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LGBT voters approve of Obama’s performance: poll

But numbers slip on president’s handling of gay issues

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President Obama received high marks in an unscientific straw poll of LGBT voters the Blade conducted during Capital Pride. (Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of White House)

Nearly 77 percent of LGBT participants in an unscientific straw poll the Washington Blade conducted during last month’s Capital Pride street festival said they approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing as president.

The president’s 76.9 percent approval rating among the LGBT respondents — most of whom said they live in D.C., Maryland or Virginia — far exceeds the 46 percent approval rating he received from American voters nationwide who participated in a Gallup Poll in June.

Just over 17 percent of the 519 LGBT people who responded to the Blade straw poll said they disapprove of the president’s job performance, and about 6 percent said they had no opinion.

In a separate question on the Blade straw poll, about 51 percent of LGBT respondents said they approve of the job Obama is doing in “addressing LGBT-related issues.” On the matter, about 36 percent said they disapprove and about 13 percent said they had no opinion.

A third question asking respondents to grade Obama “on his handling of LGBT issues” showed a range of opinions. About 8 percent of the straw poll’s LGBT respondents gave Obama an “A” grade, whereas 37.7 percent gave him a “B,” 37.5 percent gave him a “C,” about 13 percent gave him a “D,” and about 2 percent gave him an “F.” The remaining respondents had no opinion.

The Blade straw poll follows a year in which the president has faced sharp criticism from some LGBT activists who say he hasn’t been forceful enough in pushing for LGBT-related bills in Congress, including legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

At the time of his election in November 2008, most LGBT activists agreed that Obama was about to become the nation’s most LGBT-supportive president. As a candidate, Obama said he supported civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, but expressed strong support on virtually all other LGBT issues.

Among other things, he called for repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure passed by Congress in 1996 that federally defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The act bars married same-sex couples joined in states that allow same-sex marriage from receiving any of the federal rights or benefits of marriage that wedded opposite-sex couples receive.

The president has continued to speak in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA, has appointed a record number of high-level openly LGBT officials throughout the federal government, and has hosted LGBT events at the White House.

His LGBT supporters say the criticism is unfair. They note that the Obama administration has taken extensive action on the LGBT front and should not be held responsible for inaction by Congress, which has stalled in the approval of most LGBT-related bills.

That the Blade straw poll shows the president with an overall 76.9 percent approval rating among LGBT respondents suggests large numbers of LGBT people continue to have confidence in Obama while having concerns about his handling of at least some LGBT-related issues.

“I think the overall view is that we still like him,” said Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist.

“But I think it shows there’s a feeling it would be very nice if he spoke out on our issues in the same forceful way he did about health care to the Congress,” Rosenstein said. “There’s a frustration that he is not speaking out forcefully enough on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and our community wants to see more action.”

Andrew Tobias, who’s gay and serves as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said he understands the frustration of some of the Blade poll respondents who are disappointed that more LGBT-related advances have not materialized.

“But we also need to recognize that in less than two years, with so much else on his plate, Obama’s made a terrific start, and a night-and-day difference over where we were or where we would have been with [Republican presidential candidate John] McCain.”

Tobias said the Blade poll results show an overwhelming majority gave the president a favorable rating and a passing grade.

“If you had asked people to rate the Republicans, virtually 100 percent would have flunked them outright,” he said.

But Clarke Cooper, executive director of the gay partisan group Log Cabin Republicans, said the Blade poll indicates that LGBT voters are questioning the president’s actions on LGBT issues, especially the administration’s decision to oppose in court a Log Cabin lawsuit seeking to overturn the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law.

“It is presumptuous of President Obama and the DNC to assume LGBT voters will march in blind lock-step support of the president,” Cooper said.

Organizers of the Capital Pride festival, the D.C. area’s annual LGBT Pride event, estimated about 200,000 people turned out for the event, which was held June 13 along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol.

The Blade staff invited festival attendees to participate in the straw poll as they walked past the Blade’s booth. Participation included filling out a one-page, confidential questionnaire and placing the completed questionnaire in a closed ballot box.

Of the 559 respondents, about 59 percent identified as gay, about 26 percent as lesbian, about 5 percent as bisexual, about 1 percent as transgender, and about 3 percent as queer. The remaining 6 percent identified as straight.

The Blade isolated the respondents identifying as straight from its calculation of the results so that a more accurate presentation of the straw poll’s LGBT sample could be obtained.

A separate calculation of the poll’s 36 straight respondents, showed that about 72 percent approved of the job the president is doing, while about 22 percent disapproved and about 5 percent had no opinion. On the question of how the president was doing on LGBT-related issues, about 34 percent of the straight respondents expressed approval, while some 25 percent expressed disapproval and 40 percent had no opinion.

Among all straw poll respondents, about 82 percent identified themselves as white, about 10 percent as black, 5 percent as Latino, about 3 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander, and another 3 percent as other.

Similar to nationwide public opinion polls such as the Gallup Poll, black respondents to the Blade poll gave a higher approval rating to the president than white respondents.

On the Blade poll’s question on whether respondents approve or disapprove of how Obama is doing as president, nearly 91 percent of the black LGBT respondents said they approve compared to less than 2 percent who said they disapprove. The remaining 7 percent of black LGBT respondents had no opinion.

On the same question, more than 77 percent of white LGBT respondents said they approve of the job the president is doing compared to about 18 percent who said they disapproved, while about 4 percent had no opinion.

The difference between black and white respondents narrowed on the question of how the president is doing on LGBT-related issues. About 60 percent of black respondents said they approved of the president’s handling of LGBT issues, while about 19 percent said they disapproved and some 21 percent had no opinion on the question.

Among white respondents, nearly 50 percent said they approved of President Obama’s handling of LGBT-related issues and about 35 percent said they disapproved, while about 15 percent said they had no opinion.

Gallup Poll results from a June survey shows 46 percent of American voters approve of Obama’s job performance. A Rasmussen Poll also conducted in July shows that just 27 percent of the respondents “strongly approve” of the overall job the president is doing compared to 43 percent who “strongly disapprove.”

High unemployment rates and the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster were among the issues that the Gallup and Rasmussen polls indicated were factors in respondents saying they disapprove of the job the president is doing.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political science professor at the City University of New York, said the overall support the Blade straw poll found for Obama’s job performance is consistent with national exit polls of LGBT voters conducted by the news media for presidential elections.

He noted that the exit polls have consistently shown that LGBT voters support the Democratic presidential candidate at about 75 percent.

Pinello said he was unsurprised over the Blade poll finding that the Obama approval rating drops to about 50 percent on the question of how the president is handling LGBT-related issues. He noted that since the sample consists of self-identified LGBT people at a Pride event in Washington, the respondents most likely are “skewed” toward more politically aware people.

“But in the minds of many in our community, Barack Obama has not lived up to his campaign promises,” Pinello said. “Plus, Barack Obama has had an ambitious political agenda, much of which he’s accomplished. He got the health reform bill through Congress. He got the stimulus package passed. He got financial reform passed. Lots of major, consequential, historic legislation has passed in the last year and a half. And I think a lot of gay people, especially in the nation’s capital who are very attuned to these issues, are looking at that and saying, ‘Why not us?’”

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Federal Government

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

New rules to take effect Aug. 1

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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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Michigan

Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass

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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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Indiana

Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office

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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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