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Immigration talks intrigue UAFA supporters

Schumer, Graham renew talks on comprehensive legislation

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reportedly restarted talks on comprehensive immigration reform legislation (photo courtesy Schumer’s office).

Reports that key U.S. senators have restarted talks on comprehensive immigration reform legislation have piqued the interest of LGBT rights supporters who see the discussions as a potential path for passing the Uniting American Families Act.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said his organization would push for a UAFA-inclusive bill if the talks lead to a comprehensive immigration reform measure.

“If a bill does move forward, we are going to be working very hard and watching very closely to make sure that it is inclusive of the Uniting American Families Act,” Ralls said.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said many questions remain about the substance of the talks and when they would result in a bill, but added that HRC would also advocate for making UAFA a component of comprehensive legislation.

“We would obviously fight mightily in order to include UAFA in any immigration reform proposal,” he said.

As it was introduced in the 111th Congress, UAFA would enable gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States. Based on numbers from the U.S. Census in 2000, passage of UAFA would impact an estimated 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the country that could be torn apart under current immigration law.

Supporters of UAFA have seen comprehensive immigration reform legislation as the best chance for passing the pro-LGBT measure and have been working with key members of Congress and immigration groups to make the bill a provision in the larger package.

On Monday, Politico reported that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chair of Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, had rekindled talks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on moving forward with a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate.

Last year, Graham was involved in discussions on moving forward with a reform bill, but backed out reportedly because he was unhappy with the Senate leadership’s decision to advance the legislation ahead of a climate change bill. Neither saw passage in the 111th Congress.

Graham was quoted in Politico this week as saying his talks with Schumer on the immigration reform bill in the 112th Congress are in the very beginning stages.

“It’s in the infant stage,” Graham reportedly said. “I don’t know what the political appetite is to do something.”

Graham’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to confirm that the senator had been in talks with Schumer or whether the South Carolina senator would support UAFA as part of an immigration reform bill.

But a Schumer aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed for the Blade that the New York senator and Graham restarted discussions on comprehensive immigration reform early this year, but acknowledged the talks are in “the very early stages.”

“They saw to basically pick up where they left off in terms of trying to formulate a comprehensive immigration reform package that could muster 60 votes in the Senate,” the aide said.

For now, the aide said the focus of efforts is reaching out to outside stakeholders to “try to flesh out the political appetite for passing a comprehensive reform package” in the 112th Congress.

The Politico article also reports that aides to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have been had talks with Schumer’s staff on immigration. In December, Murkowski was a surprise vote in favor of the DREAM Act — failed legislation that would have offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pursued a college education or military service.

Still, Murkowski reportedly told Politico that she hadn’t yet been personally engaged in talks on immigration.

“Right now, I’m just so focused on what’s happening with the energy issues, I haven’t been engaged in it,” she was quoted as saying.

In the last Congress, Murkowski was among the Republicans who voted for hate crimes protections legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Her office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether she would support UAFA as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

The chances of passing immigration legislation were bolstered last month when President Obama laid out his vision for reform as part of his State of the Union address.

“I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration,” Obama said. “And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.”

Whether sufficient votes are present to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform legislation over the next two years remains to be seen, but passage would almost certainly be more than challenging than it would have been in the last Congress.

Democrats were unable to move forward with an immigration package last year when the 111th Congress ended with the party having 58 seats in the Senate. Now Democrats have just 53 seats.

Further, the Republican-controlled House is expected to be hostile to both immigration reform legislation and UAFA.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the 112th Congress would be “a major surprise” — with or without UAFA.

“Immigration is a highly controversial topic, and the parties just don’t agree,” Sabato said. “Sen. Graham is considered to the left of many of his Republican colleagues on this issue. Moreover, while it’s possible the Democratic Senate may pass something, it seems very improbable that the Republican House would.”

Still, Sabato said “you never want to rule anything out completely” in politics and noted, as the lame-duck session last year proved, bipartisan efforts can succeed if everyone gains something politically.

Even if the comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t pass this Congress, UAFA advocates have precedent working in their favor to at least have the provision for bi-national same-sex couples included as part of an initial bill.

In June, Senate leadership leaked a framework for what Democrats want to see as part of immigration reform to lure potential Republican supporters. The 26-page outline emphasizes border security as a priority, but a UAFA-like provision is also mentioned as part of the proposed legislation.

“It will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status,” the draft states.

Also, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) included a provision for bi-national same-sex couples in the comprehensive immigration reform legislation he introduced late last year. Still, this legislation had no Republican co-sponsors upon introduction.

Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a think tank arm for the American Immigration Council, said predicting whether the 112th Congress would see UAFA as part of comprehensive immigration reform at this stage in talks is difficult.

“It’s hard to know whether it would make it into the final formalized piece of legislation because there’s just so many intangibles, especially when you don’t know who all the sponsors might be, where they’ll draw their lines in the sand,” she said.

Immigration Equality’s Ralls said he continues to believe if UAFA is initially included in immigration reform legislation, the provision “won’t be a deal-breaker” as the measure makes its way through Congress.

Ralls maintained the real debate for comprehensive immigration reform will be coming to an agreement on issues such as a path to citizenship, employment verification and border security.

“I’ve thought all along — and still believe — that if Republicans and Democrats can come to an agreement on those issues, that including our families is not going to be an issue that determines the fate of the overall bill,” he said.

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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