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Would we be better off under President Hillary?

Clinton’s gay supporters from 2008 weigh in on Obama’s performance

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

Would a President Hillary Clinton have made more progress on LGBT issues over the course of her first term as opposed to what we’ve seen under President Obama?

The secretary of state certainly stole the spotlight on LGBT issues when she gave a high-profile speech in Geneva earlier this month calling for an end to anti-gay abuses overseas and emphasizing her previously stated belief that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

“In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed,” Clinton said. “Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.”

MORE IN THE BLADE: WATCH THE HISTORIC GENEVA SPEECH

Clinton had a strong LGBT following in 2008 when she was competing against Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. There were many high-profile LGBT Clintonistas, although many of them became Obama supporters after he won the Democratic mantle.

Former members of Clinton’s 2008 LGBT steering committee praised her speech in Geneva, but noted that it took place as part of a coordinated effort under the Obama administration.

Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign and a Clinton backer in 2008, said the Clinton speech was “bold and historic,” but wouldn’t have taken place if President Obama didn’t want it to happen.

“It was as deeply thoughtful and intelligent as Secretary Clinton herself,” Birch said. “But we all know that the secretary of state serves the president and our nation. This speech took place because this administration — including Secretary Clinton — wanted it to take place.”

Peter Rosenstein, a gay D.C. Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton delegate, noted Clinton’s speech followed Obama’s speech at the United Nations in which he became the first sitting president to mention gay rights in a speech before the full U.N. General Assembly.

“I think Hillary made a brilliant, heartfelt speech on LGBT rights but let us not forget that President Obama spoke out first at the United Nations on the need to protect gay and lesbian people around the world,” Rosenstein said.

But questions linger among some Clinton supporters over what progress the LGBT community would have seen if she had won the presidency.

Clinton’s LGBT advocacy in her role as secretary of state has been aggressive. Early on during the administration, Clinton instituted a change to offer equal benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers.

The change allowed same-sex partners to have access to diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at posts overseas, medical and other emergency evacuation privileges, compensation for transportation between posts and training in security and languages.

The Obama administration has no seen no shortage of major advancements for the LGBT community. Notable among them is passage of hate crimes protection legislation, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the discontinuation of the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Clo Ewing, an Obama campaign spokesperson, touted the president’s record in response to an inquiry on whether a President Clinton would have accomplished more than President Obama.

“President Obama’s administration has done more to advance LGBT equality than any other, accomplishing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act into law and ending discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government,” Ewing said. “And if he’s reelected, that progress will continue.”

Still, many LGBT advocates are frustrated that Obama has yet to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Obama has said he could “evolve” to support marriage rights, but more than a year has passed since he made that statement and he has yet to do so.

Moreover, one major piece of legislation that Obama backed during his 2008 campaign continues to languish in Congress: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Passage would be difficult given the current makeup of Congress, but Obama in the interim could issue an executive order preventing federal dollars from going to contractors that don’t have their own non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in place for workers.

Lane Hudson, a gay D.C.-based Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton supporter, thinks she would have made more progress on ENDA and marriage if she were president.

“My gut tells me that Hillary would have evolved to a position supporting full marriage equality,” Hudson said. “While her speech in Geneva didn’t mention it specifically, I feel that it is implied in her statement that ‘gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Hudson went to 10 states — including New Hampshire where Clinton won the primary — to campaign for the then-Democratic presidential candidate. He also served as host for LGBT-focused fundraisers in D.C.

Clinton, in her role as secretary of state, has continued to support civil unions as opposed to same-sex marriage. But, during a speech at the State Department this year commemorating June as Pride month, she praised the marriage law in New York, saying it, “gives such visibility and credibility to everything that so many of you have done over so many years.”

Still, she hasn’t endorsed marriage rights even as at least one other member of Obama’s cabinet has declared his personal support. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan expressed his support for same-sex marriage last month.

It’s difficult to say whether ENDA would be further along under a Clinton administration because employment protections haven’t been under her purview as secretary of state.

Still, Hudson said he believes Clinton would “have been more aggressive in helping to get ENDA passed into law.”

“Without question, Hillary would have been more successful at legislating,” Hudson said. “Not only does she have a solid record as a senator, but she would have been far more engaged with the Congress. ENDA didn’t even leave the House committee in the last Congress.”

But many prominent LGBT Clinton backers say they’re pleased with the Obama administration and she and the president have been working closely to advance LGBT issues.

Other former Clinton supporters were dubious that the secretary of state would have come out for marriage equality or guided ENDA to passage had she been elected president instead of Obama.

Hilary Rosen, a D.C.-based Democratic activist, called herself “Hillary Clinton’s greatest fan,” but expressed skepticism that Clinton would have succeeded on ENDA or evolved on marriage.

“ENDA is stuck in the Congress not the White House and I just don’t know if she would have changed her view publicly by now about marriage if she were president,” Rosen said. “And anyone who tells you they know is making it up.”

Birch said Obama achieved tremendous legislative success for the LGBT community — counting passage of hate crimes legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as two signature accomplishments — and said people should “work harder than ever in their lives to re-elect a president that invested in real change.”

“President Obama has achieved what no other president has ever achieved — a breakthrough of majority votes in the United States Congress to actually change the federal law of our country,” Birch said. “He has done it twice. He prioritized us and that is how it happened.”

Steve Elmendorf, a gay Democratic lobbyist, said he doesn’t think “we’d see any difference” if Clinton were president instead of Obama.

“I was an enthusiastic Hillary backer; I am an enthusiastic Obama backer now,” Elmendorf said. “In terms of passing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ [repeal] and hate crimes, I think Obama has done a terrific job and, I think, the community should be enthusiastic about him — particularly if they watch the Republican primary process play out and see what the alternative is.”

Elmendorf, also a member of Clinton’s 2008 LGBT steering committee, said the only thing Obama hasn’t done is come out publicly for marriage equality, but noted Clinton also has yet to make such an endorsement.

“The opposition is so horrible, and marriage is just one issue and he’s got such a good record on just everything else that it doesn’t in any way diminish my enthusiasm for him,” Elmendorf said.

 

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State Department

State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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National

Club Q suspect indicted on 305 charges

22-year-old charged with first-degree murder, bias-motivated crime

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(Photo courtesy of Club Q Facebook page)

El Paso County (Colo.) District Attorney Michael Allen announced in the first in-person hearing on Tuesday that the 22-year-old suspect in the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q, which killed five and wounded dozens of others, will face 305 charges including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime.

The Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper reported Anderson Aldrich appeared in a Colorado Springs courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit and handcuffs. Aldrich’s facial bruising had significantly healed since a video hearing two weeks ago. 

The total list of charges according to the Gazette is as follows: 

• 10 counts of first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of first-degree assault.

• Four counts of second-degree assault.

• 48 counts of bias-motivated crime. 

• 71 counts of violent crime causing death and using a weapon.

Allen said the prosecution may request to amend the charges in the future.

“We are not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity,” Allen said at a news conference after the hearing. “Members of that community have been harassed and intimated and abused for too long. And that’s not going to occur in the 4th Judicial District.”

During the hearing Judge Michael McHenry, following the filing of formal charges, granted a request from Allen for the suspect’s arrest affidavit to be unsealed. The court papers should be available to the public by the end of the day Wednesday, the judge noted according to the Gazette.

Allen said that while he couldn’t talk about what is in the affidavit, he told reporters that it might contain “much less information than you might expect.”

Suspect in Club Q shooting appears in court:

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in 303 Creative case

Dangerous implications for LGBTQ consumers

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case that could carry broad implications for whether and in which circumstances states may enforce certain nondiscrimination rules against purveyors of goods and services.

The case was brought by website designer Lorie Smith, who sought to include a disclaimer that her company 303 Creative would not develop wedding announcement websites for LGBTQ couples, but discovered that such a notice would violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which include sexual orientation as a protected class.

Her lawsuit against the state of Colorado, argued by counsel from the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), reaches the Supreme Court following the ruling against Smith from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which created a circuit split with decisions from the 8th Circuit and Arizona Supreme Court. A ruling is expected to come in June.

The fact pattern in 303 Creative closely mirrors the 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the Supreme Court declined to rule on the broader legal questions because it found the Commission exhibited hostility toward the religious views of the bakery that refused to design a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court has since moved substantially to the right, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority. Colorado is one of 20 states that enforces laws prohibiting businesses from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a ruling that would allow for broadly construed exemptions to be carved out for firms based on their First Amendment protections would carry implications well beyond the context of same-sex marriage.

Monday’s oral arguments focused on preexisting and hypothetical cases that were presented by counsel from both parties as well as by the justices, examples whose scope and fact patterns reinforced the breadth of the legal issues at play in 303 Creative.  

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson and U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, 2006, which found that the federal government may withhold funding from universities that, based on their objections to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” refuse to grant military recruiters access to their resources.

ADF CEO, President and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 1995, which upheld the right of private organizations to exclude participation by certain groups without interference by the state, even if that intervention by the government was for the purpose of preventing discrimination.

Much of the discussion during Monday’s oral arguments centered on what kinds of goods and services may be considered public accommodations and which constitute artistic speech or expression by the business provider. Also at issue were questions such as whether their refusal to accommodate certain events – i.e., same-sex weddings – are tantamount to refusing goods and services to members of a protected class of people under the state’s non-discrimination laws.

LGBTQ rights groups fear the implications of a ruling in favor of 303 Creative  

ADF is designated an anti-LGBTQ extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An amicus brief was filed in support of the government by the corporate law firm White & Case along with a coalition of LGBTQ rights groups and legal advocacy groups: the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign.

“Just two weeks after a shooter killed 5 people, injured 18, and traumatized so many others at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in an anti-LGBTQ public accommodations discrimination case from Colorado,” wrote the National LGBTQ Task Force in a statement addressing Monday’s oral arguments.

Liz Seaton, the group’s policy director, highlighted the importance of public accommodations laws and condemned efforts by the opposition to legalize discrimination and segregation in the marketplace. “The brief’s most important argument lifts up the powerful amicus briefs of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” Seaton said. “Those two briefs by venerable civil rights organizations provide a detailed history of public accommodations discrimination against Black and Brown people in this country.”

HRC’s statement on Monday touched on similar themes:

“Granting the unprecedented ‘free speech exemption’ sought by petitioners in 303 Creative v. Elenis would be a dangerous change to long standing constitutional and civil rights law. It would inevitably lead to increased discrimination not only related to LGBTQ+ people or weddings, but also for other vulnerable populations including women, people with disabilities, and people of minority faiths. It’s crucial that justices of the Supreme Court reject discrimination and affirm the equal dignity of every American.”

Likewise, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a statement exploring the broad implications that could result from the Court’s ruling on 303 Creative:

“…the Supreme Court could issue a broad ruling that not only implicates nondiscrimination laws’ applications to graphic designers but to a wide range of businesses providing goods and services that have an artistic component. A broad ruling for the graphic designer could not only provide a constitutional basis for discriminating against same-sex couples, but also for discriminating against all marginalized people currently protected by public accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”

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