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Immigration bill includes pro-gay language

LGBT immigration group seeks expansion of prosecutorial authority outlined in memo



New efforts emerged this week to address the inequity in U.S. immigration law preventing bi-national same-sex couples from staying together in the United States, although hurdles remain for each of the initiatives.

An LGBT immigration group called on the Obama administration to broaden a recent memo indicating when immigration officials can exercise discretion in deportation cases to include protections for gay bi-national couples. Meanwhile, comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been introduced in the Senate that includes a provision enabling gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States.

Under current immigration code, straight Americans can sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States through the green card application process if their spouses are foreign nationals. The same rights aren’t available to gay Americans. Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the country upon expiration of their temporary visas or face deportation.

On Monday, Immigration Equality called on U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement to clarify that the definition of ‘family’ and ‘spouse’ used in a June 17 memo to immigration officials include specifically bi-national same-sex couples.

The memo outlines cases in which immigration officials can exercise prosecutorial authority to include considerations such as an agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities and whether a potential deportee is pursuing higher education or has served in the U.S. military.

However, the guidance makes no explicit mention of gay couples. It states that those with “family relationships” in the United States, or individuals with a “U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse” may be considered for discretion, but doesn’t spell out whether those terms are inclusive of same-sex couples.

Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality’s executive director, said an explicit mention of same-sex bi-national couples is necessary to ensure they can receive protections under the prosecutorial authority available to immigration officials.

“Given the absence of any LGBT family recognition at the federal level, the decision not to explicitly include our spouses and partners in the ICE memo is striking,” Tiven said. “If the administration does support efforts to keep LGBT families together, it should tell its field offices as much. If it does not, it must explain why. In the interim, families are being torn apart and American citizens are being separated from their spouses. There is simply no government interest served in such draconian enforcement of our immigration laws.”

The request to expand the memo comes on the heels of letters that U.S. senators and members of Congress sent to the Obama administration asking for a moratorium on the deportations of foreign nationals who are legally recognized same-sex marriage with U.S. citizens and would be eligible for marriage-based green cards if not for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Even though President Obama announced in February that DOMA is unconstitutional, the administration has said in the response to these requests it would continue to enforce DOMA.

Gillian Christensen, an Immigration & Customs Enforcement spokesperson, similarly said her agency would continue to enforce DOMA in response to the most recent request from Immigration Equality.

“Pursuant to the attorney general’s guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the executive branch, including [the Department of Homeland & Security], will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional,” Christensen said.

Christopher Nugent, who’s gay and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s rights of immigrants committee, was skeptical that Immigration & Customs Enforcement would make the change in accordance with Immigration Equality’s request.

“I am optimistic by nature but doubtful of such change with … with all the political battles going on here and with the economic woes,” Nugent said.

A new path has also been opened to address the hardships faced by bi-national same-sex couples through legislative means. On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a family reunification provision for gay couples.

Menendez’ legislation, which seeks to enhance border security and offers a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, contains language similar to standalone legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency in the United States.

Late last year, Menendez introduced similar comprehensive legislation that also included a UAFA-like provision. The legislation also contains language similar to the DREAM Act, which would offer young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they obtain a college education or enlist in the U.S. military.

In a statement, Menendez said the legislation is a signal that lawmakers are “serious about fixing our broken immigration system.”

“We stand for a complete solution — a real solution — to end undocumented immigration and restore the rule of law,” Menendez said. “This is common-sense legislation that addresses the realities of the situation, stops the flow across our borders, and contributes to our economic recovery.”

Tiven said Immigration Equality stands behind Menendez and is “ready, willing and able to rally the LGBT community, and our families and allies” in the effort to pass his comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year.

“Today’s bill is supported by the top Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, including the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee,” Tiven said. “We stand with them, and our allies in the LGBT and immigrant communities, in supporting reform that honors all families and offers an inclusive vision of America.”

Original co-sponsors for the legislation include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The legislation has no Republican co-sponsors.

The chances of passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation would be challenging with Republicans in control of the House in the 112th Congress. However, the legislation may see movement — or at least a committee hearing — in the Democratic Senate.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Leahy, whose committee has jurisdiction over the bill, pledged to hold hearings on the legislation, but said the focus now is to introduce legislation to encourage discussion among other senators.

“We’ll see it when we get up enough support, it looks like the best time, we’ll start having these hearings and we will report,” Leahy said.

The White House expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform, but hasn’t articulated support for a UAFA-like provision as a component of the bill.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said via e-mail President Obama backs the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in response to an inquiry on the bill, but made no mention of the provision for same-sex couples in his statement.

“The president has spoken clearly about the need to fix the broken immigration system so that it meets America’s economic and security needs for the 21st century,” Inouye said. “We welcome Sen. Menendez’s leadership on this economic imperative, as well as any constructive effort to reach the bipartisan consensus necessary to pass a legislative solution in Congress at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Inouye didn’t respond to a subsequent request to comment on whether the president supports the UAFA-like provision in the legislation. The White House has spoken out against the separation of bi-national same-sex couples, but hasn’t explicitly endorsed any legislation to achieve that end.

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Pride Franklin County welcomes rural LGBTQ community

Pennsylvania organization planning October celebration



When Pride Franklin County held its first Pride celebration in 2018, it sought to address a lack of LGBTQ programming in rural southern Pennsylvania. Greeted by more than 1,000 attendees at its inaugural event, Pride Franklin County’s leadership was reassured the event was something the area not only wanted, but needed. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local organization has once again sought to address community needs — in new and broadened ways.

Pride Franklin County operates under the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, a local social justice nonprofit that formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “We live in a very rural, conservative area, but that election was a turning point all across the country,” explained Noel Purdy, a founder of Pride Franklin County and founder and president of FCCP.

“People came out of the woodwork who were worried about the LGBTQ community … and other populations that had experienced different forms of oppression in our community,” Purdy explained. This interest in supporting the local LGBTQ community led to a group of LGBTQ community members and allies leading the 2018 Pride celebration.

“We just really wanted to create a space where people know that they’re accepted, no matter who they are,” said Nathan Strayer, vice president of FCCP and a founder of Pride Franklin County. “We want people to know that you fit in. There are a lot of people here that are going to love you.”

But in 2020, at the peak of the event’s popularity — Strayer noted that upwards of 3,000 people attended Pride the year prior — Pride Franklin County had to cancel its programming in light of public health concerns. 

With the “momentum” it has going, Strayer explained that the organization did not want the pandemic to limit its ability to serve the Franklin County community: “ That’s when we really decided to make the entire initiative something bigger,” he said. “We’re not just here to throw a party.”

In 2021, the organization began advocating for a local non-discrimination ordinance codifying inclusivity for all community members, regardless of their identity. The Borough of Chambersburg Council, which represents the largest borough in the county, adopted the ordinance that fall — a major win for LGBTQ activists and allies in a rural Pennsylvania county that leans conservative socially and politically.

Yet, just months after the organization celebrated its achievement, new council members were elected in the borough in January 2022, and soon thereafter a majority of the council decided to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance.

While the ordinance’s revocation greatly disappointed Pride Franklin County, it also reminded its leaders and activists how much work was left to be done.

“From the growth of Pride to the pushback we’ve gotten from some of our elected officials here locally, it’s definitely lit a fire in us to continue pushing ahead so that we can truly make Franklin County an inclusive place for everyone,” Strayer emphasized.

This year, the organization launched its Franklin County Welcoming Project, which spearheads public displays of support to the LGBTQ community. In June, the organization received a media grant to create billboard and radio advertisements throughout the county advocating for inclusivity within the Franklin County community.

The organization also reached out to local businesses, providing them with custom decals to put in their windows after signing a pledge stating that they are a “diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for all,” Strayer said, adding that, despite some initial hesitation, more than 100 local businesses signed the pledge and displayed the logo in their storefronts.

Pride Franklin County has also looked to meet the local demand for LGBTQ programming throughout the year while maintaining public health precautions. More recent projects have included mental health LGBTQ programming, community picnics, drag shows and a Taste of Pride food event. Strayer added that there has been significant demand from the community for more programming centering LGBTQ youth.

Purdy added that voting rights advocacy has become a center point of current efforts from the organization, as it hopes to educate the local community on the importance of their political involvement. “Hopefully, we’re inspiring more people to learn to pay attention more to what’s going on, and trying to understand the connection between policy and voting,” Purdy explained

While the process of founding a grassroots organization has come with obstacles, Purdy and Strayer both noted that the community response has been rewarding.

 “One thing that I’ve been surprised about is how you have this cultural context of being in a conservative area, thinking that that’s going to be a barrier to doing an event that supports the LGBTQ community, and that it’s going to be super controversial,” but ultimately receiving a positive reception from many community members and resources needed to keep the organization running, Purdy explained.

Getting Pride Franklin County up and running has “definitely been very emotional,” Strayer noted. When Strayer decided to come out in 1999, he turned to leaders in his school — a guidance counselor and principal — for advice, but he recalled them “both sitting down and looking at (him) like, ‘We don’t really know what to do,’” making him feel alone in a particularly important part of his life. But with Pride Franklin County, Strayer is “seeing how things are growing and changing.”

“There’s help out there for youth that are struggling with the same things I was struggling with,” Strayer said. “When I look back at when I was coming out, I thought, ‘This is never going to happen here.’ Seeing now that it is happening here, it’s just such an amazing feeling and it just gives me so much pride in my community.”

Pride Franklin County will host its Pride Festival 2022 on Oct. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the organization’s website at

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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”



Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs



Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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