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Polis backs executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias

Gay lawmaker skeptical about ENDA’s prospects

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Rep. Jared Polis (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) announced support on Monday for an executive order that would protect LGBT people against bias in the workforce by prohibiting the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I would applaud that step,” Polis said. “I think that would show a lot of courage on behalf of the administration and demonstrate that they’re committed to moving to a discrimination-free workplace environment.”

The executive order endorsed by Polis during a Washington Blade interview has been seen as an interim alternative to passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the private and public workforce — while Republicans are in control of the House and progress on the measure is unlikely.

Polis’ announcement comes as House introduction of ENDA was expected this week. Harry Gural, a spokesperson for gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), said his boss would announce when the legislation would be introduced on Wednesday, although the exact day for the debut of the bill isn’t yet final.

Polis has a dim view of the chances of passing ENDA — as well as other pro-LGBT legislation — for at least the next two years with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in charge of the chamber.

“ENDA had several Republican co-sponsors, but I don’t think it’s likely the Republicans will advance employment non-discrimination,” Polis said

In the meantime, Polis said supporters in Congress should try to educate the public on the issue of job protection and grow the number of co-sponsors for ENDA.

“Nationally, we just need to continue to educate other members of Congress and their staff on what it means,” Polis said.

As he dismissed the prospects of passing pro-LGBT bills during the 112th Congress, Polis said the LGBT community will instead for this period have to focus on beating back anti-gay measures.

“I think we’ll be playing defense,” Polis said. “Certainly there are members of the Republican caucus that want to go after and attack some of the progress that’s been made [in the few] last years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to work hard to maintain that progress.”

Among the anti-gay measures that Polis said could emerge during the 112th Congress is revocation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and repeal of hate crimes protections legislation — both measures that were passed during the 111th Congress when Democrats had control of both the House and the Senate.

“Those are the two main pieces of progress that we made in the last [Congress], both of which nearly all the Republicans opposed,” Polis said.

Still, Polis expressed optimism about the Student Non-Discrimination Act — a measure he introduced earlier in March in the House along with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in the Senate.

The legislation, which as of Monday had 103 co-sponsors in the House, would prohibit discrimination, including harassment, against LGBT students in public schools throughout the country.

Polis predicted the number of co-sponsors for the legislation would continue to grow and would see increased support from both Democrats and Republicans.

“I think it’s one thing that conservatives and liberals can agree on — people should feel safe in school,” he said.

Polis noted that supporters of the legislation have been pushing for its inclusion — along with the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a measure requiring schools to set up anti-bullying policies — as part of education reform legislation, or Elementary & Secondary Education Act reauthorization, which President Obama has been calling on Congress to pass this year.

“It’s tied into the fate of ESEA reauthorization, and so if this Congress moves forward with reauthorization of the federal education law, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to implement protections against bullying in the bill,” Polis said.

Still, Polis said he couldn’t at this point estimate the chances for the success of passing education reform — with or without anti-bullying or anti-discrimination language.

Polis said while the Democratic-controlled Senate intends to pursue broader education reform legislation, Republican leadership in the House is only “looking at a couple of changes rather than a full-out reauthorization.”

“It’s too early to tell whether the 112th [Congress] will issue major changes in federal education policy,” Polis said.

President Obama has yet to enumerate support for the Student Non-Discrimination Act, even though the Obama administration has taken steps to address bullying in schools, such as holding a summit on the issue in March. Polis said he hopes to work with the White House to obtain an endorsement for his bill.

“We’re working closely with the administration to fine tune these bills and help the administration deliver on its promise to reduce and end bullying,” Polis said.

Another larger vehicle that advocates are hoping to use to pass a pro-LGBT measure during the 112th Congress is comprehensive immigration reform.

As talks have reportedly begun again on Capitol Hill related to immigration, LGBT rights supporters are seeking to ensure this larger legislation would incorporate language that would allow gay Americans to sponsor foreign partners for residency within the United States. In the 111th Congress, standalone legislation that would have had this effect was known as the Uniting American Families Act.

But Polis dismissed the possibility of passing comprehensive immigration reform for the next two years — with or without UAFA-like language — given the current makeup of Congress.

“I don’t see much hope for comprehensive immigration reform given the fact that most of the members of the current majority ran against it, so it’s unlikely this Congress,” Polis said.

Still, Polis said he welcomed the decision from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hold in abeyance the deportation of foreign nationals who are seeking green cards through a same-sex American spouse, although he noted the limitation of this move.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but keep in mind that those individuals would still be unable to work in this country and be unable to access various services legally, so it’s not really a solution,” Polis said.

Polis said he was unsure about prospects for another piece of expected legislation that would eliminate the federal tax on employer-provided health coverage for same-sex couples. In the previous Congress, the legislation was known as the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act.

With the GOP in control of the House, Log Cabin Republicans has said it would push for the legislation and has maintained it has a shot at passage because it relates to lowering taxes, an effort that Republicans traditionally favor.

Polis said he supports the legislation, but deferred to Republican leadership on the chances of the bill passing over the course of the next two years.

“I think it’s unfair that same-sex couples have disparate treatment, but you’d have to ask the question to the Republican majority to see if they support it,” Polis said.

On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Polis said he’s awaiting certification for ending the law as the Pentagon implements training for open service in the U.S. military.

The repeal law that President Obama signed in December allows for repeal only after 60 days pass when the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has called for expedited training to implement repeal more quickly in the armed forces.

Asked whether he thinks the training is proceeding at a satisfactory pace, Polis replied, “The proof will be in the pudding and we all look forward to the certification of the process — hopefully in the weeks or the very few months ahead when the policy formally is repealed.”

LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would provide explicit protections for gay service members who feel they’ve experienced discrimination in the armed forces. The White House hasn’t explicitly endorsed or rejected the idea, but has noted policy guidance stating that harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation would be unacceptable in the military.

Despite this call, Polis stopped short of endorsing such an executive order for the U.S. military.

“The military is not my area of expertise,” Polis said. “I’ve been on the board of the Air Force Academy for two years. I’m learning a lot more about defense issues, but I don’t really have an opinion on that yet.”

While expressing skepticism about the chances for  federal progress on LGBT issues in this Congress, Polis was optimistic about the prospects for a pro-LGBT bill in his home state of Colorado: a measure that would legalize civil unions.

“It passed the Senate and has the governor’s support, so hopefully it’ll pass the House,” Polis said.

Polis said lawmakers are pursuing civil unions instead of same-sex marriage legislation because no lawmaker introduced a measure to expand marriage in the state to include gay couples.

Obama hasn’t come out in favor of same-sex marriage, although in December he said he’s been “wrestling” with the issue. Many LGBT advocates have been calling on the president to continue his evolution and back marriage equality.

Asked whether support for same-sex marriage from the president would open the door for gay nuptials in Colorado, Polis replied, “I think the president’s journey is similar to the journey of many people here in Colorado. Many people aren’t quite sure what to think on this issue. They’ve come a long way from where they are or were a decade or two ago, and, of course, the younger generation is already there.”

“Just as the president is wrestling with this issue, many mainstream Americans are wrestling with this issue,” Polis added

Evaluating Obama’s work on LGBT issues as a whole, Polis said the president is “doing a great job” and emphasized Obama can’t enact legislation that members of the LGBT community have been pushing for on his own accord.

“Keep in mind that the president can’t initiate legislation,” Polis said. “It has to pass the House and the Senate. But with regard to his executive orders and his legal strategy — not defending [the Defense of Marriage Act] — I applaud his efforts. I think this administration has been working closely with the LGBT community on the issue of equality.”

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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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