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National news in brief: March 2

Optimism after new Iowa Poll, Navratilova heads to ‘DWTS,’ and more



Iowa Capitol Dome, gay news, gay politics DC

A Des Moines Register poll says a majority of Iowa voters would reject a constitutional amendment banning marriage rights for same-sex couples if the vote were held today.

Poll: Iowa voters oppose marriage ban

DES MOINES — If a vote were held today, 56 percent of Iowa voters would reject an amendment barring same-sex marriage in the state constitution, according to a Des Moines Register poll out this week.

Iowa became the third state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2009, after a unanimous Supreme Court decision the previous year, leading to immediate calls for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. The Democratic-controlled Senate has been able to halt efforts by the Republican-controlled House to send a ballot measure to voters.

In November of 2010 Iowans voted out three of the Supreme Court justices whose ruling set marriage in motion. The voters, however, also rejected a constitutional convention that would have allowed the document to be amended to bar the nuptials.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia also have gender-neutral marriage laws; 29 states bar same-sex marriage rights constitutionally, and 10 by statute. Maryland and Washington states are facing referendums over recent legislative acts legalizing marriage in those states.

Navratilova tapped for next ‘DWTS’

HOLLYWOOD — Lesbian tennis legend Martina Navratilova will take to the dance floor in ABC’s next installment of ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ according to the network.

Czech-born Navratilova holds the world record for most Grand Slam women’s doubles titles at 31, and the record for most Wimbledon women’s singles wins at nine. She came out publicly in 1981 at the age of 20, shortly after becoming an American citizen.

Navratilova will join Motown legend Gladys Knight, ‘View’ co-host Sherri Shepherd, ‘Little House’ actress Melissa Gilbert — older sister of lesbian ‘Roseanne’ actress Sara Gilbert — and actor Jaleel White, who played Steve Urkel on ‘Family Matters’ in the 1990s.

Plummer wins Oscar for gay role

LOS ANGELES — ‘Sound of Music’ star Christopher Plummer has taken home his first Academy Award for his portrayal of a man coming out late in life in ‘Beginners.’ He is the oldest winner ever at 82.

“You’re only two years older than me darling, where have you been all of my life?” Plummer asked the golden statuette in his hand as he delivered his acceptance speech.

Plummer took to the Oscars stage before in 1966 with the cast of ‘Sound of Music,’ when the film won Best Picture that year.

Gay, trans candidates on ballots across U.S.

ORLANDO — If Gina Duncan wins her bid for Orange County Commission in Florida this fall, she will make history as Florida’s first transgender elected official.

“I understand the significance of it,” Duncan told the Orlando Sentinel. “But I haven’t found it to be a detriment or something we’re dwelling on.”

Duncan is among dozens of LGBT candidates on the ballot in Florida hoping to join the 26 openly gay elected officials in the Sunshine State, including two that are competing in a four-way race for the same seat on the Orlando City Council. They are among hundreds competing this year nationwide.

According to Denis Dison of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, there are currently 77 Victory Fund-endorsed candidates on ballots across the country, but by November, that number could be closer to 200. Pennsylvania is fielding three openly gay state House candidates alone with Brian Simms, Christopher Dietz and Kelly McEntee.

There are more than 530 LGBT elected officials nationwide according to the Victory Fund, including eight in the Maryland Legislature, which boasts the most openly gay members of any legislature in the country.


The White House

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

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke



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’



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



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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