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Calif. man could become first openly gay dad in Congress 



The mayor of Palm Springs is making a bid to become the first openly gay member of Congress who’s married with children.

Steve Pougnet, 46, a Democrat, is seeking to oust Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack next year to represent California’s 45th district in the U.S. House. A win for Pougnet would make him the fourth sitting openly gay member of Congress.

Pougnet, who’s currently mayor of Palm Springs and a former city council member for the city, said in an interview with DC Agenda that he’s running for a House seat because he’s always had a “huge passion” for public service.

“I’ve always had the ability to lead, to bring people together,” he said. “And I think that’s why I moved pretty quickly in my young political career, because I’ve always had the ability to bring people together and to lead.”

Pougnet said he’ll need about $2.5 million to win and “a lot of hard, hard work” that relies heavily on grassroots outreach. He has secured an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and applied for support from the Human Rights Campaign.

He currently has no Democratic challenger for his primary in June, and would face Bono Mack in November 2010.

No stranger to helping the state’s LGBT community, Pougnet was involved last year in the fight against Proposition 8, which ended marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Golden State. He helped Equality California raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve same-sex marriage and married 118 same-sex couples — more than any mayor in California.

“So, I have stood up for the issue of marriage equality,” he said. “I’m the mayor who married more couples than any other mayor in the state of California. One hundred eighteen — on our own time — we don’t get paid to do that because it was the right thing to do.”

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said Pougnet was “a great leader” in the fight to protect same-sex marriage.

“Steve chaired our Equality California’s Equality Awards in Palm Springs last year, and helped raised several hundred thousand dollars with us in the fight against Prop 8 at that dinner,” Kors said. “And he’s been involved in the cause for as long as I’ve known him.”

Kors said Equality California hasn’t traditionally endorsed candidates in federal elections, but that policy may change next year, and it would be difficult for his organization’s political action committee to support someone other than Pougnet.

“I think his victory would demonstrate that an openly gay candidate can win in a district that still is on the conservative side,” Kors said.

Pougnet was among the couples married last year in California. He wed his partner of 18 years, Christopher Green, who’s worked for more than 20 years in sales and marketing at Amgen, a biotech company. They have 3-year-old twins, Julia and Beckham.

During the course of his political career — as well as his current bid for Congress — Pougnet said his sexual orientation hasn’t been a major issue.

“Every once in a while you get a piece of hate mail, especially over Proposition 8, because I was very public,” he said. “Honestly, I think when you serve the people and all the people, and you’re working on the issues that are important to many different segments of the community, people respond to that.”

One of Pougnet’s priorities if he’s elected to Congress is improving the economic conditions for his constituents. He noted that his district has an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent and home foreclosures per capita are among the highest in the country.

But Pougnet also said he’s committed to advancing LGBT issues, should he be elected to Congress. He pledged to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a bill that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency, as well as backing repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Those issues are no-brainers for me,” he said. “For me, the issues are something I wholeheartedly believe in and don’t have a problem supporting.”

Asked whether Congress and President Obama have moved quickly enough on LGBT issues, Pougnet said the administration has been dealing with a host of problems left over from the Bush years, but that lawmakers could have acted more quickly on overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I do think that one issue that could have been done quickly is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ because when you have an issue like that where when you start looking at the polls, the majority are firmly in favor of repeal,” he said.

Pougnet said he wants Obama to issue a stop-loss order to prevent the discharge of more LGBT service members until Congress can accomplish repeal.

“There certainly might be some initial, ‘My God, what’s he done to the military?’ type of thing, which is ridiculous, but that moves away very quickly,” he said. “And I think this issue we’re talking about is protecting American soldiers, men and women. That repeal would end up saving lives.”

Gay conservatives back Bono Mack

Even though he enjoys support from many LGBT groups, Pougnet is running against an incumbent lawmaker that some describe as a pro-gay Republican.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of gay conservative group GOProud said his organization is among those supporting Bono Mack.

“She’s been a strong advocate for gay and lesbian Americans in Congress and she’s exactly who we need in that seat,” he said.

Bono Mack has often taken pro-LGBT stances throughout her tenure in the House. She voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, voted twice in favor of hates crimes protections legislation, and in 2007 voted in support of ENDA.

Ryan Watkins, campaign manager for Bono Mack, said her record shows her commitment to fairness.

“Congresswoman Bono Mack’s entire career has demonstrated her belief that individuals should be judged on their own merit,” he said.

“Tolerance and diversity are fundamental values that she embraces.”

LaSalvia criticized Pougnet for not taking a position on the estate tax, which LaSalvia said is discriminatory because it means inheritance from an LGBT person to their same-sex partner could be taxed, unlike the inheritance between straight married couples.

“He needs to realize that this is a congressional campaign and not a beauty pageant,” LaSalvia said. “If he doesn’t want to take positions on issues, he should run for Date Festival princess instead of Congress.”

Jordan Marks, campaign manager for Pougnet, said in an e-mail that Pougnet is focused on plans to create jobs in his district and is not responding to such criticism from Washington groups.

“The reality is residents of the district are facing a very difficult economy and that is what this campaign will be about. Bono Mack should disavow cynical attacks like this. This all just shows we need new leadership in Washington,” Marks said.

Even with her votes in favor of the LGBT priorities, Pougnet criticized Bono Mack for not taking a stand last year on Prop 8 as well as not stating her position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“For her, she kind of wavers, waffles,” Pougnet said. “She didn’t want to upset one half and not the other half. My issue with that is come clean.”

Watkins said Bono Mack hasn’t taken a position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because she feels “military personnel decisions should be made by the leaders of our Armed Forces, not Congress.”

“If military commanders believe a change is warranted, she will revisit the issue,” he said.

As for Prop 8, Watkins said Bono Mack didn’t declare her position because it was a state issue and more properly left to the voters to decide.

But Pougnet said Bono Mack has taken a position on a state issue that will have significant impact on the people of California by endorsing Republican candidate Meg Whitman — an opponent of same-sex marriage — in next year’s gubernatorial election.

“She’s now very involved in the biggest state issue that we have, which is the next governor of the state of California, because Sacramento is such a mess,” Pougnet said. “She’s endorsed Meg Whitman, who is not a marriage equality person. Not at all.”

In uphill battle, Pougnet trails in campaign funds

Pougnet faces a significant challenge in his bid for Congress. A Republican has held the seat for California’s 45th congressional district since at least 1982, and Bono Mack won the seat last year by taking more than 60 percent of the vote.

Still, Pougnet has filled his coffers with significant funds. According to the most recent information on the Federal Elections Committee web site, he’s thus far secured $443,330 for his campaign. It’s short of Bono Mack, who’s raised $664,775, but his supporters say it’s enough for him to mount a serious challenge.

Andy Stone, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Pougnet has a good shot at winning because the demographics in the district are changing and the area has had particular growth in non-white residents.

“If you look specifically at the voter registration numbers, the margin of difference between registered Republicans and registered Democrats has declined by more than half from just a couple years ago to today,” he said.

Stone also said Pougnet is a strong candidate because of his background as a public official.



Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business



Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’



VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’



Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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