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Obama asserts marriage issue should be left to states

At NYC fundraiser, president encourage states to debate the way ‘to treat people fairly’

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President Obama (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK CITY — President Obama reiterated on Thursday that the marriage issue should be left to the states during an LGBT fundraiser in New York City that took place amid increasing pressure for him to endorse marriage rights for gay couples.

During his remarks, Obama noted legislation is pending before the New York State Legislature that would legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s third-largest state, but offered no explicit remarks either for or against the bill.

Obama drew on his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage, in his remarks on the New York marriage bill and leaving the issue to the states. The president has called for legislative repeal of DOMA and, in February, announced the law was unconstitutional and his administration would no longer defend it in court.

“Part of the reason that DOMA doesn’t make sense is that traditionally marriage has been decided by the states,” Obama said. “I understand there is a little debate going on here in New York about whether to join five other states and D.C. in allowing civil marriage for gay couples. I want to say that under the leadership of Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There’s a debate; there’s deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law.”

Obama’s remarks that relationship recognition should be left to the states emphasizes a different note of what he’s already said on the issue, but slightly deters from the White House and president’s greater emphasis in recent months on how the president could evolve to support same-sex marriage.

About 600 donors, mostly male, sat at round tables in a large ballroom for the $1,250-a-plate dinner at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in New York. Gay actor Neil Patrick Harris and Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, a West Point graduate who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” introduced Obama at the start of the event.

Advocates had been hoping that Obama, who has previously suggested his position could evolve on same-sex marriage, would come out for gay nuptials and endorse the New York marriage bill during the fundraiser. But before the fundraiser, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press gaggle that Obama wouldn’t issue such an endorsement during the speech.

At an earlier point in his remarks, while beginning to list his achievements for the LGBT community, Obama was interrupted by hecklers who shouted, “Marriage! Marriage!” in an apparent attempt to get the president on board with marriage equality.

The president replied, “I heard that. Believe it or not I anticipated that.” Despite the heckling, no attendees were escorted out of the event.

Obama continued listing his accomplishments for the LGBT community and said he would continue to fight against discrimination against LGBT people, recalling that legislative passage of a hate crimes protections and legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal occurred under his watch.

“I believed that discrimination because of somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity ran counter to who we are as a people, and it’s a violation of the basic tenets on which this nation was founded,” Obama said. “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.”

The president made a reference to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — in addition to often dismissed speculation that he wasn’t in fact born in the United States — during his recollection of what he’s done for the LGBT community, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience.

“Ever since I entered into public life, ever since I have a memory about what my mother taught me, and my grandparents taught me, I believed that discriminating against people was wrong,” Obama said. “I had no choice. I was born that way — In Hawaii.”

Josh Cohen, a gay New York City-based activist who attended the fundraiser, said the two most important parts of Obama’s speech were his assertion that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples and his stated empathy over people’s frustration with the slow pace of progress.

“When people in the audience hollered for an explicit answer on the M-word question, [Obama] didn’t blame them for doing so,” Cohen said. “He expressed understanding for why people holler and keep the pressure up. He even understood the need for people to holler and keep the pressure up on him.”

Cohen said he’d like the president to move faster on LGBT rights, but added, “given the tools he has to work with, and all the constituencies he needs to balance to stay in office, he’s moving along at an acceptable pace.”

Prior to the fundraiser, grassroots LGBT groups demonstrated outside the hotel. Around 20 activists affiliated with Queer Rising and GetEQUAL waived and banners and shouted chants urging President Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Some protesters held a sign listing a number of prominent Republicans who support same-sex marriage — including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush and gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman — while noting Obama has yet to do the same.

The protesters shouted the now familiar GetEQUAL refrain, “I am … somebody … and I deserve … full equality.” They later chanted, “What do you we want? Marriage equality! When do we want it? Now!”

Dan Fotou, eastern regional field director for GetEQUAL, said the demonstration was held because the president came to an LGBT fundraiser in New York amid the marriage equality battle in the state while remaining opposed to same-sex marriage.

“We’re here to remind him that his position on marriage equality is unacceptable,” Fotou said. “He’s got other Republicans, prominent Republicans, who are for marriage equality — who’ve never promised equality, who’ve never promised to be our ‘fierce advocate’ — they’ve come out for marriage equality.”

Eugene Lovendusky, secretary of Queer Rising, also said he wanted to protest because of Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality amid the push for marriage legislation in New York.

“Fifty-eight percent of New York are in favor of marriage equality and Obama is staying silent, but has no problem taking money from the gays here, though, so that’s why we’re here,” Lovendusky said.

Fotou said Obama should come out for same-sex marriage because his leadership position means his support for marriage equality would lead to greater protections for the LGBT community.

“When we have governmental support — hate crimes, suicides, LGBT homelessness — all the things that are really part of our community that are harmful — it has a tendency to take the sting out of that,” Fotou said. “The more equal we become, the more visible we become in society, the less harm we are facing. So that, I think, is a really important thing that I think Obama can recognize in his position to evolving to support for marriage equality.”

NOTE: This post has been updated.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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