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LGBT contingent to join weekend immigration rally

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform legislation are planning to rally this weekend



Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform legislation are planning to rally this weekend in support of the bill — and drum up support for a proposed component that would help same-sex couples.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators — perhaps even up to 100,000 — are expected to gather Sunday at 2 p.m. on the National Mall to call for passing immigration reform this year. Reform Immigration for America, a coalition of immigration reform organizations, is staging the event.

Within this larger protest, a contingent of about 200 protesters is set to advocate for LGBT inclusion in immigration reform, and in particular, a provision to help same-sex bi-national couples.

Because same-sex couples don’t have federal marriage rights that are available to straight couples, LGBT people in same-sex relationships with a foreign national cannot marry their partner to allow them to stay in the U.S.

Under current immigration law, an estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples are kept apart or are in danger of separation. Standalone legislation in Congress known as the Uniting American Families Act would allow LGBT people to sponsor their partners for permanent residency.

Advocates of UAFA are trying to include the legislation as a provision in comprehensive reform — and are taking part in the rally to ensure their presence is visible within the larger immigration movement.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, a group advocating for UAFA, said the rally will be “a visible reminder” to Congress and the Obama administration on keeping their pledge to tackle immigration reform in 2010.

“In fact, I would say that it has already been effective,” Ralls said. “The president last week called key senators to the White House and began holding meetings about how to address this issue, and I have no doubt that the march on the Mall helped to spur those meetings along.”

Among those participating in the rally is Laurie Larson, a 56-year-old Arlington, Va., resident, who’s marching on behalf of two friends who were torn apart.

Joe and Steve, former D.C. residents, lived in the District for 10 years together until Joe was laid off from his position as a structural engineer in 2009. Joe and Steve asked to be identified only by their first names. Because of the nature of his visa, Joe was able to stay in the United States for only six months after he lost his job. The couple is now separated, but planning a move to Canada so they can stay together.

Larson, who’s straight, said she’s taking part in the rally — after having participated in a LGBT rally for immigration reform in October — because she thinks the situation is “totally ludicrous.”

“It’s incumbent upon us to keep the issue in front of people,” she said. “We’ll continue to keep the issue in front of Congress and our representatives and the public at large. To me, it’s really one of the last civil rights issues of the 21st century.”

Also participating in the rally is Emmanuel Garcia, the Chicago-based host of “Homofrecuencia,” the only Spanish language LGBT radio show in the United States. He’s bringing about 100 LGBT people on a bus to participate in the D.C. protest.

For Garcia, who’s gay, participating in the march is not just about drawing attention to UAFA, but showing that LGBT immigrants are among those who are part of the immigration movement.

“We’re focused on a more complex conversation on immigration reform,” he said. “We also understand that there are a lot of LGBTs who would benefit from immigration reform under this bill without the Uniting American Families Act included.”

Garcia said passage of immigration reform would allow LGBT immigrants — even without the passage of UAFA — to remain in the U.S. if they don’t have a partner to sponsor them for residency.

“We have people who have come out as gay, lesbian and bisexual who are also coming out as undocumented,” he said. “Some of those stories relate to both experiences — what it’s like to come out as LGBT, what it’s like to come out in a society that doesn’t accept that doesn’t want to give a certain group rights because they don’t feel they deserve them.”

As advocates come to rally on the National Mall, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are developing comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the U.S. Senate. Earlier this month, both senators met with Obama at the White House to discuss moving forward with the legislation.

But whether these senators will include UAFA in their legislation is unknown. Neither Schumer nor Graham’s office responded to DC Agenda’s requests to comment on the inclusion of UAFA in their bill.

Still, Ralls said he’s “optimistic” that the comprehensive legislation will include a provision for bi-national same-sex couples.

Ralls said Schumer noted during congressional testimony last year that he thought it was appropriate for immigration reform to include a UAFA-like provision. Ralls also noted that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the sponsor for the standalone version of UAFA in the Senate.

“Our hope and expectation is that with two champions as strong and influential as that, that we have a very good shot of being included,” Ralls said.

It’s also unclear when Schumer and Graham will make their bill public — and when they do, if enough time remains in the legislative calendar to pass immigration reform this year. With limited time remaining before lawmakers break to campaign for mid-term elections, other major issues such as financial reform and climate change legislation could take precedence over immigration.

Ralls said he hopes the senators will introduce their legislation sometime this spring and noted that Schumer has “remained steadfast in his desire to introduce the legislation just as soon as we can.”

Asked whether enough time remains this year for Congress to take on immigration reform, Ralls replied, “The short answer is I hope so.”

“I know that Sen. Schumer is working very hard to build the coalitions in the Senate and to bring people together to make that happen,” he said.

Despite advocates’ push for including a provision for UAFA as part of comprehensive immigration reform, a number of uncertainties and obstacles are in the way. One issue is whether Graham, who has a conservative voting record, would be open to including UAFA. The Human Rights Campaign gave him a score of 0 out of 100 on its most recent congressional scorecard.

But Ralls said he hopes Republicans such as Graham would allow for the inclusion of UAFA in the comprehensive reform because such a provision would strengthen families in the U.S.

“Republican lawmakers are going to take a strong stand in favor of family unification as a priority in the comprehensive bill,” Ralls said. “Lesbian and gay families are a natural fit for family unification issues.”

Ralls added that if Schumer and Graham can work together to create a bill that boasts bipartisan support for other issues — such as creating a path to citizenship for immigrants — UAFA “will not be a make-or-break situation.”

Another uncertainly is the degree to which the White House would support passing UAFA as part of comprehensive reform, particularly if administration officials believe including the provision would complicate passage of the larger bill.

The White House has expressed support for both UAFA and comprehensive immigration reform as individual items, but hasn’t endorsed passing them together as one larger package.

In response to a query on whether Obama would support passing UAFA this year as part of immigration reform, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement the president’s “commitment to fixing our broken immigration system remains unwavering, and he continues to hope for bipartisan leadership on legislation.”

“He has told members of both parties that if they can fashion a plan, he is eager to work with them to get it done and he has assigned Secretary [of Homeland Security Janet] Napolitano to work with stakeholders on that effort,” Inouye said.

Ralls said he thinks it would be “logical” for the White House to endorse UAFA as part of comprehensive reform if the administration favors passage of both legislative items.

“My belief is that they would like to see UAFA passed and that they are committed to comprehensive reform — and it just seems logical to me that the two go well together,” Ralls said. “If we’re going to have a comprehensive bill, it should be truly comprehensive and include lesbian and gay immigrants, too.”

But opposition from the Catholic Church — a strong voice for the Hispanic community seeking immigration reform — could be an obstacle. Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops came out against UAFA and said they couldn’t support immigration reform if a provision for LGBT couples were included in the larger legislation.

Ralls said the Conference of Catholic Bishops is “a sole minority voice,” though, among religious groups that have stated positions on the legislation. He said Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarians and Jewish groups are among the religious organizations supporting UAFA.

“The list of faith groups who are committed to immigration reform that includes lesbian and gay families is very long and diverse,” Ralls said. “At the end of the day, people of faith should support keeping children with parents and families together and, in my view, it is the Christian thing to do.”

Also lacking among the advocacy groups is unanimity in favor of including UAFA as part of the larger bill.

Reform Immigration for America, an umbrella group for organizations calling for comprehensive reform, hasn’t stated a position on including UAFA in a larger bill. The organization didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request to comment on its position.

Still, other groups supporting immigration reform have come out in favor of including UAFA in comprehensive reform. The Fair Immigration Movement, a project with the Center for Community Change, endorsed inclusion of UAFA earlier this month.

Marissa Graciosa, director of FIRM, said in a statement that her project supports the inclusion of UAFA to keep couples together.

“There is power in our diversity, but we must honor that diversity,” she said. “And it starts with keeping all families from all backgrounds together. This is why we support the Uniting American Families Act.”

Ralls said Immigration Equality is an active member for Reform Immigration for America and is working to bring organizations within that umbrella group in favor of UAFA inclusion.

In addition to FIRM, Ralls said the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund has noted the importance of including same-sex couples in immigration reform.

“So there are organizations within the immigration movement — both faith groups and immigrant groups that have been very vocal in their support of our inclusion,” he said.


Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1



U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass



Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office



Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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