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Democrats in danger and playing defense

Pro-LGBT Senate allies Reid, Feingold, Boxer face tough re-election battles

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is one of several pro-LGBT lawmakers facing a tough battle for re-election this fall. (Photo courtesy of Reid's office)

Several veteran senators viewed as supportive of LGBT rights are facing tough re-election campaigns, prompting some activists and lobbyists to gear up for a defensive battle this fall.

Mike Mings, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s political action committee, said his organization is “certainly aware” that Democrats face a more difficult environment than in the previous two congressional elections.

“I think the Democrats were able to play offense in the last two cycles in a way that has created a different field today,” he said. “So, they’re [now] really looking at defense.”

Recently published polls brings into stark relief the troubling news for several incumbent U.S. senators. Rasmussen unveiled numbers last week showing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) trailing potential Republican opponents by double digits.

According to the polls, Reid would lose in a match with former Nevada Republican Party Chair Sue Lowden, 54-39; in a contest between Reid and former State Assembly member Sharron Angle, he trails 51-40; and in a contest against attorney Danny Tarkanian, Reid comes up short again, 49-42.

Viewed as an LGBT ally on Capitol Hill, Reid was involved last year in the decision to attach the hate crimes bill to the defense authorization bill and has often spoken in favor of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military.

Also last year, Reid was the highest-ranking elected public official to endorse the National Equality March in D.C. A Mormon, Reid also reportedly criticized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for backing Proposition 8, which ended same-sex marriage in California.

Another longtime senator who could face an uphill re-election fight is Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.). A Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert College poll published last week found him behind Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services who’s reportedly considering entering the Senate race.

In a hypothetical matchup, Feingold would lose to Thompson 45-33, according to the poll.

In 1996, Feingold was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. Now a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and legislation to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Feingold introduced a resolution earlier this year to condemn legislation pending in Uganda that would institute the death penalty as punishment for those convicted of homosexual acts.

Also facing a tough re-election bid is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). A poll published late last month by the Public Policy Institute of California found her in a dead heat with three potential Republican opponents.

According to the poll, Boxer would be essentially tied with former congressman Tom Campbell, with him leading 44-43. She would also be in a dead heat with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, with Boxer leading 44-43. Late last month, The Hill newspaper’s election forecasters moved the race from “leans Democratic” to “toss-up.”

Boxer was also among the 14 senators to vote against DOMA in 1996. A co-sponsor of ENDA and of legislation to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Boxer last month introduced a bill that would allow same-sex domestic partners to have the same access to COBRA benefits as married couples in some circumstances.

Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s campaign manager, said the senator has “always expected a tough race” and has been “working for months to build a broad coalition of Californians from every background and walk of life.”

“With the active involvement of our supporters in the LGBT community and so many others, we will be able to reach out to the millions of Californians who will vote in November,” Kapolczynski said. “We need to do more to let California voters know that Barbara Boxer is focused on creating jobs and turning the economy around.”

The campaigns for Feingold and Reid didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment.

Mings said he couldn’t predict whether these senators would emerge victorious in their re-election campaigns. Still, he noted that they have an advantage because they’re incumbents, who traditionally fare better in elections.

“It’s not necessarily as big an advantage this year to be an incumbent as it is in other cycles, but it’s still [a] humongous advantage to be [an] incumbent, in terms of visibility, in terms of the organization and operations that they have, so I certainly wouldn’t count any of them out,” Mings said.

Hari Sevugan, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement that it’s important for LGBT people to support these Democrats in their re-election campaigns because the party “values equality, inclusion and fairness.”

“From expanding partnership benefits in the workplace to lifting the ban on travel for those living with HIV/AIDS, from passage of hate crimes legislation to beginning to end [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] — we have worked to advance gay-rights in all corners of our society,” he said. “It’s not where we want to be yet, but we are moving forward.”

Sevugan warned “the progress we made could be lost” and “we could once again move backward” if Democrats aren’t re-elected or lose their control of Congress.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in Virginia where a Republican governor has taken the Commonwealth backward in history,” he said. “That is why we are committed to working with the LGBT community to elect allies that will continue to move the country toward fulfilling its promise of equality and justice for all.”

Mings said HRC has already given the maximum allowed donations of $10,000 each to Reid and Boxer to help them with their re-election campaigns. For Feingold’s race, Mings said HRC is waiting to see if Thompson will enter the fray.

“If he does, obviously, that changes our calculation quite a bit,” Mings said. “We need to step in and make sure that we’re engaging our membership in Wisconsin as much as possible to help [Feingold].”

In addition to moving to protect senators, Mings said HRC donated the maximum of $5,000 last year to many vulnerable allies in the U.S. House who are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline Program.

“We don’t support all of those folks because some of them are pretty conservative Southerners or just conservative Blue Dogs, but we did make endorsements of a lot of those folks in late 2009 and made PAC contributions to them to try and help them with early money to boost their early financial filings,” Mings said.

Marty Rouse, HRC’s national field director, said his organization for now is focused on field work that seeks to persuade key senators to vote in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and is “still trying, where we can, to mobilize in support of ENDA, expecting a vote in the House in next couple weeks.”

But around mid-to-late summer, Rouse said HRC will “pivot big time and shift all of our resources” to re-electing supporters in Congress, especially in the Senate.

“Clearly it’s going to take a few months to really flesh out, but our membership is already being messaged that our No. 1 priority this fall is going to be to re-elect our friends and mobilize our members as much as possible,” Rouse said.

Rouse said HRC will be as “strategic as possible” in determining the best way to support its allies, but it’s too early to say what exactly the plan will be. Rouse noted that polling data for these races is still early and many states still have primary elections.

“What is clear right now is that we’ll be spending the significant amount of our resources on defense and protecting our friends and making sure that they’re back there in 2011 and beyond,” he said.

Even with HRC’s field team working to re-elect these senators, Rouse said it’s important for LGBT people to look to themselves to ask what they’re doing to help in the election.

“One can discuss and look at the polls about where Harry Reid is, how’s he doing, and what’s going on, but the fact of the matter is we need to make sure that anyone we know that lives in Nevada is working as hard as they can to help re-elect Harry Reid,” Rouse said. “So we can ask those questions, but we really have to ask, ‘What are you doing to make sure that Harry Reid gets re-elected? What are you doing to help make sure Barbara Boxer gets re-elected?’”

Rouse said it’s important that LGBT people are visible and working to help the re-election of congressional supporters.

“Once we’re in full election mode, we need to be there on the campaign trail supporting our allies and working really hard to be visible in helping them be re-elected because they will remember that we are there,” he said.

But could incumbent lawmakers become victims of political apathy among LGBT people if legislative priorities like ENDA and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” don’t move this year?

Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, said LGBT voters are “certainly” looking to this Congress for “action on pressing equality issues” and will be mindful of this progress as November approaches.

“That being said, there are a number of pro-LGBT champions up for reelection this year who have the record to deserve whole hearted support from the community,” he said.

But Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director for GOProud, a gay conservative group, said LGBT voters should carefully consider whether to support incumbent lawmakers this year.

“There [are] a lot of issues that gay people care about and there isn’t a single one of those Democrats, in my opinion, who have done anything that I would deem worthy of re-election,” LaSalvia said. “So ask yourself as a gay voter, ‘Well, what have they done that I agree with?’ And I’ll bet you that gay and lesbian [voters] can look at any of those senators and say, ‘You’re fired!’”

Should enough Democrats lose their seats this fall, control of either chamber of Congress could switch hands. Republicans would have to take 10 seats in the Senate and 41 seats in the House to regain control of both chambers of Congress. Such a loss of control would recall the 1994 election, when Republicans retook control of the House and Senate during Democratic President Bill Clinton’s first term in office.

LaSalvia said it’s too early to tell whether Democrats will lose control of Congress this fall, but noted that the situation would become clearer as the year progresses.

“I think it’s way too early to tell, but certainly they would lose seats, and all signs [show] gains by the Republicans,” he said. “I think that we’ve got a long summer ahead of us and the electoral picture and landscape will be a lot clearer when we get to September.”

Mings said he didn’t think Democrats would lose control of Congress because not enough seats are in jeopardy, but he noted that polling and fundraising numbers indicate the party will lose some seats.

“So the thing that’s important to remember is that a lot of people were caught off guard in 1994, and that’s something the Democrats are not going to let happen this time,” he said. “They’re really making sure that their folks are prepared for a really tough, brutal, expensive election and they’re out there really trying to show that their candidates are doing that.”

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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