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Carney: No updates on ENDA executive order, marriage

W.H. press sec’y unaware of discussion on directive against LGBT job bias

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was tight-lipped on Tuesday when reporters pressed him for updates on President Obama’s views on an executive order barring LGBT job bias and same-sex marriage.

During a news conference, Carney said under questioning from the Washington Blade that he was unaware of any talks when asked if internal discussion followed Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) recent endorsement of an executive order protecting LGBT people against workforce discrimination.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Carney said. “I don’t have anything new for you on that.”

Earlier this month, Harkin came out in favor of an executive order that would mandate that the federal government only contract with companies that have policies protecting their LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Harkin is the leading Senate Democrat on labor issues.

Harkin joined Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker and member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, who have also expressed support for this measure.

Asked whether the president takes heed when someone when like Harkin calls on the president to take action, Carney said Obama welcomes input from the senator but has no information on the potential executive order. The Iowa senator helped build momentum for Obama’s presidential bid in 2007 by inviting him to the 30th Annual Steak Fry; a major event for potential presidential candidates in the Iowa caucus process.

“I’m sure that the president always wants to hear what Sen. Harkin has to say on a variety of issues, but I don’t have anything for you on that particular one,” Carney said.

An executive order barring government contractors from job discrimination against LGBT people has been seen as an interim alternative to ENDA passage while Republicans are in control of the House and progress on the measure in the lower chamber of Congress is unlikely. The White House hasn’t said one way or the other whether Obama would be open to issuing such a directive.

Similarly, Carney said he had nothing to offer when another reporter asked why Obama has yet to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher said during his questioning that a reasonable person would conclude, given the president’s recent statements and actions, that Obama in fact favors marriage equality although he has yet to articulate this belief.

“The president has said in the past what his position is,” Carney replied. “It hasn’t changed. If it changes I’m sure he’ll let you all know.”

Obama has called for legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In February, the president announced that he determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that he would no longer defend the anti-gay statute against litigation in court.

Despite this opposition to DOMA, the president has yet to come out in support of marriage rights for gay couples. Obama has suggested his position could “evolve” on the issue, but he’s yet to make an endorsement for marriage equality.

Pressed by Mediaite on this potential evolution to reach support of same-sex marriage would come to an end, Carney replied, “I have no update on that.”

A partial transcript of the LGBT-related Q&A with Carney and reporters follows:

Mediaite: And my second question, based on his  what he said and his actions, I think a reasonable person can conclude that President Obama believes in the right of gay couples to marry.  So why hasn’t he come out and said that?

Jay Carney: The president has said in the past what his position is. It hasn’t changed. And if it changes, I’m sure he’ll let you all know.

Mediaite: The last time we checked, he said it was evolving.

Carney: And that’s — I have no update for you on that.

Washington Blade: Jay, earlier this month Sen. Tom Harkin endorsed the idea of the president issuing an executive order mandating that the federal government only contract with companies that have non-discrimination policies for their gay and transgender workers. Harkin joins Senator Jeff Merkley and Colorado Congressman Jared Polis who also said they welcome this order from the president. In the wake of these endorsements, is there any consideration at all in the administration to issuing this directive?

Carney: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t have anything new for you on that.

Washington Blade: But does the president take heed when someone like Tom Harkin, who helped the president out early on during his White House bid in 2008, does the president take heed when Tom Harkin calls on the President to issue such an order like that?

Carney: Well, I’m sure that the President always wants to hear what Sen. Harkin has to say on a variety of issues, but I don’t have anything for you on that particular one.

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The White House

Biden’s Pride month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’

States across the country have passed anti-LGBTQ laws

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing in December 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Just as the 1969 Stonewall riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride month.

This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:

“In 2023 alone, state and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen states have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”

Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in state capitols in defense of their basic rights.”

The statement reaffirms the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.

Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: Combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.

Meanwhile, Biden said, the Justice Department is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting transgender youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”

Finally, the White House noted: Its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then three; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.

“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”

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Pentagon

Defense secretary orders cancellation of drag show at Nev. Air Force base

Event was to have taken place at Nellis AFB on Thursday

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride month on the sprawling Nellis Air Force Base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) demanded in an angry tone that Austin and Milley explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany had a drag queen story time, that was to be held in honor of Pride month cancelled. 

According to Stars and Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ news outlet in Canada, the Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers. 

Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, III, and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 14, 2021. (Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, Department of Defense)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said Milley was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1 Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called ‘family-friendly’ drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know: 

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1 or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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Alabama

Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday

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Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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