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LGBT staffer group returns to Capitol Hill

‘We’re going to be building relationships’



Members of the newly re-launched LGBT Congressional Staff Association intend to focus on networking and behind-the-scenes policy work. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Openly gay staffers on Capitol Hill could find new opportunities to network and advance pro-gay legislation now that an LGBT staff association has returned following a period of dormancy.

The group, named the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, seeks to facilitate communication among LGBT staffers working for members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scott Simpson, deputy press secretary for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), officially took the reins of the organization Monday after dues-paying members voted him and other new board members into leadership roles.

In a Blade interview, Simpson, who’s 26 and gay, said the organization plans to take a low-profile approach to advance the needs of LGBT staffers and advance pro-LGBT policy in Congress.

“We’re uniquely positioned to work with a targeted audience and work with however many hundreds of Hill staffers we can find,” he said. “We’re not going to be out there trying to get the [Washington] Post to quote us or anything; we’re going to be building relationships.”

The group’s re-launch comes after an earlier version of the organization was founded about 15 years ago.

Simpson said the group — previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Congressional Staff Association — was founded to draw attention to the presence of LGBT staffers on the Hill.

“It was a very big deal, at least for us, on the Hill when it got started,” Simpson said. “It did a lot of good stuff for visibility at the time when there were some congressmen who outright said, ‘We would never hire a gay staffer.’”

Simpson said the LGBT Congressional Staff Association responded at the time by having press conferences to “show that there are actually LGBT people” who work on Capitol Hill.

In recent years, Simpson said the organization had the appearance of being dormant because it was continuing a commitment made when it was founded of protecting the identities of members who weren’t openly gay.

“They wanted that soft influence on policy and they wanted to protect the identities of their staffers, and that doesn’t lend itself to being the most vocal organization,” he said.

But Simpson said LGBT staffers on the Hill in recent months wanted to give new life to the organization, to make it more open and “continue on with the legacy of breaking barriers” that emerged when the association was founded.

Simpson said the group has been in the process of being reinvented for the past three to six months and, as part of its re-launch, tweaked its bylaws and took on the LGBT Congressional Staff Association name.

New goals for the organization include developing a web site and forming a women’s caucus that will have its own specific programming.

The organization’s membership varies widely depending on how it’s counted. Simpson said there are about 50 dues-paying members, but 400 are registered on the group’s e-mail list. One task the organization is considering, Simpson noted, is some type of “census” to determine how many LGBT staffers work on the Hill.

Simpson said the number of LGBT people working as Capitol Hill staffers might surprise those living outside the Beltway. He also noted that LGBT staffers “don’t line up with any particular caucus,” and can be found working with either Democratic or Republican members.

“There are a lot of LGBT staffers on the Hill and that’s a strength that we can tap into,” he said.

Some established and notable LGBT staffers comprise the LGBT Congressional Staff Association board. Diego Sanchez, who’s transgender and senior legislative adviser to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), will serve as policy director for the organization.

In a statement to the Blade, Sanchez said he’s honored to be the first openly transgender board member of the re-launched organization.

“The new bylaws and my corporate career expertise in diversity management will let me lead and work with my staffer colleagues to fortify how current laws and issues affect us and to repair any gaps to enrich the lives and careers of current and future LGBT people working on the Hill,” he said.

Group will work to influence LGBT policy

Simpson said the organization would work to influence LGBT policy matters related to bills on Capitol Hill, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

He said he wants to network with LGBT staffers to educate them on the issues and expand the number of co-sponsors on those bills.

“We’re going to be doing training and education on that,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are connecting and networking as many of these gay staffers in every office, in every party across geography to know what’s up.”

Simpson said one bill his organization is particularly pushing is the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The legislation would make same-sex partners of federal workers eligible for the same benefits available to the spouses of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that would allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, is another issue in which Simpson said his organization would be involved. With same-sex marriage now legal in D.C., he noted that many LGBT staffers are able to marry and want the federal benefits associated with marriage.

“Those directly affect our members because the federal government is prohibited from recognizing the validity of our relationships,” he said.

Additionally, Simpson said a goal of the organization is advancing the careers of LGBT staffers so they can serve in positions that give them more influence to move pro-LGBT legislation through Congress.

“If a job opens up that someone wants, we’re going to get together to use our network as a group to figure out how we can best get the person in this position, if they’re qualified for it,” he said.

But group activities won’t be all work. Simpson said networking opportunities would also include recreational events, such as happy hours.

“A lot of it is getting together and going to happy hours, just meeting and greeting, even in a non-drinking setting, believe it or not,” he said.

Elected officials have been helping re-launch the LGBT Congressional Staff Association. The openly gay members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — have sponsored the organization as an official staff group.

In a statement, Baldwin said she’s proud to sponsor the organization because LGBT staffers work in many capacities on the Hill for members of both parties.

“I’m very pleased to support this new iteration of the LGBT staff association,” she said. “In addition to serving as a networking and social group, this organization will help us advocate for more equitable policies in and out of government.”

Simpson said the out members of Congress aren’t technically eligible to become members of the organization because they aren’t staffers. Still, he noted that their sponsorship makes the group able to use the U.S. House web servers and e-mail system.

“If not for them, the organization wouldn’t exist,” he said. “If we need anything, we go to them because they’re our members.”

Simpson said he expects the LGBT Congressional Staff Association to have a collaborative relationship with the Gay, Lesbian & Allies Senate Staff Caucus, the affinity group for LGBT staffers working in the U.S. Senate.

Among the events in which both groups would plan joint participation are social and educational activities as well as marching in the same contingent next month during the Capital Pride parade.

“I’ve been talking with them,” Simpson said. “They’ve been helping us organize this newer reinvention for a while, so we’ve been very close.”

Alex Levy, co-chair of GLASS and legislative aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said his organization is “thrilled” to have the opportunity to collaborate with another LGBT group.

“They have lots of energy and it looks to be a dynamic leadership team, and we intend to work collaboratively with them to work for the interests of LGBT Hill staffers,” Levy said.


The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke



President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’



J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions



U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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