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Obama cheered at Pride reception

Family leave, hospital visitation changes announced

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During a White House reception keyed to Pride month, President Barack Obama said change begins not in Washington but ‘with acts of compassion — and sometimes defiance — across America.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Barack Obama encouraged LGBT people to stand up for their rights and who they are during a White House reception Tuesday where attendees greeted him with cheers and applause.

At a celebration commemorating June as Pride month, Obama commended the invitees for their work and said their visit was a reminder that the change he called for during his presidential campaign “never comes — or at least never begins — in Washington.”

“It begins with acts of compassion — and sometimes defiance — across America,” he said. “And it begins when these impositions of conscience start opening hearts that had been closed, and when we finally see each other’s humanity, whatever our differences.”

Unlike many of Obama’s LGBT critics, people at the Pride reception welcomed the president warmly with thunderous applause and cheers as he and Vice President Joseph Biden entered the East Room, where the reception was held.

An estimated 300 people were expected to attend the event, although the actual number in attendance appeared closer to 100 as the event took place.

According to people familiar with Tuesday’s reception, invitees were restricted to the heads of state equality groups, U.S. House members, LGBT people with compelling stories and a contingent of LGBT youth. The leaders of national LGBT organizations didn’t receive invitations.

During the event, Obama addressed two changes his administration is making to afford more rights to LGBT people and their families. The newly announced changes cap off a series of pro-LGBT changes his administration has made in recent weeks in apparent connection with June as Pride month.

The first change, formally issued earlier in the day by the Labor Department, sets new rules to reinterpret the Family & Medical Leave Act to include same-sex couples and their children.

“And in an announcement today, the Department of Labor made clear that under the Family & Medical Leave Act, same-sex couples — as well as others raising children — are to be treated like the caretakers that they are,” Obama said.

According to a statement from the Labor Department, the Obama administration reinterpreted the definition of “son and daughter” under FMLA to extend family leave rights to any worker who cares for a child, including the same-sex partner of a biological parent.

FMLA, enacted in 1993, allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for loved ones, or themselves, and allows employees to take time off from work for the adoption or the birth of a child.

Obama also touted recent actions by the Department of Health & Human Services following through on an April hospital memorandum. Obama’s order directed HHS to work on implementing regulations in which hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding must allow same-sex partners to have hospital visitation rights and the ability to make emergency medical decisions for each other.

The president said Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday sent a letter asking hospitals “to adopt these changes now — even before the rule takes effect.”

Following the White House Pride reception, the Department of Health & Human Services made public the letter that Sebelius sent to hospitals with the request for “voluntary support” until new regulations are published.

“Your actions could spare many patients the pain of being separated from a loved one during an admission to a hospital — often one of the most anxious times in their lives,” Sebelius wrote.

In addition to announcing new administrative changes, the president also renewed his call for legislative changes to eliminate discrimination against LGBT people.

Obama reiterated his call to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, citing his belief that LGBT couples “deserve the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.” He also called on Congress to approve a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“No one in America should be fired because they’re gay,” Obama said. “It’s not right, it’s not who we are as Americans, and we are going to put a stop to it.”

Obama also called for an end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” citing recent congressional votes to repeal the statute and an upcoming vote in the full Senate on the defense budget bill to which repeal language is attached.

“We have never been closer to ending this discriminatory policy,” Obama said. “And I’m going to keep on fighting until that bill is on my desk and I can sign it.”

The president said the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise Congress pushed forward is the best way to approach an end to the law because the measure allows the Pentagon to complete its review by the end of this year.

Obama said the review process is important not only to have the votes for passage in Congress, but to ensure “the change is accepted and implemented effectively.”

A number of high-profile LGBT Americans were at the reception, including some who’ve recently made headlines.

Notables included Constance McMillan, the lesbian high school student from Aberdeen, Miss. who was barred from taking her girlfriend to prom; Janice Langbehn, a lesbian whose inability to see her dying partner in the hospital prompted Obama to issue the hospital memorandum; and Chely Wright, the country music singer who recently came out as lesbian and performed earlier this month at Capital Pride.

Also in attendance were Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), as well as gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Pa.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Other attendees were high-ranking members of the Obama administration, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Tina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Openly gay administration officials at the event included John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Fred Hochberg, president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank; Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Brian Bond, LGBT liaison for the White House.

Tuesday’s reception capped a series of other events this week in various executive departments celebrating June as Pride month. These celebrations featured remarks from high-profile officials in the Obama administration, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At the White House reception, the contingent of LGBT youth received special attention from Obama for what he said was bravely standing up for themselves and seeking visibility.

“It’s not easy standing up all the time and being who you are,” he said. ”But they’re showing us the way forward. These young people are helping to build a more perfect union, a nation where all of us are equal; each of us is free to pursue our own versions of happiness.”

Obama said the young LGBT people at the White House reception served as a reminder that “we all have an obligation to ensure that no young person is ever made to feel worthless or alone — ever.”

Among the LGBT youth present at the White House reception was Morgan Keenan, an advisor for an LGBT youth group based in St. Louis, Mo. known as Growing American Youth.

Keenan said prior to the president’s remarks, Obama met with 15 or 16 young people who identified as LGBT — including two young people who came as part of Keenan’s delegation from St. Louis.

“For the youth that I brought, it’s going to change their world,” Keenan said. “They’re going to come out of there different than when they went in, but I hope that he listens to them.”

People at the event — many of whom were donors and contributors to the Democratic Party — largely had kind words about Obama and the progress his administration has made on LGBT issues.

Estevan Garcia, a gay pediatrician and New York resident, said he came to the reception representing the Family Equality Council, a national LGBT family organization to which he noted he often donates.

Garcia said family issues are particularly important to him and his partner because he’s married and has three children. He described the president’s remarks during the reception as “right on.”

“We’re big supporters and have been for a while,” Garcia said. “We felt that he really is working behind the scenes a little bit to push our causes.”

Garcia said the advancement of LGBT issues is “a slow process” and he’s willing to give Obama “the benefit of a doubt” on the matter.

Similarly appreciative of Obama’s efforts was George Meldrum, a gay Democratic lobbyist and activist from Wilmington, Del.

“I like the direction he’s going,” Meldrum said. “I understand the nature of politics and I’m very patient, partly because of the nature of the work that I do. Politics is all about compromise.”

Meldrum, 62, commended Obama for making pro-LGBT changes through administrative action, which he said enables the president to move forward without going through the legislative system, where he might not find success.

“He’s saying the right things and I think he’s doing the right things,” Meldrum said. “His plate is very full. We’re one of the things on that plate.”

But one reception attendee who was critical of the Obama administration’s progress was Alexandra Beninda, a transgender D.C. resident and Democratic activist.

Beninda said the president’s remarks during the reception — as they were during his campaign — were “very hopeful and encouraging and all that,” but she’s seeking more.

“I do get feeling that a lot more could be done and wonder what direction we can point them in terms of trying to get things done,” she said.

Citing concern about the failure so far to pass ENDA, Beninda said current law is creating an environment where “people are getting fired from their jobs and being denied jobs on a daily basis.”

“Basically, what it comes down to is you have an administration and a Democratic Legislature that is allowing discrimination on a regular basis and not taking the right steps to do anything about it,” she said.

Beninda said she wants Obama to be “a lot more forceful” with Congress to prompt lawmakers to action on ENDA and other pro-LGBT bills.

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National

Memphis police release Tyre Nichols arrest, fatal beating video

29-year-old Black man died after traffic stop

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(Screenshot from NBC News Now)

Three videos consisting of both body cam footage and street surveillance footage were made public by the Memphis Police Department Friday evening showing the violent arrest and beating of Memphis resident 29-year-old Tyre Nichols.

Nichols died three days after he was beaten by police in a traffic stop in the Hickory Hill neighborhood around 8:22 p.m. on Jan. 7, in an altercation Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis described, saying “in my 36 years in law enforcement, I don’t think I have witnessed the disregard for a human being displayed in this video.” 

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy announced Thursday that five now-former Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr., and Justin Smith — were fired for misconduct, indicted by a grand jury and taken into custody.

Each is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct and official oppression. By Friday morning, they had posted bond.

Left: Justin Smith, top center: Emmitt Martin III, top right: Desmond Mills Jr., center left: Demetrius Haley, right bottom: Tadarrius Bean (Photos provided by Memphis Police Department)

As news of the beating and death spread beyond Tennessee, officials expressed concern that release of the footage would touch off violent protest in reaction.

The attorneys and family of Nichols asked for justice for their son, and peace in their city, at a press conference in Memphis on Friday, WREG News 3 reported.

Speakers included family members, attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Van Turner, president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP.

Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said that he initially wanted first-degree murder charges against the officers, but the family is satisfied with second-degree murder.

He pleaded for peace in Memphis Friday night.

“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance,” Wells said. “Please, please, protest, but protest safely.”

Protests took place in Memphis after police released more than an hour of footage in the case with some major highways temporarily shut down.

Other protests were organized in New York, as well as D.C., Sacramento, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle, with police at the ready for potential violence.

“Tonight, I stand with the millions of Americans sending condolences and love to the family of Tyre Nichols as the navigate this unimaginably difficult tragedy,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement. “We are a nation traumatized by violence, especially violence against Black Americans. We don’t even need to see the video to feel outraged that those five former officers, sworn to protect their community and now arrested and charged with murder, killed Tyre. But tonight, many people will see the video and it will elicit strong feelings — from sadness and anger to confusion and despair. Tonight, we are a city and country united by tragedy, but we are also determined — to deliver justice for Tyre and change for our nation.”

The White House held a joint emergency call Friday with the mayors of at least 16 cities before the video’s release “to brief them on federal preparations in support of state and local leaders.”

“Participating mayors shared their perspectives on how important it is to recognize the pain felt by communities across this country, be prepared in advance with a game plan to provide adequate community support, and to reinforce the importance of peace and calm during these difficult moments,” the White House said in a statement about the call, which included cities from New York City, to Atlanta, Los Angeles, D.C., Seattle and Portland.

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement condemning the actions of the Memphis officers and calling for demonstrations to remain peaceful.

“The accounts of the circumstances of this heinous crime and the criminal actions of those involved are reprehensible,” the LAPD said.

“The department will do all within its power to ensure the lawful expression of the public’s anger and frustration is protected and prepared to facilitate those wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told local media that it is preparing for the possibility of disturbances after the footage is made public. and is coordinating with other state, local and federal agencies.

“Our patrol stations and specialized units remain in a state of readiness to respond to any disturbances that might occur,” the LASD said.

“The sheriff’s department supports the First Amendment and the people’s right to protest.”

Speaking with reporters as he prepared to depart for Camp David at the White House Friday evening, President Joe Biden said that he had spoken with Nichols’ mother prior to the video footage release for about 10 or 15 minutes.

“I spoke with Tyre’s mother and expressed my condolences and told her that I was going to be making the case to the Congress to pass the George Floyd Act. We should get this under control. I can only do so much on the executive order at the federal level,” Biden said. “I was really pleased that she called for peaceful protest, no violence,” he added.

When asked about the potential for violence Biden said:

“I’m obviously very concerned about it. But I think she has made a very strong plea. She’s obviously in enormous pain. I told her I had some idea of what that loss is like and although it is impossible to believe now, a time will come when his memory brings a smile before a tear.” 

The White House released a statement from the president that said in part:

“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death. It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day. 
 
My heart goes out to Tyre Nichols’ family and to Americans in Memphis and across the country who are grieving this tremendously painful loss. The footage that was released this evening will leave people justifiably outraged. Those who seek justice should not to resort to violence or destruction. Violence is never acceptable; it is illegal and destructive. I join Mr. Nichols’ family in calling for peaceful protest.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to the Memphis Police Department’s body camera footage being released, showing the deadly actions that took the life of Nichols, a Sacramento native, and led to the charging of five since fired Memphis law enforcement officers.

“Jennifer and I send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Tyre Nichols. Tyre Nichols should be alive today. The video released shows abhorrent behavior and these officers must be held accountable for their deadly actions and clear abuse of power,” said Newsom. “Today, we are a country in mourning, and must continue our work nationwide to push reforms to prevent excessive use of force and save lives.”

“Tonight, we saw ferocious violence from an out-of-control herd,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

Late Friday evening Vice President Kamala Harris’ office released a statement from the vice president on Nichols:

“Tyre Nichols should have made it home to his family. Yet, once again, America mourns the life of a son and father brutally cut short at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. The footage and images released tonight will forever be seared in our memories, and they open wounds that will never fully heal.
 
The persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force in America must end now. 

I join President Biden in his call for accountability and transparency. We must build trust—not fear — within our communities.”

VIDEO COURTESY OF KTLA:

TYRE NICHOLS VIDEO VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED, GRAPHIC CONTENT AND LANGUAGE WARNING.

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National

FBI reports ‘explosion’ of teen boys extorted after sending explicit photos, videos

Gay adults targeted on Grindr, other dating sites

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Law enforcement officials led by the FBI and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations division are reporting an alarming increase in incidents of mostly teenage boys being tricked into sending explicit photos and videos of themselves to online scammers who then attempt to extort money from the young victims.

Spokespersons for the FBI, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where sextortion cases increased dramatically, have told the Washington Blade they so far are unaware of gay teenage boys being targeted for what authorities are calling financial sextortion.

“We have not seen that,” said Catherine Pollicicchio, a spokesperson for the FBI Field Office in Pittsburgh, when asked by the Blade if gay teens were being targeted. “But that doesn’t mean it is not happening. We may not know about it,” she said.

“Homeland Security Investigations has not observed any sextortion investigations that refer specifically to gay teenagers,” said Jason Koontz, a spokesperson for HSI Philadelphia offices.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s headquarters in Washington couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm whether FBI officials are aware of gay teenagers or gay young adults being targeted for sextortion in other parts of the country.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL is also unaware of any gay male teenagers in the D.C. area being targeted for sextortion, according SMYAL spokesperson Hancie Stokes.

But the popular app Grindr reports on its website that adult gay men using Grindr and other gay hookup apps have been targeted for sextortion in ways similar to how the straight teenage boys have been targeted.

The scammers are persuading the gay adult men to send who they believe is someone interested in a possible sexual hookup or a relationship nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves. The scammer then uses the explicit images to blackmail the victim into sending large sums of money to prevent the scammer from releasing the photos or videos to the victim’s family, friends, or employer.  

In a Scam Awareness Guide posted on its website, Grindr says that unlike potential straight targets for sextortion, some of the scammers have threatened to out gay men, including bisexual men married to women, by sending their sexually explicit photos or videos to a spouse or other family members.

In yet another means of carrying out sextortion scams, according to Grindr, some of the scammers have set up a fake profile as an underage person. After tricking the victim into sending explicit images the scammer threatens to report the victim to police for soliciting sex with a minor unless a ransom is paid.

The FBI’s national office in Washington issued a “public safety alert” about the increasing number of sextortion cases targeting teenage males in a Dec. 19 press release.

“Over the past year, law enforcement has received over 7,000 reports related to the online financial sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides,” the FBI press statement says.

“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys—and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the FBI statement. “The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does,” Wray said.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out – it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” Wray said.

The FBI statement says sextortion schemes occur most often through sites where young people interact with each other such as social media, gaming sites, or video chat applications.

“On these platforms, online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 14 and 17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as 10 years old,” according to the statement. “Through deception, predators convince the young person to produce an explicit video or photo,” it says.

“Once predators acquire the images, they threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends money or gift cards,” the FBI statement continues. “In many cases, however, predators release the images even if payments are made. The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse,” the FBI statement says.

“A large percentage of these sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States and primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast,” according to the FBI statement.

Jane Clementi, co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which advocates for programs to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying, targeting LGBTQ youth, said she and the Clementi Foundation, which is a nationwide group, were unaware of any specific gay youth or young adults being targeted for sextortion.

“The fact that this is on the rise is very disconcerting and means it needs to have more media coverage to inform youth and their parents about the harms and how to deal with the situation,” she told the Blade in an email. “My hope would be that we can prevent this situation from happening in the first place.” 

Jane Clementi, her husband, and other family members founded the Clementi Foundation in 2010 a short time after their son Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman student at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, took his own life after being victimized by cyber bullying.

Tyler’s suicide drew international attention when news surfaced that his college roommate secretly pointed his laptop computer camera at Tyler’s bed when he learned that Tyler had a date with another young man and the two planned to engage in intimacy in the dorm room. The roommate informed others that he would be broadcasting a live video of Tyler’s intimate interaction with his date over the internet and would be rebroadcasting it later, a development Tyler became humiliated and devastated over after he learned what had happened.

Jane Clementi said that type of cyberbullying and other forms of what she called revenge porn or nonconsensual porn, in which someone uses private images shared with them in confidence while in a relationship and then shares the photos or videos publicly after the relationship ends has been an issue of concern for many years.

Although it is not the same as financial sextortion, it often has the same harmful impact on victims, those familiar with the two types of scams have said.

“The best place to start is by raising awareness of the issue and by having healthy conversations starting at the youngest of ages, as soon as youth have a device that is connected to the internet,” Clementi said. “And next, parents and youth need to talk through a plan for the inevitable situation they might encounter online, like harassment, intimidation or worse sextortion.”

Grindr says on its website that it has protocols in place to detect and remove fake accounts set up by scammers. “While we detect and block a huge amount of these accounts that you will never see as a user, some still get through,” Grindr says on its website.  

Advice from the Grindr Scam Awareness Guide on how to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion and how best to respond if one is targeted for sextortion can be accessed at grindr.com.

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U.S. Supreme Court

LGBTQ groups commemorate 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Equality Florida staffers attended vice president’s speech in Fla.

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The U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had been issued on Jan. 22, 1973. LGBTQ advocacy groups this week commemorated the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973, issued its Roe v. Wade ruling that ensured the constitutional right to an abortion for all American citizens. The Supreme Court last June overruled this landmark decision.

Fifty years later, LGBTQ activists are among those who have commemorated Roe, despite the fact the Supreme Court has overturned it. The decision, which has since caused tension between liberal and conservative groups, prompted federal and state lawmakers to act upon the sudden revocation of what many consider to be a fundamental right. 

Roe’s legal premise relied heavily upon the right to privacy that the 14th Amendment provided; however, legal experts argued that it was a vague interpretation of the amendment.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday delivered remarks on Roe’s anniversary in Tallahassee, Fla., saying how most “Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected.” 

“The consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling are not only limited to those who need reproductive care,” said Harris. “Other basic healthcare is at risk.”

The overruling of Roe put into question the security of other long-held precedents, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriages, and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision that legalized interracial marriages, because they rely on the same right to privacy that upheld Roe.

In that same speech, Harris announced President Joe Biden would issue a presidential memorandum to direct all government departments to ensure access to abortion pills at pharmacies.

“Members of our Cabinet and our administration are now directed, as of the president’s order, to identify barriers to access to prescription medication and to recommend actions to make sure that doctors can legally prescribe, that pharmacies can dispense, and that women can secure safe and effective medication,” Harris affirmed. 

LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups continue to work to protect reproductive rights.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said she found it intolerable that “an extremist set of judges” had taken away an important right not only for women, but also nonbinary people, trans men, and the entire LGBTQ+ community.

“Because we know that reproductive rights are LGBTQ+ rights, and that so many in our community rely on access to abortion care and other reproductive health services,” said Robinson in regards to Roe’s 50th anniversary. “The ripple effects of this decision will impact the most marginalized among us the most, and we cannot stand for that.”

“Overturning Roe v. Wade was the first time in history that the Supreme Court has taken away rights, and we know that they will not stop there,” added Robinson. “This is a dangerous turning point for our country, and we have to affirmatively defend against this assault.” 

Robinson said HRC is working with coalition partners to fight the roll-back of abortion rights at the state and federal level. 

Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ rights group in New Jersey, said his organization is “laser-focused on ensuring that people with trans and nonbinary experiences are experiencing lived equality, which includes bodily autonomy.” 

Equality Florida showed its support of Roe by standing alongside Harris during her Tallahassee speech with several other lawmakers and activists. They also denounced Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ antiabortion policies, as well as the Florida legislature. 

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