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A preview of tonight’s State of the Union

Will president again mention LGBT issues in annual speech?

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UPDATE: A gay rights advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said LGBT-specific content in the State of the Union address is not expected. According to the source, Obama’s speech will have “maybe a mention of LGBT,” but no LGBT-specific policy initiatives will be discussed.

Leaders of state LGBT advocacy groups working to advance marriage equality legislation say President Obama can a make a big speech tonight even bigger by throwing his support behind marriage rights for gay couples.

Obama is set to deliver before a joint session of Congress his third State of the Union address at 9 p.m.

As Obama makes the finishing touches to his speech, LGBT advocates in states across the country — most notably in Washington State, Maryland and New Jersey — are preparing for legislative fights to advance marriage rights for gay couples.

Passing same-sex marriage legislation in these states has various challenges. Marriage in Washington State and Maryland could go to referendum after the governors there sign the legislation into law, while New Jersey’s governor has previously said he’d veto any such bill.

State advocacy groups working on same-sex marriage legislation say an announcement from President Obama in support of marriage equality could give them an edge in their fights. The president, who doesn’t support same-sex marriage, said his view could “evolve,” but he hasn’t yet declared support for marriage rights for gay couples.

Josh Friedes, marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington, said personal conversation is what drives support for same-sex marriage and that a public endorsement from Obama during the State of the Union address would certainly get tongues wagging.

“If the president of the United States were to announce support for marriage equality, his words would serve as a catalyst for millions of conversations,” Friedes said. “And that’s what we need in Washington State as we contemplate the likelihood of a referendum on a marriage bill this fall. Indeed there is probably no person who can better increase the number of conversations than the president.”

The bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington found the needed support among lawmakers this week to reach Gov. Christine Gregoire’s (D) desk, but the possibility of the law being overturned later this year in a voter-initiated referendum still looms.

Friedes added that Obama is respected as “a family man” and his support for marriage equality “could open the hearts of many people to revaluate their own positions.”

“But mostly if the president announces support for marriage equality it’s on us to use the event as an opportunity to share our personal stories,” Friedes said.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, had similar thoughts on the helpfulness of Obama declaring support for marriage equality during his speech, which is happening the day after Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced same-sex marriage legislation in that state’s legislature.

“If President Obama voices his support for marriage equality in his State of the Union address it will add even more momentum to our efforts in Maryland and help us get the bill over the finish line,” Evans said.

A national group that has been pushing for Obama to endorse same-sex marriage continues to apply pressure as the American public awaits the president’s remarks tonight.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the day Obama joins the majority of Americans — who, according to polls, now support same-sex marriage — will be “a meaningful day for families who cherish the love and commitment that make marriage matter.”

“It will also be a really a good day for the president, as he will tap into the political momentum and energy that come to candidates who do the right thing,” Wolfson added.

Whether the president will endorse marriage equality during his speech remains to be seen. As the nation continues to recover from a recession and the unemployment rate remains above 8 percent, Obama will focus his speech on improving the economy.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama would lay out a blueprint in the speech that includes four pillars to improve the economy: manufacturing, energy, skills for workers and fairness and responsibility.

“We need an American economy where everyone gets a fair shot, where everyone gets a fair shake, and where everybody does their fair share,” a senior administration official said. “And those are the kinds of things that will be reinforced in the State of the Union.”

On Friday, when asked by the Washington Blade whether Obama would announce support same-sex marriage in the speech, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he wouldn’t rule “in or out” the possibility of the president endorsing gay nuptials during the address.

Obama has incorporated LGBT issues in his State of the Union speech in previous instances. In 2010, he pledged to work with Congress and the military to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In 2011, Obama promised to certify repeal to lift the gay ban from the books before the end of the year — and later fulfilled that pledge.

According to Politico, the Human Rights Campaign has this year “pushed Obama to mention the LGBT community in his list of accomplishments and policy proposals.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, reportedly told Politico, “The inclusion of our community in those laundry lists in any part of the speech helps us tremendously in being thought of as a vital part of the American fabric.”

But Michael Cole-Schwartz, another HRC spokesperson, told the Blade on Monday that he doesn’t “have anything” on the inclusion of LGBT-specific language in this year’s State of the Union address.

At least one workplace rights advocate is pushing Obama to address the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in his speech.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said he hopes Obama will take the opportunity to “mention how LGBT Americans have no federal law to protect us from irrational firings and harassment on the job.”

“By delivering this message, the president can help us do some important public education, given that 90 percent of American voters mistakenly think ENDA is already the law of the land,” Almeida said.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is legislation that has stalled in Congress and would prohibit private and public employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Almeida called on Obama to announce during the State of the Union address that he would issue an executive order barring federal dollars from going to contractors that don’t have non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

“President Obama has the power to change that by just putting pen to paper, without any need to wait for this dysfunctional Congress to do the right thing,” Almeida said. “Even if he does not announce the ENDA executive order during the State of the Union, I remain hopeful the president will take strong executive action very soon.”

 

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Virginia

Va. Senate committee kills six anti-transgender bills

Democrats control chamber by 22-18 margin

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed six anti-transgender bills.

The committee rejected state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. All three measures would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

The committee also killed state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, Reeves’ Senate Bill 1186 and Peake’s Senate Bill 962. The measures would have banned transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Equality Virginia in a tweet said committee members received more than 3,000 emails “in opposition” to the bills. The statewide advocacy group further noted 10 out of 12 anti-trans bills introduced during this year’s legislative session have been defeated.

“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up against these bills,” said Equality Virginia. “Virginia is remaining a better, more inclusive state because of your efforts.”

“The fight isn’t over,” added the advocacy group. “But we know Virginians will show up for trans youth, day after day.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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