award recipients. The White House had previously announced that she would be an award recipient in May. Ride had a longtime same-sex partner, a fact that wasn’t widely known until after her obituary was published.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was tight-lipped on the legislative strategy on Monday to pass ENDA (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his cards close to his vest Monday on legislative strategy for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act upon news the bill is expected to soon come up for a Senate vote.
In response to questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney wouldn’t say whether President Obama would undertake the same public advocacy on ENDA that he’s engaged in with other initiatives that he supports, like comprehensive immigration reform, but insisted Obama wants to see the Senate approve the legislation.
“I think you know the president’s position on this,” Carney said. “He strongly believes that legislation like this needs to be passed and he wants to sign it, so we are very pleased with the progress we’ve seen as this legislation has moved in Congress. There’s obviously a lot of work still to be done, but he absolutely hopes and expects the Senate to act and pass this legislation and will encourage continued movement through the Congress.”
A number of senators have yet to publicly a position on the bill, including, on the Democratic side, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Asked by the Blade whether Obama would reach out to undecided senators, including these Democrats, Carney again refrained from going into detail about Obama’s plans.
“Well, we want every senator to support it,” Carney said. “I’m not going to lay out our legislative strategy for you, but it is something the president believes strongly is in the interest of the country to see turned into law.”
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on the Senate floor that he’ll bring up ENDA before Thanksgiving. According to his office, a vote might happen as soon as next week. To pass the legislation, 60 votes are likely required to end a filibuster.
A transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Carney follows:
Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is announcing right now that he’s going to bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving. In the coming weeks, will we see the president make the same public advocacy on ENDA that he’s done on other initiatives that he supports like comprehensive immigration reform?
Jay Carney: Well, I think you know the president’s position on this. He strongly believes that legislation like this needs to be passed and he wants to sign it, so we are very pleased with the progress we’ve seen as this legislation has moved in Congress. There’s obviously a lot of work still to be done, but he absolutely hopes and expects the Senate to act and pass this legislation and will encourage continued movement through the Congress.
Washington Blade: There are a number of undecided senators on ENDA that on the Democratic side, as of this morning, included Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor and Joe Manchin. Will the president will reach out to these senators to make sure that they would support ENDA when it comes to the floor for a vote?
Carney: Well, we want every senator to support it. I’m not going to lay out our legislative strategy for you, but it is something the president believes strongly is in the interest of the country to see turned into law.
President Obama is facing renewed calls for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
The absence of federal LGBT workplace non-discrimination protections continues to rile advocates as the White House prepares to welcome members of the LGBT community for a Pride reception.
LGBT advocates told the Washington Blade days before the event they had a singular desire for what they want President Obama to say to attendees â that he’ll sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, recalled Obama’s words during the 2008 presidential campaign as he called on him to announce he’ll sign the executive order.
“Itâs been five long years since he made a promise to sign it and itâs long past time it gets done,” Sainz said. “This president has done virtually everything right on issues of LGBT equality. Heâs been a steadfast ally. Thatâs why itâs so frustrating to see time go by without his signature on an EO that would protect millions of LGBT workers nationwide.”
The executive order is considered a campaign promise based on a “yes” response that then-candidate Obama gave on a questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus indicating he supports a non-discrimination policy for all federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Pride reception comes as the LGBT workplace non-discrimination issue has gained prominence â even in mainstream media. Last week, Ellen Sturtz, a lesbian activist affiliated with GetEQUAL, made headlines when she confronted first lady Michelle Obama at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in D.C. and heckled her about the executive order.
Given the media interest in the confrontation last week, it’s possible advocates would pursue the same strategy â this time at an event where the president is slated to appear and one geared specifically for the LGBT community.
Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said her organization is planning “an action” for this week when asked whether her organization is doing something for the Pride reception. She declined to elaborate.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, offered few details via email when asked what Obama intends to say at the Pride reception.
“On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks at the LGBT Pride Month celebration at the White House,” Inouye said.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, took the liberty of crafting a speech for Obama.
“When I first campaigned for president, I promised âÂ in writingÂ â to take executive action preventing federal contractors like ExxonMobil from wasting taxpayer money by discriminating against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said he hoped Obama would say. “For five years youâve waited for me to do whatâs right â sometimes patientlyÂ and sometimes not. … Iâm sorry weâve moved too slowly on this promise, but the good news is I brought a pen with me today.”
As pressure mounts on Obama to sign the executive order, members of the LGBT community from across the country are slated to make an appearance at the Pride reception on Thursday.
In a statement on June 3, Daryl Justin Finizio, mayor of New London, Conn., announced on his Facebook page he was set to attend the reception along with his spouse, Todd Ledbetter.
“My partner and I are moved by this invitation and are very grateful to President Obama for doing so much to support equal rights for all Americans,” Finizio said. “Weâre proud to attend and represent our progressive city and its broad and diverse community of people from different nationalities, religions and genders.”
Also slated to attend the reception is the first gay couple legally married in Michigan, according to MLive.com. Gene Barfield and his spouse, Tim LaCroix, wereÂ married in March in the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians reservation after being together 30 years.Â Their marriage isn’t recognized by the state itself, which has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Barfield, who marched on the White House and returned his service medals from his time in the U.S. Navy in protest of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” reportedly said he was shocked to receive the invitation.
“We’re always going to be in shock about this,”Â Barfield said.Â âThe fact that there is going to be an LGBT celebration at the White House, times change, times change.”
According to Los Angeles Times, also planning to attend the reception isÂ Rev. R. Guy Erwin, who was recently elected the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s first openly gay bishop.Â Bishop-elect Erwin was elected last month to a six-year term in the church’s Southwest California Synod, which includes the greater Los Angeles area.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force said she wants the president to announce at the reception he’ll issue a directive to protect LGBT employees.
“We want to see him honor Pride month by ending the daily fear experienced by millions of Americans of losing their livelihoods because of who they are or who they love,” Carey said.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. government had no involvement in the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest asserted on Monday that the United States “was not involved” in the detention of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner in the United Kingdom â although he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that U.S. authorities obtained information as a result of the detention.
During a routine news conference on Monday, Earnest fielded questions from several reporters about the detention of David Miranda, 28, whom British authorities detained under an anti-terrorism lawÂ for nine hours in London on SundayÂ in addition to reportedly confiscating his laptop computer, cell phone, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
Miranda is the partner of Greenwald, who increased his notoriety as journalist after writing about the classified National Security Agency information leaked to him by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
In response to initial questioning from Reuters, Earnest asserted the U.S. government had no involvement in the British government’s decision to detain Miranda and directed additional questions to British law enforcement.
“The United States was not involved in that decision or in that action,” Earnest said. “So if you have questions about it, then I would refer you to the British government.”
Under later questioning on whether this detention was concerning to the White House, Earnest said he doesn’t have a specific reaction other than to say the U.S. government wasn’t involved.
However, as questioning continued from CNN’s Jessica Yellin, Earnest said the British government did give the United States a “heads-up” the detention would take place. Earnest also wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the U.S. government obtained information from the material that was confiscated as a result of this detention.
“Iâm not in a position to do that right now, no,” Earnest said.
Asked by NBC News’ Chuck Todd whether the United States objected to the detention upon the heads up given by the British government, Earnest dodged.
“Iâm not going to characterize the conversations between law enforcement officials in this country and law enforcement officials there other than to say that those conversations occurred and to point out the fact that this is a decision that they made on their own,” Earnest said.
Earnest also said he understands concerns among journalists about maintaining an independent media in the wake of leaks of security information and media reports the Justice Department has gathered personal information of reporters, but reiterated President Obama’s belief that media has a right to do its job.
“The President, I think, in the course of the debate, has made pretty clear his support for independent journalists, the important role that independent journalists have to play in a vibrant, democratic society like ours,” Earnest said. “Heâs also talked about the responsibility of the government to protect the right of independent journalists to do their job.”
A partial transcript follows of questions that reporters asked Earnest about the detention of Greenwald’s partner:
REUTERS: British authorities detained David Miranda, who, as you know, is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who wrote about the secrets that Edward Snowden revealed.Â Human rights groups have called this detention — which was for nine hours — harassment.Â The Brazilian government has said there was no justification for it.Â Was the United States government at all involved in this?Â And what is the justification for it, if so?
JOSH EARNEST: Well, Mark, what you’re referring to is a law enforcement action that was taken by the British government.Â The United States was not involved in that decision or in that action. So if you have questions about it, then I would refer you to the British government.
REUTERS: Does the U.S. feel that Miranda could have revealed information that’s useful in terms of finding Edward Snowden or pursuing its case against Snowden in any way?
EARNEST: Like I said, I’m not aware of any of the conversations that Mr. Miranda may have had with British law enforcement officials while he was detained.Â But that detention was a decision that was made by the British government and is something that if you have questions about you should ask them.
YAHOO! NEWS: Josh, youâve talked about the Mubarak detention as being a Egyptian legal matter.Â Youâve talked about Morsiâs politically motivated detention. And then with regard to Mr. Greenwaldâs partner, you called it a âmere law enforcement action.â Given that the White House has never been shy about criticizing detention policies overseas, do you have any concerns at all about the U.K.âs law enforcement actions in this case?
EARNEST: Â Well, what I can say is I don’t have a specific reaction other than to observe to you that this is a decision that was made by the British government and not one that was made at the request or with the involvement of the United States government.
YAHOO! NEWS: But you’re not going to go as far as to say itâs wrong or itâs cause for concern?Â You’re just separating yourself entirely from it?
EARNEST: Well, Iâm separating — what Iâm suggesting is that this is a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement and not at the request of the United States government.Â I think itâs simple as that.
Q: Just to follow then, does the U.S. government expect to be briefed on those — the questioning that took place in London, or the information that was taken away from Mr. Greenwaldâs partner?
EARNEST: Â To be honest with you, Steve, I don’t have a way to characterize for you any of the conversations between the British government and the U.S. government on this matter other than to say that this is a decision that they made on their own and not at the request of the United States.
But in terms of the kinds of classified, confidential conversations that are ongoing between the U.S. and our allies in Britain, Iâm not able to characterize that for you.
Q: But there are consultations on this matter taking place?
EARNEST:Â Iâm telling you Iâm not able to provide any insight into those conversations at all.
CNN: Â Can you state with authority that the U.S. government has not obtained material from the laptop the British authorities confiscated from Glenn Greenwaldâs partner or from any of his personal devices they also confiscated?
EARNEST: Iâm just not in a position to talk to you about the conversations between British law enforcement officials and American law enforcement officials.
CNN: So you canât rule out that the U.S. has obtained this material?
EARNEST:Â Iâm not in a position to do that right now, no.
CNN: You also didnât condemn — the White House didnât condemn the detention.Â Is the President pleased that he was condemned — Iâm sorry, is the President pleased that he was detained?
EARNEST: Well, again, this is a law enforcement action that was taken by the British government, and this is something that that they did independent of our direction, as you would expect — that the British government is going to make law enforcement decisions that they determine are in the best interest of their country.
CNN: Was the White House consulted or given a heads-up in advance?
EARNEST: There was a heads-up that was provided by the British government.Â So, again, this is something that we had an indication was likely to occur, but itâs not something that we requested, and itâs something that was done specifically by the British law enforcement officials there.
CNN: Is it at all concerning to the President, this sort of a nine-hour detention?
EARNEST: Â Well, again, this is an independent British law enforcement decision that was made.Â I know the suggestion has been raised by some that this is an effort to intimidate journalists.Â And with all of you, weâve been undergoing a pretty rigorous debate on a range of issues related to an independent media â an independent journalist covering the application of national security rules, questions about national security leaks and other classified or confidential information and policy.
The President, I think, in the course of the debate, has made pretty clear his support for independent journalists, the important role that independent journalists have to play in a vibrant, democratic society like ours.Â Heâs also talked about the responsibility of the government to protect the right of independent journalists to do their job.
So thatâs something that the President feels strongly about and has spoken candidly about in the past.Â But, again, if you have specific questions about this law enforcement decision that was made by the British government, you should direct your questions to my friends over there.
NBC NEWS: Why was the United States given a heads-up by the British government on this detention?
EARNEST: Again, that heads-up was provided by the British government, so you can direct that question to them.
NBC NEWS: Right.Â But was this heads-up given before he was detained or before it went public that he was detained?Â
EARNEST:Â Probably wouldnât be a heads-up if they would have told us about it after they detained him.
NBC NEWS: So itâs fair to say they told you they were going to do this when they saw that he was on a manifest?
EARNEST: Â I think that is an accurate interpretation of what a heads-up is.
NBC NEWS: Is this gentleman on some sort of watch list for the United States?Â Can you look that up?
EARNEST: Youâd have to check with the TSA because they maintain the watch list.Â And I don’t know if theyâd tell you or not, but you can ask them.
NBC NEWS: If heâs on a watch list for the U.K., would it be safe to assume then that heâs been put on a watch list in the United States?
EARNEST:Â The level of coordination between counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the U.K. and counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the United States is very good.Â But in terms of who is on different watch lists and how our actions and their actions are coordinated is not something Iâm in a position to talk about from here.
NBC NEWS: Did the United States government — when given the heads-up, did the United States government express any hesitancy about the U.K. doing it — about the U.K. government doing this?Â
EARNEST:Â Well, again, this is the British government making a decision based on British law, on British soil, about a British law enforcement action.
NBC NEWS: Did the United States, when given the heads-up, just said okay?
EARNEST: They gave us a heads-up, and this is something that they did not do at our direction and itâs not something that we were involved with.Â This is a decision that they made on their own.
NBC NEWS: Did the United States discourage the action?Â
EARNEST:Â Iâm not going to characterize the conversations between law enforcement officials in this country and law enforcement officials there other than to say that those conversations occurred and to point out the fact that this is a decision that they made on their own.
NBC NEWS: But if the — is it fair to say if the United States had discouraged it, youâd tell us?Â
EARNEST:Â No, because I think itâs fair for you to determine that those kinds of law enforcement conversations are not ones that weâre going to talk about in public.
Q: Just quickly on the British detainment.Â When was the U.S. given a heads-up?Â How much — how far in advance?
EARNEST: I actually don’t have that information.Â I’m not sure how much of a heads-up they got.Â But in advance of his detention, American officials were informed.
Q: Â Do you know what American officials were informed?Â Or which department — was it the White House?