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Picking up the pieces after ‘Don’t Ask’ defeat

Repeal supporters pin hopes on lame duck session after election

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Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are picking up the pieces after a devastating loss in the U.S. Senate and — amid fears the opportunity for repeal has been lost — anticipating another shot at passing legislation that would end the law after Election Day.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he continues to see a path for legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this Congress as he acknowledged the need for new efforts.

“We do have a shot in the lame duck,” he said. “And, I think, frankly, it’s better than 50/50, but we’ve got to change the mix. … It’s unlikely the vote will be that different.”

Still, Sarvis said “time is the enemy” even as he maintained that sufficient time remains this year to move forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“We’re only talking about four or five days in November, and it’s unclear how many days in December,” Sarvis said. “This bill is tough to do in the best of circumstances when you aren’t up against time. I think it can be done, but time is a factor for sure.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the legislative route to repeal will be a “challenge” and “those who let this vote fail yesterday really made it difficult for us all moving forward.”

“But we have no choice but to give it our all and try our best to push it through,” Nicholson said.

Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), confirmed the majority leader’s plans to move forward with the defense authorization bill later this year.

“Sen. Reid reserved the right to reconsider the vote and that is what we intend to do at some point in the future,” Manley said.

Even before the vote, speculation and promises that Senate leaders would try again to start work on the defense authorization had emerged.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of Senate standalone repeal legislation, said Tuesday during a news conference he’s received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the bill would come up again in the lame duck session after Election Day.

“If for some reason, we don’t get the 60 votes to proceed, this ain’t over,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to come back into session in November or December. I spoke to Sen. Reid [Tuesday]. He’s very clear and strong that he’s going to bring this bill to the floor in November or December.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said during a later news conference that he hopes the prospects for passing the defense authorization bill would be different after Election Day, but couldn’t offer more details.

“But as chairman of the committee, I’m going to do everything I can to get this bill before the Senate so that it’s subject to debate and amendment,” Levin said. “But I can’t discern what that path is at the moment. It’s too soon after the filibuster damage has been done.”

At least one political analyst is skeptical about the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in Congress this year.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, expressed doubt about passage after Election Day — even as he acknowledged that “a lame duck session can be unpredictable.”

“From the perspective of September, the odds seem clearly against passage this year,” Sabato said. “Repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] would have to be fast-tracked, and that requires broad agreement in the Senate. That’s unlikely.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate failed to invoke cloture to bring to the floor the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill — legislation to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language is attached.

The vote in the Senate was 56-43, which was shy of the 60 votes necessary to end the filibuster from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

A unified GOP caucus — in addition to Democratic Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln — comprised the “no” votes that defeated a cloture vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only senator who didn’t vote.

Reid changed his vote to “no” on the legislation in a procedural move that would enable him to bring the legislation to the floor again.

Sarvis said the failure of the Senate to invoke cloture on the defense authorization bill is “shameful” because it means the continued discharge of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.

“That vote means that gay and lesbian service members are going to continue to be discharged every day while Republicans and Democrats in the Senate figure out how to move forward,” Sarvis said.

Sarvis said the LGBT community needs to “express more outrage” over the vote to convince Senate leaders to schedule the vote again and for successful passage.

“If we aren’t offended, if we aren’t outraged by this vote, I’m not sure how the political dynamics change,” Sarvis said. “Yes, things will be somewhat better after the mid-term elections are behind us, but the few determined opponents are still going to be there.”

Various explanations have been offered for the loss on Tuesday, although partisan politics are widely seen as the reason for failure.

Some faulted the GOP caucus for being obstinate in its vote against cloture even though many Republican senators previously expressed support for the defense authorization bill as a whole.

In a news conference following the vote, Levin called the unified GOP obstruction of the defense authorization bill “outrageous and sad.”

Levin accused the GOP of initially opposing the move forward with the defense authorization bill because of the language that would lead to an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“For two days, we’ve heard here that they objected to our proceeding because of the language in the bill relative to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ even though that language is very moderate language,” Levin said.

The senator noted that the provision provides that repeal would only take effect after the Pentagon working group completes its study on the issue and the president, defense secretary and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for repeal.

Levin added he couldn’t recall a previous time in which the U.S. Senate couldn’t proceed to debate on defense authorization legislation.

“It’s important to know that we were just simply trying to get to the point where we could debate a bill,” he said. “I don’t think a filibuster has ever before prevented the Senate from getting to a defense authorization bill.”

GOP senators — including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who supported the repeal amendment to the defense authorization bill in committee — accused Democratic leadership on the Senate floor Tuesday of being intransigent by limiting the number of amendments that could come to the floor.

“That is why I am so disappointed that rather than allowing full and open debate and the opportunity for amendments from both sides of the aisle, the majority leader apparently intends to shut down the debate and exclude Republicans from offering a number of amendments,” Collins said.

Sarvis said a number of factors played into the unsuccessful cloture vote on Tuesday, including the pressure that repeal advocates placed on Reid to schedule the vote regardless of whether 60 votes were present to move forward.

“Those who were advocating a vote this Congress always understood that we would need 60 votes to succeed,” Sarvis said. “So the reality is, the majority leader scheduled the vote, but we came up short. We lost Democrats that we thought would be with us up until a few days ago and we lost some Republicans until late last week that we thought would be with us.”

Sarvis said Levin and McCain may have to reach some agreement on the number of amendments that can be offered to move forward.

“It doesn’t look good for Democrats or for Republicans — and especially this Congress — to be the first Congress in almost 50 years not to approve an authorization for the funding of our troops, especially when we are in war,” Sarvis said.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal have also cited insufficient support from the White House as a reason why the cloture vote was defeated.

Sarvis said President Obama didn’t make an effort to encourage senators to vote for cloture in the days prior to Tuesday.

“I did not see the White House whipping the vote for 72 hours before,” Sarvis said.

Nicholson ascribed blame to Obama as well as Reid and other LGBT organizations.

“The White House didn’t lift a finger to help and certain gay rights organizations refused to criticize Senator Reid while he derailed the vote in advance,” he said. “It’s just not a good position to be in with all of the hurdles and challenges of a highly polarized lame duck session ahead.”

During a Tuesday news conference, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied Lady Gaga had done more to advance the bill than President Obama. The pop singer appeared at a rally in Maine to promote passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation and tweeted with senators to encourage them to move forward.

“We wouldn’t be taking on these issues if it weren’t for the president,” Gibbs said. “This is an issue that passed the House because of the president and this administration’s work and the work of many members in Congress.”

Gibbs also ascribed blame to the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward with legislation in the Senate — even for a bill to authorize funds for the Pentagon — and said “it’s certainly not healthy for the way our government works and it sets an awful precedent for getting things done in the future.”

Sarvis said support from the White House during the lame duck session would be crucial to advancing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“We need the president speaking on this issue in the lame duck asking senators to be with him,” Sarvis said. “We know he favors repeal, but now we need him engaged more than ever.”

In the wake of Senate defeat, repeal advocates are seeking other options to move forward on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Litigation seeking to overturn the law has received renewed attention. Both Log Cabin v. United States and Witt v. Air Force are moving through the courts and could lead to an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” although legal experts expect those cases won’t be resolved for years.

In a statement following the Senate vote, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, urged the Obama administration not to appeal a recent California federal court’s decision against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the case of Log Cabin v. United States.

“We expect the Justice Department to recognize the overwhelming evidence that proves [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] is unconstitutional,” Solmonese said.

Even with litigation proceeding, Sarvis maintained that the legislative route is the best path for moving forward with repeal.

“The ball game is still in the Senate,” he said. “Yes, there’s some good things going on in the courts with Maj. Witt and the Log Cabin Republican case, but in all likelihood, those are going to be tied up for years.”

One question about a possible future vote on the defense authorization bill is what impact the Pentagon working group’s study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” due Dec. 1 would have on the legislation.

Sarvis dismissed the notion that the report represents a complication because he said he thinks the report would favor “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“They were asked to provide the [defense] secretary with a set of recommendations on how to implement open service,” Sarvis said. “Well, that is not going to be hurtful. Indeed, I’m not that concerned about the results of the survey.”

Nicholson said the completion of the Pentagon report should make voting for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” easier for many senators, but said its release will be “thrown into the highly charged and high politicized environment of the lame duck session.”

“Unfortunately, the working group itself has become so politicized that its utility in this whole processed has been diminished because of that as well,” Nicholson said. “Bottom line — the administration really screwed this one up.”

Many senators, including McCain, have said they want to see the report before acting on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Sarvis predicted continued equivocation from these senators upon the completion of the report and congressional hearings may be necessary following the completion of the study to address concerns.

“Sen. McCain says, ‘Oh, I’m going to need some time to study that report and analyze how they came up with those recommendations,’” Sarvis said. “‘We may need some hearings on that.’ So that’s going to remain a moving target.”

Another possible complication in the legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” later this year is state election laws.

According to Bloomberg News, state laws in Illinois, Delaware and West Virginia terminate the terms of appointed senators immediately after Election Day. Their elected successors may start in the lame duck session this year as opposed to the start of the next Congress.

These laws mean Sens. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) and Roland Burris (D-Ill.) — who voted in favor of cloture on Tuesday — may have to give up their seats to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal opponents in the lame duck session.

Sarvis acknowledged that a worst-case scenario of the loss of all three seats would complicate efforts to move forward with the defense authorization if the Senate faces another filibuster.

“If we’re facing another filibuster, I think it’s very, very challenging if we lose those three seats,” Sarvis said.

Sarvis said he’s spoken with Chris Coons, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware, about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“He looked me in the eye and told me that if he’s in the U.S. Senate, he will be voting for repeal,” Sarvis said. “So, I take heart from that commitment.”

Sarvis said he has “no idea” how Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell would vote should she win in the November election. O’Donnell is known for her opposition to gays and has spoken out against homosexuality.

Illustration courtesy of Georgia Voice

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.

The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Federal Government

National Park Service clarifies uniform policy

Announcement has implications for Pride

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National Park Service rangers from the Stonewall National Monument march in the 2021 New York City Pride parade. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service’s Facebook page)

BY ERIN REED | The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

In a follow-up, the park service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that park service participation in Pride “could imply agency support … on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the park service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the park service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

One park service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

Park service resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain national parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and tribal engagement.) This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy — specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-park service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Diverse group includes 11 LGBTQ judges

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Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 5, 2023. (Screenshot via White House YouTube channel)

With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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