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UAFA-inclusive family immigration bill introduced

Bill enables gay Americans to sponsor foreign partners for residency

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Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) sponsors the Reuniting Families Act. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. House member from California on Thursday introduced family immigration legislation that includes language allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced the Reuniting Families Act, which has a provision that would protect bi-national same-sex couples as one of its six prongs to keep families together in the country.

During a conference call Thursday, Honda touted his legislation as a means to make U.S. immigration policy more fair for gay Americans and their foreign partners.

“RFA also ends discrimination in our immigration system by allowing same-sex permanent partners to sponsor their foreign national partners for immigration benefits,” Honda said.

The provision allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States is identical to other legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate.

Rachel Tiven, executive director for Immigration Equality, praised Honda for including a provision for bi-national same-sex couples as part of his legislation.

“Separating families has an enormously expensive impact, it is a drain on the economy and separating Americans from their loved ones and forcing them to move abroad because they can’t keep their family together in this country is simply pointless,” Tiven said.

In addition to including UAFA-like language, Honda’s legislation would help shorten the wait times that can keep legal immigrants and their overseas loved ones separated for years. The bill would classify spouses and children of permanent U.S. residents as “immediate relatives” and exempt them from numerical caps on immigration.

“The reality is almost 6 million people are stuck the log jam of our family visa system,” Honda said. “The current system has not been updated in over 20 years, and many family members who apply for visas are not granted admission for decades — and that undermines their economic contributions to our country and encourages some frustrated relatives to resort to illegal migration.”

The Reuniting Families Act has 73 co-sponsors, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The co-sponsors are all Democrats; no Republicans have signed on in support.

Rep. David Cicilline, another gay lawmaker, isn’t among the co-sponsors. His office didn’t respond on short notice to explain why his name isn’t on the list of supporters.

During the conference call, Honda said he intends his legislation to be a marker to set the tone for debate on larger comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the 112th Congress. President Obama is set to give a speech on Tuesday calling for the passage of legislation to reform U.S. immigration code.

“It’s to also tell our citizens and those with legal permanent resident status to be part of the movement for a comprehensive package for everyone in this country,” Honda said. “I’d like to make sure that we just go through the arc once and just fix all the holes and make sure that this thing we call immigration system … is a better vessel for people that we’re trying to care of.”

Until comprehensive immigration reform can be passed, Honda called on Obama to issue a moratorium to stop the deportation of foreign nationals in same-sex unions who would eligible for married-based green cards if not for the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The president has at his disposal certain kinds of statutory existing powers that he can stay a deportation process,” Honda said. “He can put in a place a situation where folks will be held in abeyance and allowed to work and allowed to continue their lives until such time that we correct our immigration system.”

Last month, Honda was among the 47 U.S. House members, who, along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), wrote the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security Meanwhile to stop the deportations of foreigners in legally recognized same-sex marriages in the United States.

In the 111th Congress, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored the Senate version of the Reuniting Families Act, but he has yet to introduce this bill this year.

The version of the bill that Menendez previously introduced didn’t include a provision for bi-national same-sex couples, although the legislation was similar in other respects to Honda’s bill. However, at the end of last year, Menendez introduced larger comprehensive immigration reform legislation in which the both the Reuniting Families Act and the Uniting American Families Act were provisions.

Menendez’s office didn’t respond by deadline to a request to comment when the senator would reintroduce the Reuniting Families Act or whether it would include a provision to keep bi-national same-sex couples together in the United States.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he thinks Menendez will likely again introduce comprehensive legislation this Congress that would include both Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act.

“Sen. Menendez would be the best person to talk about the Senate CIR strategy, but my expectation is that we will see an inclusive, all-encompassing Senate bill which incorporates the various other bills, such as UAFA and RFA, into one,” Ralls said.

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National

Bill to support LGBTQ+ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

‘LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation & should be able to access services and care’

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

WASHINGTON – Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ+ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ+ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Bonamici, Chair of the Equality Caucus’ LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Rep. Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQI+ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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The White House

White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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Pride flags fly from an apartment's terrace in Warsaw, Poland, on April 11, 2024. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

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