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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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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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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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