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

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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

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Justice Department eyes criminal probe of Santos’ campaign finances

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not commented

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (Screen shot/CSPAN)

The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on law enforcement activity over Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) as federal prosecutors conduct their own criminal probe into the congressman’s campaign finances.

The news, first reported Friday by the Washington Post, was confirmed Saturday by the Washington Blade via a Justice Department source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak with the press.

The attorney who filed the FEC complaint against Santos previously told the Blade that the agency would yield to the Justice Department if prosecutors initiate a criminal probe — indicating that in Washington the matter would be overseen by the Department’s Public Integrity Section. 

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James are also looking into Santos’ financial conduct, while the congressman has simultaneously been enmeshed in controversies over his compulsive lying, having fabricated virtually every part of his life and identity. 

As of this publication, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not responded to a request seeking comment. McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, have addressed the controversies only minimally, telling reporters they have no plans to ask Santos to step down until or unless criminal proceedings against him are underway.

Santos voted for McCarthy’s bid for speakership in each of the 15 ballots that were required to unite the House GOP conference behind him due to the objections of a couple dozen ultra-conservative members who were able to delay the vote and extract painful concessions because of the party’s narrow control of the House majority.

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EXCLUSIVE: Pelosi reflects on long career, LGBTQ advocacy

Former Speaker credits activists who fought for AIDS funding, marriage equality

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat down with the Washington Blade in her office Tuesday evening for an exclusive interview just weeks after formally stepping down from leadership, having led her party in the House for 20 years, including as Speaker. 

Pelosi reflected on the role she has played in landmark legislative achievements, including milestones in the fight for LGBTQ rights. She also addressed some current events that have earned significant attention from political observers and the beltway press. 

So much of the historic progress over the past few decades in advancements toward the legal, social, and political equality of LGBTQ Americans, including those living with HIV/AIDS, was facilitated directly or otherwise supported by Pelosi’s leadership in Congress, but she was quick to credit the tireless work of individual activists and LGBTQ, civil rights, and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups.

“I attribute the success with [fighting] HIV/AIDS and everything that came after,” from legislation on hate crimes to marriage equality, “to the outside mobilization” of these activists and organizations, she told the Blade.

Despite positioning herself as an advocate for LGBTQ rights well before that position was popular, Pelosi said she is unaware of any instances where she may have suffered political consequences as a result. Regardless, she said, “I don’t care.”  

The more she has been criticized for championing LGBTQ rights in Congress, “the more proud I am” of that work, Pelosi added. 

Pelosi has always been a strident LGBTQ ally, guided by her commitment to justice, love, and fairness as ordained by the teachings of her Catholic faith. These ideals are in perfect alignment, she said, as opposed to the position held by many opponents of LGBTQ rights who nevertheless claim to believe we are all created in God’s image. 

During an interview with Larry King, when serving as the San Francisco Democratic National Convention host committee chairwoman in 1984, Pelosi said the late television host remarked: “I just don’t understand how a Catholic girl who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland is such a champion for gay rights.”

“You’ve answered your own question,” Pelosi told him, referring to his mention of her Catholicism. “It is our faith that tells us that we’re all God’s children, and we must respect the dignity and worth of every person.”

Pelosi’s time in Congress began with the AIDS crisis, and she has kept up the fight ever since 

After committing herself and the Congress to the fight against HIV/AIDS during her first speech from the floor of the House in 1987, Pelosi said some of her colleagues asked whether she thought it wise for her feelings on the subject to be “the first thing that people know about you” as a newly elected member.

They questioned her decision not because they harbored any stigma, but rather for concern over how “others might view my service here,” Pelosi said. The battle against HIV/AIDS, she told them, “is why I came here.”

“It was every single day,” she said. 

Alongside the “big money for research, treatment, and prevention” were other significant legislative accomplishments, such as “when we] were able to get Medicaid to treat HIV [patients] as Medicaid-eligible” rather than requiring them to wait until their disease had progressed to full-blown AIDS to qualify for coverage, said Pelosi, who authored the legislation.

“That was a very big deal for two reasons,” she said. First, because it saved lives by allowing low-income Americans living with HIV to begin treatment before the condition becomes life-threatening, and second, because “it was the recognition that we had this responsibility to intervene early.”

Other milestones in which Pelosi had a hand include the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program, President Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) initiative, the Affordable Care Act (which contains significant benefits for Americans living with HIV/AIDS), and funding for the Ending the Epidemic initiative. 

The last appropriations bill passed under Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader in December contained an additional $100 million boost to HIV/AIDS programs. 

These and other hard-won victories over the years – from the biomedical progress made possible by investment in research to foreign aid packages that have saved countless lives overseas – have often come despite staunch opposition from lawmakers, particularly congressional Republicans.

For instance, the late former Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina opposed federal funding for HIV/AIDS research because he considered it tantamount to the government’s endorsement of “the homosexual lifestyle” responsible for the spread of the disease in the U.S.

nancy pelosi, gay news, Washington Blade
Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks at the NGLCC National Dinner in 2018. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asked how she might compare anti-LGBTQ members like Helms with whom she worked in the past to those serving today, Pelosi said the most salient difference is the homophobic and transphobic attitudes among lawmakers in previous decades were in many cases borne out of ignorance. 

Pelosi said that while the prejudice was “horrible [back] then” and she was “impatient” with lawmakers in the House who exhibited attitudes similar to those expressed by Helms, at that time people who held those views were often “just not up to date on what was happening in the world.” 

(Pelosi noted that, for his part, Helms seemed to soften his stance on matters concerning HIV/AIDS. She suspects U2 frontman Bono may have successfully appealed to Helms as a parent, but “I don’t know exactly.”)

By contrast, today’s lawmakers, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, “must have a growing awareness of [LGBTQ] people in their own communities, maybe in their own families,” Pelosi said. “They’re really in a different world,” which means, they “have made a decision that they’re going to be anti-LGBTQ,” she said, adding that hate and prejudice today is most often directed at the trans community. “It’s completely unacceptable.” 

Asked to share her thoughts on the many scandals that have unfolded over the past couple of months concerning gay freshman GOP Rep. George Santos of New York, Pelosi pointed out that while the congressman has dominated headlines recently, other members of the House Republican caucus who have weaponized homophobia and transphobia to a far greater extent than he are much more dangerous. 

But first, Pelosi said that House Democrats would never do what the Republican leadership has done by tolerating the embattled freshman congressman to protect their slim majority control of the chamber.

Santos is “almost a joke; he’s become a punch line,” Pelosi said. “He’s outrageous, and there’s no way he should be allowed to serve” given the extent to which the congressman has failed to exhibit the “dignity” required of members who are privileged to serve in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, “there are people over there who are more seriously dangerous to the freedoms in our country than him” Pelosi said. She pointed to the hate mongering and fear mongering in which many of Santos’s Republican colleagues have engaged, including “the things that that they say about trans families and, just, the injustice of it all.” 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi visits the site of the Pulse massacre in 2016.

The aim of these far-right lawmakers extends far beyond undermining the rights of LGBTQ people, of course. Pelosi noted that, “you have to remember, with all of these things, whether we’re talking about women’s right to choose – we’ve always expanded freedoms. And now with this Supreme Court, they’re narrowing freedoms with women’s right to choose” by the revocation of constitutional protections for abortion via last year’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. 

Breaking the ‘marble ceiling’

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is presented with a rainbow-jeweled gavel at an LGBTQ staffer event on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

During a lecture last year hosted at the University of California, Berkeley, Barbara Boxer, who formerly represented California in the House and then in the Senate, commented on the historic significance of Pelosi’s election to become the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2006. “The fact that a woman could get into the leadership like this, to win the trust of all these men, it’s more extraordinary than you can imagine,” Boxer said. 

Boxer has also been a trailblazer for women in politics. She was the first woman to chair the Marin County Board of Supervisors, and after her election to serve in the upper chamber alongside California’s senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the two became the first pair of women to represent any state in the U.S. Senate.

Asked how she managed to secure the votes from, particularly, the older men in her caucus without compromising her values, Pelosi told the Blade, “I just did what I believed” rather than coming to Congress to “change other people’s behavior.” 

She said that many of her male colleagues “had to get over their own negative attitudes” concerning the prospect of electing a woman to lead their party in the House, but “I wasn’t going to wait until then.”

At the same time, Pelosi acknowledged that “it took courage to vote for a woman as speaker,” noting that when she was sworn in back in 2007, she took the opportunity to thank the men who had supported her speakership. (She was elected unanimously on the first ballot.)

Pelosi said that prior to her speakership, she had always believed that the prospect of Americans electing a woman president was likelier to happen in her lifetime than members of Congress – who tend to be older men – voting for a woman speaker.

“I thought the American people were more ready than the Congress” to break the “marble ceiling,” she said. 

Considering the parallel special counsel investigations into alleged mishandling of classified documents by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Pelosi has perhaps unwittingly strengthened the case for America to elect a woman president by virtue of her unblemished record as a steward of sensitive, top-secret information. 

“I have 30 years of experience in intelligence. I have been on the [House Intelligence] Committee, the top Democrat on the Committee, ex officio on the Committee, a speaker and [Democratic] leader [in the House],” Pelosi said. 

She distinguished the rules by which she and other members of Congress are governed, which prohibit the removal or relocation of classified documents, from the policies that the Commander in Chief must follow, which are comparably more permissive. 

Regardless, Pelosi said, “the documents are to be respected,” along with the rules and procedures for how they should be handled. 

There are also important distinctions to note between the allegations against Trump and Biden, Pelosi said. “When you see the former president obstructing access to the documents, and you see this president saying, ‘I’ve instructed my lawyers to look for whatever is there and make them available to the Justice Department,’ that’s two different things,” she said. 

Additionally, Pelosi said, from the information that has been made available so far, it seems that Trump was in possession of a greater volume of documents whose contents were more sensitive than those at issue in Biden’s case. 

Pelosi’s LGBTQ fans celebrate her accomplishments 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi hugs activist Mike Almy at the certification of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in the U.S. House on Dec. 21, 2010. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In November, the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, issued a statement following Pelosi’s announcement of her plans to step down from Democratic leadership but continue to represent her constituents in California’s 11th Congressional District in the House. 

“Speaker Pelosi has been the tip of the spear on watershed advancements for the LGBTQ+ community,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement, pointing to her 1987 speech on the AIDS crisis and “forceful advocacy for marriage equality long before its mainstream popularity,” both before she was elected as speaker. 

The Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was signed into law in 1996 with overwhelming support from both parties in both chambers of Congress; 342 members of the House voted for the proposal, with Pelosi joining only 64 other House Democrats, one independent, and one Republican in her opposition. 

“During [Pelosi’s] tenure as Speaker,” HRC noted, “the House of Representatives passed an historic hate crimes law [the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act], repealed the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law, led the fight to enact the Affordable Care Act, and vocally opposed bans on transgender members serving in our nation’s military.” 

Pelosi’s leadership was bookended with Congress’s passage late last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is credited as the greatest legislative victory for LGBTQ Americans since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stands with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) at the enrollment for the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. House on Dec. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Outside the U.S. Capitol building, Pelosi has also been celebrated by the LGBTQ community for signaling her support through, for example, her participation in some of the earliest meetings of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, her meeting with the survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, and her appearance at a host of LGBTQ events over the years.  

Of course, at the same time, Pelosi has been a constant target of attacks from the right, which in the past few years have become increasingly violent. During the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, her office was ransacked by insurrectionists who shouted violent threats against her. A couple of weeks later, unearthed social media posts by far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) revealed she had signaled support for executing Pelosi along with other prominent House Democrats. And last October, the speaker’s husband Paul Pelosi suffered critical injuries after he was attacked by a man wielding a hammer who had broken into the couple’s San Francisco home. 

Pelosi told CNN last week that her husband is “doing OK,” but expects it will “take a little while for him to be back to normal.”

Among her fans in progressive circles, Pelosi – who has been a towering figure in American politics since the Bush administration – has become something of a cultural icon, as well. For instance, the image of her clapping after Trump’s State of the Union speech in 2019 has been emblazoned on coffee mugs.

“What is so funny about it,” Pelosi said, is rather than “that work [over] all these years as a legislator,” on matters including the “Affordable Care Act, millions of people getting health care, what we did over the years with HIV/AIDS in terms of legislation, this or that,” people instead have made much ado over her manner of clapping after Trump’s speech. And while the move was widely seen as antagonistic, Pelosi insisted, “it was not intended to be a negative thing.” 

Regardless, she said, “it’s nice to have some fun about it, because you’re putting up with the criticism all the time – on issues, whether it’s about LGBTQ, or being a woman, or being from San Francisco, or whatever it is.” 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi talks with Blade reporter Christopher Kane on Tuesday, Jan. 24. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)
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Pelosi on Santos: ‘He’s outrageous, there’s no way he should be allowed to serve’

Former Speaker reflects on her legacy in exclusive Blade interview

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi talked to the Blade on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview in her office on Tuesday evening, reflecting on her long career in Congress and decades of LGBTQ advocacy and HIV/AIDS work. 

The full interview will be published Wednesday afternoon. 

During the interview, Pelosi weighed in on several current controversies, including the scandals involving gay Rep. George Santos and his myriad lies. 

Santos is “almost a joke; he’s become a punch line,” Pelosi said. “He’s outrageous, and there’s no way he should be allowed to serve” given the extent to which the congressman has failed to exhibit the “dignity” required of members who are privileged to serve in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, “there are people over there who are more seriously dangerous to the freedoms in our country than him,” Pelosi added. She pointed to the hate mongering and fear mongering in which many of Santos’s Republican colleagues have engaged, including “the things that that they say about trans families and, just, the injustice of it all.” 

Check back Wednesday afternoon for the full Pelosi interview.

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