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Out-of-state activists headed to N.C. to fight amendment

Volunteers ready to staff phone banks, boost turnout for Tuesday vote

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K. Travis Ballie (Blade photo by Michael Key)

For K. Travis Ballie, helping with the campaign against Amendment One in North Carolina represents a chance to reverse the losses on state ballot initiatives in the more than 30 states that have seen votes on marriage equality.

“I’m going down because 2012 is a very unique year, even since 2004, when we saw the greatest number of marriage amendments on the ballot, we didn’t defeat any of them,” Ballie said. “Now in 2012, we have an anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in a southern state, in North Carolina, which also happens to be one of the most important swing states in this election cycle.”

Ballie, a gay 23-year-old Silver Spring, Md., resident, said he’s personally invested in the fight against the anti-gay measure — which will come before state voters Tuesday and would make a ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution — because he has gay friends in North Carolina, including one who had a marriage ceremony in the state a few weeks ago.

“This is really her marriage on the ballot,” Ballie said. “When there are people like Hillary that are in North Carolina that are just pleading for help from activists across the country, the only moral response is to go down to North Carolina and really help defeat this amendment.”

Ballie said challenging anti-gay amendments wherever they emerge across the country is important.

“I think we’re at a point where our community understands that we need to put up a fight wherever an amendment happens, be it a Southern state, be it the Northeast, anywhere in the country,” Ballie said. “These amendments are politically feasible to be defeated and even if we lose, which we won’t, we are really orchestrating one of the largest LGBT-focused statewide campaigns in North Carolina, one of the fastest growing states in our country.”

Ballie is one of several LGBT rights supporters — coming from places like D.C., Sacramento and Chicago — who are expected to travel to North Carolina to help in the campaign against Amendment One.

Another D.C.-area resident, Bryan Oklin, a gay 28-year-old attorney, said he also intends to travel to North Carolina to participate in efforts against Amendment One, calling it a “misguided, divisive measure,” because of the negative effect it would have on LGBT families.

“It seeks to enshrine in the North Carolina state Constitution that one group of the state’s citizens deserves less civil rights than all others,” Oklin said. “It is a backwards, bigoted initiative reminiscent of a past, less tolerant period of time.”

Same-sex marriage is already barred by statute in North Carolina. Opponents say the measure would not only make that ban part of the state constitution, but also prohibit civil unions and interfere with domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities as well as threaten contractual arrangements between same-sex partners.

Adam Bink, director of online programs for the Courage Campaign and an organizer for grassroots efforts against Amendment One, said the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, the campaign against Amendment One, will have more than 100 volunteers coming from out of state either through their signup form or through the Human Rights Campaign. On top of that, Courage Campaign will bring in 15 additional supporters.

“We’ll be putting volunteers to work at phone banks, events like OutRaleigh 2012 this weekend, and going to doors to talk to voters and leave reminders to vote across college campuses and in neighborhoods,” Bink said. “They’ll be focused on one core mission: ensuring we get our supporters to the polls.”

Bink said the out-of-state efforts that helped lead to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 are a stark reminder of why outside support can be important.

“Courage Campaign members from across the country wrote in to tell us they’re going because don’t want to leave any state behind, and because they understand that Amendment 1 goes too far in hurting families across North Carolina,” Bink said. “Our members will never forget the busloads of volunteers from outside California that helped pass Prop 8. We’ve learned from that experience.”

It’s this memory of Prop 8 that is motivating Amanda Wallner, a 24-year-old lesbian from Sacramento, Calif., to travel to North Carolina. For her, the memory of the passage of Prop 8 in 2008 as a college student and the rescinding of the marriage law in Maine in 2009 — which she helped fight — both weigh heavily on her.

“The loss of the ‘No on 8’ campaign hit me really hard,” Wallner said. “When we lost, I could barely get out of bed the next day. I still get emotional sometimes when I read about it. Any opportunity that I have to apply some of the lessons that I learned during that campaign to help out other LGBT people — I’m really excited to have the opportunity.”

Wallner added that going door-to-door explaining the harm of anti-gay amendments brings the biggest gains for the LGBT movement.

“That’s one of the reasons that I love electoral campaigns so much,” Wallner said. “It gives me that opportunity to talk to people face to face, and for them to be able to put a face to the issue.”

These activists could face an uphill battle; polls have shown majority support for the amendment, though there has been a shift in momentum in recent weeks.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the amendment is likely to pass as similar marriage amendments have in the past.

“I couldn’t guess the margin at the moment, but it is hard to see how it fails to garner a majority ‘yes’ vote,” Sabato said. “The usual patterns are emerging: Seniors are strongly in favor and young people are the least likely to back it, Democrats are opposed while Republicans support.”

Even so, the pro-LGBT side in the race has a funding advantage over proponents of the anti-gay amendment. According to media reports, the Coalition to Protect All NC Families has raised $2.3 million to date and has $294,000 in cash on hand, while Vote for Marriage NC has raised a total of $1.2 million and has $112,000 in cash on hand. The pro-LGBT side is touting that individual small donations make up the bulk of its funds, while large contributions from the Christian Action League and the National Organization for Marriage made up the other side.

Moreover, recent polling shows support for the marriage amendment is declining. Data published last week by Public Policy Polling found only 54 percent of voters in the state plan to vote for it, while 40 percent are opposed to the measure. That’s the lowest level of support for the measure that PPP has found in polling since last October.

Bink said the decline in support for the North Carolina amendment shows the pro-LGBT side is within “striking distance” of victory.

“What’s more, the same poll shows that the more North Carolinians learn what Amendment One does, the less they support it, which is why an original 27-point lead has been cut in half,” Bink said. “A supermajority of North Carolinians oppose a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships for unmarried couples of any gender, endangers domestic violence laws, and takes benefits like health insurance away from children of unmarried couples.”

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The White House

Biden’s Pride month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’

States across the country have passed anti-LGBTQ laws

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing in December 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Just as the 1969 Stonewall riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride month.

This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:

“In 2023 alone, state and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen states have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”

Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in state capitols in defense of their basic rights.”

The statement reaffirms the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.

Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: Combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.

Meanwhile, Biden said, the Justice Department is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting transgender youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”

Finally, the White House noted: Its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then three; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.

“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”

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Pentagon

Defense secretary orders cancellation of drag show at Nev. Air Force base

Event was to have taken place at Nellis AFB on Thursday

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride month on the sprawling Nellis Air Force Base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) demanded in an angry tone that Austin and Milley explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany had a drag queen story time, that was to be held in honor of Pride month cancelled. 

According to Stars and Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ news outlet in Canada, the Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers. 

Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, III, and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 14, 2021. (Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, Department of Defense)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said Milley was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1 Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called ‘family-friendly’ drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know: 

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1 or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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Alabama

Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday

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Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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