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Obama cheered at Pride reception

POTUS pledges to certify ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal in matter of ‘weeks, not months’

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President Obama addresses audience at White House Pride reception (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama addressed on Wednesday at a White House Pride reception an adoring audience of LGBT supporters who seemed largely unaffected by discontent over his lack of support for marriage equality.

Upon Obama’s entrance in the East Room of the White House, the few hundred attendees, largely made up of U.S. government workers and grassroots organizers, greeted Obama with applause and shouts of approval.

During his eight-minute speech, Obama’s most noteworthy remark was an announcement that he expects to certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal “in a matter of weeks, not months.”

“A lot of people said we weren’t going to be able to get ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ done, including a bunch of people in this room,” Obama said. “It took two years through Congress — working with [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Adm. [Mike] Mullen and [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and the Pentagon. We had to hold together a fragile coalition. We had to keep up the pressure. But the bottom line is we got it done.”

Obama also said he’s kept his promises to LGBT Americans, although he added he recognizes more work remains on the LGBT political agenda and he’s relying on his audience to continue the pressure.

“So bottom line is, I’ve met my commitments to the LGBT community,” Obama said. “I have delivered on what I promised. Now, that doesn’t mean our work is done. There are going to be times where you’re still frustrated with me. I know there are going to be times where you’re still frustrated at the pace of change. I understand that. I know I can count on you to let me know. This is not a shy group.”

Among the attendees were high-ranking openly gay officials within the Obama administration, including John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. As attendees mingled and ate hors d’oeuvres from the White House kitchen, a band played light jazz and R&B music in the background.

Despite increased pressure to endorse marriage equality, Obama made no explicit endorsement of same-sex marriage during his speech. However, he did mention the recently passed marriage law in New York — and possibly alluded to litigation and ballot initiatives related to the right to marry — while listing ways in which “progress” is happening throughout the country.

“It’s propelled not by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard and mutual respect,” Obama said. “It’s playing out in legislatures like New York. It’s playing out in courtrooms. It’s playing out in the ballot box, as people argue and debate over how to bring about the changes where we are creating a more perfect union.”

No attendees at the White House reception shouted complaints or heckled Obama to urge him to back same-sex marriage, unlike at a LGBT fundraiser in New York City last week.

Obama’s lack of explicit support for endorsement of same-sex marriage continues to rile many activists who  say he continues to miss chances to lead on the issue. In addition to staying mum on his personal views on marriage during the Pride reception, Obama declined to endorse marriage equality during a news conference earlier in the day and during the fundraiser in New York City last week

Still, many suspect Obama backs same-sex marriage without actually saying so and is waiting until after Election 2012 to come out for gay nuptials as a political calculation.

John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama offered “nice remarks” during the reception, but missed another opportunity to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

“He seems to be intentionally dragging out his decision on the issue,” Aravosis said. “I think he does us, the issue, and himself a disservice in doing that. The longer he drags the issue out, the more he’s simply going to annoy marriage advocates, ultimately stealing his own thunder when he does finally come out in favor of marriage.”

But attendees at the event weren’t bothered by the president’s lack of support for same-sex marriage and said they would continue supporting him because of all the other work he’s done for the LGBT community.

Gregory King, a gay 55-year-old who works as a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he supports Obama because he’s “done more for the LGBT community than any president in history.”

Asked whether he wants Obama to support same-sex marriage, King replied, “I’m sure, in time, President Obama will do the right thing, but he has consistently shown greater support than any other politician who has ever been elected president, and I think on a day like today, it’s worth saying, ‘Thank you.'”

Caleb Laiseki, a gay 16-year-old anti-bullying activist, said he wasn’t disappointed that Obama didn’t express personal support for same-sex marriage during the reception.

“Altogether, he has been the president that has made the most progress when it comes to safe schools, LGBT youth, LGBT elderly,” Laiseki said. “He has pushed the movement more than any other president, and the administration has pushed forward the movement more than any other administration has.”

Laiseki added that he thinks Obama’s support for same-sex marriage “will come in time,” but maintained he’s not disappointed because he continues to see progress from the administration on LGBT issues.

Dan Savage (right) attended the Pride reception with his partner Terry Miller (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Straddling both sides of the issue was Dan Savage, who’s gay and founder of the “It Gets Better” Project. While attending the reception with his partner, Terry Miller, Savage wore on his shirt an “Evolve Already” button referencing an earlier remark by Obama that his views on same-sex marriage could change.

“I think the gay community needs to keep the pressure on, which is why I wore the button today, but we also need take ‘yes’ for an answer, and we need to reward progress when it appears,” Savage said. “We’ve seen progress and we should support the president, and continue to make demands on the president.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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