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House panel adopts anti-gay amendments in defense bill

Amendments reaffirm DOMA, could disrupt ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

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Rep. Duncan Hunter introduced an amendment that could disrupt 'Don't Ask' repeal (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A House defense committee approved on Wednesday a series of anti-gay amendments as part of major Pentagon budget legislation aimed at disrupting the process for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and at demonstrating support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The most high-profile amendment came from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who introduced a measure that would expand the certification requirement needed for repeal to include input from the four military service chiefs. The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee voted 33-27 in favor of adopting the measure as part of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill.

The vote in favor of the Hunter amendment was mostly along party lines, although Reps. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) voted against the measure. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) was the sole Democrat to vote in favor of the measure.

The repeal legislation signed into law in December allows for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hunter’s amendment would expand the certification requirement to include input from the uniform chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, billed the amendment as a means to ensure the uniform military leaders — which he described “the ones that are actually responsible for the men and women under their care” — are able to express their opinion before moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Right now as it stands, the only folks that have to sign on to this are the president, who has never been to war or in ground combat, Adm. [Mike] Mullen, who, with all due respect to him, has never been to ground combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, and Secretary Gates, a political appointee, who is a very fine gentleman, but has never been in ground combat in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Hunter said. “I, and others in this room, have more combat experience than the people who would sign off on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Hunter emphasized his amendment would require the service chiefs to issue certification only based on their belief that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal wouldn’t harm morale and unit cohesion for combat arms units under their jurisdiction. According to the Pentagon survey published in November, these units are the most skeptical about whether open service would cause a disruption in the U.S. military.

Involving the military service chiefs in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification process could disrupt or delay open service in the U.S. military because some uniform leaders of the military — notably Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos — expressed opposition to passing repeal legislation last year. Amos has since said the Marine Corps would work to implement open service.

Despite the concerns that were expressed last year, each of the service chiefs testified in April that the process for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been proceeding smoothly. Some service chiefs — including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead — have said they oppose any effort to expand the certification requirement and they believe the defense secretary would adequately represent their views in the certification process.

Many Republican committee members voiced support for the Hunter amendment as they expressed opposition to implementing open service in the U.S. military.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said he supported the amendment because the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had already backed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before Congress acted to end the military’s gay ban.

“I always felt the deck was stacked when the three people who were supposed to sign off on it, agreed to and had all been on record ahead of time saying what their preference was,” Lamborn said. “This broadens it, and, I think, adds more objectivity to the whole matter, and I think that that’s really good thing.”

Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.) said he opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he hasn’t encountered one American or U.S. service member who wants an end to the anti-gay law. Despite his remarks, polls found that around 80 percent of Americans favored ending the military’s gay ban at the time Congress repealed the statute.

Palazzo added he had a visit earlier today from about 85 veterans of World War II and said he believes they’d be displeased with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I don’t think that they would look upon this as progress,” Palazzo said. “I don’t think they’d look at this as the sacrifices they made for our families, for our country, for our allies, future generations of Americans — to see their military go down in flames by implementing [an end] to the DADT policy. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.”

Rep. Adam Smith (Blade photo by Michael Key)

But Democrats on the committee defended repeal of the law that Congress passed last year and said the current repeal process is working well.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the Hunter amendment troubled him because it suggests the president and the defense officials identified in the repeal law aren’t capable of making critical defense decisions.

“It’s a very, very dangerous thing to say that the president of the United States, the commander in chief; the secretary of defense; and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are somehow not quite qualified to make important military decisions,” Smith said. “These are the same people that decide whether or not we go to war. They made a decision on whether or not to kill Osama bin Laden.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) directly responded to the view expressed by Palazzo that World War II veterans would be unhappy with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” Pingree said. “Some of those soldiers were gay as well, and many of them took a long time to admit to that, or come out on that, but they’ve all been courageous in doing so and I think that they can’t be characterized as a generation that doesn’t want to see this change in the military.”

Although the committee adopted the amendment as part of defense authorization, passing such a provision into law would be challenging because the Senate would have to agree to it during conference negotiations and Obama would have to sign the measure.

Further, defense officials have testified that certification could happen mid-summer, and the final version of the defense authorization will likely not reach the president’s desk until after that time, rendering Hunter’s provision useless.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, expressed skepticism that the adoption of the Hunter amendment would impair the U.S. military’s ability to move toward open service.

“Despite the passage of this amendment within the ever-hostile House Armed Services Committee, it is highly unlikely that such an amendment would ever pass the Senate and be signed by the president,” Nicholson said. “The offering of this amendment was a shameful and embarrassing waste of time. The service chiefs have unequivocally said that they do not want this extra burden forced upon them, so if Congress really values their advice on this issue they should take it and forget this unnecessary and unwanted amendment.”

Hunter’s amendment was one of three anti-gay amendments the House Armed Services Committee approved on Wednesday as part of the defense authorization bill. Other measures affirmed the panel’s commitment to DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The DOMA-related amendments were apparently inspired by Navy guidance on same-sex marriage that was made public this week.The guidance, which is dated April 13 and signed by Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, indicated military bases could be used for same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where such unions are legal and that Navy chaplains can officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies if they so choose.

However, following an outcry from conservatives, the Navy rescinded the guidance and said further legal review on the issue was necessary.

Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment mandating that marriage ceremonies on military installations must comply with DOMA and that chaplains can only officiate in their official capacity over such ceremonies if they comply with the anti-gay law.

The committee adopted the amendment as part of the Pentagon budget legislation by a vote of 38-23. Republican members of the panel were unanimous in their support for the measure. Reps. McIntyre, Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and Mark Critz (D-Pa.) joined with the GOP to vote in favor of the amendment.

Akin said the amendment was necessary because he believes the recent Navy guidance demonstrates that the U.S. military was willing to skirt federal law.

“There is a federal law on the books and the military has decided they’re going to ignore that law,” Akin said. “That’s a very serious question. Does that mean that the law code on our books is an a la carte menu? Does that mean that the military can decide they’re going to change the rules of engagement and how they’re going to interrogate prisoners or [enforce] whatever particular law suits their fancy?”

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who opposed the amendment, said the Navy guidance was the result of the Pentagon looking at how the U.S. military would look after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We asked them to deal with these issues and to speak specifically to them,” Davis said. “So, when a facility is made available to such events, individuals who meet all the requirements for use of those facilities should not be denied access to the facility because of sexual orientation.”

Davis added the amendment restricts the right of chaplains to exercise freely their religious beliefs if they want to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“Many chaplains represent faith traditions in which marriages between same-sex couples are celebrated and to prohibit them from doing so — to do that would be an attack on their rights with this amendment,” Davis said.

Although the Navy has said it will revisit the guidance, Davis said she’s confident the service will reach the same conclusion it had come to before.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler introduced an amendment to ensure DOD policies comply with DOMA (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Another amendment came from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), whose measure restated that the definition of marriage under DOMA as a union between one man and one woman applies to Defense Department regulations and policies.

The panel adopted the measure as part of the defense authorization bill by a vote of 39-28. The Republican members of the panel were unanimous in their support. Reps. McIntyre, Kissell and Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) as well as Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) joined the GOP to vote in favor of the measure.

Hartzler said the intention of the amendment was to reaffirm congressional support for DOMA and opposition to same-sex marriage.

“I think that this is a time for us in this Congress, the 112th Congress, to give our stance that we believe this is a wise policy and that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she said.

But Smith, who opposed the measure, disputed the idea that the federal government should be involved in state regulation of marriage and questioned why the committee was taking up the issue when the panel’s area of jurisdiction is the U.S. military.

“I don’t think we need to be inserting into the Defense Authorization Act a Congress-wide view on how marriage should be defined, however we may feel,” Smith said.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was particularly critical of what he said was invoking the more controversial debate over marriage in an attempt to derail “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the NDAA where they have no place,” Sarvis said. “Make no mistake — these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity.”

Another anticipated anti-gay amendment didn’t see introduction before the committee on Wednesday. Palazzo was expected to introduce an amendment that would require conscience regulations for service members who have religious or moral objections to open service. His office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on why the measure wasn’t introduced.

After adopting the anti-gay amendments, the committee voted to report out the defense authorization bill to the floor by a vote of 60-1. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) was the sole panel member to vote against the legislation.

The Republican-controlled House will likely pass the defense authorization bill as a whole when the measure reaches the floor. A vote on the legislation could happen as soon as the week of May 23.

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The White House

Biden issues Transgender Day of Visibility proclamation

Statement comes against backdrop of anti-transgender laws

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a proclamation that recognizes the Transgender Day of Visibility.

“Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves,” reads the proclamation. “Today, we show millions of transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom.”

Biden said “transgender Americans shape our nation’s soul — proudly serving in the military, curing deadly diseases, holding elected office, running thriving businesses, fighting for justice, raising families and much more.”  

“As kids, they deserve what every child deserves: The chance to learn in safe and supportive schools, to develop meaningful friendships, and to live openly and honestly,” he said. “As adults, they deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American, including equal access to health care, housing, and jobs and the chance to age with grace as senior citizens. But today, too many transgender Americans are still denied those rights and freedoms.”  

Biden notes “a wave of discriminatory state laws is targeting transgender youth, terrifying families and hurting kids who are not hurting anyone.”  

“An epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, in particular women and girls of color, has taken lives far too soon,” he added. “Last year’s Club Q shooting in Colorado was another painful example of this kind of violence — a stain on the conscience of our nation.”

The full proclamation is below:

 TRANSGENDER DAY OF VISIBILITY, 2023 
– – – – – – – 
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  
A PROCLAMATION
     Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves. Today, we show millions of transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom.

     Transgender Americans shape our Nation’s soul — proudly serving in the military, curing deadly diseases, holding elected office, running thriving businesses, fighting for justice, raising families, and much more. As kids, they deserve what every child deserves: The chance to learn in safe and supportive schools, to develop meaningful friendships, and to live openly and honestly. As adults, they deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American, including equal access to health care, housing, and jobs and the chance to age with grace as senior citizens. But today, too many transgender Americans are still denied those rights and freedoms. A wave of discriminatory state laws is targeting transgender youth, terrifying families and hurting kids who are not hurting anyone. An epidemic of violence against transgender women and girls, in particular women and girls of color, has taken lives far too soon. Last year’s Club Q shooting in Colorado was another painful example of this kind of violence — a stain on the conscience of our nation.

     My administration has fought to end these injustices from day one, working to ensure that transgender people and the entire LGBTQI+ community can live openly and safely. On my first day as president, I issued an executive order directing the federal government to root out discrimination against LGBTQI+ people and their families. We have appointed a record number of openly LGBTQI+ leaders, and I was proud to rescind the ban on openly transgender people serving in the military. We are also working to make public spaces and travel more accessible, including with more inclusive gender markers on United States passports. We are improving access to public services and entitlements like Social Security. We are cracking down on discrimination in housing and education. And last December, I signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, ensuring that every American can marry the person they love and have that marriage accepted, period.

     Meanwhile, we are also working to ease the tremendous strain that discrimination, bullying, and harassment can put on transgender children — more than half of whom seriously considered suicide in the last year. The Department of Education is, for example, helping ensure that transgender students have equal opportunities to learn and thrive at school, and the Department of Justice is pushing back against extreme laws that seek to ban evidence-based gender-affirming health care.

     There is much more to do. I continue to call on the Congress to finally pass the Equality Act and extend long-overdue civil rights protections to all LGBTQI+ Americans to ensure they can live with safety and dignity. Together, we also have to keep challenging the hundreds of hateful state laws that have been introduced across the country, making sure every child knows that they are made in the image of God, that they are loved, and that we are standing up for them.

     America is founded on the idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives. We have never fully lived up to that, but we have never walked away from it either. Today, as we celebrate transgender people, we also celebrate every American’s fundamental right to be themselves, bringing us closer to realizing America’s full promise.

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2023, as Transgender Day of Visibility. I call upon all Americans to join us in lifting up the lives and voices of transgender people throughout our nation and to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination against all transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people.

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-seventh.
                                 JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
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Kentucky

Ky. lawmakers override veto of anti-transgender bill

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear sharply critical of SB 150

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Students and transgender activists from across Kentucky made their voices heard on March 29, 2023, in opposition to Senate Bill 150 (Photo courtesy of the Fairness Campaign)

Both chambers of the Kentucky Legislature voted Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto on Senate Bill 150 that would severely restrict the lives of transgender youth in the state.

The law will:

  • Ban gender-affirming medical care, including treatments that delay puberty, other forms of hormone therapy and surgery, for trans and nonbinary people under 18 years old. 
  • Require revoking the licenses of doctors who provide such services.
  • Tell public schools to block trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
  • Allow public school teachers to misgender trans students.
  • Prevent public schools from allowing educational presentations that study gender identity or sexual orientation.
Governor Andy Beshear (Photo courtesy of Beshear’s office/Facebook)

Beshear stressed that the bill conflicted with his faith and noted the bill’s repercussions would include an increase in LGBTQ youth suicides: “My faith teaches me that all children are children of God and Senate Bill 150 will endanger the children of Kentucky.” Beshear also called it “too much government interference in personal healthcare issues and rips away the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children.”

In an emailed statement to the Washington Blade, Fairness Campaign Executive Director Chris Hartman reflected on the Assembly’s actions:

“While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary. We will not lose in court. And we are winning in so many other ways. Thousands of Kentucky kids came to the Capitol today to make their voices heard against the worst anti-trans bill in the nation. They are our hope for a Kentucky future that is more fair, more just, and more beautifully diverse and accepting than ever before.

I applaud the brave protesters who stood their ground in the Kentucky House gallery today before being removed by Kentucky State Troopers. Their chants and pain were heard by all in the chamber and were a necessary show of the grief and harm Senate Bill 150 will cause. Transgender children and their families in Kentucky are scared, rightfully so. We will do all we can to ensure they can continue to access the life-saving medical care they deserve.”

According to Hartman, “Brave, devastated protesters held each other in solidarity and chanted for 30 minutes in the House gallery before being taken out in zip ties by state troopers.”

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Tennessee

Tennessee queens brace for ‘drag ban’ law

All-ages drag brunch raises $3,500 for school gun violence prevention efforts

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New Beginnings owner Michael Trivette addresses the crowd at an all-ages drag brunch on Sunday, March 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee has passed a number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, including a measure that criminalizes gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a law that could be used to stop all drag shows on public property or in the presence of anyone under the age of 18.

In response to the anti-drag law, the owner and staff at the Tennessee gay bar New Beginnings held an all-ages drag brunch fundraiser on Sunday, raising $3,500 to combat gun violence in schools.

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 2, the so-called “drag ban,” into law on March 2, setting fines and even jail time for “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” in the presence of minors or on public property. The vague language of the new law, set to take effect on April 1 has advocates, business owners and entertainers concerned about how the law might be enforced.

“We don’t view the language of the bill as banning all public drag,” Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders told the Washington Blade. “But with that said, it is restrictive and it will embolden those who want to police and harass drag performances outside 18+ clubs. The implementation will be in the hands of law enforcement and district attorneys across the state and that is really where the potential for arbitrary enforcement comes in. In some of the larger cities, I do not believe that law enforcement or the district attorneys will view a drag brunch as a violation. I don’t speak for them, though. But in other parts of the state, the matter could be more complicated. Regardless of how one reads the text of the law, it will embolden groups who go around filming drag performances and take segments out of context.”

New Beginnings is a ‘safe space’

New Beginnings owner Michael Trivette greets patrons at the bar. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

One place where drag thrives in the state is New Beginnings, a sprawling nightclub located in Johnson City. New Beginnings, founded in 1987, is the only full-time LGBTQ venue currently in operation in the Tri-Cities area that includes Johnson City and Kingsport, Tenn., as well as Bristol, Va.

“We try to give the young people who come here something nicer than the circumstances they live in,” Mark, a New Beginnings bartender, told the Blade. “Many of these kids have never been on a plane, have never left the Tri-Cities area. We provide them with a safe space to be who they are and to experience the world: To see something of New Orleans or places outside.”

New Beginnings faces regular protesters and had an inauspicious beginning, according to Michael Trivette, who owns New Beginnings with his husband and extended family. He recounted to the Blade, “When we first opened up here in 1987, I was in the back parking lot painting stripes because they had to be marked for permits and a police officer came through and said, ‘I understand that you are putting a gay bar in here . . . you can just tell whoever that there’s not going to be no gay bar in my district.’ He said, ‘I’ll close it down.’ and this was before we even opened.”

Things have changed over the years as both New Beginnings and the LGBTQ community as a whole have gained wider acceptance, according to Trivette. 

Trivette tells the Blade that New Beginnings often holds a drag brunch around the time of TriPride, an annual event that rotates between Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. The TriPride drag brunch is now in jeopardy given concerns around the enforcement of the new law.

“When TriPride had pitched [having Pride in Johnson City in 2023] to the city commissioners and the mayor, they spoke so eloquently of an event to bring all of the people of the Tri-Cities together in a unified moment where they could celebrate the diversity of different people. The mayor wrote this glowing letter,” Trivette recounted. “It’s just so wonderful to think of, this is where we were and now this is where we are.”

“But now, this is where we’re going back to,” Trivette added.

Trivette said there was even talk of moving TriPride from Johnson City to nearby Bristol, Va., across the state line, just to be safe. However, TriPride told the Blade they resolve to continue with plans for a September parade and festival in Tennessee.

“As it stands currently, TriPride intends to continue with the parade and festival in Johnson City,” TriPride Board President Melody Taylor said. “We will continue to have open communication with the city as well as monitoring how the new law is being interpreted and if or when anyone is charged. TriPride has always prided itself on being an all-ages friendly event and our festival entertainment has never been obscene and this year will be no different.”

Tenn. anti-drag law goes into effect on April 1

(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“Of course we think it’s ridiculous,” Trivette said when asked what he thought of the new drag law. “I just truthfully have to wonder who saw what that made them feel compelled to go back to their offices and write this law about drag queens.”

Trivette continued, “You take a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class people and you talk about the good old days and how much better it used to be and you point your finger at a group of people and you blame them for your problems. And when you have an enemy, you have a focus.”

Kyelee Moffatt, mother, social worker and self-described “jack of all trades” at New Beginnings was blunt about her feelings concerning the anti-drag law: “I think it’s bullshit.”

Moffett elaborated, “I think it’s a lot of white, old men in Nashville making laws about things they know nothing about because they are being told things from people who are ignorant. They aren’t educated as to what drag is: it is a form of art. It is a wonderful form of entertainment. These people making these laws are afraid of them, the drag performers, because they are different.”

“I have fear for this law being interpreted in different ways to affect our trans community, especially,” she continued. “Especially with the recent ban on gender-affirming care for our trans youth in the state, I think that this is another way for politics and law enforcement to persecute our trans community. I’m afraid that law enforcement is going to target the trans community as well.”

“For me, it is reflective of laws in the 50s,” Moffett cautioned. “It’s just a huge red flag that our civil rights are being violated. I think we’re going backwards instead of forwards because, again, because people are afraid of what they don’t know.”

Odessa Mann, a drag artist who headlines alongside a large troupe of performers in the only regular drag show in the Tri-Cities, met with the Blade before hosting Saturday night’s drag show at New Beginnings. Mann, a spirited performer who is equally animated when talking about the importance of drag, explained, “Drag has been such a part of everybody’s culture: Not just queer culture. It’s been a part of theater and entertainment culture for as long as entertainment has been a thing. And so, it just feels that it is very convenient that now they want to bring up an issue with it all of the sudden.”

“Queer celebration and queer joy has always been a riot and has been a political movement in and of itself,” Mann said. “You can marginalize us and push us to the outsides of the community if you would like to but we’re still going to celebrate and we’re still going to find joy in ourselves. And now they have a problem with that again. So it’s even more important to stay louder in our celebration, louder in our joy and make sure that those people know that we’re not going anywhere. You can make as many bills as you want to, but we’re going to still be right here.”

Odessa Mann leads the drag show at New Beginnings. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“With the current rhetoric being lobbed at the LGBTQ+ community not only in Tennessee but across the country we at TriPride feel our mission of providing a safe environment for our community to rejoice in being their authentic selves is more important than ever,” TriPride Board President Taylor elaborated in an email. “These hateful messages are intended to incite fear and push the LGBTQ community back in the closet, so to speak.  TriPride refuses to simply disappear and will continue showing the love, kindness, and pride that our community has. Our community has been fighting for our right to exist for generations and we will continue that fight as long as necessary.”

Every week of the legislative session, we have published campaigns against the discriminatory bills and we continue to do that,” Sanders of Tennessee Equality Project told the Blade. “We have helped numerous people meet with their legislators and helped people prepare testimony against the bills. We have to continue doing that because we still face an anti-trans student pronoun bill, a new anti-trans amendment to a bill about camps, and much more. In my 20 years of working on anti-LGBTQ legislation in Tennessee, this is the worst year yet. But the community has stepped up and keeps coming back to fight the bills.”

The all-ages drag brunch at New Beginnings completely filled the cavernous club with supporters on Sunday. Children danced alongside drag queens at the G-rated show. Singers serenaded the patrons with live music and a “wilderness fairy” read a story to the youth. It was a bittersweet gathering, as it was perhaps the last of its kind to be had for a while.

Mann thanked the audience.

“I really appreciate you seeing us for what we are. We’re entertainers, we’re here to bring joy, we’re here to bring light. That’s all it is,” Mann said. “And I’d like to bring a little light to the stage right now. All the spotlight has been on us and I’d like to put the spotlight on these little baby drag queens we got. I’ve seen some younguns’ and they’ve been dancing with us, honey. I know they want the spotlight.”

Mann then led a group of parents and children in a dance to the popular kids’ song, “Baby Shark.”

“We want to talk to you for a minute about what’s going on in our country, specifically our state,” Sister Lolo of the Little City Sisters told the crowd.

Sister Lolo, a member of newly formed local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence drag order, continued, “This is the last time under the new law that we as drag entertainers are allowed to interact with some of you. And they say that this law is designed to protect you, but we know that’s not the truth.”

“Now, we’re going to follow the law, because as good citizens we have to,” said Sister Lolo. “But we know the truth and you know the truth. We’re going to work together to change these laws. We’re going to stand for the truth. We are not going to be afraid. Because when we are afraid, they win. And when we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for the truth, we will prevail.”

At the conclusion of the brunch, Trivette announced that more than $3,000 was raised to combat gun violence in schools. He beamed, “there was a bar in New York that was being hassled by the police department there: They didn’t want to have a gay bar in their district. So they started harassing them. And at some point, a drag queen . . . and leave it to a drag queen . . . picked up a brick and threw it at the police officers. That was the beginning, that was Stonewall in New York and that’s what started gay Pride. And now today ladies and gentlemen . . . and children, we just threw a rock.”

Sister Lolo of the Little City Sisters speaks to the audience at New Beginnings all-ages drag brunch on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

CLICK HERE to see more photos from the all-ages drag brunch at New Beginnings.

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