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Secret project seeks to advance pro-LGBT policy changes

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Efforts are underway to start a new advocacy project that will work behind the scenes to facilitate pro-LGBT policy changes at the federal level and get LGBT people hired to key positions in the Obama administration.

According to an undated proposal obtained by DC Agenda, the group plans to aid the New Beginnings Initiative — a project led by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — and seeks to accelerate policy change within the administration this year while the Democrats control Congress.

The project has three main objectives: providing technical assistance for pro-LGBT policy changes in the Obama administration, ensuring LGBT people are represented in the federal government and advocating for an LGBT voice in the broader administration agenda.

A document outlining the project’s goals says the initiative “seeks no attribution for its role” and will work to provide the New Beginnings Initiative with “needed technical and strategic assistance as it works on many fronts, with many people, in a relatively short timeframe.”

The proposal emphasizes that change must come quickly while Democrats control Congress so hostile lawmakers don’t obstruct pro-LGBT changes by convening public hearings on the issues or otherwise being obstructionist.

“After November 2010 … these majorities are not guaranteed and the policy environment could become much more challenging,” says the document. “Therefore, it is essential that as much change as possible be achieved in the next 12 months.”

Organizers emphasize that “moving quickly is essential to the success of the project” for this year. Afterward, the initiative could be folded into other existing LGBT organizations, the document says.

“This project is designed to be a resource that can take on some of the functions and activities that are needed in the short-term to accomplish as much as possible in what could be a limited window of opportunity,” says the document. “In the long run, these functions, skills and experience should become part of existing LGBT organizations.”

A source familiar with the project, who spoke to DC Agenda on condition of anonymity, said the Gill Foundation and the Arcus Foundation are among donors to the new initiative.

Matt Foreman, a former head of the Task Force, is project director for the new organization, the source said. Foreman currently works as a program director for the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. He didn’t immediately respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment on the new project.

The project’s budget is about $1.2 million for 2010, according to the documents obtained by DC Agenda. A considerable portion of the budget — about $650,000 — will be allotted for salaries for the staff, which will consist of the project director and three other staffers. Another $400,000 will be used to fund short-term consultants.

The source familiar with the new initiative called it “a done deal” and said it’s expected to launch officially around Feb. 1. Much of the initiative’s funding has already been allocated, the source said.

But the source questioned why this new initiative was necessary when other groups such as the Task Force, Human Rights Campaign and Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund already play similar roles.

“The folks at HRC — if you look at the federal advocacy piece of this — isn’t that just competition for them?” the source said. “Or if you look at the Victory Fund and them putting in [around 100 openly LGBT] people into positions in the Obama administration, and this plan has this whole thing about an appointments process — doesn’t that already exist somewhere in the community?”

The source called the new initiative “just an awful lot of duplication” and said “it seems strange” that donors would also fund this new initiative when other groups are doing similar work.

“The same foundations that fund all those really great organizations, and say really nice things about them, are now going to fund yet another organization that almost seems to compete with the organizations that currently exist,” said the source.

A Victory Fund spokesperson declined to comment on the new group. HRC and the Task Force didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s requests for comment.

The source also questioned why Foreman would be selected to lead a new initiative that is supposed to work behind the scenes. Foreman was an outspoken LGBT rights advocate while at the Task Force, particularly during the controversy over the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007. During that debate, he insisted on including gender identity language in the legislation.

“If they’re a behind-the-scenes, below-the-radar kind of project, you would think the person they would choose to run it would be kind of a quiet behind-the-scenes, low-key person — and that’s probably not Matt Foreman,” said the source.

The document outlining the new initiative details what needs to be accomplished for each of its three objectives. It says LGBT representation within federal committees, advisory councils and task forces is key to carrying out regulatory changes that would benefit LGBT people.

“Identifying and actively promoting LGBT and strong allied individuals to serve on these bodies will be a priority of this project, and our strategy will be a multi-tiered approach designed to change the culture at all levels of the federal government,” says the document.

The proposal gives particular attention to new bodies that would be created by pending health care reform legislation. Organizers note that the House bill would create a committee that would recommend health insurance minimums and enhanced benefits standards, and say the committee should “consider the concerns and health needs of the LGBT community and have LGBT representation on it.”

“The LGBT community should be ready with the names of primary care doctors (and others) who can be nominated to serve on this committee, as well as ready with a strategy for getting these individuals appointed,” says the document. “We are currently gathering names of potential LGBT committee members so that when health care reform passes, we can move quickly.”

A number of committees within the Department of Health & Human Services are cited as bodies for which organizers of the project are particularly seeking LGBT representation. The committees include the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education & Practice, the Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health and the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health & Society.

The proposal says LGBT representation in HHS is particularly important because, among other reasons, it would help ensure that sexual health programs include LGBT issues, allocate resources for LGBT-specific prevention health needs and make sure LGBT seniors are supported in aging programs. Organizers are putting together a database of LGBT people who can serve on these committees and advisory groups, according to the document.

Another important objective for the new initiative is ensuring that LGBT voices are heard within the federal government as the Obama administration pursues its broader agenda.

“As the administration develops proposals to address other pressing domestic issues dealing with the economy, education, unemployment, etc., the LGBT community should be looking for opportunities to ensure that LGBT concerns in these areas are addressed and that LGBT individuals are looked to as a resource,” says the proposal.

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Air Force base axes ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) welcomed the decision

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(Screenshot from U.S. Air Force's YouTube page)

A drag queen story hour scheduled to be held at the library in honor of Pride month at Ramstein Air Base in Germany was abruptly cancelled by the command staff of the 86th Airlift Wing on Thursday.

According to Stars and Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ news outlet in Canada, The Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

“An advertisement was posted to the base library social media page before the event had completed Ramstein’s established processes for special observance coordination and approval.  The advertisement has been removed and the event will not take place. Ramstein leaders strive to foster a culture based on inclusion where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their political views, color of their skin or sexual orientation. The base’s established processes will ensure all future special observance events are properly reviewed and approved prior to advertisement.”

The Post Millennial’s story framed its reporting using hard-line right terms and descriptions of the LGBTQ community; “Drag Queen Story Hour has become a phenomenon in recent years, with men dressing up in clownish, garish costumes of women to read to children. Many drag queens have sexualized names, like Penny Tration.”

The conservative outlet also reported that one mom of a toddler, whose husband is stationed at the base, told The Post Millennial that while she often takes her child to the library for story time, she was “shocked to see the Ramstein Air Force Base Library plans to hold an official drag queen story hour for children.”

“I find it wholly inappropriate that the MILITARY of all places will be using public funds to sexualize children,” she said.

According to Stars and Stripes, the cancellation of the drag queen book reading drew mixed opinions from the Kaiserslautern Military Community, which encompasses Ramstein. With tens of thousands of Defense Department personnel and their families, it is the largest U.S. military community overseas.

An opponent of the wing’s decision launched a petition at Change.org to try to get the event reinstated.

“Now more (than) ever we need to show our support to our enlisted members and spouses in the face of blatant discrimination,” wrote the petition organizer, named Natalie Oyer, who described herself as spouse to a transgender wife.

“I don’t know if anything can bring back the events though,” Oyer wrote. “Most of the queens are enlisted.”

Stars and Stripes also reported that the 86th Airlift Wing, axed a separate drag karaoke event scheduled to be held at the base enlisted club, according to community members posting on social media sites.

In a press release Friday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein Air Force Base hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers. Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event, and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

The 86th Airlift Wing’s publics affairs office at Ramstein and the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs office at the Pentagon have not responded to a request for comment.

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Pulse survivor ‘at a loss’ over Texas elementary school massacre

Brandon Wolf is Equality Florida’s press secretary

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Brandon Wolf was a Grand Marshal at the 2019 Capital Pride Parade on June 8, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Adam Hall)

A survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre on Wednesday said he is “at a loss” over the massacre at a Texas elementary school that left 21 people dead.

“Twenty-one people were murdered,” said Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf in a statement he sent to the Washington Blade a day after a gunman killed 21 people inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. “Nineteen of them were children — babies. That means 19 families sent their elementary age kids off to school only to get the worst news: That their babies would be leaving class in body bags.”

Wolf was inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016, when a gunman opened fire and killed 49 people. His two close friends — Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and his fiancé, Juan Guerrero — were among those killed.

Wolf in his statement noted “right wing politicians have spent the past year insisting that the greatest threats our children face are the potential they’ll learn that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Black people or that their teacher uses they/them pronouns.”

“They’ve banned books, censored curriculum and bastardized history lessons,” said Wolf. “All the while, they haven’t lifted a finger to protect kids from what is killing them.”

Equality Florida echoed Wolf’s sentiments.

“I am heartbroken for the shattered families,” added Wolf. “Grief-stricken for these stolen lives. And enraged at the power-hungry leaders who have chosen time and again to serve up this country’s most vulnerable as sacrifices in exchange for a boost up the ladder of their own ambitions.”

Axel Rodríguez’s friend, Xavier Serrano Rosado, died inside the Pulse nightclub.

Rodríguez told the Blade that Tuesday was “such a dad day for us here” in Orlando.

“It is like going through the same emotions we had when the attack at Pulse happened, but it’s even worse because we are talking about children,” he said. “When will our government stop thinking about money and stop this madness? Everyone now can obtain a gun anywhere. I just cannot comprehend that at all.”

The Pulse nightclub massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until a gunman on Oct. 1, 2017, killed 60 people at a concert in Las Vegas.

A gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Twenty children and six adults died in the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

The Robb Elementary School massacre took place less than three years after a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

“There are no words,” tweeted Pride Center San Antonio, which is roughly 90 minutes east of Robb Elementary School, on Wednesday.

“Our hearts are with the Uvalde community,” said Equality Texas on Tuesday. “Every child deserves to free safe at school.”

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Texas

Republican lawmaker claims Texas school gunman was transgender

Massacre victims were inside single classroom

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Families gather at a Uvalde, Texas, civic center to wait for news about their loved ones. (Photo courtesy of Niki Griswold/Twitter)

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that all of the 19 children and two adults were killed in single classroom at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday.

According to officials, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos, wearing body armor had barricaded himself inside a fourth-grade classroom, where all the fatalities and injuries occurred. Ramos, who attended the nearby high school, was killed on scene by a member of a federal U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit who had responded alongside local law enforcement.

Several other children were injured in the attack, including a 10-year-old who remained in critical condition in a Texas hospital. Law enforcement officials told reporters Ramos shot his grandmother before heading to the school with two military-style rifles he bought on his 18th birthday which was within the last two weeks.

Law enforcement has only released some of the victim’s identities and according to the Austin Statesman newspaper’s political reporter Niki Griswold, parents were gathered late into the night to give DNA samples to find out whether or not their children were among the dead. Griswold also tweeted, “The agonized screams of family members are audible from the parking lot,” as she also noted “A family has erupted into sobs outside the civic center.”

As Texas and the nation reeled in shock over yet another deadly mass shooting, Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, who espouses radical right view points and former President Trump’s MAGA philosophy, took to Twitter and spread a false and transphobic claim that the suspected shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.”

Screenshot of now-deleted tweet by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar

As of Tuesday evening, Gosar had not commented on his tweet, which was deleted about two hours after being published.

Gosar is an anti-immigration, anti-vaxxer, radical right hardliner who routinely cozies up to white nationalists. He was apparently promoting a false claim circulating on right-wing networks. Users shared images of a transgender person unrelated to the attack claiming they were the shooter.

President Biden addresses nation the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday evening.
(Screenshot/White House YouTube)

In Washington last night, President Biden, speaking to the nation said;

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked. “Why do we keep letting this happen?  Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the [gun] lobbies? 

Speaking from personal experience, as a father who has lost two children, Biden added: “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There’s a hollowness in your chest, and you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out. It’s suffocating. And it’s never quite the same.”

Global reaction included sympathy from Ukraine’s leadership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed condolences to the community of Uvalde where the 21 people — including the 19 students — were murdered in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

“Deeply saddened by the news of the murder of innocent children in Texas,” Zelenskyy wrote. “Sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the people of the U.S. and @POTUS over this tragedy. The people of Ukraine share the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims and all Americans.”

NPR reported Wednesday that Zelenskyy also referenced the shooting while speaking by video link at a conference on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which he drew a direct parallel between the shooting and the war in Ukraine.

“I feel it is my personal tragedy when children are killed in Texas, and now in my country Russian military is killing our children,” he said.

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