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National news in brief: March 11

Colo. moves on recognition bill, gay student candidate finds posters vandalized and more

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Same-sex unions bill moves in Colo.

DENVER — Legislation aimed at recognizing same-sex civil unions in Colorado passed its first test Tuesday, despite cries from the religious right that the legislation would undermine marriage and encourage a “shameful” gay lifestyle, several Colorado newspapers, including the Denver Post, reported this week.

Senate Bill 172, introduced by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) was backed by the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-3, with one Republican joining Democrats to advance the legislation.

The marathon controversial legislative hearing felt at times more like a Christian revival meeting, with critics of SB 172 making arguments against sodomy and gay lifestyles while reading from Leviticus, the Post reported.

Many critics argued that gay couples are unfit to raise children, and pointed out that in 2006, Colorado voters defined marriage as between one man and one woman, while also rejecting a proposal to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships in Colorado.

Senate Bill 172 would recognize civil unions between same-sex couples in Colorado. Along with the recognition would come similar legal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

Faith leaders would not be required under the law to conduct same-sex civil unions if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Steadman, who is gay, said the issue is about providing stability to couples as they navigate life.

Judge lets Minn. marriage ban stand

MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to make same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota, according to an Associated Press report.

Judge Mary Dufresne rejected arguments by the group Marry Me Minnesota that the state’s 13-year-old Defense of Marriage Act violates same-sex couples’ rights to due process, equal protection, religious freedom and freedom of association. The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that the judge wrote in an order Monday that she’s bound by a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that says the legislature has the power to limit marriage to one man and one woman. Doug Benson, executive director of Marry Me Minnesota, says the group is disappointed and will appeal. He says the ruling is a slap at thousands of gay and lesbian couples who want the same rights their neighbors have, the AP reported.

Sailor discharged for falling asleep with man

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Navy petty officer facing discharge for falling asleep in bed with another male sailor last month says his ouster is motivated by homophobia, not a legitimate crime, a claim that has some gay rights advocates worried about life after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to an ABC report.

Stephen Jones, 21, a student at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C., says he and friend Brian McGee inadvertently fell asleep together while watching “Vampire Diaries” on a computer in his quarters Feb. 6. Jones was wearing pajama pants and a white T-shirt, lying on top of the covers; McGee was in boxer shorts under the blanket on Jones’ twin bed, according to both men’s account of the situation. When Jones’ roommate, Tyler Berube, walked in shortly after midnight, the sleepy sailors woke up, got dressed and went back to their rooms.

Several days later, however, Jones and McGee were cited with dereliction of duty for “willfully failing to exhibit professional conduct in his room,” according to a Navy report specifying the charges. McGee accepted the charge and received docked pay. But when Jones refused to accept a penalty, instead hoping for a court martial to prove his innocence, he was ordered separated from the Navy for good, the ABC report said. While there was no evidence of homosexual conduct presented in the statements given by the three men to military investigators, Jones and his civilian attorney Gary Meyers believe homophobic suspicions were motivation for the charge.

“The roommate is concerned about what he sees, even though he sees nothing,” Meyers told ABC. “And his statement doesn’t indicate he saw anything. Two men woke up and they left the room. It’s a bizarre overreaction.”

Meyers contends that because the command had too little evidence to start an investigation under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which is still technically military policy, it used a subterfuge to achieve the same result.

“I asked several times about what was unprofessional about what I did, and every time they said it’s just unprofessional. Period,” said Jones, who is appealing the decision.

Worker defending gays fired for saying ‘faggot’

NEW YORK — An elderly New York man who worked 54 years for American Airlines was fired this week for saying faggot during a training session. Referring to his military service, 82-year-old Freddy Schmitt said, “Back then a faggot could have saved my life.” He made the comment in reference to a statement saying that gays should be allowed to serve openly. The company refused to let Schmitt return to his role as a ground-crew worker despite an excellent employment record, the New York Post reported. Schmitt is appealing the decision and says he wants to end his career on good terms.

Gay lawmakers playing pivotal role in debates

NEW YORK — The 85 openly gay state legislators in the U.S. — out of 7,382 total — are playing a key role in the advancement of marriage and civil union battles across the country, the AP reported this week.

In Hawaii and Illinois, gay state representatives were lead sponsors of civil union bills signed into law earlier this year. In Maryland and Rhode Island, gay lawmakers are co-sponsoring pending bills that would legalize same-sex marriage. In New York, gay state Sen. Tom Duane is preparing to be lead sponsor of a marriage bill in his chamber later this session. The gay lawmakers have impact in two important ways.

Their speeches, often evoking personal themes, sometimes can sway wavering colleagues, and they can forge collegial relationships even with ideological foes through day-to-day professional and social interaction. Hawaii and Illinois are now among seven states that allow civil unions or their equivalent — state-level marriage rights in virtually everything but name.

Prop 8 sponsors oppose lifting marriage ban

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for the sponsors of California’s same-sex marriage ban are urging a federal appeals court to continue blocking same-sex unions while it considers the constitutionality of Proposition 8, according to an AP report.

The lawyers said in court papers filed Monday that the rationale for keeping the voter-approved ban in effect are the same now as they were last summer, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a trial judge’s order overturning Proposition 8 on hold.

They say the Obama administration’s recent announcement that it would no longer defend the federal law prohibiting the government from recognizing same-sex marriages has no bearing on the state ban.

Lawyers for two gay couples are asking the 9th Circuit to let same-sex marriages resume in California by lifting its stay on the lower court’s order.

Kan. lawmakers say being gay should be criminal

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas state Reps. Jan Pauls (D, Hutchinson), and Lance Kinzer (R, Olathe) said this week that being gay or lesbian should remain a crime there, according to a Kansas City Star report.

Pauls made, with Kinzer’s support, the successful motion in the Kansas Legislature’s Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee to keep the criminalization of gay and lesbian relationships on the books. Their action removed key language from HB2321, proposed by the Kansas Judicial Council, which would have resolved inconsistencies in Kansas criminal code, as well as remove unconstitutional laws.

“Jan Pauls was trusted to be a judge before becoming a state representative, and should know better than to support unconstitutional laws, breaking her oath to defend the Constitution,” said Jon Powell, Chair of the Hutchinson Area chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition. “We are fed up with her obvious support of harassment of gays and lesbians. We will not be bullied.”

Although one remains on Kansas’ books, all state laws criminalizing gay and lesbian relationships were struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 2003.

Gay student’s campaign posters vandalized

CEDAR CITY, UTAH — Openly gay Southern Utah University Student Association Activities vice presidential candidate Payden Adams found his campaign posters defaced this week, according to a report from the St. George Daily Spectrum, a Gannett Utah paper reported. A vandal wrote derogatory comments in red marker on one of Adams’ campaign posters, according to a release from the Association’s Queer-Straight Alliance on Monday.

The incident was not the first, according to the release. Several of Adams’ posters have been destroyed, often with shreds left at the sites. Campus Police Chief Rick Brown said he was made aware of the incident, but was awaiting more information before investigating.

Brown said the incident would be treated as a criminal mischief case if someone is arrested. Upon hearing the alleged victim of the vandalism was gay, Brown said that would bring in a separate case against the suspect for a hate crime.

“It wasn’t brought to my attention that someone was targeted for his sexual orientation, but if that is the case when I receive more detail, it would be considered a hate crime,” he said. “We would look at the severity of the case and see if that is a different charge.

Poll shows majority support for gay marriage

DENVER — A new poll shows for the first time that more Americans support same-sex marriage than oppose it, the Colorado Independent reported this week.

The General Social Survey, a biennial poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, has been a much-cited resource for sociologists since it began in 1972. The 2010 poll’s findings, analyzed by Darren Sherkat, a sociologist/blogger from Southern Illinois University, found that about 46 percent of those polled support gay marriage as opposed to about 40 percent who are opposed. Only 12.4 percent supported it when the Survey first asked it in 1988.

Sherkat analyzed the data based on religious and political views and found that almost inevitably, “philosophical” Christians who believe that the stories in the Bible are fables designed for moral instruction were much more likely to support same-sex marriage than both those who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and literalists who believe the Bible depicts the actual history of the world. Biblical literalists offered the most opposition to same-sex marriage, and Democrats of all types were significantly more likely than their Republican counterparts to support same-sex marriage.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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