Connect with us

Politics

Gay U.S. House members: ‘Elections Matter’

Published

on

The three openly gay members of Congress on Wednesday made public a letter emphasizing that “elections matter” as they urged LGBT people to go the polls.

In the letter, Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) acknowledge the many LGBT people are frustrated with the lack of progress in Congress, but maintain that “an apathetic stance during such a critical time is fruitless.”

“We need not look too far into the past to see how inaction and complacency truly pays us back,” the letter states. “Under Republican rule, we not only suffered from a lack of victories, but truly devastating setbacks.”

The letter recalls the anti-gay initiatives of the Republican Congress under former President George W. Bush, such as an attempt to make an ban on same-sex marriage part of the U.S. Constitution.

Additionally, the letter touts accomplishments that took place during the 111th Congress, such as the passage of hate crimes legislation and President Obama’s order mandating hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.

The lawmaker ask LGBT voters to “scrutinize and measure candidates running” on their local ballots to evaluate who would support issues important to the LGBT community next year.

“Elections matter,” the lawmakers write. “They matter to our country and to our community. We must go out and vote this November to ensure the forward momentum we have struggled for continues for our benefit and for that of future generations of LGBT individuals.”

Political pundits are expecting that Democrats will sustain heavy losses on Election Day. Republicans are expected to gain control of the U.S. House and take several seats in the U.S. Senate.

The entire letter follows:

An open letter to the LGBT Community

Dear Friends,

Elections matter.

Yes, we’ve all heard that simple phrase before – but so often we forget it. And as we stand on the doorstep of an election that will again decide the course of our government, our community is locked into an energetic and serious debate about how to engage, or whether to even engage at all in the midterm elections this November.

Why? Our community is frustrated with the pace of change. And as three LGBT Members of Congress, we share your frustration.  Despite this, an apathetic stance during such a critical time is fruitless.

We need not look too far into the past to see how inaction and
complacency truly pays us back.  Under Republican rule, we not only suffered from a lack of victories, but truly devastating setbacks. We all remember President Bush and the Republican Congress pushing for a Federal Marriage Amendment for political purposes and using our community as a wedge to advocate for state-wide marriage amendments across the nation. Republicans make no secret of their opposition to seemingly nonpartisan issues such as adoption by gay & lesbian couples despite the thousands of children in need of homes. And we all remember federal agencies being told to ignore any grant request that said gay or LGBT, including grants for HIV/AIDS funding.

There has, indeed, been progress under the Obama Administration. In the 111th Congress, we passed the Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr. Federal Hate Crimes Act, admittedly no small feat, while the State Department adopted inclusive passport procedures recognizing and accommodating our transgender brothers and sisters. Our voice was further strengthened when we achieved medical decision parity in America’s hospitals and strengthened polices that prevented discrimination against housing applicants based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Is it enough? No. The fight for equality is far from over. We face obstruction at every turn and it is incumbent upon us  to push harder to ensure swift action on the issues that affect us most.

Next month, the courageous and steadfast activism of the past year must be met by a vote cast on November 2nd. We ask that you look at your local ballot and scrutinize and measure candidates running for each seat. Which candidates do you see supporting issues that affect our community, which will champion our causes? Whether it is for employment non-discrimination, the repeal of DOMA or Federal Partnership benefits? Which candidates even believe LGBT issues merit space on their campaign website?

Elections matter. They matter to our country and to our community. We must go out and vote this November to ensure the forward momentum we have struggled for continues for our benefit and for that of future generations of LGBT individuals.

Sincerely,

Representatives:
Barney Frank
Tammy Baldwin
Jared Polis

Continue Reading
Advertisement

News

Anticipation builds amid delay: Will Biden name LGBTQ ambassadors?

United States has never had lesbian woman, trans person as envoy

Published

on

Biden administration, gay news, Washington Blade

More than 100 days into his presidency, President Biden has yet to name picks for a multitude of ambassadorial positions in a delay unusual for a presidency at this stage, raising questions about whether he’ll miss an opportunity to exhibit America’s LGBTQ community overseas through the appointment of the first-ever lesbian and transgender person as ambassadors.

Many of these ambassadorial vacancies, which complement the diplomatic corps of the U.S. government to serve as a representation of American diversity overseas, are in key positions. Nearly 90 ambassadorial positions, including sought-after posts in Israel, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy and China, remain vacant according to an April article in USA Today.

The delay in ambassadorial appointments appears to come from pressure on Biden to refrain from the traditional practice of naming donors who bundled for his presidential campaign to the prestigious posts as opposed to foreign policy experts. Biden declined during his campaign to commit to refusing to reward donors with ambassadorial appointments, but the issue has taken hold in progressive circles.

On the other hand, many donors and bundlers for Biden’s presidential campaign were LGBTQ people, who would reasonably expect an ambassadorial appointment as a reward for helping get Biden to the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade on Tuesday on whether Biden is missing an opportunity to name lesbian and transgender ambassadors in historic firsts, urged patience.

“Given we haven’t named many ambassadors quite yet — and we hope to soon; stay tuned — certainly the president looks to ensuring that the people representing him, not just in the United States, but around the world, represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community,” Psaki said.

Asked to clarify her definition of “soon” in this context — whether it means days, weeks, or months — Psaki declined to provide a more definite timeline.

“I think it depends on when the president makes some decisions,” Psaki said. “And he’ll continue to consider a range of options for a lot of the positions that are out there and still remain vacant.”

At the same time, Psaki made a point to commend the work of Foreign Service officers at the State Department with whom Biden has sought to restore trust after years of scorn from former President Trump.

“I will say, having served at the State Department for a couple of years, there are incredible career service employees who are serving in these embassies around the world who are representing the United States and our values.” Psaki said. “That continues to be the case, but, of course, we’re eager to have ambassadors in place and confirmed to represent the president and the vice president and the United States.”

The appointment of members of the LGBTQ community to ambassadorships has a significant place in the movement’s history. In 1998, Jim Hormel became the first openly gay person to serve as U.S. ambassador after being named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. But the victory came after a struggle when anti-gay senators, including the late Jesse Helms, refused to confirm Hormel explicitly because he’s gay. President Clint0n ended up appointing Hormel as an ambassador through a recess appointment, which averted the need for Senate confirmation.

Presidents regardless of party have achieved historic firsts with the appointment of openly gay men as ambassadors. Michael Guest in the George W. Bush administration was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Romania, making him the first openly gay person to obtain Senate confirmation for an ambassadorship. Former President Obama over the course of two terms appointed a record seven openly gay men as ambassadors, including John Berry as U.S. ambassador to Australia and Daniel Baer as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Richard Grenell, named by President Trump as U.S. ambassador to Germany, currently has the distinction of being the openly gay person with the most prestigious ambassadorial appointment. Consistent with his reputation as a firebrand on social media, Grenell hit Germany hard as ambassador to compel the G-5 country to meet its military spending obligations as a NATO partner. Grenell has something to show for his efforts: The country began to spend closer to 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

And yet for all these appointments, no president has ever named an open lesbian or trans woman for a position as U.S. ambassador, an oversight that stands out after the rapid progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years. At a time when transgender rights are in focus amid anti-trans attacks in state legislatures, the appointment of an openly transgender ambassador would also send a signal of solidarity with the transgender community.

There’s no indication Biden won’t appoint an LGBTQ person for a position as U.S. ambassador, which could be an easy achievement from him with the LGBTQ community, but the delay raises questions on whether or not they will happen, in addition to keeping the diplomatic corps from being fully staffed and functional.

Moreover, the position of LGBTQ international liaison at the State Department, a position Biden campaigned on filling after Trump let the position remain vacant, remains unfilled. During the Obama years, Randy Berry served in that role and travelled internationally to work with LGBTQ groups overseas and demonstrate U.S. solidarity with them.

It’s unclear why the international LGBTQ liaison position continues to remain vacant within the Biden administration. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade on Wednesday back to the White House on potential LGBTQ ambassadorial appointments or the international LGBTQ liaison role.

To be sure, Biden has made several key LGBTQ appointments in the limited time in his presidency. Among them are Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the first-ever openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, which made her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any presidential appointment.

In the past few weeks alone, Biden has signaled he’d name openly lesbian and transgender people to high-ranking civilian positions at the Defense Department. Brenda Sue Fulton, a lesbian activist who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban, got the nod as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, while Shawn Skelly, a transgender national security expert who served in the Air Force for 20 years as a Naval Flight Officer, obtained the nod to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness. Meanwhile, Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian Iraq war veteran who twice ran to represent Texas’ 23rd congressional district, was nominated to become Air Force under secretary.

Even the State Department itself has a person from the LGBTQ community serving as its public face. Ned Price, who conducts daily briefings with the media as State Department spokesperson, is the first openly gay person to serve in that prominent position.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which at the start of the Biden administration had signaled the appointment of a lesbian, transgender person and LGBTQ person of color as U.S. ambassadors were among its goals, expressed confidence Biden would name these appointments in due time.

“President Biden will roll out his picks for ambassadorships over the next few months and it presents an incredible opportunity to choose diverse and groundbreaking LGBTQ nominees,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “As President Biden has already made history with the number of LGBTQ women and transgender people he has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions, we predict this commitment to LGBTQ diversity will continue when ambassadors are nominated. The impact of our first LGBTQ women ambassadors, first LGBTQ ambassadors of color and first trans ambassadors would be enormous – an impact not lost on the Biden administration.”

Continue Reading

News

White House: Biden to use bully pulpit to back transgender youth

Biden made commitment to transgender youth in speech to Congress

Published

on

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday President Biden will fulfill the pledge he made in his speech to Congress to have the backs of transgender youth by using the bully pulpit, deferring to the U.S. Justice Department on potential legal action against attacks from state legislatures.

Psaki made the remarks under questioning from the Washington Blade in the aftermath of Biden’s speech last week before a joint session to Congress, when he called on lawmakers to pass the Equality Act and told transgender youth he’d have their back amid a flurry of anti-transgender in state legislatures.

“Well, certainly the president has put in place – has signed executive orders, he’s also used the power of the bully pulpit and his presidency to convey that transgender rights are human rights, and that is the view and belief of his administration and how he expects policies to be implemented,” Psaki said.

Many of the state measures are aimed at restricting transgender youth’s access to school sports by prohibiting biological boys from playing in girls’ events, essentially transgender girls from participation. Other measures prohibit transition-related health care. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday signed legislation requiring parental notification for LGBTQ-inclusive school curricula.

Psaki specifically addressed measures that would prohibit transgender youth from playing sports in her remarks on how Biden would follow-up on his pledge.

“That includes ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to play sports and to be treated equally in states across the country, so he will look to members of his administration to implement what his view and what his value is as president,” Psaki said.

Asked in a follow-up if she would rule out legal action against states as part of that effort, Psaki deferred entirely to the Justice Department.

“I will leave that to the Department of Justice,” Psaki said.

The Justice Department for weeks hasn’t respond to multiple requests to comment on whether it will tale legal action against the measures against transgender youth, which critics say amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the law.

Continue Reading

homepage news

Biden calls for passage of Equality Act in speech to Congress

LGBTQ legislation at an impasse as first 100 days approaches

Published

on

President Biden, delivering his first joint speech before Congress on the eve of his 100th day of his presidency, urged Congress to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination, signaling support for transgender youth amid a flurry of attacks in state legislatures.

“I also hope Congress will get to my desk the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans,” Biden said. “To all transgender Americans watching at hone, especially young people who are so brave: I want you to know your president has your back.”

Although the U.S. House has acted to pass the Equality Act, the legislation has remained at an impasse in the U.S. Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. Biden had pledged during his presidential campaign to sign the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office, but has fallen short of that goal upon that milestone.

It remains to be seen whether Biden in his joint speech before Congress will create new traction for the Equality Act. In 2010, when former President Obama brought up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in his State of the Union speech, it made waves a led to Congress passing legislation that year during the lame duck session.

Biden included the Equality Act in a speech where he articulated other agenda items, including passage of health care, corporate tax increases and the DREAM Act. Seated behind Biden were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Kamala Harris, marking the first time in history two women seated behind a U.S. president in a speech before a joint of Congress.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Trending