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Mikulski to co-sponsor DOMA repeal

Support brings number of Senate co-sponsors to 30

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski (photo courtesy wikimedia)

The senior U.S. senator from Maryland has agreed to co-sponsor legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act after LGBT rights supporters sent a petition of nearly 3,000 names to her office urging her to support the bill.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced via her Facebook page on Thursday that she would become a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The status update for her Facebook page reads: “Will co-sponsor bill 2 repeal #DOMA — All Americans entitled 2 equal protection under law & 2 be treated w/dignity & respect. #ItGetsBetter.”

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade via e-mail, Mikulski confirmed she’s a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“I am proud to co-sponsor legislation to repeal key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Mikulski said. “I believe all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law and all of our citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

She continued, “The Respect for Marriage Act, S.598, will allow couples who have a legal marriage in a state to have the same federal protections as every other married couple. This includes the right to receive spousal benefits under Social Security; to file joint federal tax returns and to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act when a spouse falls seriously ill.”

Mikulski’s support brings the total number of co-sponsors for the Respect for Marriage Act to 30. In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the repeal legislation and how DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, burdens gay couples.

Last month, a coalition of LGBT rights groups — Freedom to Marry, the Courage Campaign and Equality Maryland — delivered a petition with names from nearly 3,000 Maryland residents to Mikulski’s office calling on her to support DOMA repeal.

Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, said the petition drive organized by the groups helped encourage Mikulski to sign on in support.

“We battled wind, rain and fleeing residents on I-95 during a deadly hurricane named Irene just so we could deliver these signatures to Sen. Mikulski’s Baltimore office,” Jacobs said. “And it paid off. We need to keep going and continue working tirelessly until we get to the magic number of 60 votes.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, commended Mikuski for what he said was “heeding the call of families across the state.”

“Overturning DOMA’s unfair exclusion from federal protections would make a big difference in the lives of the nearly 17,000 same-sex couples in Maryland who are working hard to take care of each other and their families each and every day while being denied the critical safety-net that only marriage brings,” Wolfson said. “We look forward to working with Sen. Mikulski to grow the numbers of supporters in the Senate so that we can bring an end to marriage discrimination as soon as possible in these tough economic times”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, the Democratic junior senator from Maryland, was already a co-sponsor of DOMA repeal, and Gov. Martin O’Malley said he’d make the legalization of same-sex marriage part of his legislative package for 2012.

Advocates had said Mikulski’s previous lack of co-sponsorship of the bill was striking because other elected officials in her state have voiced support for same-sex marriage and plans are in motion to legalize marriage rights for gay couples in Maryland next year.

Lisa Polyak, acting board chair for Equality Maryland, said her organization is “tremendously grateful” to Mikulski for joining on as a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act.

“Even more so, we’re tremendously proud that in Maryland, every statewide official — both at the state and federal level — now supports marriage equality for same-sex couples,” Polyak said. “I think they understand that it’s good public policy to treat all families equally and we look forward to the day when the federal law finally reflects that to be true.”

All Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, so the legislation could be reported out of committee as soon as Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) holds a markup on the measure.

NOTE: This article has been updated.

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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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National

Homeland Security says more attacks against LGBTQ people are possible

Gunman killed five people at ClubQ in Colo. on Nov. 19

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(Public domain photo)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror threat bulletin Wednesday warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, Homeland Security officials noted that several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the U.S:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” Homeland Security warned.

Homeland Security also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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