Politics – Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights http://www.washingtonblade.com America's Leading LGBT News Source Thu, 20 Sep 2018 12:48:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 LGBT candidates could produce rainbow wave in November http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/19/lgbt-candidates-could-make-blue-wave-turn-rainbow-in-election-2018/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/19/lgbt-candidates-could-make-blue-wave-turn-rainbow-in-election-2018/#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 18:57:50 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=48158903 Record number of out politicians seeking office

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LGBT candidates, gay news, Washington Blade

Jared Polis, Kyrsten Sinema, Nelson Araujo and Tammy Baldwin are LGBT candidates running in November. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

With the 2018 congressional mid-terms fast approaching, a record number of LGBT candidates are seeking election to all levels of government ranging from federal office to state attorney general, many under a banner of challenging President Trump.

Amid expectations of a “blue” wave of Democratic wins in November, political observers say wins for these LGBT candidates constitute a “rainbow” wave and break pink ceilings in races where no LGBT candidate has won before.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorses LGBT candidates, has backed 218 candidates so far in the 2018 cycle. That’s up from the 160 candidates the Victory Fund endorsed in 2016 and the 162 it endorsed in the 2014 cycle.

Annise Parker, a lesbian former mayor of Houston and CEO of the Victory Fund, said in an interview with the Washington Blade her organization endorsed slightly half of “an unprecedented number” of more than 430 openly LGBT candidates running this cycle.

“It’s part of a larger surge of candidates who are women candidates, who are people of color, candidates who are from immigrant communities — all of whom feel they are under attack and want to have a place in the political process to push back on some of the rollbacks on civil rights,” Parker said.

Among the candidates Victory Fund has endorsed this cycle are 13 candidates running for federal office, including two running in U.S. Senate races, four candidates running for governor, as well as candidates seeking state legislative seats and statewide office.

Another factor in having a record number of openly LGBT candidates running for office, Parker said, is the success enjoyed by previous LGBT candidates who sought office and won elections.

“Success breeds more candidates who want to obtain that same success,” Parker added.

In the aftermath of the 2018 primary season, the Democratic National Committee is claiming an even broader number of at least 126 LGBT candidates this cycle as a result of these hopefuls winning the Democratic nomination in their states.

The portion of non-incumbents in this list is high. Of the 19 openly LGBT people nominated by Democrats for federal office, 14 are non-incumbents. Of the 13 openly LGBT people nominated by Democrats for statewide office, nine are incumbents.

Democrats also nominated at least 101 openly LGBT non-incumbents for state legislative seats across 32 different states and U.S. territories, according to the DNC.

Lucas Acosta, director of LGBTQ media for the DNC, said the party is proud of the number of LGBT candidates running under the Democratic banner this election cycle.

“In 2018, LGBTQ Democrats are stepping up to the plate, making history, and breaking records,” Acosta said. “Our community deserves a seat at every table and a voice in every legislature. Too often, decisions about us are made without us. That’s why the DNC is excited to support LGBTQ candidates up and down the ballot across the country.”

Many of these LGBT candidates would achieve significant milestones by winning elections no LGBT person has won before:

• Two candidates — Jared Polis and Lupe Valdez — could be the first openly gay people to win elections as governor. Polis is running in Colorado and Valdez is running in Texas.
• Another candidate, Christine Hallquist, is running in Vermont and could be the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve as governor.
• In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is seeking re-election after being appointed to office and winning election to one term. Brown, who was the first openly LGBT and first out bisexual to win election as governor, would be the first openly bisexual person to win re-election as governor.
• In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema could be the first openly bisexual person elected to a seat in the U.S. Senate. Also running for re-election to the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin is Tammy Baldwin, an LGBT favorite and the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress.
• Two candidates — Ricardo Lara and Nelson Araujo — could the first openly gay people of color to win election to statewide office. Lara is running in California to become insurance commissioner and Araujo is running in Nevada to become secretary of state.
• The 14 non-incumbent openly LGBT Democratic nominees running for federal office could significantly shake up LGBT representation in Congress if they each won. Those wins would more than triple the current number of eight lesbian, gay and bisexual lawmakers serving in the House and Senate.

In the aftermath of primary season, Democrats have nominated for governor one candidate for each letter of the LGBT acronym. Valdez represents the lesbian community in Texas, Polis represents the gay community in Colorado, Brown represents the bisexual community in Oregon and Hallquist represents the transgender community in Vermont.

Parker said LGBT candidates are “achieving milestones just by sheer number of people running,” but particularly in those gubernatorial races.

“With four candidates interestingly representing every aspect of the alphabet — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Parker said. “We’ve broken a milestone just by them becoming nominees whether or not they win in November.”

Parker said the LGBT women candidates are poised to make great strides in the upcoming election as female candidates generally have won over male contenders in the 2018 primary season. Among them are Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian Air Force veteran running for Congress in Texas, and Angie Craig, who’s running for election to Congress in Minnesota after losing by one point in 2016.

“Whether lesbian or bisexual or straight, women candidates are outperforming male candidates in most races,” Parker added.

In contrast to the wide array of LGBT candidates the Democrats have nominated for office, the Republican Party’s embrace of LGBT candidates is much smaller. There has always been a significant disparity in the number of LGBT candidates nominated by the parties, but Republicans have in years past usually at least fielded one openly LGBT candidate, such as perennial Massachusetts congressional candidate Richard Tisei.

The Victory Fund — which as a bipartisan organization has traditionally endorsed Republican LGBT candidates as long as they support LGBT rights — has thrown its support behind five GOP contenders this cycle, four of whom will be on the ballot in November

But Parker said the number and nature of LGBT candidates running on the Republican ticket has declined from previous years.

“There was a slow rise of Republican congressional nominees,” Parker said. “For example, in 2012, there was one, in 2014, there were two, in 2016, there were three. Unsuccessful, but they were running. This year there were none.”

Parker attributed the lack of LGBT candidates running under the Republican banner to the anti-LGBT policies of the GOP and Trump administration.

“It’s not there aren’t LGBT Republicans,” Parker said. “I think the Republican Party is making it harder and harder for mainstream, fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidates to get elected and there are candidates either choosing to stay closeted or switch parties or not run.”

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said LGBT candidate recruitment “has never been the mission of Log Cabin Republicans,” but disputed the notion LGBT Republican candidates are in decline.

“There were a number of gay Republicans running for federal office this year, all of whom Log Cabin Republicans was tracking; unfortunately none emerged victorious in their primaries,” Angelo said.

Significant attention is also being placed on transgender candidates, who previously had infinitesimal representation in public office. That changed in 2017 after Virginia State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) became the first openly transgender person elected and seated to a state legislature and other transgender candidates won in local races.

The Victory Fund has endorsed 11 transgender candidates this cycle, eight of whom will be on the ballot in November. The most high profile is Hallquist’s quest for the governorship in Vermont.

Parker credited Hallquist for being nominated in “the highest level race” for a transgender candidate and being “a well-qualified candidate, very comfortable with the issues in Vermont and well known in the state.”

“The fact that voters in Vermont got behind an openly trans candidate in a big way and carried her to a primary victory and positioned her to be the Democratic nominee as governor is…a new milestone for the community,” Parker said.

Drawing a distinction between transgender candidates and the decline in LGBT Republicans candidates, Parker said “there are more out trans elected officials than out Republican LGBT elected officials.”

But being nominated for public office is one thing and winning the election is another. Many of these LGBT candidates face daunting odds in winning election in November and may have to rely on the boost from the expected “blue” wave to achieve victory. Among them is Hallquist, who’s running against a popular GOP incumbent in Vermont.

In Texas, a Quinnipiac poll found Valdez is significantly behind Gov. Texas Greg Abbott, who as part of a significant anti-LGBT record made an unsuccessful attempt at passing anti-trans bathroom legislation a priority. Abbott leads Valdez 58–39 percent among likely voters.

But in Arizona, a new CNN poll this week shows Sinema leading Republican opponent Martha McSally by seven points, 50-43.

Parker cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the need for these candidates to win election to make an impact.

“Don’t discount the fact that they run and whether or not they win or lose,” Parker said. “If they run good races and address issues important to their constituents, they are plowing the ground for the next wave of candidates, and the next and the next.”

Still, Parker acknowledged wins for these candidates would be significant, especially if they’re part of a “blue” wave that wins a majority in the U.S. House, or even the U.S. Senate, in November.

“Many of them are in marginal seats, ‘red’ to ‘blue’ seats,” Parker said. “If they win their seats, they’re going to be part of the Democratic wave that looks poised to sweep into Washington and if there’s a change in leadership in the House of Representatives, it creates a whole new ball game.”

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Biden urged to run in 2020 at Human Rights Campaign dinner http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/17/biden-urged-to-run-in-2020-at-human-rights-campaign-dinner/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/17/biden-urged-to-run-in-2020-at-human-rights-campaign-dinner/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 19:09:03 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47999437 Former VP addresses annual LGBT confab

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Joseph Biden was urged to run in 2020 at the Human Rights Campaign dinner. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Attendees at the annual Human Rights Campaign national dinner Saturday night urged Joseph Biden to challenge President Trump in 2020 amid speculation the former vice president is mulling a run for the White House.

As Biden approached the podium at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, he was greeted with calls of “Run, Joe, Run!” and “2020!” In response, Biden didn’t convey any thoughts about the upcoming presidential election, but thanked the audience and proceeded with his remarks.

During his speech to the estimated 3,500 attendees at the dinner, Biden expressed regret over not speaking out sooner against President Trump after leaving the White House at the end of the Obama administration.

“Barack and I agreed we would be quiet for the first year to let the new administration get up and running,” Biden said.

Making the sign of the cross over chest, Biden added, “God forgive me.”

After the white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Va., Biden said he felt compelled to brake his vow of silence because he “could not remain silent.”

“This is about basic decency,” Biden said. “The idea that goons could come out of fields at night with lighted torches, carrying Nazi flags, chanting the same, exact anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in the streets of Nuremberg and Berlin and every other German city in the 30s.”

After tamping down boos from the audience, Biden laid into Trump for his responding there were “good people” on both sides.

“We are in fight for a America’s soul and we have leaders…who at the time when that occurred, when these guys were accompanied by white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan and those who objected, making a comparison, saying, ‘There are good people in both groups,'” Biden said. “What has become of us? Our children are listening and our silence is complicity.”

Accompanying Biden on stage was his spouse, former second lady Jill Biden, who was also critical of Trump. In a veiled criticism of the current president, Jill Biden said, “I hate bullies.”

“There is nothing that makes either of us more angry than a bully,” Jill Biden said.

Echoing his spouse later in the evening, Joseph Biden said, “The president uses the White House a a literal bully pulpit.”

Consistent with his other speeches to LGBT audiences, Biden commended the LGBT rights movement for its accomplishment and repeated his characterization of LGBT rights as the “civil rights issue of our day.”

Biden decried anti-transgender legislation in state legislatures and the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. On the international front, Biden spoke out against violence against LGBT people around the world in places like Chechnya, El Salvador, Malaysia and Tanzania as well as attempts to undermine LGBT rights in Romania.

“Any person of conscience regardless of their religious or partisan beliefs should be able to agree that discrimination and violence against any person in any form is simply intolerable, illegal, wrong,” Biden said.

Biden wasn’t the only 2020 prospect who spoke at the dinner. Also addressing attendees was former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group that seeks to elect Democratic candidates ahead of the 2020 Census.

Holder recalled the LGBT accomplishments of the Obama administration, including the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and assessing legal spousal benefits to same-sex couples after the 2013 ruling against the anti-gay law.

“And yet, our work is far from over,” Holder said. “The unfortunate fact is that in 2018, America’s long struggle to overcome injustice, to eliminate disparities and to eradicate violence continues. The age of bullies and bigots is not fully behind us and much of the progress that we made together now hangs in the balance.”

Holder said the gains made by gay and lesbian Americans aren’t yet “solidified” and those achievement aren’t yet extended to transgender people — something the Trump administration has made more complicated.

“There are still hearts to open, there are laws to change and the need for leaders to reflect or even seem to grasp our nation’s core values,” Holder said. “Instead of trying to build consensus toward our common goals, they try to build walls and stoke fear and anger among voters for short-term political advantage.”

Also speaking at the dinner was Virginia State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first openly transgender elected and seated to a state legislature, and Nelson Araujo, who’s running to become secretary of state in Nevada and could be the first openly gay person elected to statewide office in the United States.

The night also featured performances by transgender activist and artist Shea Diamond and Ocean’s Eight co-star Awkwafina. The recipient of the HRC National Equality Award was actress Anne Hathaway.

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LGBT groups call for halt to Kavanaugh vote amid attempted rape charges http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/16/lgbt-groups-seek-halt-to-kavanaugh-vote-amid-sexual-assault-charges/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/16/lgbt-groups-seek-halt-to-kavanaugh-vote-amid-sexual-assault-charges/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 03:26:05 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=48037861 Christine Blasey Ford comes forward as survivor of sexual assault

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LGBT are calling for a halt to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination amid sexual assault allegations. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With Christine Blasey Ford coming forward as the individual alleging sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, LGBT groups are joining the calls to pull the brake on his confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of a scheduled vote on his nomination this week.

Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer for the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, compared the allegations to the testimony of Anita Hill against now U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and said they “demand a thorough investigation.”

“We are pleased that a number of senators from both parties have recognized that the Senate has an obligation to the country to delay any further consideration of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court until such an investigation can take place,” McGowan said. “This should not be a partisan issue. At this moment, Republicans and Democrats – men and women alike – have an opportunity to do more than just talk about their commitment to taking issues of sexual assault seriously. Now is their opportunity to take concrete action to back up those words.”

After Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last week announced she had sent an anonymous accusation Kavanaugh as a teenage student at Georgetown Preparatory School attempted to sexually assault a woman, Ford came out as the alleged survivor of sexual assault in an interview published Sunday in the Washington Post.

Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in Northern California, said the assault took place in the summer in the early 1980s, when at a party Kavanaugh tried to pin her down and attempted to remove her clothes. When she tried to scream, Ford said Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.

Ford said Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend at the time, at that time jumped on top of them, causing all three of them to tumble and allowing her to break free. Ford said she initially locked herself in a bathroom, then fled the house.

Ford said she told no one about the incident until 2012, when she was in couples’ therapy with her husband.

According to the Post, Ford provided notes from the therapist at the time that don’t mention Kavanaugh by name, but says she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who became “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.”

Her husband, Russell Ford, corroborated to the Post his spouse told the allegations to a therapist, used Kavanaugh’s last name at the time and expressed concern might one day be nominated to the Supreme Court. That ended up coming to pass when President Trump nominated Kavanaugh this year for the seat occupied former U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The Post also reports Ford consulted Debra Katz, a D.C.-based lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. After Katz recommended to Ford she take a lie detector test, Ford undertook one in early August administered by a former FBI agent. According to the Post, the results concluded Ford was being truthful.

Kavanaugh, who had previously denied engaging in sexual assault when the charges were anonymous, repeated his denial in a statement responding to Ford coming out publicly with the allegations.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” Kavanaugh said. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Ford’s story prompted senators on both sides of the aisle to the call for a halt to the confirmation proceedings for Kavanaugh. After a week of raucous hearings earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to vote on his nomination Thursday.

Prior to the accusation from Ford, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was likely in the Republican-controlled Senate. Nonetheless, progressive and LGBT groups engaged in a concerted campaign to thwart his nomination over concerns he’d issue anti-LGBT rulings from the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, commended Ford for coming forward and said the Senate must put the brakes on the Kavanaugh nomination.

“Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process has been anything but transparent, and now with this grave charge of sexual assault, this process must be halted immediately,” Griffin said. “Moving forward with this confirmation process without conducting a thorough investigation would be deeply troubling and offensive to the American people, but more importantly to survivors of sex crimes across the country. It would communicate their trauma isn’t worthy of justice if a person sitting on the nation’s highest court can be confirmed without being investigated for alleged sexual violence.”

A week prior to the Kavanaugh committee vote, Feinstein said she delivered material on the allegations to the FBI so the agency can conduct an investigation into the allegations. Last week, the FBI reportedly said in wouldn’t conduct an criminal investigation into the matter and instead referred the issue the White House for review. It remains to be seen what action the FBI will now take in the aftermath of Ford going public with her allegations.

Rick Zbur, executive director for Equality California, went further in his statement and said the time has come for Trump to withdraw the Kavanaugh nomination.

“These charges are serious and disqualifying,” Zbur said. “They would be for any person in any circumstance, and are particularly so for someone nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court. Ms. Ford should never have had to come forward, but now that she has chosen to share her story, it is critical that law enforcement be given adequate time to thoroughly investigate Judge Kavanaugh’s conduct. The stakes are too high for his nomination to proceed, and the White House should withdraw it immediately.”

The White House had yet to respond to Ford coming forward with her allegations as of late Sunday evening.

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Kavanaugh’s answers leave LGBT legal experts unsatisfied http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/12/kavanaughs-answers-leave-lgbt-legal-experts-unsatisfied/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/12/kavanaughs-answers-leave-lgbt-legal-experts-unsatisfied/#respond Wed, 12 Sep 2018 21:22:15 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47700955 Trump nominee won't say if he supports Obergefell decision

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Brett Kavanaugh hearing responses left LGBT legal experts unsatisfied. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Brett Kavanaugh invoked during his confirmation hearings language against anti-gay discrimination, but his refusal to say whether he supports landmark Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay rights leaves LGBT legal experts unsatisfied.

During his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh was queried on gay rights before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — both of whom are potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. The senators asked the nominee about his views on marriage equality and discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the workplace.

In both exchanges, Kavanaugh invoked the Ginsburg rule — the idea that judicial nominees shouldn’t answer questions about Supreme Court decisions, or potential future cases, lest they be forced to recuse themselves if they are required to adjudicate the underlying issues on the court — but made statements against anti-gay discrimination.

When Harris queried Kavanaugh about whether the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was correctly decided, the nominee referenced five rulings on LGBT rights written by former Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose seat he’d occupy on the high court.

Kavanaugh referenced the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, decided narrowly in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who asserted a First Amendment right to refuse to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Supreme Court ruled for Phillips on the facts of the case on the basis of perceived anti-religion bias in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“In Masterpiece Cakeshop, and this is, I think, relevant to your question, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice [John] Roberts and Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice [Stephen] Breyer, the days of discriminating against gay and lesbian Americans as inferior in dignity and worth are over,” Kavanaugh said.

Asked by Harris if he agrees with that statement, Kavanaugh replied, “That is the precedent of the Supreme Court.”

When Harris followed up by asking Kavanaugh again if he agrees with Obergefell, Kavanaugh dodged.

“Each of the justices have declined as a matter of judicial independence, each of them, to answer in that line of questions,” Kavanaugh said.

Dale Carpenter, senior legal policy adviser for the pro-LGBT American Unity Fund, said observers can’t learn much about Kavanaugh on LGBT issues from his response.

“This is part of the tea-leaf reading of these hearings,” Carpenter said. “I don’t myself attach any special significance to statements of that kind, and the reason I don’t is that the way that something like that is phrased is entirely consistent with a view that you should not discriminate against gay people, but I’m not necessarily going to extend civil rights protections to gay people to forbid it.”

Carpenter said judicial nominees in confirmation hearings will “speak in cryptic ways.” As an example, Carpenter referenced U.S. Associate Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing in 2009, when she was up to become U.S. solicitor general. Kagan bluntly replied in a written questionnaire same-sex couples had no constitutional right to marry. Six years later, Kagan would go on to be part of the majority ruling in favor of marriage equality in the 2015 Obergefell decision.

“You can read it as a present tense statement to say that the court has not recognized a right to gay marriage, so that sort of strategic ambiguity is employed by nominees on both sides to try and pacify potential opposition,” Carpenter said.

Jillian Weiss, a transgender civil rights lawyer who represents LGBT employees, said Kavanaugh’s statement against anti-gay discrimination was “not significant.”

“It was a quote from Justice Kennedy, not his own opinion,” Weiss said. “My concern is he’s more pragmatist rather than principled. If he sticks to conservative judicial principles, he’ll focus on the meaning of the text today, as Justice Scalia did when he ruled sex discrimination includes same-sex harassment. We in the modern world understand ‘sex’ to include gender, and all that implies. Or will he revert conveniently to what a congressman thought in 1964?”

Booker’s question for Kavanaugh was on discrimination against gay people in the workplace. Citing the lack of explicit protections under federal law for LGBT workers, Booker said in many states a gay person could be married one day and summarily fired from work the next day for posting wedding photos.

In response to Booker’s question on whether that would be morally wrong, Kavanaugh declined to answer directly and made a vague reference to be willing to hire “all Americans” because of their talents and abilities.

“I’m a judge and therefore with the cases that I know you’re well aware of pending about the scope of the civil rights laws, the employment discrimination laws,” Kavanaugh said. “Of course, Congress could always make those clearer.”

Kavanugh was apparently referencing cases percolating through the federal judiciary on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workforce, applies to cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Petitions calling for resolution of that issue are pending before the Supreme Court.

Booker also asked Kavanaugh about his time as staff secretary in the Bush White House and whether he was involved with former President George W. Bush’s push for a Federal Marriage Amendment. The Trump administration has refused to make public Kavanaugh’s correspondence from the time he served as staff secretary to Bush.

In response, Kavanaugh without directly answering the question recalled the Federal Marriage Amendment in the Bush administration was “part of something he talked about,” a possible reference to the State of the Union addresses in which Bush called on Congress to pass the amendment.

Pressed further by Booker, Kavanaugh said, “As staff secretary, things related to that speech he gave would have crossed my desk.”

As Kavanaugh continued, Booker cut off the nominee and asked him if he expressed an opinion about the Federal Marriage Amendment. Kavanaugh said he didn’t recall and made a vague reference to individuals evolving on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“There’s been a sea change in attitudes in the United States of America, even since 2004, as you’re well aware,” Kavanaugh said.

Katherine Franke, a professor of law, gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University, said Kavanaugh was tight-lipped in responses to Booker’s questions, but revealed more than what he stated.

“The nominee adamantly refused to answer either question, on the grounds that the issue of protections for LGBT discrimination was being litigated in lower courts and Obergefell was the ‘law of the land,’” Franke said. “He also refused to disclose whether he expressed any views on same-sex marriage when he was part of policy debates on the issue when he served in the Bush White House. While his non-answers to these questions tell us very little about how we would rule on these issues if and when they might come before the Supreme Court, his body language and sharp tone in response to Sen. Booker’s questions told a different story.”

On the other side, Kavanaugh was queried by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of religious freedom, which has been code within conservative circles to mean anti-LGBT discrimination.

Questioned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the importance of religious liberty, Kavanaugh emphasized the importance of the ability for individuals to practice their faith in the “public square.”

“The Framers understood the importance of protecting conscience,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s akin to the free speech protection in many ways. No matter what God you worship, or if you worship no God at all, you are equally American…If you have religious beliefs, religious people, religious speech, you have just as much right to be in the public square and to participate in public programs as others do. You can’t be denied just because of religious status.”

Given the emphasis Kavanaugh placed on the exercise of religion in the “public square,” Franke said Kavanaugh’s remarks “could” have implications for upcoming cases similar to the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit in which plaintiffs assert a religious freedom right to discriminate against LGBT people.

“It’s such a broad generalization,” Franke said. “It’s hard to know exactly how he might rule, for instance, in a case like Masterpiece Cakeshop where you have a public business — whether that counts as the public square, I’m not sure — but you have a public business where the owner of that business wants to use religion as a reason not to comply with anti-discrimination. Certainly, one could interpret the quote you just gave me as saying he would protect Jack Phillips’ right as the owner of a public business to refuse service to somebody based on his beliefs, but it’s not entirely obvious based on that quote that’s what he would say.”

The committee vote on Kavanaugh was scheduled on Thursday. Republicans have said they intend to hold a floor vote to confirm Kavanaugh before Election Day.

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GOP lawmaker caught on tape: Orphanages better than gay adoption http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/12/gop-lawmaker-caught-on-tape-saying-orphanage-better-than-gay-adoption/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/12/gop-lawmaker-caught-on-tape-saying-orphanage-better-than-gay-adoption/#respond Wed, 12 Sep 2018 14:28:42 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47577834 ‘Gay households are not healthy environments for children’

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Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was caught on tape saying orphanages for kids is better than gay adoption. (Photo public domain)

In an exchange with high school students that was caught on tape, a Republican congressman from New Jersey was tongue-tied over the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children and suggested kids would be better off in orphanages than with LGBT families.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) made the remarks May 29 when addressing student constituents in the auditorium of Colts Neck High School. They asked the congressman about his opposition to adoption by same-sex couples, according to a source familiar with the recording. A source familiar with the tape, who delivered the recording on Monday exclusively to the Washington Blade, said it was obtained in recent days.


The recording begins with Hannah Valdes, a senior at Colts Neck High School, telling Smith she has a gay sister who has said in the future she wants to adopt a child with her partner. The student asks the New Jersey Republican whether “based on household studies” her sister would be “less of a legitimate parent” than someone in a different-sex relationship and why she shouldn’t adopt a child.

In an apparent reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling for marriage equality, Smith says “the issue, legally, is moot at this point especially with the Supreme Court decision” and tells the student her sister is “free to adopt.”

Although the Supreme Court settled the issue of marriage, attempts are still underway to deprive LGBT families of the right to adopt. An increasing number of states have passed laws allowing religious-affiliated, taxpayer-funded agencies to refuse placement to LGBT homes for religious reasons. In the U.S. House, Republicans incorporated as a component of appropriations an amendment from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) that would penalize states and localities for having policies prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in adoption.

But that wasn’t enough for Valdes, who pressed Smith on why he thinks her sister shouldn’t be able to adopt. Smith, apparently having difficulty finding words for his response, said he believes “there are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child” and “the waiting periods are extremely long.”

When another student asks what makes these “others” more suited to become parents than her fellow student’s sister, Smith starts to reply, “in my opinion a child needs every possibility of,” without finishing his sentence. That might have been a prelude to saying a child needs every chance of being raised by a mother and a father.

That’s when Smith praised orphanages. In that context, Smith suggested even being raised in an orphanage without parents would be better for a child than having LGBT parents.

“Somebody mentioned orphanages before,” Smith said. “I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids.”

One student is heard uttering an indignant response over the idea the congressman would rather have kids in orphanages than being raised by LGBT parents: “You’d rather have kids in an orphanage than with — ?”

Speaking to the Blade, Valdes said there’s more to the exchange with Smith on gay adoption than what’s heard on the tape. Earlier in the assembly, another student asked about one of Smith’s votes in 1999 in favor of an amendment that would have banned adoption by gay parents in D.C.

The student, Valdes said, asked Smith if he would still vote in support of banning gay adoption, and whether his views have changed since 1999. In response, Valdes said, Smith said his position hasn’t changed.

“Rep. Smith responded by saying that he does not approve of gay adoption because gay households are not healthy environments for children to grow up in,” Valdes said. “He then stated that ‘numerous household studies’ show that children that have heterosexual parents have better lives than children that have homosexual parents.”

It’s hard to know what “household studies” Smith was referencing. According to Cornell University, at least 75 studies have concluded children with same-sex parents fare no worse than other kids.

At that moment, Valdes said she thought of her gay sister and raised her hand for the question challenging his views on gay adoption, which was heard on the recording.

“After I asked my question and challenged him, an administrator cut in to change the topic,” Valdes said. “Rep. Smith started to discuss a recent project he was working on, but the auditorium was already filled with tension, and most of the audience was already talking about what Rep. Smith had just said. More students began to raise their hands, and the administration quickly realized that their students would likely be asking more questions regarding LGBT rights. Instead of taking further questions, the assembly was promptly ended and all of us were sent back to class.”

Valdes said Smith exhibited “prejudice and homophobic views” that “were offensive,” and the entire student body of Colts Neck High School was “in shock that someone had come to our school with these opinions.”

“We have an LGBT club at our school…which exemplifies just how accepting our school is,” Valdes said. “Prejudice in our hallways is not tolerated, so it was shocking to have an elected official — a congressman no less — stand in front of hundreds of students, openly shaming the LGBT community. I knew that there were multiple students in the auditorium who were a part of the LGBT community, and that they were simply too scared to say anything to this congressman. In a situation like this, I just simply could not stay silent.”

Despite the exchange, the school praised Smith for coming to speak with students. Brian Donahue, principal of Colts Neck High School, tweeted after the event thanking the lawmaker and saying, “Our students appreciate hearing first hand how our government functions.”

Donahue didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether Colts Neck High School was OK with Smith making comments against LGBT adoption at a student assembly.

Smith, a longtime member of Congress who has represented New Jersey’s 4th congressional district in the U.S. House since the start of the Reagan administration, has built a substantial anti-LGBT track record in Congress aside from his 1999 vote against gay adoption. In recent years, the Republican has repeatedly earned a score of “0” from the Human Rights Campaign on its biennial congressional scorecard.

Among his anti-LGBT actions include votes for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide. In the early years of the Obama administration, Smith voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protections legislation.

In recent years, Smith co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination, and voted for an amendment that would have barred the U.S. military from paying for transition-related health care for transgender service members, including gender reassignment surgery.

Smith’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade request for comment on the tape and either deny its accuracy or explain why orphanages are better for kids than LGBT homes. Also unanswered was an inquiry on whether Smith opposes the Aderholt measure pending before the House.

As the mid-term elections approach, Smith is facing a challenge from Democratic candidate Josh Welle, a businessperson and Navy veteran.

In a statement to Washington Blade, Welle drew on his experience as a veteran as he criticized Smith for suggesting orphanages are a better fit for children than gay parents.

“Chris Smith’s out-of-touch views might have flown in 1980 when he was elected, but his time has passed,” Welle said. “In 2018, in Central Jersey, it is unacceptable to imply a child would be better off in an orphanage than with a loving LGBTQ family. As a veteran, I fought on the front lines alongside men and women who gave their lives to protect and defend the civil liberties that our Constitution ensures for everyone, not just a few. Chris Smith takes us backwards on inclusion and basic human rights for all.”

Despite the expected “blue” wave in November, Welle faces an uphill challenge. Political observers have rated New Jersey’s 4th congressional district as a safe or solid Republican seat.

After the assembly, Valdes said other students thanked her for posing the question and called her brave, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“All students should feel safe and comfortable in their own school, and all people should feel safe and comfortable in their lives,” Valdes said. “Smith has done, and continues to do, the opposite of this.”

UPDATE: After the publication of the Blade article, the Smith re-election campaign issued a statement criticizing the reporting on the exchange caught on tape, saying the recording was edited to misrepresent him.

“Anybody can twist your words and make false representations when they splice up a tape,” Smith said. “It is despicable that someone thought they could score political points by distorting the truth and raising false questions about my record and the full range of topics at the assembly.”

The Smith campaign made public what it said was the full one-hour tape of the May 29 assembly at Colts Neck High School and a separate record of another exchange at the assembly in which he says orphanages aren’t the best option for children.

In the shorter recording, a student is heard asking, “So would you say that foster care and orphanages would be in the better interest of the child?”

Smith replies, “No. Lord, no. We have waiting periods for families to adopt children, often by years.”

The Blade stands by its initial reporting. The exchange reported by the Blade in which Smith suggests orphanages are better for children than adoption by LGBT parents is also heard in the one-hour tape. In the exchange the Smith campaign circulated, the question posed to him wasn’t about LGBT parents and Smith’s reference to “families” being better than orphanages is general and not necessarily inclusive of them. That exchange also is heard prior to the time Smith suggests orphanages are better than same-sex parents, which was the result of students seeking clarification of his initial response on families and left students with that impression.

In other words, the totality of the recording indicates Smith’s view is that different-sex family households are better for children than orphanages, but when it comes to LGBT families, orphanages are better.

Smith’s office and campaign never reached out for comment or clarification and hasn’t responded to Blade requests for clarification. The Blade was made aware of the statement and additional recording through other media sources.

In the longer, one-hour recording, Smith is also heard articulating positions against LGBT rights. In response to the previously reported question on Smith’s vote in 1999 against gay adoption in D.C., Smith talked about his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Smith said he has a “strongly held belief” and referenced former President Obama’s one-time opposition to same-sex marriage as well as Obama’s articulation of that view as a presidential candidate in 2008 at Saddleback Church.

“He said, ‘I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and God is in the mix,’” Smith said. “That was from Sen. Barack Obama. Now he’s changed. He now supports same-sex marriage. My belief is squarely where it used to be that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

As for adoption, Smith said it’s “all about the best interests of the child,” and although “there are people who feel the best interest of the child is for gay couples to adopt,” there are studies that take into account “all kinds of factors.”

Ultimately, Smith said he’d vote the same way against gay adoption as he did in 1999: “I would vote the same way, frankly, as I did then.”

Smith also criticized LGBT rights supporters for being unconcerned about Catholic adoption agencies that say they’d have to close if forced to place children with LGBT families.

“There’s little concern from the LGBT community, which I find disconcerting, and that is that a lot of the best organizations for adoption have been put out of business because of their refusal, like in D.C., to facilitate such adoptions,” Smith said. “Catholic charities, which is one of the greatest humanitarian organizations in the United States for the poor or disabled, and for adoptions, they have now been denied the ability to do any adoption in D.C., in Illinois, in Massachusetts and in some other states because they believe the best of interest of the child is not that of adoption.”

No government is actively seeking to close Catholic adoption agencies. They have threatened to shut their doors on their own in the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage because they feel they’ll be forced to place children with gay couples who marry.

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Gay candidate Chris Pappas prevails in N.H. congressional primary http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/11/gay-candidate-prevails-in-n-h-congressional-primary/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/11/gay-candidate-prevails-in-n-h-congressional-primary/#respond Wed, 12 Sep 2018 02:23:33 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47643819 N.H. executive takes Dem nomination to run for Carol Shea-Porter's seat

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Chris Pappas won the congressional primary in New Hampshire. (Photo courtesy Pappas)

Gay candidate Chris Pappas prevailed Tuesday night in New Hampshire’s congressional primary, setting himself up for a chance to become the first out member of Congress from the Granite State.

Pappas claimed a plurality of 42.4 percent of the vote in the bid for the Democratic nomination to represent New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district in Congress. The Associated Press declared Pappas the winner of the primary at 9:05 pm.

Pappas, who has served as a member of New Hampshire’s executive council since 2013, is running to replace Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), who had announced she won’t seek election for another term in Congress.

Among Pappas’ competitors in in the crowded 11-way primary was Levi Sanders, the son of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The senator is popular in New Hampshire and beat Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire 2016 presidential primary.

In a Q&A with the Washington Blade in May, Pappas made opposition to President Trump a key component of his campaign message, saying he’d work to confront him as a member of Congress.

“The America we know is more kind, tolerant, and more decent than the America that Donald Trump is seeking to create,” Pappas said. “We have to stand up loudly and clearly and make it known that we are going to fight for the values that make this country great. We are going to fight to stem the tide of corruption in our political system, fight for folks who work hard in life to make their American Dream a reality, and start putting the people of this country first.”

Among the LGBT organizations that had endorsed Pappas were the Equality PAC, the political action committee for LGBT House members, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund. The Human Rights Campaign had yet to endorse Pappas at the time of primary.

Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement her organization believes Pappas will faithfully represent the voters of New Hampshire upon his election to Congress in November.

“Democratic primary voters are demanding authentic, values-driven leaders who prioritize policies over politics – and they found that leader in Chris,” Pappas said. “He was born and raised in the district, is a fierce advocate for fairness and equality, and will fight tirelessly to push forward policies that advance those principles. We need change in Washington, and a November victory for Chris is critical to securing a pro-equality majority in the next U.S. Congress.”

The winner of the Republican nomination for the congressional race was Eddie Edwards, a Navy veteran who was formerly chief of police for the town of South Hampton and director of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission Enforcement Division. Edwards was endorsed by the Trump administration and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Political observers have rated the New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district as leaning towards Democrats. With the Democratic nomination in hand and the expectation of a “blue” wave in November, Pappas’ chances of claiming victory are good, but not guaranteed.

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Former US LGBTI envoy confirmed as next ambassador to Nepal http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/former-us-lgbti-envoy-confirmed-as-next-ambassador-to-nepal/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/former-us-lgbti-envoy-confirmed-as-next-ambassador-to-nepal/#respond Sat, 08 Sep 2018 00:00:42 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47432135 Randy Berry's nomination approved by voice vote on Thursday

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The U.S. Senate on Sept. 6, 2018, confirmed the nomination of Randy Berry to become the next U.S. ambassador to Nepal. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate on Thursday by a voice vote confirmed Randy Berry as the next U.S. ambassador to Nepal.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 named Berry, a career Foreign Service officer who is openly gay, as the first special U.S. envoy to promote LGBTI rights abroad.

Berry was the consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Amsterdam before Kerry named him to the position. Berry was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nepal from 2007-2009.

Berry was most recently a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

“Randy Berry is a career senior Foreign Service officer with 25 years of experience as a diplomat,” reads Berry’s biography on the State Department’s website.

Sunil Babu Pant is the founder of the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepalese LGBTI organization. He is also the first openly gay member of the Nepalese Parliament.

Pant told the Washington Blade in an email that Berry’s confirmation is “welcome news” because he “knows Nepal very well.”

“There are many important issues to look into as an ambassador but many have failed to pay any attention to LGBTI matters as many believe LGBTI matters are of less important,” said Pant. “I hope under Mr. Berry’s leadership, the U.S. mission in Nepal will give deserving attention to LGBTI causes including moral support, diplomatic support, political support.”

The U.S. Senate in April confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell’s nomination.

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83 House lawmakers urge VA to cover gender reassignment surgery http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/house-dems-urge-va-to-lift-ban-on-gender-reassignment-surgery/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/house-dems-urge-va-to-lift-ban-on-gender-reassignment-surgery/#respond Fri, 07 Sep 2018 18:35:05 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47416996 A group of House lawmakers is calling on the Department of Veterans to incorporate gender reassignment surgery as part of its coverage for U.S. veterans, calling denial of the procedure for transgender people “unconscionable.” In the Sept. 7 letter, the lawmakers respond to a request for comment on coverage for gender reassignment surgery. “Simply put, […]

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Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) is calling on the VA to cover gender reassignment surgery (Photo public domain)

A group of House lawmakers is calling on the Department of Veterans to incorporate gender reassignment surgery as part of its coverage for U.S. veterans, calling denial of the procedure for transgender people “unconscionable.”

In the Sept. 7 letter, the lawmakers respond to a request for comment on coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

“Simply put, the VA has an obligation to provide the necessary care that is prescribed to enrolled veterans by their health care practitioners,” the letter says. “It is unconscionable to deny veterans the same access to health care services that civilians receive in the private sector, and that is available to Medicare beneficiaries and federal workers, simply because of outdated and unscientific prejudice against their gender identity.”

The VA has request comment on gender reassignment surgery as a consequence of ongoing litigation against the department seeking coverage for the procedure. The case is currently pending before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Given the anti-LGBT policies of the Trump administration, including the attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military, it’s hard to see how the solicitation for comment could result in a proposed rule change. In fact, the administration could use comments against coverage as justification for current policy.

Brownley, top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, said in a statement the estimated 160,000 transgender veterans in the United States are deserving of coverage and “have put their lives on the line in order to protect our constitutionally protected freedoms.”

“It is simply unacceptable that we would ask our veterans to risk their lives to protect our rights but we would refuse to defend theirs in return,” Brownley said. “The VA must put an end to this discriminatory and outdated ban on treatments for gender dysphoria and ensure that all our nation’s veterans have access to the healthcare they have earned.”

The lawmakers’ letter to the VA has a blemish of bipartisanship. Among the 83 House members who signed the missive was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has a transgender son and is slated to retire from Congress at the end of this year.

Charlotte Clymer, a transgender veteran and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the exclusion of gender reassignment surgery from VA coverage is harmful.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ exclusion of many forms of transition-related health care flies in the face of every major medical authority and undermines the health and wellbeing of transgender patriots who have laid their lives on the line for this country and their families,” Clymer said.

Indeed, the letter says studies have shown transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, can reduce the rate of suicide among transgender people as well as mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

“This broad medical consensus on the treatment of gender dysphoria is based on decades of peer-reviewed studies and clinical observation — including studies of veterans — that demonstrate its efficacy and substantial health benefits,” the letter says.

The Department of Veterans Affairs during the Obama administration had floated the idea of covering gender reassignment surgery, but the planned was scrapped after the election of President Trump — but before his inauguration — under the pretext of concerns about cost.

A VA spokesperson said in response to the letter the department “appreciates the lawmakers’ views and will respond to them directly.”

“VA will consider the comments received and determine the appropriate response,” the spokesperson added. “Although there is no specific timeframe required for this type of consideration, VA will announce any action it takes in the Federal Register.”

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Kavanaugh shifts to Masterpiece when queried on gay marriage ruling http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/kavanaugh-shifts-to-masterpiece-when-queried-on-same-sex-marriage-ruling/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/07/kavanaugh-shifts-to-masterpiece-when-queried-on-same-sex-marriage-ruling/#respond Fri, 07 Sep 2018 05:11:33 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47385725 President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh shifted to the ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case — which came down in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple — when asked Thursday whether he supports the historic ruling for same-sex marriage nationwide. […]

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Brett Kavanaugh refused to say he supports the Obergefell decision. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh shifted to the ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case — which came down in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple — when asked Thursday whether he supports the historic ruling for same-sex marriage nationwide.

Under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kavanaugh refused to say whether he thinks the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was correctly decided.

Kavanaugh cited a practice of nominees to refuse to comment on personal views or precedent set by the high court. That’s consistent with his responses to questions on other decisions, including Roe v. Wade.

Instead, Kavanaugh referenced five cases on LGBT rights written by former Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose seat he’d occupy on the high court, counting among them the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision narrowly in favor of Jack Phillips.

As Kavanaugh proceeded to enumerate the rulings, Harris interrupted and said “if we could just talk about Obergefell, that would be great,” redirecting the nominee to address Obergefell. But Kavanaugh noted each of the decisions, the 1996 ruling in Romer v. Evans, the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2013 decision in Windsor v. United States, the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the 2017 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Kavanaugh said he wanted to read a statement from Masterpiece Cakeshop, but Harris insisted he address the Obergefell decision, calling it a “yes or no” question. Nonetheless, Kavanaugh pressed forward with the statement from the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

“In Masterpiece Cakeshop, and this is, I think, relevant to your question, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice [John] Roberts and Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice [Stephen] Breyer, the days of discriminating against gay and lesbian Americans as inferior in dignity and worth are over,” Kavanaugh said.

Asked by Harris if he agrees with that statement, Kavanaugh replied, “That is the precedent of the Supreme Court.”

When Harris followed up by asking Kavanaugh again if he agrees with Obergefell, Kavanaugh dodged.

“Each of the justices have declined as a matter of judicial independence, each of them, to answer in that line of questions,” Kavanaugh said.

Harris pointed out Kavanaugh once said the ruling in Brown v. Board was one of the greatest moments in the court’s history and asked the nominee whether he thinks the same about Obergefell, but the nominee refused to say.

“I’ve said, senator, consistent with what the nominees have done, that the vast swath of modern case law, as Justice Kagan, you can’t as a nominee in this seat, give a thumbs up or thumbs down,” Kavanaugh said.

Pressed again by Harris on whether Obergefell was a great moment, Kavanaugh again referred to Masterpiece.

“Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion saying the days of treating gay and lesbian Americans, or gay and lesbian couples, as second-class citizens or inferior in dignity or worth are over in the Supreme Court,” Kavanaugh said. “That’s a very important statement.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Kavanaugh in a statement for refusing to support the Obergefell decision.

“Brett Kavanaugh’s refusal to answer very basic, very direct questions about the Supreme Court’s historic ruling bringing marriage equality nationwide is alarming and completely unacceptable,” Griffin said. “The Obergefell decision is settled law. If this nominee cannot so much as affirm that or the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and our families, he should not and must not be granted a lifetime appointment to our nation’s highest court.”

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, on the other hand said Kavanaugh’s response was worthy of praise.

“A Supreme Court nominee who declares that ‘the days of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans are over’ is someone every LGBT American should celebrate — without exception,” Angelo said. “Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to make such an assertion during her hearings, and she was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3.”

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Woodward book: Trump surprised top staff with trans military ban http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/06/woodward-book-depicts-trump-surprising-top-staff-with-trans-military-ban/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/06/woodward-book-depicts-trump-surprising-top-staff-with-trans-military-ban/#respond Fri, 07 Sep 2018 01:31:25 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47375430 'They're getting clipped' — Book details anti-trans comments made by Trump, Bannon

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President Donald Trump ban trans military service. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The new book by journalist Bob Woodward depicting chaos in the White House asserts President Trump announced his transgender military ban before hearing from officials during a planned meeting as he privately made anti-trans remarks describing gender reassignment surgery as “getting clipped,” according to a report in the Washington Examiner.

When Trump announced in a tweet in July 2017 he’d ban transgender people from the U.S. military “in any capacity,” he said he’d consulted military experts on the issue. However, the book — “Fear: Trump in the White House” — reportedly says Trump made the announcement before a planned meeting with top officials on options for transgender service.

Trump delivered the tweets reportedly about an hour before he was set to meet then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and adviser Steve Bannon in the Oval Office to discuss those options, which were made by the National Security Council.

According to the report, the council had no clear consensus from on transgender service and Priebus warned an all-and-all out ban would trigger lawsuits. Therefore, the ban on transgender service members “in any capacity” was surprising.

“What’d you think of my tweet?” Trump reportedly asked Priebus later.

“I think it would’ve been better if we had a decision memo, looped [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis in,” Priebus replied.

Priebus’ reported prediction on lawsuits came to pass. LGBT legal groups sued Trump over the ban and successfully enjoined the military from carrying the policy. Four federal courts have ruled against the policy and two appellate courts have upheld those decisions, although the litigation continues to make its way through the judicial system.

Although Trump said he consulted experts on that day and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the daily briefing he gave a heads up to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the book reportedly says the Pentagon chief to the contrary was caught by surprise because he was vacation at the time on West Coast and was concerned about the impact of the tweet on transgender service members.

Sally Donnelly, an aide to Mattis at the time, called Bannon and said the defense secretary opposed the decision by Trump and would try to reverse it.

“Hey, we’ve got a problem with the boss,” she reportedly said. “We can’t stand by this transgender decision. This is just not right. They are American citizens.”

The book reportedly says Bannon responded to Mattis pleas with defiance and anti-trans comments.

“These guys are coming over to get full surgery. We’re supposed to pay for that?” Bannon told her. “You’ve got to take one for the team.”

Although Mattis reportedly expressed sympathy for transgender troops, that didn’t stop him from reaffirming the policy months later. After Trump directed Mattis to review transgender military service in a subsequent memo, the Pentagon chief issued recommendations earlier prohibiting transgender service with limited exceptions. That policy remains on hold thanks to court orders against the ban.

Although Trump reportedly didn’t consult with military advisers before the tweets, he was under pressure from the Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House, which reportedly threatened to vote against the budget if the administration didn’t cut back on military funding for gender reassignment surgery.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), an anti-LGBT lawmaker, had at the time introduced to the House floor an amendment banning the Pentagon from paying for transition-related care after making false claims about exorbitant costs of the procedure. Despite her efforts, the measure couldn’t pass the U.S. House even with a Republican majority.

Those false estimates reportedly somehow got to Trump, who made anti-trans remarks about service members getting clipped in response.

“What the fuck? They’re coming in here, they’re getting clipped,” Trump reportedly told Bannon, a reference to enlisting and undergoing surgery. “Not going to happen.”

According to the book, general counsels from the military services had met on the issue. Although they didn’t agree on a way forward, they prepared four options for Trump: Keep the Obama policy allowing transgender service; allow Mattis to come up with his own plan; issue a presidential order permitting transgender troops already in service to remain; or ban all transgender troops from service.

On the day of the tweets, Priebus presented the options to Trump via speakerphone and promised to flesh them out at the scheduled meeting later in the morning.

“I’ll be down at 10,” the president said, according to the book. “Why don’t you guys come and see me then? We’ll figure it out.”

Although Priebus reportedly believed the Trump administration “had found an orderly process on at least one controversial matter,” the former chief of staff shortly thereafter received the notification on his phone about Trump’s tweets and found the decision was made.

The White House has lambasted the Woodward book, which stirred coverage in the media as Trump scandals grow, as a work of fiction.

“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people. Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in revelations of the book speak volumes about the transgender ban, the people working for Trump and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“The details unveiled by this book confirm what we already knew about this president and those working for him,” Keisling said. “Not a single member of his staff was willing to defend the honor of thousands of transgender troops by standing up to the president’s dangerous whims and blatant prejudice. Instead, they rolled over and accepted a ban they knew was immoral, illegal and dangerous to our national security. As senators consider President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, they should ask themselves if Judge Kavanaugh will have any less deference and blind loyalty to the president who nominated him.”

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