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Great expectations as Congress returns from recess

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As lawmakers hash out the 2010 legislative schedule for Congress, LGBT rights supporters are anticipating a House markup for the long-sought Employment Non-Discrimination Act within the next month.

Sources familiar with Capitol Hill said the House Education & Labor Committee will take up ENDA, which would bar job bias against LGBT people in the public and private workforce, shortly after lawmakers return from holiday break.

Last year, House and Senate committees held hearings on legislation that would provide workplace protections for LGBT people. The next step in both committees — the Education & Labor Committee in the House and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in the Senate — is reporting out the legislation so floor votes can take place.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker who serves on the House Education & Labor Committee, said he’s expecting a markup of the legislation either this month or in February and a floor vote soon after.

“Once it’s been marked up in committee, it’s simply a matter of scheduling it for the floor, and that of course depends on what else is coming to the floor, whether it’s health care or what[ever] it is, but it shouldn’t take very long,” he said.

Also expecting an ENDA markup in the House shortly is Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign.

“We’re hopeful that it will be either January or February and we’re pushing for that,” she said.

Still, it’s unclear exactly when the House committee will take up the legislation. Aaron Albright, spokesperson for the House & Education Labor Committee, said, “nothing has been scheduled yet.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who sponsors ENDA in that chamber, has said the HELP Committee will take up ENDA in the spring, but Herwitt said the timing in the Senate “is a little less clear.”

“I think that we’re going to talk to [Chair Tom] Harkin’s staff people, committee staff and try to figure all of that out, what’s the timeframe that they’re looking at, how will we envision the bill moving forward in the Senate,” she said. “I mean, obviously, the Senate provides us more challenges in moving legislation, especially when it is freestanding.”

Advocates are committed to passing a version of ENDA that provides protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The inclusion of transgender people in ENDA has been a sensitive issue. In 2007, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) came under fire for pushing a version of ENDA that provided protections only on the basis of sexual orientation, saying at the time that Congress lacked the votes to pass an inclusive bill.

This year, the situation is different. Polis said lawmakers expect to pass “an inclusive ENDA that includes protections based on gender identity.”

Herwitt expressed similar optimism that the House would be able to pass ENDA with protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I think that we’re in a really strong place in the House,” she said. “I think that, again, when we look at our vote count for final passage, it looks good for a fully inclusive bill.”

Still, Herwitt said conversations are more nascent on the Senate side regarding ENDA and the inclusion of gender identity provisions.

“We have education that we need to do and have conversations,” she said. “I know that Sen. Merkley and his staff have been really on top of this, and having those conversations staff-to-staff — and the senator is having colleague-to-colleague conversations. And we just need to continue some of that process and then see where we are with the vote count.”

Asked whether the gender identity provisions could be a sticking point in the Senate, Herwitt replied, “I think what I’m saying is we’re still in the process of figuring all of that out. The conversations are still happening, the education process is still ongoing and obviously we want to make sure that the bill moves forward when it can move forward as a fully inclusive bill.”

Activists want DADT repeal in budget request

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1993 law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, is also a primary focus for LGBT rights supporters on the Hill.

Advocates are urging President Obama to include language that would overturn the law as part of his defense budget request to Congress for the next fiscal year. The request is expected to be made public early this year.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on Tuesday published a full-page ad in Roll Call newspaper calling on Obama to include repeal in his budget request. Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, writes in the letter that Obama should include repeal in his budget request to stay true to the promise he made to end the ban last year during a speech at an HRC dinner.

“There is no good reason why this White House would pass up this opportunity,” Sarvis said. “It is the logical place to get rid of the discriminatory ban. We urge the president to make good on his words on the campaign trail as well as those said last October when he emphatically declared, ‘I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Herwitt said HRC also wants Obama to include repeal of the ban on open service as part of his defense budget request.

“We have been working to make that a reality,” she said. “We are hopeful and it has been part of our plan. We think that having the White House put the policy recommendations through [the] DOD [budget request] forward is important and key.”

Whether the budget request will, in fact, include language that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” remains to be seen. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, wouldn’t confirm whether administration officials would include such language in the budget request.

“As we are in the midst of the policy process for the FY 2011 Budget, it would be premature to comment on its contents,” he said.

Another bill pending in Congress is the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The legislation — approved late last year by both House and Senate committees — would allow the same-sex partners of LGBT federal workers to receive the same benefits as the spouses of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

But the timing for a floor vote is not yet clear. Herwitt said she doesn’t know when floor votes would take place and said HRC is “working with our allies in the House and the Senate to try and figure out what is the schedule, what are they looking at.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of the bill in that chamber, said last month a floor vote wouldn’t take place until lawmakers receive cost offset information from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for implementing the measure within the agency’s existing budget.

Leslie Phillips, spokesperson for the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation, said Tuesday that lawmakers have “not yet received the offset information from OPM.” The agency didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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