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Anti-gay Bush official sentenced to jail

Bloch guilty in criminal contempt of Congress case

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Bloch

A Bush administration official who came under criticism for refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies protecting gay federal workers was sentenced on March 30 to one month in jail on a charge of criminal contempt of Congress.

Scott J. Bloch, who served as head of the U.S. Office of Special Council from 2004 to 2008, is appealing the sentence, which was handed down in Washington by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson. Robinson also sentenced him to one year of unsupervised probation and 200 hours of community service.

She agreed to put a stay on the sentence while Bloch’s attorney, William Sullivan, files an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Sullivan said the appeal is based on Bloch’s contention that he did not know the offense of contempt of Congress, to which he pleaded guilty in April 2010, carries a required minimum sentence of 30 days in jail.

The appeal seeks to overturn Robinson’s denial last month of a motion by Bloch to withdraw his guilty plea.

Robinson said she interpreted the statute to include a required jail term of at least one month for those convicted of or who plead guilty to criminal contempt of Congress. She noted that at the time Bloch pleaded guilty, he explicitly acknowledged — in response to her questions in the courtroom — that a prosecutors’ plea bargain agreement he accepted did not prevent her from sentencing him to a prison term of up to six months.

Sullivan strongly disputes her interpretation of the statute, saying in court papers that two other judges have sentenced people convicted under the contempt of Congress statute to probation without any jail time. Robinson said those cases were irrelevant because the statute gives her discretion to sentence Bloch to up to six months in jail.

Bloch’s sentencing last week marked yet another twist in a seven-year saga that began in 2004, upon his appointment by President George W. Bush as head of an office charged with protecting federal employees from discriminatory personnel practices. The independent Office of Special Counsel, which Bloch headed, is also charged with protecting federal employees who become whistleblowers by disclosing corruption or gross incompetence within federal government agencies.

Immediately upon taking office, Bloch announced that he disagreed with a longstanding interpretation of a U.S. civil service law believed to protect federal workers from job-related discrimination based solely on their sexual orientation. Saying he interpreted the statute to limit its coverage of gays to matters involving “homosexual acts,” Bloch said gay or lesbian federal employees could no longer be protected against improper personnel practices based on their sexual orientation.

His position on gay federal workers triggered an immediate outcry from LGBT advocacy organizations and their allies in Congress. A spokesperson for Bush surprised some political observers when he said it remained the policy of the White House and the administration that gay or lesbian federal workers were, in fact, protected against sexual orientation discrimination.

LGBT rights groups, while expressing appreciation for the Bush administration statement, pointed out that Bloch appeared to be ignoring the statement by continuing to operate the Office of Special Counsel as if gay and lesbian federal employees were not protected.

In addition to criticism over his position on gay federal workers, Block came under attack over allegations that he improperly sought to purge employees in his office who disagreed with him, including at least two gay employees. The latter allegations led to a congressional investigation into Bloch and the Office of Special Counsel.

Allegations that eventually led to his being charged with contempt of Congress began in 2006, when investigators raised questions about whether Bloch arranged for a computer services company called Geeks on Call to “scrub” files from his office computer as well as from the computers of two of his political appointees at the Office of Special Counsel.

Bloch was under investigation at the time by the inspector general of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that he allegedly improperly retaliated against former Office of Special Counsel employees.

In May 2008, the FBI raided Bloch’s office and home, confiscating computers and various files. In October 2008 the White House requested and received his resignation.

The case docket for the U.S. District Court, which is now handling Bloch’s criminal case, shows that his sentencing date was postponed several times since he pleaded guilty nearly a year ago. The main cause of the postponements has been his attorney’s dispute with the judge over whether the contempt of Congress statute carries a mandatory jail term of at least 30 days.

In an unusual development, federal prosecutors joined defense attorney Sullivan in arguing in court filings that they did not agree with Robinson’s interpretation that the statute carries a required jail term. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon, the lead prosecutor in the case, argued in court papers that the government believes the statute gives judges discretion to sentence someone to probation without a prison term.

“Both parties entered into the plea agreement believing that 2 U.S.C. 192 [the contempt of Congress statute] was a probation-eligible offense,” Leon said in a court brief. “In light of the Court’s ruling to the contrary, the government believes that fairness requires it to not oppose the defendant’s motion to withdraw, because otherwise the plea agreement would not reflect what the parties negotiated and agreed to in good faith.”

Some critics, including gay blogger John Aravosis of AmericaBlog, questioned whether the Obama administration was siding with Bloch to prevent a legal precedent that could result in the jailing of Obama administration officials who might get into trouble with the law in the future.

During a court hearing last week, Robinson agreed to consider another request by Sullivan that she allow Bloch to serve his one-month jail sentence in home confinement if the sentence is upheld on appeal.

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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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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