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LGBT activists protest National Prayer Breakfast

Obama speaks of importance of faith in remarks

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

Protesters gathered at the Washington Hilton in D.C. on Thursday to denounce the National Prayer Breakfast taking place in the hotel and to shed light on the event organizer’s connection to anti-gay activity in Uganda.

About two dozen activists — affiliated with GetEQUAL, a group responsible for organizing protests and acts of civil disobedience across the country over LGBT issues — participated in what they called a “Breakfast without Bigotry” to draw attention to the Foundation’s work overseas.

The Foundation, also known as “The Family,” is a U.S. evangelical group that reportedly has promoted anti-LGBT views abroad. The organization, which couldn’t be reached for comment for this article, has ties to David Bahati, a lawmaker in Uganda who authored pending legislation that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts.

Last week, the Uganda anti-gay bill received renewed attention when David Kato, an activist who was working against the pending measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.

Clad in heavy coats and carrying harm-warmers as they braved the February cold, protesters waived Pride flags and held up signs reading “If Christians Kill Kato, They’ll Kill Me” and “David Kato: Brutally Loved to Death by Christian Missionaries.”

Activists chanted, “One, two, three, four, don’t let the Family hide any more,” and, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the Uganda bill has got to go.”

As the motorcade approached the Washington Hilton carrying to the event President Obama, who was in attendance at the breakfast, protesters belted out the song, “We Shall Overcome.”

Dan Fotou, eastern region field director for GetEQUAL, said the intent of the protest was to inform the public about the Foundation’s involvement with anti-gay activity abroad in places like Uganda.

“The goal is to educate the attendees [about] not only the Family’s role in this, but also in their role in this Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill and their reach worldwide,” Fotou said. “What they’re really trying to do is annihilate LGBT people.”

Carol Lautier, 42 and a queer D.C. resident, said she was at the protest “as a progressive Christian” and that her views are often unheard among Christian audiences.

“I think it’s important that Christian evangelicals not have the corner market on Christianity,” she said. “We need to enter the conversation that’s being dominated by conservatives.”

Many of the protest participants expressed displeasure with Obama’s participation in the National Prayer Breakfast. U.S. presidents have taken part in the breakfast consistently since the Eisenhower administration.

During his remarks at the event, Obama emphasized the importance of his faith as a guiding force for him during his presidency.

“And it is my faith, then, that biblical injunction to serve the least of these, that keeps me going and that keeps me from being overwhelmed,” Obama said. “It’s faith that reminds me that despite being just one very imperfect man, I can still help whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can, and that somehow God will buttress these efforts.”

The president made no mention of Uganda or the Foundation’s ties to anti-gay initiatives abroad during his remarks.

Fotou said he would prefer Obama didn’t participate in the breakfast and would stand on the side of those who were critical of the gathering.

“It gives prestige to this breakfast,” Fotou said. “So, I would rather that they didn’t raise their stature worldwide by attending and speaking. I would ask that he didn’t [attend] this morning and breakfasts in the future.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, noted that the president has spoken out against the killing of Kato and alluded to the Uganda anti-gay bill last year during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“As you heard this morning, the President used this opportunity to reflect on how his faith has sustained him over the last few years,” Inouye said. “It’s worth noting that it was at this venue that last year the president strongly condemned the proposed legislation in Uganda.”

Last week, in response to the murder of Kato, Obama issued a statement that “LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights” and recommitted his administration to “strongly support[ing] human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad.”

But protester Janelle Mungo, 23, a straight D.C. resident, said speaking about the protest last year shouldn’t be enough for Obama.

“I think the fact that he spoke against the bill last year isn’t enough,” she said. “He should be speaking out against the breakfast, and not be there.”

At the beginning of the protest, activists positioned themselves on the sidewalk directly in front of the Washington Hilton, but later situated themselves across the street after D.C. police directed them to move.

Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said police told protesters they had to move from their initial position because they lacked a permit.

“We went to get a protest permit last week and we were told that we didn’t need one because we were going to be on public property rather than the private property of the hotel,” she said. “The police are now telling us — apparently at the request of Secret Service — that we had to be across the street.”

Cronk added that she knows Secret Service directed D.C. police to move the protesters because the officers were overheard discussing the Secret Service’s involvement in the decision.

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The White House

Press secretary addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict from the briefing room

‘Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school’

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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