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Socarides, Eleveld leaving Equality Matters

Media watchdog loses top staff less than a year after high-profile debut

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Richard Socarides

Equality Matters president Richard Socarides. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than a year after its public launch that included a profile story in the New York Times, the LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters is losing its top two leaders and appears nearly defunct.

Equality Matters President Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Clinton, and Kerry Eleveld, a former Advocate magazine reporter, announced Tuesday they will leave the media watchdog group they helped to create.

“I remain committed to the success of the organization,” Socarides said in an interview with the Washington Blade on Monday, adding that he plans to return to practicing law in New York and will remain involved in LGBT advocacy. Eleveld is writing a book.

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Equality Matters promised to be the “communications war room for gay equality” pushing back against anti-gay messages in the media. However, the project may have become a reduced priority for its parent organization, Media Matters, founded by journalist David Brock.

Though initially able to recruit well-known players in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal fight, including Eleveld and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s communications director, Trevor Thomas, the “rapid response war room” project has lost most of its staff and is down to one dedicated employee, Carlos Maza.

“Virtually 100 percent of his time is spent on the Equality Matters side,” Socarides said of Maza, when asked which staffers are still employed there.

Richard Socarides at a Equality Matters event earlier this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Socarides described the structure of Equality Matters today as an entity without its own core staff, whose resources come from the larger Media Matters organization.

“The entire way that the organization functions, intentionally, is to be able to call on” the rest of the Media Matters organization and staff as needed, according to Socarides. “It’s an organization that is fully integrated and embedded into Media Matters.”

In a December New York Times piece announcing the launch of the project, Brock said Equality Matters would “expose right-wing bigotry and homophobia wherever we find it.”

“We believe the big battle is full equality, which is gay marriage,” Brock told the Times back then.

Socarides struck a more modest tone this week.

“[People] have their own opinion about which role each of our organizations play,” Socarides said. “The focus will continue, much the same as it’s been. I expect this will be a bit of a transitional period, but I think that you will see a very strong and vibrant EqualityMatters.org.”

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Brock released a statement early Tuesday reflecting on the original purpose of Equality Matters.

“When we launched our Equality Matters initiative at the end of 2010, we were convinced that additional and focused resources in our core expertise areas — correcting conservative misinformation plus training and communications — could be put to use to help take advantage of a potentially historic and transformative moment in gay rights.”

Eleveld was originally named editor of the organization’s website, but her title changed several months ago to “senior fellow at Media Matters.” Thomas, who was the project’s initial director of programs, took on a role in external affairs for the Media Matters parent organization in the spring.

Thomas and Eleveld moved out of Equality Matters and “have worked at Media Matters for some time now,” according to Media Matters press secretary Jess Levin.

“The Media Matters team has all of our senior fellows on it, so [moving Eleveld to Media Matters] just made more sense, but her work appears on Equality Matters,” Levin told the Blade.

Kerry Eleveld pictured with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black at an Equality Matters event (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Eleveld and Socarides were outspoken in the first few months of Equality Matters’ existence, releasing a flurry of op-eds and press releases throughout the spring and pressuring President Obama to endorse same-sex marriage.

On June 20, Socarides appeared on CNN and criticized the president for avoiding coming out in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples, saying that “he should just get on with it.”

The CNN appearance prompted senior Obama adviser David Axelrod to defend Obama on MSNBC later that evening.

Days later, on July 6, Eleveld criticized Obama’s position on marriage in the DailyBeast. “I’m not looking for a savior, I’m seeking the guy we elected,” she wrote, arguing that the White House silence on marriage was setting the wrong tone in the debate and could cost marriage rights advocates important wins down the line.

Shortly after their high-profile criticisms of Obama, the group’s attention shifted to conservative targets such as the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as the National Organization for Marriage and Fox News, fueling speculation that Brock was unhappy with the attacks on the Democratic administration.

Socarides denied that he and Eleveld clashed with Brock and others at Media Matters.

“It never happened,” Socarides said emphatically. “If you look at the kind of stuff that I said and that Kerry said over the year, it’s been fairly consistent.”

“I am very grateful to have Richard Socarides lead this initiative in its first year,” Brock said in a statement. “Having someone of his intellect, stature, and experience was a significant factor in our first year success. He will continue, I am sure, to have major impact in our fight for a progressive country and I will continue to rely on his advice and counsel.”

A Media Matters spokesperson said Eleveld was out of the country and unavailable for an interview. In a statement released Tuesday, she said, “I am grateful that I was given the chance to focus on in-depth reporting about serious issues affecting the LGBT community. … In the New Year, I look forward to working full time on a book about the past several years in LGBT history.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

Case is Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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National

McBride clears Dem field, poised to become first trans member of Congress

Primary opponent drops out of Delaware race

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Sarah McBride (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride has become the Democratic frontrunner for Congress after her primary opponent dropped out of the race. This sets up McBride to possibly become the first transgender member of Congress if elected in November. 

Eugene Young announced on Wednesday he suspended his campaign for Delaware’s At-Large congressional district, leaving McBride as the only Democratic candidate running for the seat. Young’s announcement leaves Republican challenger Donyale Hall as McBride’s only obstacle to the House of Representatives.

As the new Democratic frontrunner, McBride is slated to win the strongly Democratic state’s sole House seat, which is currently held by Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt Rochester is leaving the House to run for Thomas Carper’s seat in the Senate who will be retiring at the end of the year. 

According to McBride’s campaign, she has raised more than $2 million and does not appear to be slowing down. Not only could McBride become the historic first trans member of Congress, but her campaign has raised record-breaking amounts — more than any candidate for an open congressional seat in state history.

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters.

LPAC, an organization that works to get LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary candidates elected to public office, has endorsed McBride’s run for Congress as well as her past campaigns. LPAC’s Executive Director Janelle Perez released a statement regarding McBride’s path to the House.

“LPAC is thrilled that Sarah McBride has cleared the Democratic field and is on a clear path to making history in November as the first out trans person ever elected to the U.S. Congress,” Perez wrote in her statement. “This did not happen by accident: Sarah has actively cleared the field by building an undeniably formidable campaign, connecting deeply with voters and out-raising every candidate in the field by a longshot.”

Other candidates have until July 8 to enter the race, although that is unlikely given McBride’s fundraising advantage and growing momentum. 

“It is no surprise to me that Sarah has reached this point — she is a compassionate leader who truly cares for her community and has a tangible impact on everyone around her,” Perez added. “This is a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation in our country and I know that Sarah McBride will make an incredible member of Congress.”

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Pennsylvania

Philadelphia man sentenced to 15-30 years in prison for gay journalist’s murder

Robert Davis pleaded guilty to shooting Josh Kruger last October

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Josh Kruger (Photo courtesy of Kruger's Facebook page)

The man responsible for murder of gay journalist Josh Kruger, 39, last October in Philadelphia was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison on Monday.

Robert Davis, 20, who lived the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain worked out with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office prosecutors.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Davis’s guilty plea before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara A. McDermott also included counts of aggravated assault and illegal gun possession for firing a gun at someone on a SEPTA platform in late September.

Davis’s lawyer, Andrea Konow, could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner acknowledged Davis’s sentencing, but declined further comment.

Lieutenant Hamilton Marshmond of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit at the time of the shooting told reporters that Kruger was found lying in the street outside his Point Breeze home suffering from seven gunshot wounds. Responding officers rushed Kruger to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Davis’s older brother Jaylin Reason, told the Inquirer his brother appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was acting erratically. While trying to calm Davis down, Reason said, they got into a fight. He realized, he said, that the best assistance he could offer his brother was helping him surrender to police.

“I didn’t want him to keep living outside and going around and doing something to put himself in a deeper hole,” he added. Reason told the paper that he calmed Davis down, and then asked his other brother to call the police. Together, they went outside, sat on the steps, and waited for 17th District officers to arrive. Davis surrendered and was taken into custody.

In a series of interviews in early October with the Inquirer, Davis’s family told the paper that a years-long sexual relationship involving drugs factored into the murder. Davis’s mother and older brother are alleging Kruger began a sexual and drug relationship with the teenager four years ago when Davis was 15.

Robert Davis, 20 (Booking photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department)

Kruger wrote for publications like the Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Philly Voice about LGBTQ rights, addiction, AIDS, and homelessness. He worked for the city of Philadelphia, including at the Office of Homeless Services, for five years.

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