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Pelosi foresees ‘Don’t Ask’ end by year’s end

Speaker wants Obama to end policy administratively

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Awards Gala (Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday reiterated her prediction that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be a memory by the year’s end — despite the failure of the Senate last week to move forward with repeal legislation — as she maintained the president has the ability to stop troop discharges without a change in law.

Asked by a reporter whether she’s spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about the Senate taking another shot at “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Pelosi replied, “That will be gone by executive — that will happen with or without Congress.”

“I don’t think it has to depend on whether it passes the Senate,” she continued. “The process will work its way through and the president will make his pronouncement.”

The speaker spoke to reporters after she gave a speech at the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Awards at the W Hotel, which was hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

During her speech, Pelosi made similar assurances and promised that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be “gone by the end of the year.”

“Some are here tonight who serve in the military,” she said. “God bless you for your courage and your patriotism. … But because of courage of some of them, this will be gone by the end of the year.”

Pelosi previously predicted in May that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be “a memory” by the end of this year during an interview with the Hill newspaper.

Speaking to reporters, Pelosi said Congress got the ball rolling on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to get lawmakers on record on the issue and so the change would be “in statute and all of that.”

The House in May passed an amendment that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

“But even the bill that we passed said that it was contingent upon the recommendation of the president’s … review,” she said. “The only difference would be statute versus the president [making a policy change.]”

Pressed on whether she thinks the executive branch would ultimately be responsible for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Pelosi replied, “That’s where it was anyway.”

“Others wanted to have more, so we tried to do more,” she said. “We’ll work very closely to try to see what happens after the election.”

Pelosi has previously said President Obama can issue an executive order to stop discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” without action from Congress.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal have been calling on Obama since the beginning of his administration to issue an order to stop the discharges under the law, but the president hasn’t taken such action.

Asked whether she would call on Obama to issue an order to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Pelosi replied, “That is the unfolding that we will see.”

“I’m very pleased with the course that the president’s on, but I think that they we shouldn’t be discharging people until that happens — so that, we have a little separation of — in terms of policy on that,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi added House members who support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were “very disappointed” the Senate didn’t have sufficient votes to end a filibuster on moving forward with legislation that would end the law.

“In the Senate, the Republicans held up the bill entirely so it couldn’t even be considered, so it was very disappointing,” she said. “They went really out of their way to try to block this.”

Pelosi also reiterated her position that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act wouldn’t see a House vote until legislative action is complete on repealing the 1993 law barring open service in the U.S. military.

“I told everyone that right from the start — that if we want to go down the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ route, then we’d have to put ENDA in a different place,” she said.

Pelosi said initial plans for the 111th Congress were to take on hate crimes protections legislation followed by ENDA and then “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But she said the House ended up acting on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” first before ENDA because there was “a lot of enthusiasm about changing the order.”

During her speech, Pelosi maintained the importance of the mid-term elections and said “the fabric of our middle class and strength of our democracy” is at stake.

Pelosi added that the election results will also “accelerate the pace of passing ENDA or set us back.”

The speaker said she believes the votes are in the U.S. House to pass ENDA, but expressed concern about a motion to recommit that could derail the bill.

The motion to recommit is a legislative manuever that opponents of ENDA could use to scuttle the bill when it comes to the House floor.

“I think we have the votes for it, but we have to resist the motion to recommit,” Pelosi said. “We can’t pass the bill unless we can resist all of the bad things that they could do to the bill along the way.”

Also speaking at the event were gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

During his speech, Frank emphasized the importance of keeping a Democratic majority in the next Congress and questioned those who would criticize lawmakers who support LGBT rights for the lack of progress on pro-LGBT bills.

“I understand people being unhappy about that,” he said. “What I do not understand is people who think that the way to respond to the fact that we weren’t able to get things done is further to empower the people who kept us from getting them done.”

Frank urged attendees to “bitch and fight” all the way to the polls to re-elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. House because Pelosi has been such a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

“Neither Tammy, nor I, nor anybody else has ever had to ask for her to support us,” Frank said. “We take that for granted and she has been the been the single most important public official in the history of the United States to be fully committed to our agenda not just as a matter of support, but as matter of her own personal involvement.”

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Federal Government

Barbara Lee: PEPFAR is ‘more in peril’ than ever before

Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for Bush-era HIV/AIDS program

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) speaks about the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Sept. 22 said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is “more in peril” now than at any point since its launch two decades ago.

“This program is reauthorized every five years, but it’s always on a bipartisan basis,” said Lee during a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. “As we approach the benchmark of an AIDS-free generation by 2023, it is unfortunately more in peril now than ever before.”

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR.

Lee noted PEPFAR as of 2020 has provided nearly $100 billion in “cumulative funding for HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and research.” She said PEPFAR is the largest global funding program for a single disease outside of COVID-19.

New PEPFAR strategy includes ‘targeted programming’ for marginalized groups

The panel took place amid the continued push for Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years. The federal government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last December at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. acknowledged HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups. A new PEPFAR strategy the Biden-Harris administration announced that seeks to “fill those gaps” over the next five years includes the following points:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

The Family Research Council Action in an email to supporters urged them to tell Congress to “stop Biden from hijacking PEPFAR to promote its radical social policies overseas.” Family Watch International has said PEPFAR “has been hijacked to advance a radical sexual agenda.”

“Please sign the petition to tell the U.S. Congress to ensure that no U.S. funds go to organizations that promote abortion, LGBT ideology, or ‘comprehensive sexuality education,'” said the group in an email to its supporters. 

A group of lawmakers and religious leaders from Kenya and other African countries in a letter they wrote to members of Congress in June said PEPFAR, in their view, no longer serves its original purposes of fighting HIV/AIDS because it champions homosexuality and abortion.

“We wrote that letter to the U.S. Congress not to stop PEPFAR funding to Kenya, but to demand the initiative to revert to its original mission without conditioning it to also supporting LGBTQ as human rights,” it reads.

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. The law, which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed on May 29, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his U.N. General Assembly speech last week noted LGBTQ and intersex rights and highlighted PEPFAR. Family Watch International in its email to supporters included a link to the letter from the African lawmakers and religious leaders.  

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both the FRC and Family Watch International as anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

“[PEPFAR is] not about abortions,” said Lee.

HIV/AIDS activists protest inside house speaker kevin mccarthy (r-calif.)’s office in d.c. on sept. 11, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power during the panel referenced Bush’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post that urged lawmakers to reauthorize PEPFAR.

“The way he put it is no program is more pro-life [than] one that has saved more than 25 million lives,” said Power.

Power referenced the “manufactured controversy that is making it difficult to get this reauthorization.” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Knengasong said a failure to reauthorize PEPFAR would weaken “our own foreign policy and diplomacy.”

“Once again the United States will be missing in action,” stressed Lee.

Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Legislation Melanie Egorin and Kenny Kamson, a Nigerian HIV/AIDS activist, also spoke on the panel that MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated. 

From left: U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Nkengasong and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power discuss the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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