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White House rejects gay judicial nominee

Supporters urged Schumer to fight for attorney accused of anti-Christian remarks

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The White House has rejected the recommended nomination of a New York attorney who would have become the first openly gay man to sit on the federal bench, because of comments he reportedly made about the Pledge of Allegiance and Christmas that were deemed anti-Christian.

In February, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recommended the nomination of Daniel Alter to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Presidents traditionally follow the guidance of senators from the state where there’s a vacancy for judicial nominations.

But informed sources told the Washington Blade that the White House rejected Alter’s nomination because of remarks he reportedly made regarding a case challenging inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In addition, the White House reportedly objected to remarks that Alter made suggesting that merchants not wish shoppers “Merry Christmas” during the holidays.

In a 2005 article published by Cybercast News Service, Alter is quoted as saying that a general holiday greeting is more appropriate and inclusive for retailers as opposed to saying “Merry Christmas.”

“It seems both from a business … and a community perspective, that if merchandisers were going to do that … they would try to wish those in the community who may not share in celebrating Christmas a happy holiday as well,” Alter is quoted as saying.

“Our diversity has made us great and will continue to make us great and [‘Merry Christmas’] undermines both the holiday spirit as well as the message I think Americans should be sending to each other,” Alter reportedly continued.

The 2005 quotes were apparently reprinted in a 2008 CNS article that is stored in the archives on the organization’s website.

Additionally, in a 2004 article published in The New Republic, Alter is quoted as saying the U.S. Supreme Court case Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow “was a good case at the wrong time.” The case challenged use of the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

The article reported Alter was “relieved” the Supreme Court decision “left open a window for future challenges.” The Anti-Defamation League had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Newdow case.

“When the right case does come along,” Alter reportedly said, “We’re there.”

Alter was previously an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and specialized in First Amendment and terrorism issues. He also served as national director of the civil rights division of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to fight anti-Semitism.

The comments he reportedly made came in his capacity as an official with the Anti-Defamation League. The White House decision to reject Alter disappointed his supporters, who rallied around him and urged Schumer to advance his nomination anyway.

Schumer announced his recommended nomination of Alter during a Human Rights Campaign dinner in New York City and emphasized that his selection would make him the first openly gay male judge on the federal bench.

In a February statement, Schumer said he recommended Alter because he’s “a brilliant attorney who possesses the knowledge, balanced views and temperament required of a federal judge.”

“His outstanding leadership skills, his commitment to justice, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the federal bench,” Schumer said. “I’m proud to nominate Daniel Alter. Period. But I am equally proud to nominate him because he is a history-maker who will be the first openly gay male judge in American history.”

But based on those reported statements, the White House and Schumer determined that Alter wouldn’t be able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster of his nomination. It’s unclear when the decision to reject Alter was made.

Schumer’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. A White House spokesperson declined to comment. Alter also declined to comment for this story.

Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League, said the apparent decision to reject Alter’s nomination based on reported comments he made on behalf of the organization is “just plain unfair and unjust.”

“Any statements he made in the course of his job with ADL were just that — he was representing the views of our organization,” she said. “It’s dismaying if in fact that led to the derailing of his nomination.”

Lauter said Alter doesn’t recall speaking to The New Republic for the 2004 article and that Alter was misquoted in the 2005 CNS article.

“It was an inaccurate report and ADL should have insisted the record be corrected at the time,” Lauter said.

Lauter clarified that the Anti-Defamation League has never objected to retailers wishing customers “Merry Christmas.”

“But the bottom line is even if he made the comment, which he didn’t, it shouldn’t have disqualified him from service as a judge,” she said.

The decision to refuse the Alter nomination likely came sometime before July, when his supporters urged Schumer to go to bat for his recommended nominee.

In a letter dated July 2, 2010, a group of 66 attorneys who worked with Alter at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York wrote that the designation of Alter to the federal bench is “a nomination worth fighting for.”

“We urge you to take all possible steps to ensure that Mr. Alter is nominated to the federal bench and promptly considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” the letter states.

Among those who signed the letter is James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush.

The attorneys wrote that Alter’s “nomination to the federal bench is in jeopardy” because of “demonstrably false statements” that reporters made while he was working for the Anti-Defamation League. The missive doesn’t detail why the statements Alter reportedly made to media outlets are “demonstrably false.”

“While we will let others set forth the factual reasons why these allegations are baseless, we write to state emphatically that the sentiments falsely ascribed to Mr. Alter are inconsistent with everything that we know about him,” the letter states. “Mr. Alter has dedicated his life to tolerance, public service, moderation, and fidelity to law. He is unfailingly kind, respectful, and open-minded. In both deed and character, Mr. Alter is the antithesis of the views that have been misattributed to him.”

The signers state that they “cannot imagine a more highly qualified nominee” and that the loss of Alter to the federal judiciary based on “false allegations” would be significant.

“By temperament, he is well-suited to the bench, possessing every quality one seeks in a judge: respect for all views, dedication to the public, tireless pursuit of the best legal argument, and a determination to reach decisions that will command the respect of all parties,” the letter states.

Lauter said the Anti-Defamation League sent its own letter to Schumer in July urging the senator to push for Alter’s nomination, but she declined to make the letter public.

“It was a private letter to the senator just clarifying the record and expressing support — enthusiastically and without reservation — for Danny Alter’s nomination,” she said.

Also lamenting the derailment of Alter’s nomination is Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney who served as an adviser to President Clinton.

Socarides told the Blade the White House’s rejection of Alter’s nomination was evidence of a broken system.

“I don’t know Daniel Alter personally,” Socarides said. “I’m told he is highly qualified. We need more people like him in the federal judiciary. I don’t know why his nomination got derailed, but certainly a system in which someone like Alter can’t get confirmed is badly broken.”

HRC heralded Schumer’s announcement of his recommended nomination of Alter in February, but the organization is mum on his rejection.

At the time of the announcement, Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, said in a statement that Alter “is eminently qualified for a position on the federal bench.”

“America is taking a step forward toward equality by evaluating an individual based on his accomplishments and without regard to his sexual orientation,” Solmonese said. “We commend Senator Schumer for his historic recommendation, and look forward to the President’s nomination.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, this week declined to comment on the White House rejection of Alter.

Schumer has since recommended the nomination of another openly gay man, J. Paul Oetken, to become a district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The New York senator made the announcement in a Sept. 23 statement that said Oetken has “the right combination of skills, experience and dedication to [be] an excellent judge on the court.”

Oetken served as an attorney in private practice and was an associate counsel for former President Bill Clinton, according to the Schumer statement.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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