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A dismal future under GOP control?

Advocates fear ‘zero probability’ of pro-gay advances in next Congress



The prospects of House minority leader John Boehner becoming speaker are frightening for LGBT rights supporters. HRC has given Boehner a zero in its annual congressional scorecard. (Photo courtesy of Republican National Conference)

LGBT rights supporters are bracing for a freeze on pro-gay legislation in the next two years if — as many pundits predict — Republicans take control of the U.S. House and Democrats have a reduced majority in the Senate.

Patrick Egan, a gay New York University political science professor, said what he sees for outstanding pro-LGBT legislation in the 112th Congress is “not a pretty picture.”

“I would say nothing’s going to happen,” Egan said. “You can see how difficult it was getting any kind of pro-gay legislation out of two houses that were solidly controlled by Democrats, and the picture’s just going to get worse to the extent that Republicans gain power on Capitol Hill.”

Egan said he couldn’t identify which bills — such as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — have a greater chance of passing than others because he thinks, “the probability of all of them is zero.”

“I’m just so pessimistic about anything moving at all that I actually don’t think that question is very meaningful,” he said.

Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, drew on the record of Republican control throughout the 1990s and early 2000s in his prediction of what could happen next year.

“We saw what Republican leadership looked like in the House, and that was when we had a Federal Marriage Amendment being debated, it’s when we saw [the Defense of Marriage Act] passed, it’s where we saw a slew of efforts that delayed our progress,” Cole said.

Cole said the possibility of a hostile Congress underscores the need for LGBT rights supporters to work to elect friendly lawmakers during the campaign season.

“I don’t want to be too fatalistic about where things are going to end up because while there’s six weeks until the election, six weeks is a long time, and no one can honestly say they’ll know what’s going to happen,” Cole said.

Still, political experts across the board are predicting that Republicans will achieve enough gains in the U.S. House on Election Day to take a majority in the chamber.

Nate Silver, founder of the FiveThirtyEight blog, estimated last week that Republicans have a 65 percent chance of taking the House. His model projects that Republicans will go from holding 188 seats to approximately 223 seats and give them a narrow majority.

Earlier this month, Cook Political Report on its website also identified Republicans as modest favorites to take control of the House.

“The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a Republican net gain of at least 40 seats,” the website states. “A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

Such an outcome would lead to the retirement of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the ascension of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to her role.

Many Washington insiders are anticipating that House Democrats will be facing bad news on Election Day. At a recent D.C. fundraiser where Pelosi didn’t appear at the expected time, attendees joked that she was delayed because she was trying to get rid of a tape-measure wielding Boehner from her office.

Cole said the possibility of Boehner taking control of the House would be bad news for LGBT people and noted HRC has previously given the minority leader — as well as others in Republican leadership, such as Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) — a “0” on its congressional scorecards.

“These are the people who would be deciding the agenda of what gets to the floor,” Cole said.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a lawmaker known for her support for the LGBT community and co-sponsor of numerous pro-LGBT bills in Congress, said she’s unsure of what will happen with these bills if her party takes control of the House as she criticized the current Democratic majority for not taking action.

“I don’t know what will happen with Republicans,” she told the Blade last week. “I know what’s happening now. I don’t really get an opportunity to get to vote on those [bills] very often on the floor.”

Ros-Lehtinen was also reluctant to say that she’d be the champion of pro-LGBT legislation under GOP control in the House.

“I think that there are a lot of champions in a bi-partisan way on these issues,” she said. “I would not consider myself a champion of anything, but I’m proud to support the bills. But right now, it’s Democrat control, so you got to ask [U.S. House Speaker] Nancy [Pelosi] what’s up.”

Even with fears and uncertainty about how a GOP-controlled Congress would handle LGBT issues, the Republicans haven’t been emphasizing social issues in their quest to retake Congress.

The House Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” which was unveiled last week, notably has little to do with social issues and instead plays up economic policy.

The pledge has one line saying Republicans will work to defend “traditional marriage.” Other issues, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” aren’t mentioned in the document.

Brian Moulton, HRC’s chief legislative counsel, wrote in a blog posting last week that the document shows LGBT people wouldn’t fare well under a Republican-controlled Congress.

“While the document focuses heavily on economic issues, its ‘pledge’ also includes hostility to LGBT equality, promising support for ‘traditional marriage’ and, in a thinly veiled attack on LGBT advances through legislation and the courts, criticizing actions that ‘thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values,'” Moulton said.

Even under Republican control, options would be available to the Democratic minority to work to pass pro-LGBT legislation.

One possibility would be to pass bills through a discharge petition, a maneuver that could bring legislation that’s bottled up in committee to the House floor. Supporters of pro-LGBT bills in the Democratic minority could find Republican moderates to sign the discharge petition to obtain 218 signatures needed to move forward with the legislation.

But Egan was skeptical about the use of a discharge petition to pass pro-LGBT legislation and said he doesn’t think moderate Republicans would join such an effort.

“The few moderate Republicans who are left are going to be worried about a primary challenge from their right in the cycle,” Egan said. “One of the true ways to invite a primary challenge from your right-wing is to vote for LGBT-friendly legislation.”

As Democrats face dismal prospects in the House, LGBT rights supporters may be able to look to a Democratic-controlled Senate to advance pro-gay legislation.

In the Senate, where only one-third of the seats are up for grabs during any given election cycle, the forecast is better for the Democrats, although Republican gains are still expected.

Silver estimates that Republicans have an 18 percent chance of taking the Senate. Still, his model projects Democrats will go from having 59 seats in the chamber to having an estimated 52.2 seats.

The reduced Democratic majority in the Senate may mean that the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster in the chamber could be further out of reach.

Still, Democratic control in the Senate could provide the opportunity of amending larger pieces of legislation with pro-LGBT measures in the chamber in the hopes that such language would survive in conference committee for both chambers to approve and send to the president’s desk.

Such a tactic would be similar to how the Senate in 2000 amended major defense legislation with a hate crimes protections measure as a way forward. The hate crimes measure didn’t become law that year and only made it into the books last year as part of defense legislation signed by President Obama.

But Egan was skeptical about the prospects of being able to move forward with pro-LGBT legislation in the Senate even by amending larger legislation.

“That sort of tactic tends to be blocked by Republican senators who are social conservatives, and I would imagine that would continue to happen in the next session,” Egan said.

Egan said he expects a number of Democratic senators will be replaced after Election Day with “hard-core social conservatives” and said the scenario under which pro-LGBT legislation advances under those circumstances seems “really unlikely.”

With a possible block on pro-LGBT legislation in the upcoming Congress, eyes could be on Obama to make administrative changes beneficial to the LGBT community as opposed to having to rely on enacting legislation.

Matt Foreman, program director for LGBT and immigrant rights at the Haas Jr. Fund, said the Obama administration has at its disposal the means to help the LGBT community regardless of the election results in November.

“There are dozens and dozens of ways in which the Obama administration can continue to change federal policies and practices to improve the response of the federal government to needs of LGBT people,” Foreman said.

Foreman said he thinks advocates often elevate legislation over potential policy changes, such as funding for community centers and anti-violence programs as well as determining how a family is defined in the health care reform and how jobs programs treat LGBT applicants.

“All of those things are incredibly important to people, so I think that even if strong anti-LGBT majorities take control of Congress, there will still be lots and lots of opportunities to make progress within the administration,” Foreman said.

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  1. Jay

    October 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Yes, the prospects for gay rights legislation if the Republicans take power are pretty grim. Just like the prospects for gay rights legislation if the Democrats keep their unprecedented majorities.

  2. Bill

    October 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Oh, no progress for LGBT issues under GOP control? Sounds just like what we got under a democratic administration and filibuster-proof control Congress.

  3. Frankie James

    October 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Bill – there was never a filibuster proof control in place… beside, you know Gays are the last group it is still ok to score points with.

    GOProud should just give it up and go hide. Clearly reason does not lead their ignorant goals – just more money.

  4. Bill

    October 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    @Frankie James. Dear Brother, I beg to differ but during Obama’s first year in office, he had a filibuster-proof Congress with the possibility of even some liberal Republicans joining. If he were serious about doing any for our community, he would have acted then. We should have realize (as some of us did), that the selection (and his defense) of having Rev. Rick Warren delivery the inaugural invocation was a warning of things to come.

    • Bill Underwood

      October 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      Two words: “Exucutive Order.” That’s what it would take to eliminate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One word: “Cajones.” That is what our president lacks.

      • Storm

        October 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm

        First of all, it’s “cojones”. Secondly, an executive order can’t rescind DADT. Since Congress (with Democratic majorities in BOTH houses) passed a law, (signed by a Democratic President) Congress will have to change the law, or it will have to be declared unconstitutional.

        • Storm

          October 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm

          In other words, our prospects with the GOP in charge can’t be any worse than with Democrats running things.

  5. Keppler

    October 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Yawn…. “A dismal future”: More of the same.

  6. Ben

    October 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Well it’s just WOW…SORRY that he didn’t jump to everythng that you wanted when you wanted it.
    Hey I’m not totally happy with everything but some things were done. But at least we do now have a hate crimes law regardless of how it came to law. IT DID.

    That is something your beloved Bill would have never done and also so much continued LOVE for a man who gave you D.A.D.T!

    But then again this community as a whole never wanted Barack Obama in there in the first place and that also goes for The Blade. It was Hillary or bust!

    And your anger should be at the congress who makes the laws…NOT OBAMA who just signs them!

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Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?

Some fear that Obergefell marriage decision could fall



Protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1. (Photo by Cathy Renna)

The oral arguments before the justices of the United States Supreme Court had barely ended in the case brought by the state of Mississippi defending its law banning abortion after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges — the same-sex marriage decision — would be in danger should the high court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler, appearing on NPR’s ‘Heard on All Things Considered,’ told host Mary Louise Kelly that there was a basis for concern over whether the court would actually overrule its precedents in other cases based on the questions and statements raised during the hearing by the conservative members of the court.

Asked by Kelly if she saw a legal door opening Ziegler affirmed that she did. Kelly then asked her, “Them taking up cases to do with that. What about same-sex marriage?”

Ziegler answered, “Yeah, same-sex marriage is definitely a candidate. Justices Alito and Thomas have in passing mentioned in dicta that they think it might be worth revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision.

“And I think it’s fair to say that in the sort of panoply of culture war issues, that rights for same-sex couples and sexual orientation are still among the most contested, even though certainly same-sex marriage is more subtle than it was and than abortion was.

“I think that certainly the sort of balance between LGBTIQ rights and religious liberty writ large is a very much alive issue, and I think some states may try to test the boundaries with Obergefell, particularly knowing that they have a few justices potentially willing to go there with them.”

As almost if to underscore the point raised by Ziegler during the hearing, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor pointed out that the high court has taken and “discerned” certain rights in cases from the Constitution.

Along with abortion, the court has “recognized them in terms of the religion parents will teach their children. We’ve recognized it in their ability to educate at home if they choose,” Sotomayor said. “We have recognized that sense of privacy in people’s choices about whether to use contraception or not. We’ve recognized it in their right to choose who they’re going to marry.”

In following up the cases cited by Justice Sotomayor, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who was defending the state’s abortion law, whether a decision in his favor would affect the legal precedents in those cases cited by Justice Sotomayor.

In his answer to Justice Barrett, the state’s Solicitor General said cases involving contraception, same-sex marriage and sodomy wouldn’t be called into question because they involve “clear rules that have engendered strong reliance interests and that have not produced negative consequences or all the many other negative stare decisis considerations we pointed out.”

However, Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Sharon McGowan had a different take and interpreted remarks by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to mean that the decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized private sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down remaining bans on the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, would actually justify overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a publicly released media statement McGowan noted: “During today’s argument, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that two key Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ civil rights—Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—support overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

‘To that we say, NOT IN OUR NAME. LGBTQ people need abortions. Just as important, those landmark LGBTQ decisions EXPANDED individual liberty, not the opposite. They reflected the growing societal understanding of our common humanity and equality under law.

“Just as the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the lie of ‘separate but equal,’ the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Obergefell appropriately overruled precedent where it was clear that, as was true with regard to race, our ancestors failed properly to acknowledge that gender and sexual orientation must not be barriers to our ability to live, love, and thrive free of governmental oppression. … 

“These landmark LGBTQ cases, which Lambda Legal litigated and won, and on which we rely today to protect our community’s civil rights, were built directly on the foundation of Casey and Roe. Our interests in equal dignity, autonomy, and liberty are shared, intertwined, and fundamental.” 

On Sunday, the Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBTQ+ legal organization that represented three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.

Minter is urging caution in how people interpret the court arguments and remarks made by the justices.

“We should be cautious about taking the bait from anti-LGBTQ groups who falsely argue that if the Supreme Court reverses or undermines Roe v. Wade, they are likely to reverse or undermine Obergefell or Lawrence. In fact, that is highly unlikely, as the argument in Dobbs itself showed,” he said.

“The only reason Justice Kavanaugh mentioned Obergefell and Lawrence, along with Brown v. Board of Education, was to cite them as examples of cases in which the Supreme Court clearly did the right thing. All of those decisions rely at least as strongly on equal protection as on fundamental rights, and even this extremely conservative Supreme Court has not questioned the foundational role of equal protection in our nation’s constitutional law,” Minter stressed.

During an interview with Bloomberg magazine, David Cortman, of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group, said “two things in particular distinguish abortion from those other privacy rights: the right to life and the states’ interest in protecting a child.”

Cortman, whose group urged the justices to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, said those other rights may be just as wrong as the right to an abortion. “But the fundamental interest in life that’s at issue in abortion means those other rights are probably not in any real danger of being overturned.”

But Cortman is of the opinion that there is little impetus among the court’s conservatives to take up challenges to those cases.

However, the fact that the six to three makeup of the high court with a conservative majority has progressives clamoring for the public to pay closer attention and be more proactively engaged.

Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in an emailed statement to the Blade underscored those concerns:

“Reports and analysis coming out of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are extremely disturbing and represent a threat to our individual constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy. There is no ‘middle ground’ on what the Constitution guarantees and what was decided decades ago with the Roe v Wade decision. 

“This is about liberty, equality, and the rule of law, not the political or partisan views of those sitting on the bench. The unprecedented decision to remove a constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court 50 years ago would set back civil rights by decades. ….

“Abortion access is essential, and a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Bans on abortion are deeply racist and profoundly sexist – the harshest impacts fall on Black and Brown women and pregnant people and on our families and communities.

“If you think this decision will not affect you, think again: a wrong decision by the Supreme Court means you, too, will lose your bodily autonomy, your ability to own your own personal and community power. This is not just about abortion; it is about controlling bodies based on someone else determining your worthiness. This is a racial justice issue. This is a women’s issue. It is an LGBTQ issue. It is a civil rights issue. These are our fundamental rights that are at stake.”

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Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students



Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday



Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

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