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Gay candidates harp on opponents’ ‘Don’t Ask’ votes

Pougnet, Potosnak running against lawmakers who voted no

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Gay candidates seeking congressional office are capitalizing on their incumbent opponents’ votes against overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to build support in their electoral bids.

Those seeking to oust lawmakers from office are hoping that public support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which a CNN poll taken before congressional votes last month found nearly 80 percent of Americans favor overturning — will help build opposition to lawmakers who opposed the repeal compromise.

The votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were taken May 27 in the U.S. House and the Senate Armed Services Committee to attach the measure as part of pending defense budget legislation.

Among the candidates capitalizing on votes against repeal is Steve Pougnet, the gay Democratic mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. who’s seeking to oust Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) from office.

Jordan Marks, campaign manager for Pougnet, said Bono Mack’s vote against repeal contributes to dispelling the perceived notion that she’s a moderate Republican.

“On ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ for so long, Mary Bono Mack had to have it both ways to show that she was a friend to the gay and lesbian community,” he said.

In a statement published shortly after the vote, the lawmaker defended her vote against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal measure by saying she wants to wait until the Pentagon completes its study on the issue at the end of the year.

“I care deeply about our men and women in uniform and believe it is essential that a thorough review be completed by our military commanders prior to Congress enacting such a sweeping change,” she said. “This vote should have happened after that review.”

Bono Mack also noted opposition to the repeal measure voiced by the four service chiefs before the vote took place. She said lawmakers do these military leaders “a great disservice if we ignore their advice on this important issue.”

Until the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote, Bono Mack had been regarded in some circles as a pro-gay Republican because of her voting record. Bono Mack had voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of hate crimes legislation and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

After the vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal tarnished her record on May 27, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Pougnet.

Although Pougnet is running in a traditionally Republican district, a boost from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote could be enough to give Pougnet the necessary edge to topple Bono Mack in what’s seen as a competitive race.

Pougnet is credited with being a powerhouse fundraiser and, according to Marks, will report $1.2 million in fundraising at the end of the second quarter. As of mid-May, Bono Mack has about $1.5 million in net receipts, according to Federal Election Campaign records.

Additionally, a June report in the Politico revealed that the National Republican Congressional Committee identified Bono Mack as one of nine potentially vulnerable Republican congressional lawmakers.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said Bono Mack’s “no” vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provides “clear proof” to supporters of repeal that she’s waffling on the issue.

“She always said if the military was OK with repealing it, she was fine,” Kors said. “The bill that went forward requires the military to finish its process and say that it won’t harm our military to repeal it, yet she still voted against it.”

Kors said Bono Mack’s vote has “riled up” those who thought she supported LGBT rights and “intensifies people’s belief that it’s time for her to go.”

On the other side of the country, Ed Potosnak, a Democrat running against incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) to represent New Jersey’s 7th congressional district, is similarly capitalizing on his opponent’s vote against overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Potosnak, a former staffer for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and public school teacher, said Lance’s vote is evidence the lawmaker has changed since he was elected to office.

“The vote against repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ really goes a long way in demonstrating that Lance is just out of touch,” Potosnak said.

Potosnak said Lance’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — as well as other votes the lawmaker has cast in his career — show he’s “on the wrong side of history.”

As the campaign progresses, Potosnak said voters “will have the opportunity to see how much he has changed since going down to Washington.”

Lance’s campaign didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to explain the lawmaker’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

While the lawmaker’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could give Potosnak an edge in the race, he still faces an uphill battle. He’s running in a traditionally Republican district, and recent campaign finance reports show that he has around $51,000 in cash-on-hand compared to the $500,000 in Lance’s coffers.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a gay conservative group that advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” defended lawmakers who voted “no” by noting results of the Pentagon study have yet to be revealed.

“We had a plan to look at this and get rid of it, and now you’re telling [us] to scrap that plan and vote on it now,” LaSalvia said. “The reason for many of those votes were the result of the Democrats changing the strategy in mid-stream, and it couldn’t have been more poorly handled.”

Another gay candidate seeking congressional office won’t be to draw attention to an opponent’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in his campaign. David Cicilline, the Democratic mayor of Providence, R.I., who’s seeking to represent Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, isn’t running against an incumbent candidate.

The lawmaker that Cicilline is seeking to succeed is Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who announced his planned retirement from the House earlier this year. Kennedy voted in favor of the repeal measure.

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

Letitia James and 18 other attorneys general support plaintiff

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trans health care, gay news, Washington Blade
New York Attorney General Letitia James (Photo public domain)

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Fla. man found guilty of threatening George Santos

Gay former NY congressman expelled in December

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Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

On Feb. 22, following a two-day trial, a federal jury in Ft. Lauderdale convicted a man for calling the office of former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in D.C. and threatening to kill the member of Congress and another person. 

On Jan. 29, 2023, Frank Stanzione, 53, of Boynton Beach, Fla., made a telephone call from his residence in Boynton Beach to the office of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Stanzione left a voice message for the member that stated the following:

“[Victim 1 former Rep. Santos] you fat fucking piece of shit fucker. You better watch your mother fucking back because I’m gonna bash your mother fucking fucker head in with a bat until your brains are splattered across the fucking wall. You lying, disgusting, disgraceful, mother fucking fucker. You mother fucking piece of shit. You’re gonna get fucking murdered you goddamn lying piece of garbage. Watch your back you fat, ugly, piece of shit. You and [Victim 2 Redacted] are dead.”

The congressman’s chief of staff reported the message to the U.S. Capitol Police the next morning. The USCP began investigating the voice message as a threat and determined that it was made from a telephone number assigned to Stanzione. 

On Jan. 31, 2023, USCP special agents went to the address associated with the telephone number and interviewed Stanzione. USCP confirmed that Stanzione had left the voice message for the congressman. Stanzione found the telephone number on an online search engine. 

In a motion to dismiss, lawyers for Stanzione noted in the interview he told federal agents that “he feels offended by Santos and does not want him in his (gay) community.” He said he left the message to make Santos “feel like a piece of shit.”

The court filing described Stanzione as “a long-standing, active advocate for gay rights.”

In the motion to dismiss, Stanzione claimed his prosecution was “retaliatory and vindictive” and “based upon his exercise of political speech related to gay rights.”

“Others who have allegedly committed similar acts,” his attorneys stated in the motion, “have not been prosecuted.” 

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and USCP Chief J. Thomas Manger announced the guilty verdict. The USCP – Threat Assessment Section investigated the case. 

Stanzione will be sentenced in May and faces penalties including up to five years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

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State Department

State Department criticizes passage of anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghanaian Parliament

‘Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all’

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Wednesday criticized the passage of a bill in Ghana that would further criminalize LGBTQ people and make advocacy on their behalf illegal.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement said the U.S. “is deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of legislation, officially called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which would threaten all Ghanaians’ constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, press and assembly.” 

“The bill seeks to criminalize any person who simply identifies as LGBTQI+, as well as any friend, family, or member of the community who does not report them,” said Miller. “Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all. The United States echoes the call by those Ghanaians who have urged a review of the constitutionality of the bill to protect the rights of all individuals in Ghana.”

Miller noted the bill “would also undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces and economy” and stressed “international business coalitions have already stated that such discrimination in Ghana would harm business and economic growth in the country.”

“Ghana’s tradition of tolerance, peace and respect for human rights is a source of stability and prosperity that has long served as a model for countries around the globe,” he added. “This legislation is inconsistent with these values and will, if it becomes law, undermine this laudable tradition.” 

Ghanaian MPs approved the bill on Wednesday, and it awaits President Nana Akufo-Addo’s signature.

“I am saddened because of some of the smartest, most creative, most decent people I know are LGBT,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Virginia Palmer in a post on the embassy’s X account. “The bill Parliament passed takes away not only their basic human rights but those of all Ghanaians because it undermines their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.” 

“It will be bad for public order and public health,” she added. “If enacted, it will also hurt Ghana’s international reputation and Ghana’s economy.”

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