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Gay Republican weighs run for president in 2012

Veteran GOP operative exposed Mormon links to Prop 8

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Fred Karger, who is considering a run for president, founded Californians Against Hate, an independent group that waged a media campaign disclosing what Karger called a secret effort by the Mormon Church to bankroll Prop 8 and similar measures in other states. (Photo by and courtesy of Adam Bouska)

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A longtime GOP political operative who is credited with helping to develop the political attack ads that sunk the 1988 presidential campaign of Democrat Michael Dukakis says he’s seriously considering running for president in 2012 as an openly gay Republican.

Laguna Beach, Calif., resident Fred Karger, 60, has formed a presidential campaign exploratory committee and is “testing the waters” by campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to hold a presidential nominating caucus or primary.

“My thirty-five years of experience as a fighter in politics places me in a unique position to run,” Karger said in an April news conference when he announced his interest in running for president.

“I have worked on nine presidential campaigns. This would be my tenth,” he said. “I have managed dozens of other campaigns all over the country, and would bring that wealth of experience to my own candidacy.”

Should Karger officially declare his candidacy, his status as an out gay presidential contender is likely to pose a dilemma for many gay activists aligned with both the Republican and Democratic parties.

In his campaign literature he makes it clear he would be a strong and vocal advocate for the entire LGBT movement’s agenda. Among other things, he favors same-sex marriage equality, passage of a congressional non-discrimination bill for LGBT people, and repeal of both the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law and the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

But for years, before coming out as gay, Karger helped Republicans – some who opposed LGBT-related legislation — win elections as a behind-the-scenes operative with the Dolphin Group, a California-based GOP campaign consulting firm. The firm specialized in creating negative TV ads targeting Democrats.

In 1986, Karger played a key role in a media campaign targeting three liberal California judges by lining up grieving parents whose children were murdered by death row inmates, according to a report by the Sacramento Bee. The three judges, who had a record of overturning death sentences, lost their re-election bids under California’s system of electing judges, with the campaign orchestrated by Karger and his firm being credited for their defeat.

Two years later, in the midst of the 1988 presidential election, Karger worked with the campaign of then Vice President George H.W. Bush to develop the now famous “Willie Horton” campaign against Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, the then governor of Massachusetts.

Sacramento Bee senior editor Dan Morain reported in a profile of Karger earlier this year that Karger lined up family members of victims of Horton, a convicted murderer who committed a rape while released on furlough from the Massachusetts prison system during Dukakis’s tenure as governor.

“Karger used the Horton story to help to thwart Dukakis’ presidential bid and elect George H.W. Bush,” Morain wrote in his profile.

Karger says he remained deep in the closet during those years. Although he considers himself a moderate Rockefeller-style Republican, he acknowledges his work helped elect conservative Republicans across the country, including President Ronald Reagan.

Now he says he’s poised to become an outspoken advocate for LGBT causes through the national platform of a presidential campaign.

Karger became involved in gay rights causes in 2006 following his retirement from the political consulting business. And when anti-gay leaders launched their campaign to kill California’s same-sex marriage law in 2008 through Proposition 8, Karger jumped head first into the fray — this time on the side of LGBT advocacy groups that opposed the marriage ballot measure.

Using his skills as a campaign organizer, Karger pored over campaign finance records for the committee leading the campaign in favor of Prop 8 and discovered huge amounts of campaign funds for the committee came from people with links to the Mormon Church.

He quickly founded Californians Against Hate, an independent group that waged a media campaign disclosing what Karger called a clandestine effort by the Mormon Church to bankroll Prop 8 and other campaigns across the country opposing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights legislation.

Among Karger’s targets was the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, which he described as a Mormon front group aimed at killing same-sex marriage through ballot measures in California, Maine and other states.

Although voters approved Prop 8 and the Maine ballot measure, Karger has been credited with forcing NOM to spend large sums of money to fight off campaign finance investigations and complaints initiated by Californians Against Hate before governmental bodies that monitor campaign financing.

NOM leaders denied Karger’s allegations during the Prop 8 campaign and later subpoenaed him to testify in proceedings called to determine whether NOM was required to disclose the names of its contributors. Karger called the subpoenas an attempt to intimidate him.

Like all of the well-known prospective GOP presidential candidates, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Karger has yet to officially declare his candidacy. Due to Federal Election Commission rules, he – like the others – must walk a fine line between expressing interest in running and saying openly that he will run.

However, Karger has appeared many times this year in Iowa and New Hampshire. Last month, he ran a TV commercial on New Hampshire’s largest television station introducing himself as a possible GOP candidate.

His immediate strategy, he says, is to build up enough name recognition to gain access to the GOP presidential debates and forums in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he would be observed by a nationwide TV audience alongside the better-known candidates.

An official with the New Hampshire Republican Party said TV stations and civic groups in the state historically have used their sole discretion in choosing which candidates to invite to appear in debates during the presidential primaries. An independent bipartisan commission determines which candidates to invite for presidential debates in the general election, but no such body exists for the primaries and caucuses.

Karger compares his possible run for the presidency to the 1972 presidential candidacy of Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), who became the first serious black and female candidate for president.

“Her campaign paved the way for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988, and the election of Barack Obama as our 44th president in 2008,” Karger said.

“Our movement, I think, needs new blood and I think it needs somebody at that level, someone to be in those debates who is openly gay, not just a fierce advocate, someone who has walked the walk,” he said.

“And I will be in those debates. I’m a fighter and I have a strategy and it’s being implemented.”

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, said the group welcomes Karger’s candidacy but could not comment on whether the group would consider endorsing him. Berle noted that Karger is a Log Cabin member.

“His presence in the race will raise the level of discourse on equality issues in the Republican primary,” Berle said. “When Fred joins the Republican debates in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will represent the core conservative principles of individual liberty and freedom for all Americans on which our party was founded.”

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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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