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Obama, Clinton push int’l LGBT rights

Administration issues new strategy, as Sec’y of State speaks out

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Obama administration on Tuesday made public a sweeping plan to confront anti-LGBT abuses overseas as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a high-profile speech on protecting human rights that made extensive references to LGBT rights abuses.

On Tuesday, President Obama issued what’s being called the first-ever U.S. government strategy to address LGBT human rights overseas in the form of a memo to the heads of government departments and agencies.

In the memo, Obama writes that the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people is “a global challenge” and “central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.”

“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation,” Obama said.

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The memo articulates six points in the new strategy to combat LGBT human rights abuses.

* U.S. agencies overseas are directed to strengthen efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct in addition to expanding efforts to combat discrimination overseas on this basis.

* The Departments of State and Homeland Security are directed to ensure LGBT people seeking asylum in the United States have equal access to protection and assistance. Additionally, the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security are to ensure appropriate training is in place for government personnel to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

* U.S. foreign aid agencies are directed to engage regularly with governments, citizens, civil society and the private sector to foster an awareness of LGBT human rights.

* The State Department is to lead a “standing group” geared toward ensuring swift response to serious incidents threatening the human rights of LGBT people overseas.

* U.S. agencies overseas are directed to work with international organizations to counter anti-LGBT discrimination and increase the number of countries willing to defend LGBT issues.

* U.S. agencies engaged abroad are required to prepare a report for the State Department within 180 days on their progress on these initiatives. The department will then compile a larger report for the president.

Joe Solmonese, president of the the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Obama administration for the new guidance in a statement.

“As Americans, we understand that no one should be made a criminal or subject to violence or even death because of who they are, no matter where they live,” Solmonese said. “Today’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people.”

Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality, had particular praise for the added protections for LGBT people seeking asylum in the United States.

“Immigration Equality hears from more than 1,000 LGBT people a year who are fleeing persecution,” Neilson said. “Many face daunting challenges in escaping their home country, let alone reaching the shores of the United States. By instructing foreign service officers to offer all available assistance to those who seek their help, the White House is extending a helping hand to some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals.”

On the same day the memo was issued, Clinton spoke extensively about the need to incorporate LGBT people in human rights protections during remarks at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

The speech was in recognition of Human Rights Day, which recognizes the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly. More than 1,000 diplomats and experts were in attendance.

“Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today,” Clinton said. “In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way — or too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people: human beings born free and given, bestowed equality and dignity who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”

Clinton acknowledged that her “own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect.” She noted that being gay was still a crime in many parts of the country until 2003, when the Supreme Court struck down state sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

“Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences,” Clinton said. “So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.”

But the secretary also rejected the idea that homosexuality is a Western creation and people outside of Western countries therefore have grounds to reject LGBT people.

“Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” Clinton said. “They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”

Clinton said those who first crafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may not in 1948 have realized the document applied to LGBT people, but said many of the countries involved in its crafting have come to the realization that — as Clinton has articulated before — gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

“It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave,” Clinton said. “It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.”

Clinton also announced the creation of a Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on LGBT human rights issues around the world. The secretary said the U.S. government has already committed more than $3 million to start this fund.

During a conference call with reporters after the speech, a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor made grants to organizations in the past, but the Global Equality Fund will “make permanent, or bolster the efforts to support civil society organizations around the world.”

The official said organizations seeking to conduct work in the 80 countries where same-sex relations are criminalized “would be priority areas” for grant money under the fund.

Advocates hailed Clinton for her speech and called it a strong signal the United States is activel;y pushing for an end to LGBT rights abuses overseas. According to HRC, Solmonese met with Clinton in Geneva prior to her speech.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, was also in attendance and said Clinton gave a “remarkable speech” that received a standing ovation.

“For us, I think the real question was to set the proper tone to be respectful and to recognize that this is a difficult conversation for many conservative countries, but to also to be very firm in stating unequivocally that this is a human rights priority and a U.S. foreign policy priority,” Bromley said.

Bromley added Clinton struck an appropriate balance by saying she delivered her address with “respect, understanding, and humility” while maintaining the importance of LGBT rights as a priority.

Justin Nelson, president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, was also a witness to Clinton’s remarks and called them “monumental” and “historic.”

“It’s such a strong statement that LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights, and that’s American foreign policy,” Nelson said. “It sends a very strong message that people all over the world know that they have an ally in America.”

Bromley said representatives from some countries didn’t stand after the remarks despite the state ovation, but he couldn’t identify who these people were or they countries from which they hailed.

“With most countries represented at some level, and 80 countries that continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations, there were some that, obviously, would have a difficult time fully understanding the speech,” Bromley said. “But at the same time, I think, the vast majority of audience really reacted enthusiastically and understood it to be a balanced, respective but firm statement of U.S. foreign policy.”

The senior State Department official said 95 percent of the audience was standing after Clinton’s remarks and there was a “sustained standing ovation.”

“I think part of that is attributable to the fact that she came not to wag a finger, but to really invite a conversation,” Clinton said. “I think the audience felt the spirit of respect, and also the spirit of hopefulness that she brought to the speech.”

In the aftermath of the speech, questions linger on whether the Obama administration can truly be support LGBT rights abroad when neither Obama nor Clinton have yet to express support for marriage rights for gay couples at home.

Asked if by advocating for LGBT rights abroad overseas the Obama administration is now in favor of marriage equality, the senior State Department official responded, “I think the secretary and the president have both spoken about their personal views on marriage. I think that one of things that comes up a lot in the international context is that — as in America and elsewhere — there is an ongoing debate about gay marriage. But whatever our position on gay marriage, I think one of the things that many of us have been finding an agreement on is the fact that no matter what you think about that question, we can all agree that people ought not be killed or imprisoned for who are they are and who they love.”

Watch the video of Clinton’s speech here:

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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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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