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Push for LGBT bills continues during recess

Activities planned in local districts while Congress takes break

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Advocacy groups are planning to take advantage of this month’s congressional recess by stepping up efforts with district offices to build support for pro-LGBT initiatives while lawmakers are at home.

One joint effort between the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, for example, is geared toward influencing senators to support repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the issue comes before the Senate, possibly in September.

As part of this same effort, HRC is also working on building support for bringing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to a House vote.

Meanwhile, grassroots LGBT group GetEqual is considering ways to expand its direct action work outside the Capital Beltway to reach lawmakers in their home districts.

HRC and SLDN last week announced their effort, called Countdown 2010, which aims to mobilize new grassroots efforts to build support in part toward ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the Senate.

Marty Rouse, HRC’s national field director, said the effort consists of engagement from the organization’s field team as well as encouraging HRC members to reach out to key lawmakers.

“We can’t just talk to our legislators and members of Congress inside the Beltway,” Rouse said. “We have to talk to them in the district so that they see that there’s interest and concern back home.”

Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said the effort will last until lawmakers return from their August recess and vote on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, the legislative vehicle to which the Senate Armed Services Committee in May attached a provision that would lead to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“We’ll be down in the targeted states with veterans, former clients of SLDN, friends and family of veterans — hopefully to visit with senators and their key staffers to urge senators to support, one, the [Defense Department] bill and, secondly, to support the provisions in the bill as it came out of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Sarvis said.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” portion of the Countdown 2010 effort is focused on influencing senators in 10 states — Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia — where HRC and SLDN feel they don’t have a firm commitment from senators on the issue.

Rouse said the senators in the states on which HRC is focusing its efforts are Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Although Rouse said HRC’s field team is engaged in nearly all of these states throughout the country as part of this effort, he added efforts aren’t yet underway in Montana because of priority and efficiency reasons.

“Montana is a big state, and it’s hard to cover and hard to get to,” Rouse said. “There’s no one in Montana right now, but there will be.”

One of the senators on the list has already publicly indicated his position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the defense authorization bill. Last month, Lugar told the Blade he wouldn’t support removing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from legislation and is unlikely to support a filibuster of the main bill.

Sarvis said SLDN feels Indiana should nonetheless be among the states on which efforts are focused.

“With Sen. Lugar, the commitment is not as firm and unequivocal as we would like, so we hope to engage him back home,” Sarvis said. “But, yes, we are somewhat encouraged by what Sen. Lugar has said to date. But, again, it’s not done until all the votes are cast.”

Also as part of Countdown 2010, HRC is working to influence senators in the targeted states on ENDA while engaging House members in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas to build support for the bill. Rouse said urging senators to support ENDA in these three additional states is less of a priority.

“We really focused on the House and we need to do significant [work] in House districts throughout the country before we even can think of the Senate,” Rouse said. “Our focus right now in the field is making sure that we target these House members. That’s most important.”

Paul Guequierre, an HRC spokesperson, said the efforts in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas are geared toward influencing House Democratic members in these states that aren’t ENDA co-sponsors.

Five of eight House Democrats from North Carolina, five of 12 House Democrats from Pennsylvania and five of 12 House Democrats from Texas aren’t co-sponsors, Guequierre said.

Sarvis said the shared work between HRC and SLDN in this effort would complement the strength of each organization. He noted that HRC has more field organizers and thus would provide more field workers to the effort while SLDN would bring more service members and veterans.

“Whether it’s working with field organizers in place or SLDN veterans, clients, it’ll be a matter of sharing resources and bringing that [all] together over the next six to eight weeks in the most efficient way possible,” Sarvis said.

Rouse said HRC would look at local media to determine whether efforts in these states are making progress and noted that efforts in many states have already produced results.

“We’ve already seen letters to the editor printed, op-eds printed and meetings with the Senate staff have already taken place,” he said. “None of this would have happened were it not for HRC’s staff being on the ground, mobilizing and reaching out to people.”

But for SLDN, evaluating the progress of Countdown 2010 would depend on the results of the meetings with senators and their staffers in these states.

“But the bottom line is you won’t know until the votes have been cast,” Sarvis said. “In some cases, we may get affirmative answers over the next several weeks, but I suspect that in many cases, we won’t get a definitive answer until the senators’ votes.”

GetEqual plans district actions

Meanwhile, GetEqual is planning efforts to draw more attention to ENDA as lawmakers return from break. The efforts are intended to build off previous protests last month in Las Vegas and at the U.S. Capitol.

Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEqual, said her group has been talking with local organizers about working collaboratively on direct action throughout the country on ENDA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We’re trying to work to set up some in-district actions,” she said. “At this moment, we don’t have any targets that we’ll release only because we’re trying to figure out where is the weakest link and what we feel like is going to be strategically the best one to plan most of our attention.”

McGehee said GetEqual will be sending out instructions on ways people can engage in the political process as lawmakers work in their home district.

“It may be some people planning actions; it may be just giving them avenues of engagement that can just get them to engage their legislator around ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or ENDA,” she said.

McGehee said GetEqual is looking at lawmakers’ speaking engagements, town halls, fundraisers and office times as possible opportunities for action.

Wherever the actions take place, McGehee said GetEqual is in part learning from the tactics that conservative protesters used in interrupting town hall meetings last year over health care reform.

“Obviously, you don’t want to be compared to someone who has a conservative platform,” she said. “But, in my opinion, one of the things that we did learn from watching that was the squeaky wheel was getting the grease.”

In the past month, GetEqual asked supporters which of four lawmakers should be targeted for direct action over ENDA: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) or Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

According to GetEqual, Pelosi won 46.5 percent of the vote, Reid won 18.5 percent, Miller took 17.6 percent and Frank took 17.4 percent. The organization declined to make public the total number of votes.

McGehee said the first and second place rankings of Pelosi and Reid were behind a protest last month in Las Vegas, which was directed against Reid, and another protest in the U.S. Capitol, which targeted Pelosi.

But whether GetEqual continues to target Pelosi and Reid during their August break remains to be seen.

“I don’t know for sure that we’ll go back to those targets,” McGehee said. “Honestly, for us, it’s just looking at where you have local organizers that also want to be involved, and finding out from the advocacy groups that really have the inside strategy where do they feel like the hold up is actually happening.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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