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Second lady urges acceptance of LGBT youth

Jill Biden touts Obama administration’s work against bullying



Second lady Jill Biden emphasized acceptance and support in a speech Friday against school bullying before an audience largely made up of parents of LGBT youth.

“There is a direct connection between acceptance and positive, healthy outcomes in every important area of life, including education, mental health, and physical health,” Biden said.

Biden, an educator at Northern Virginia Community College and wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, made the remarks during the opening ceremony for PFLAG’s 2011 national convention, which took place at the Westin Alexandria. PFLAG is an organization that aims to provide a voice for the parents, family and friends of LGBT people.

Amid news stories of gay youths committing suicide after they had been bullied because of their sexual orientation, Biden stressed the importance of instilling a sense of self-confidence in children as they head through their teen years.

“For children who are struggling with understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity, the teen years can be particularly challenging,” Biden said. “And, of course, kids are not always kind to each other during these times, especially when one of them is different.”

As English teacher, Biden said she has students write about themselves in journals and through these entries knows the “pain and anxiety” felt by LGBT students who are bullied. She said this harassment “makes it almost impossible for students to concentrate on their school work.”

Biden said “no child should be subjected” to the kind of bullying that would lead to them to commit suicide and “no parent should suffer that horrific loss.”

In addition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and passing hate crimes protection legislation, Biden touted the work the Obama administration has done for LGBT youth, such holding a White House summit on bullying and issuing guidance to schools to combat student harassment and support gay-straight alliances.

“This progress is important, but there is still more to do,” Biden said. “At this critical time for education in our country, we need to ensure that our schools are producing the next generation of American leaders and heroes. We must insure that our classrooms are safer for all students
to learn, grow, and thrive.”

Biden’s speech was well received by those in attendance at the convention. An estimated 300 attendees from across the country took part in events after participating Thursday in a lobby day on Capitol Hill.

Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s executive director, said Biden’s message “connected the dots” between acceptance and support and “positive mental health and education outcomes.”

“Spending so many years in the classroom, [she] really recognizes when she’s got a student who is LGBT or thinks that they might be that — when the family is accepting — there’s a much, much higher likelihood that they’re going to have a positive education outcome,” Huckaby said.

Rustin Furlow, a gay 21-year-old from Lubbock, Texas, said he thought Biden’s speech was “inspirational” and he related to her remarks about student harassment.

“Going up I experienced bullying,” Furlow said. “Just to hear someone of that caliber mention bullying — it made me feel like people are hearing that — do understand the problem. It was nice to hear someone acknowledge that it is a problem, and we’re trying to do something to fix it.”

Ann Ogg, a 63-year old Littleton, Colo, resident, she said came to the convention to advocate for her adult lesbian daughter and praised Biden’s speech.

“It was really good to get support for our LGBT loved ones from high offices because we want our LGBT people to have equal rights,” Ogg said. “We want them to have the very same rights we have. We think it’s horrible that they don’t. I want my gay daughter to have the very same rights that all the rest of us enjoy.”

Despite the work the Obama administration has done to combat bullying, President Obama has yet to endorse legislation that would help protect LGBT students: the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The administration has said it supports the goals of the bills, but has yet to provide full-throated support.

Advocates have been pushing for inclusion of the anti-bullying bills as part of an education measure known as Elementary & Secondary Education Act reauthorization. The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee approved this legislation on Oct. 20 while leaving out the anti-bullying bills, although their backers pledged to bring them up as amendments on the Senate floor.

Huckaby said “there’s no reason” the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act should left out of education reform.

“We’re talking about life and death for young people,” Huckaby said. “In terms of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, there’s no reason why those issues of key pieces of legislation can’t be a part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act if that’s the direction that we need to take to get those things accomplished and create safer schools.”

Asked whether he wants the Obama administration to endorse the bills, Huckaby replied, “I think it’s critically important they speak up, and if they take a look at what our opportunities are, I think there are tremendous opportunities right now for them to speak out and to say this legislation that can make a difference.”

PFLAG was among eight LGBT organizations that signed a letter to the leaders on the Senate HELP committee saying they’re withholding support from the education reform bill as it currently stands because it lacks enumerated protections for LGBT students.

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  1. laurelboy2

    November 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Fourteen more months and Jill will fortunately be former second lady. Hope she and Joe have been paying the mortgage on that Wilmington spread so they’ll have somewhere to plop their senseless derrieres.

  2. Brandon

    November 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    LGBT ppl should be accepted >:L

  3. straight chick

    November 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Politics have nothing to do with the issue.

    Schools shouldn’t sit by while kids are kicked and spat upon. “Religious freedoms” have nothing to do with it–schools don’t care when straights are mocked because of their clothes, friends or the lack thereof, or their musical tastes. That’s bad enough. Protecting little pissant bullying bigots because they think their religion gives them the right to tell vulnerable youth that they’re going to Hell because God hates them…

    Screw politics. Or… hey, wait, aren’t half the Republican candidates running on anti-gay issues? They’d love to make a constitutional amendment banning anything that’s not procreative missionary sex with the lights off.

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date



Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.


Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality



More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick



An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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