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Rejected gay judicial nominee speaks out

Alter says media ‘falsely reported’ anti-Christian views

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A gay New York attorney whose nomination to the federal bench was rejected by the White House over anti-Christian comments he allegedly made claims that media outlets mischaracterized his views.

In an Oct. 21 letter to the Washington Blade, Daniel Alter said media outlets misrepresented his views on inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the practice of wishing shoppers “Merry Christmas” during the holidays.

The Blade this week published those reported statements as they were presented in a 2005 article from Cybercast News Online and a 2004 article in The New Republic.

“Having read the [Blade] article, I am concerned that other readers might come away believing that I am hostile to the seasonal greetings ‘Merry Christmas’ and that I personally object to the Pledge of Allegiance,” Alter writes. “Neither is true.”

In February, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his recommended nomination of Alter to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

But informed sources told the Blade the White House rejected the nomination over the statements perceived as anti-Christian.

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.

Had the Senate confirmed Alter to the position, he would have become the first openly gay male to serve on the federal bench.

In his letter to the Blade, Alter says the CNS article that quotes his views on “Merry Christmas” took his “words entirely out of context.”

“As National Civil Rights Director for the Anti-Defamation League, it was my job to express ADL’s view that — especially at holiday time — people should appreciate that different faith traditions celebrate differently, and children’s schools and other public institutions should try to acknowledge these diverse customs when they sponsor holiday events,” Alter says. “In short, the message was that holiday time should be a time for warmth and inclusion, not division and exclusion.”

The quote from the 2005 CNS article reads: “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 attached to his letter to the Blade a 2005 e-mail he sent to the communications staff at the Anti-Defamation League saying CNS News “falsely reported” his remarks.

“I feel strongly that we should send a correction for the record,” Alter said at the time. “I do not want to go down as someone who is hostile to ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Deborah Lauter, current director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League, has told the Blade her organization “should have insisted” the record be corrected at the time.

CNS News didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the accuracy of the Alter quote.

In the letter to Blade, Alter also takes issue with the way his views of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were presented in the 2004 article in The New Republic and says his fidelity to the pledge has “never waivered.”

“Not while I recited it on a daily basis in elementary school, not while I served in the United States Department of Justice for almost eight years, and not while I worked at ADL earnestly defending the fundamental right of all who live in this nation to practice their faith freely and enthusiastically, or not to be religious, depending upon their individual conscience,” Alter says.

In his letter, Alter doesn’t explicitly state that he was misquoted in The New Republic article in 2004 or that the piece merited a correction.

Lauter has told the Blade that Alter said he doesn’t recall speaking to The New Republic reporter who quoted him in the article.

The New Republic article quotes Alter as saying that the U.S. Supreme Court case Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow, which challenged inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, was “a good case at the wrong time.” Additionally, the article reports that Alter was “relieved” the Supreme Court decision “left open a window for future challenges.”

The New Republic didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether it stands by its reporting from 2004.

Based on the reported statements, the White House and Schumer reportedly 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.

The rejection disappointed many of his supporters, who urged the White House and Schumer to reconsider the decision and push him through the Senate. Schumer has since recommended the nomination of another openly gay man for the position on the judiciary.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, addressed the rejection of Alter’s nomination in a statement to the Blade.

“The White House does not comment on Presidential appointments that have not been announced,” Inouye said. “But all potential nominees are considered on the basis of their qualifications.”

Inouye said the president is committed to appointing “highly qualified individuals” for each post and “is proud that his appointments reflect the diversity of the American public.”

“We have already made a record number of openly LGBT appointments — including appointments to the judicial branch — and we are confident that this number will only continue to grow,” Inouye said.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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