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Obama: Don’t boo gay soldiers

POTUS highlights LGBT achievements at HRC dinner

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President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama denounced GOP presidential candidates on Saturday for not speaking out against the booing of a gay soldier who asked a question on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during a recent debate.

Obama made the remarks during his keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s 15th annual dinner at the Washington Convention Center in D.C. before an estimated audience of 3,000 people.

In one notable portion of the speech, Obama took aim at Republican presidential hopefuls for not speaking out during a Sept. 22 debate against the booing of a gay soldier who asked a question about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” via video from Iraq.

“We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s OK for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the President of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed,” Obama said. “You want to be commander-in-chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States — even when it’s not politically convenient.”

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, took exception after the speech to Obama’s criticism of Republican presidential candidates.

“President Obama’s focus on the booing at the latest GOP debate underscored his focus on politics over policy in his speech,” Berle said. “Such actions were quickly rebuked by Governors Huntsman and Johnson, after the debate, which was appropriate. His speech last night, much like his tenure as President, was more cheap shots and politics than substance on policy.”

The speech before HRC supporters could arguably be seen as a stump speech before the LGBT community as the Obama gears up his 2012 re-election campaign.

Obama enumerated five accomplishments he achieved for LGBT people in the first two-and-a-half years of his administration: passage of hate crimes protections legislation; issuing an order assuring hospital visitation rights for gay couples; lifting the HIV travel ban; repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; and declaring that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

Obama gave particular emphasis during his address to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was lifted from the books on Sept. 20 as the result of repeal legislation he signed in December.

“Many questioned whether we’d succeed in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and, yes, it took two years to get the repeal through Congress.,” Obama said. “We had to hold a coalition together. We had to keep up the pressure. We took some flak along the way. But with the help of HRC, we got it done. And ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is history.”

Obama continued, “All around the world, you’ve got gays and lesbians who are serving, and the only difference is now they can put up a family photo. No one has to live a lie to serve the country they love.”

The audience warmly greeted Obama with cheers and applause. Attendees gave the president a standing ovation at least three times, including during his mention of bringing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to an end.

At one point, an audience member shouted to Obama, “Fired up!” The president immediately replied, “I’m fired up, too,” and continued his address.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, had particular praise for Obama while introducing the president and said his organization has accomplished “more in the last two years” than the previous seven.

“We must stand with those who have a history of standing with us and that includes Barack Obama,” Solmonese said. “No president has done more to improve the lives of LGBT people than Barack Obama.”

Some advocates were hoping that Obama would take the opportunity of speaking before an LGBT audience to endorse marriage equality.

Since last year, Obama has suggested he evolve to support same-sex marriage, although he hasn’t yet endorsed marriage rights for gay couples. The president offered no such support during his address.

John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama gave “the speech we expected, not the speech we deserved.”

“It was a safe speech, an election speech really,” Aravosis said. “He rightfully listed a number of excellent accomplishments, with the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal at the lead. But his term isn’t over, so what’s next? Marriage? An executive order on ENDA? … The president gave a good speech, but it could have been great.”

Obama also faced calls to publicly come out against anti-gay marriage initiatives that will be on the ballot next year in Minnesota and North Carolina. During his speech, the president didn’t explicitly mention these measures, but spoke out against efforts to enshrine discrimination in state laws and constitutions.

“There are those who don’t want to just stand in our way but want to turn the clock back; who want to return to the days when gay people couldn’t serve their country openly; who reject the progress that we’ve made; who, as we speak, are looking to enshrine discrimination into state laws and constitutions — efforts that we’ve got to work hard to oppose, because that’s not what America should be about,” Obama said.

Among the explicit plans of action that Obama stated during his speech were outstanding promises from his 2008 campaign that he pledged to accomplish, including legislative repeal of DOMA and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“I need your help to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill so that being gay is never again a fireable offense in America,” Obama said.

Attendees at the HRC dinner hailed Obama and said the lack of announced support for marriage equality during his address isn’t as significant as other aspects of his speech or his accomplishments for LGBT people.

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) said Obama described LGBT issues during his address with an authenticity that “really is breathtaking.”

“He is singularly the most important president we’ve ever had when it comes to the advancement of rights for the LGBT community,” Catania said. “And his remarks here are so authentic. I believe who we saw is the real Barack Obama — someone who knows the importance of equality.”

On Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality, Catania said, “I hope that as we go forward, he find it in his next term in his capacity to openly support marriage equality — not just drop the defense of DOMA. But this is not the time to be diminishing his remarks. What he has done is nothing short of breathtaking.”

Mike Manning, a bisexual cast member of MTV’s “Real World D.C.” in 2009, said he heard exactly what he wanted to hear from Obama and had an exchange with the president after the speech.

Mike Manning (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“I don’t get star-struck with celebrities, but with Obama, of course, I did,” Manning said. “The only thing I could think to say to Obama was ‘Hey Obama, you’re awesome. He said, ‘Thank you. You’re awesome.’ So now I can die happy. The President of the United States said that I was awesome.”

On Obama’s position on marriage, Manning said, “I like the way that he’s letting the nation evolve with him on his views. My opinion is that Obama has always been supportive of same-sex marriage, but the fact that he is letting the nation evolve with him is very smart.”

Manning continued, “The way Obama handles things, he has a process for everything, and he’s very smart at planning things out. Like for his repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ he didn’t just sign an executive order, he actually took the time to get people on his side, and I think that’s what he’s doing right now with marriage equality.”

Bil Browning, the gay founder and editor-in-chief of the Bilerico Project, was less impressed with the president and wanted to hear more during his remarks.

“It effectively listed all of his accomplishments, but I found it a little lackluster and was hoping for less of a campaign speech and more for a celebration or an acknowledgment of how far he’d exactly come on our issues,” Browning said.

Browning said he’d like to see Obama publicly support marriage equality, but acknowledged he doesn’t know “if coming to a constituent dinner is the proper place to announce a big change policy, that he’s changed his position on marriage.”

Other notable attendees at the HRC dinner were D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and former second lady Tipper Gore. Gay administration officials John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director, and Fred Hocherg, head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank were also there. Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who recently launched a campaign for a U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made separate addresses during the dinner.

No protesters were seen outside the Washington Convention Center prior to the HRC dinner. Demonstrators often protest Obama at the LGBT events in which he participates for his lack of support of marriage equality and HRC for allegedly being an elitist organization.

Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said protesting the HRC dinner “wasn’t a priority and didn’t seem strategic.”

“We’re focused on building a grassroots movement that can demand full federal equality for LGBT Americans — and with limited resources, we have to be discerning about how to direct the energy of GetEQUAL’s organizers,” Cronk said. “Since we decided that protesting at the event wouldn’t actually help us build that uncompromising and unrelenting movement, we’re staying focused on where we can have an impact.”

UPDATE: This post has been edited.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Ruling applies to Va.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY McKENNA HORSLEY | A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

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“As a parent and as attorney general, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, W.Va., and Frankfort, Ky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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The White House

Press secretary reaffirms the administration’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights

Karine Jean-Pierre also highlighted mental health efforts

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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