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Catching up with gay locals in New Hampshire

Some pledge to support Obama; others favor Romney

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Chatting with gay and lesbian locals, one thing they seem to agree on is their newly won marriage rights shouldn’t factor into presidential politics.

Otherwise, customers at Manchester’s gay bars were divided over their pick for president, with some favoring President Obama and others choosing among the GOP field.

Two patrons at Element Lounge expressed their support for Obama as they enjoyed drinks with friends and others danced to local amateurs singing on karaoke night.

Alicia Appleton, a lesbian factory worker, said she plans to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary even though he’s the only serious candidate on the ticket for that party.

“If he’s on the ballot, I’ll vote for him,” Appleton said. “Obama is a person, I believe, that listens to both sides of the spectrum — whether you’re against something or for something. He sits and he listens to both sides, and then he tries to compromise what should be done about issues.”

As for what she thinks about the Republicans, Appleton said, “I don’t pay attention to the Republicans because … I believe they’re one-sided — they don’t listen to what the people have to say; they just listen to what their beliefs are. Like what they think is right and not what the people want.”

Barry Leger (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Barry Leger, 27, a personal service representative at the Catholic Medical Center, said he’s likely to cast his ballot in the Republican primary for a candidate who’s considered a tremendous long-shot: Fred Karger.

“I’m not sure if I’m even going to vote at this time, but if I were to vote, Fred Karger would get my vote because he’s the first gay Republican to be running for office, so I would stand up for that,” Leger said.

Leger said he’s never voted in a primary before, but voted for Obama in the general election in 2008 and expressed satisfaction with Obama’s performance over the last three years.

“I think he’s done the best job that he can because he was handed a lot of shit,” Leger said. “The only thing he could do in four years was put Band-Aids on it. There’s no way he could fix it in four years, but I think he’s trying to do the best he can, and I will probably vote for him again because the Republicans just have such an ancient way of thinking.”

When the general election rolls arounds in November, Leger said he’ll likely vote for Obama because he’ll want to do “anything to keep a Republican out of office.”

“I feel a lot of the Republican candidates are very hypocritical because they all talk about how there’s going to be a change and freedom for all Americans, but they say they’re trying to repeal gay marriage in states like New Hampshire,” Leger said. “As a gay American, why would I vote for somebody who stands for that?”

At The Breezeway bar a few blocks down Elm Street, another gay man said he plans to stick with Obama as he and others downed drinks while Madonna’s “Vogue” played in the background.

Bob Sheridan, a gay 57-year-old retired server, expressed similar support for Obama — saying he backed him in the 2008 Democratic primary.

“He came into a lot of shit,” Sheridan said. “His inaugural address, he was like, ‘You know it’s gonna take time.’ I knew it’s gonna take time, and a lot of people are upset that it’s taking too long. I mean, gimme a break. Everything’s starting to turn around now.”

Sheridan accused Republicans of withholding credit that Obama deserves for his accomplishments. Noting that recent numbers from the Department of Labor showed an increase of 200,000 jobs, Sheridan said the Republican response was “Well, that wasn’t because of Obama.”

“Republicans have done everything to kill Obama,” Sheridan said. “And I think a lot of Americans are naive, and they go by what they hear, and they’ve got like five, six, seven Republican candidates running for the nomination all slamming him. And I think they have a habit of just thinking what they hear and then not looking at the total picture.”

Bob Sheridan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

On gay rights, Sheridan said he’s satisfied with Obama’s accomplishments. But his view on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a different story. A former Massachusetts resident, Sheridan sees a big change in how Romney is approaching the LGBT community today.

“He ran for governor courting the gay community, and he won,” Sheridan said. “Now he’s looking for the conservative vote, so he’s against the gay community. I mean, I’ve seen it being from Massachusetts and moving into New Hampshire. I’m like, who’s he trying to fool? The Republican conservatives? The independents? I don’t know.”

In a debate on Sunday, Romney said in response to a question that he favors “full rights” for gay people. But his campaign seemed to contradict that statement later in the week when it disavowed a 2002 Pride flier issued by Romney’s campaign that read, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

Obama doesn’t support marriage rights for gay couples, but Sheridan said he isn’t disappointed by that position because he’s lukewarm on the marriage issue.

“I don’t think there’s any need,” Sheridan said. “If there’s two guys who are really interested and want to be married, fine. Civil union, marriage, fine. I, myself, I don’t think I could ever marry another man.”

But the exception among those who are supportive of Obama was Ryan Lantagne, a gay 27-year-old bill collector. Smoking with friends outside Element Lounge, Lantagne, a Democrat, said he thinks Obama has been a failure.

“I feel he failed the country in a few ways,” Lantagne said. “I know he had a lot to handle when it came to taking over for President Bush, but I think that he didn’t do a very good job of anything. The job numbers are still down, and a lot of the country is in bad standing, so I just hope something can give and Obama wasn’t the option and is still not the option.”

Lantagne said he hasn’t decided which candidate to support and may not even vote in the primary, but said he’s leaning toward Romney.

“He’s raised a very political family,” Lantagne said. “He’s strong-willed. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a very good outlook for the country. … It’s really tough to tell who’s going to be the most supportive candidate if elected.”

The bar patrons also weighed in on potential repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage law. The legislature is likely to vote this month on repealing the law, and the Republican supermajority may have enough votes to override Gov. John Lynch’s (D) promised veto of the measure.

Leger said he was particularly unhappy with the Republican candidates’ decision to weigh in on possible repeal of New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law.

“Candidates like Mitt Romney and all the others who want to take it away from us,” Leger said. “I don’t understand how it affects them because they’re heterosexuals, but if two gay people marry, why does it affect them? They can’t give a straight answer.”

Romney and Rick Perry have expressed support for repealing the marriage law. The White House hasn’t commented on the repeal effort.

Sheridan said he doesn’t think there will be enough support in the state to undo the law because “there’s too many gay Republicans in New Hampshire.”

“There a lot of Republicans in New Hampshire that are for gay rights,” Sheridan said. “I have two daughters. One of them is a Republican. One of them is a Democrat. My Republican daughter believes in gay rights.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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