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NAACP president: Marriage is ‘civil rights issue of our times’

Benjamin Todd Jealous described marriage as the “civil rights issue of our times.”

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NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, gay news, Washington Blade
NAACP, Ben Jealous, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks at his organization's national headquarters in Baltimore on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BALTIMORE – The leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed on Monday that his organization’s support of marriage for gays and lesbians is consistent with its broader mission to fight discrimination.

“We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issue of our times,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous during a press conference at the organization’s national headquarters. “We are both proud of our history and challenged by it—challenged to never allow threats to equality for all people under the law to go uncontested.”

Jealous’ comments came two days after the NAACP Board of Directors endorsed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples during their quarterly meeting in Miami. Jealous became emotional as he discussed his parents who had to get married in the District of Columbia in 1966 because Maryland did not allow interracial marriage—the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this ban in Loving v. Virginia the following year. He noted that Mildred Loving herself spoke out in support of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples before she passed away.

NAACP, Roslyn Brock, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP Board of Directors Chair Roslyn M. Brock defends her organization's support of marriage equality in Baltimore on Monday (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“We want to be on the record that the NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality,” said Jealous. “We will oppose threats to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.

Jealous dismissed reports that several board members voted against the marriage resolution. Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said members had an “open, honest and candid conversation” about the issue during executive sessions.

“The conversation was dispassionate, it was respectful and it embraced and respected the views of all the members who sat around the table,” she said. “This is not a religious issue or a moral issue for the NAACP. That is not the role of the NAACP. On the constitutionality of the issue, the NAACP’s National Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to support this issue.”

In spite of this support, Brock conceded that there are board members and other NAACP members whose positions on marriage continue to evolve.

“This conversation is one, as President Jealous has stated, is taking place or has taken place across the nation,” she said. “We will work together with our units and with our board to have the courageous conversations that are necessary around this issue.”

The NAACP’s endorsement of marriage rights to same-sex couples comes less than two weeks after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Doctor William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, was among those who spoke out against the ballot measure before it passed by a 61-39 percent margin.

President Barack Obama on May 9 publicly backed the issue for the first time during a White House interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts.

“For the black community, the president of the United States is as close to Martin Luther King in terms of moral leadership,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, in response to a question about whether Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples prompted the NAACP’s position. “It’s not just amazing that we have a black president but that he exemplifies exceptional leadership. From a space of cultural connection more than anything else, the president stood up beyond popularity, beyond the norm, beyond status quo and took the courageous step on behalf of the LGBT community that many would have seen as a political risk. I see it as nothing less than courageous leadership.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in March signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry, but state voters will likely face a November ballot referendum that would overturn the law that is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

Fifty-two percent of respondents who participated in a Marylanders for Marriage Equality poll in March said they would vote for the same-sex marriage bill in the likely ballot measure.

Jealous stressed during the press conference that civil rights organizations remain united against the Maryland referendum and other similar measures across the country.

“Ballot measures like that on the ballot here in Maryland are intended to encode discrimination, codify discrimination into law and therefore stand apart from our nation’s recent decades and decades and decades and decades of using its constitution… to expand rights to people,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt to use a state constitution to restrict rights and we will oppose it as we have said in our statement.”

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP, told the Blade after the press conference that his affiliate has not “had much discussion” yet on the likely referendum. He suggested, however, that the civil rights organization’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples will help black voters better understand ballot measure and its potential impact on LGBT Marylanders.

“We’re hoping that Maryland will understand that any person has a right to be protected under the law,” said Stansbury. “This is basically where we’re coming from. We’re supporting the national office and the national NAACP and taking the position that they have this weekend.”

Maryland Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) also welcomed the NAACP’s position.

“As a life long member, I am encouraged by this historic decision of national NAACP to transform their position which opposed efforts to ban civil recognition of same-sex unions to one which honors and is inclusive of our black LGBT community by supporting the struggle for full marriage equality for same gender loving couples,” she told the Blade. “For those African American people who were on the fence about the issue, the support of the NAACP and our president will help move the conversation forward.

Washington categorized the endorsement as an “important step” that bolsters the efforts of those fighting against the likely referendum. Lettman-Hicks stressed that the NAACP could play a crucial role in organizing opposition to the ballot measure much like it did in North Carolina.

“The same energy that we saw in North Carolina would be monumental to the state of Maryland,” she said. “I hope that the leadership the NAACP showed on the national level will manifest at the same magnitude in Maryland especially since they’re headquartered there.”

Washington conceded these efforts would not have much of an impact among white protestants and Roman Catholics who oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Our work in those communities should continue more vigorously now than ever before,” she said.

 

 

 

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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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