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Pelosi vows to drop DOMA defense in Democratic House

Lawmaker says ENDA will be legislative priority



House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade photo by Michael Key)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to drop congressional defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court if Democrats  retake control of the House in November.

Pelosi made the remarks Wednesday in an interview with the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill. When asked what could be expected on LGBT issues if Democrats regain control in the 113th Congress, she talked DOMA.

“First of all, we can expect something to go away, like stop spending taxpayer dollars on the Defense of Marriage of Act, which is a waste of money and not the right thing to do,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi had previously criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for taking on defense of DOMA after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the anti-gay law and has called on House Republicans to discontinue that effort, but never before pledged to drop defense of DOMA if Democrats resumed control of the House.

She said she thinks Republicans believe DOMA is unconstitutional because when they controlled the House under the Bush administration, they tried to pass court-stripping provisions denying judicial review for the anti-gay law and others.

“They had to know that there was a weakness constitutionally in that bill, if they would want to put court-stripping provisions in relating to DOMA and the rest,” Pelosi said. “So, we think they know it’s weak constitutionally.”

Pelosi made the pledge to discontinue congressional defense of DOMA just hours after the U.S. District Court of the Southern District struck down the law in the case of Windsor v. United States, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who became the fifth federal judge to rule against DOMA, ordered that plaintiff Edith Windsor be repaid the $353,053 plus interest and costs allowed by law that she paid out in estate taxes because of DOMA upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer.

Among other LGBT initiatives on which Pelosi pledged action if Democrats win back the House was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce.

“We were on path on ENDA, and I’m still on that path mentally, and that’s what I would like to accomplish,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi also mentioned immigration legislation affecting the LGBT community, alluding to the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners for residency in the United States. She said the bill would “seriously codify immigration policy relating to the [LGBT] community.”

Pelosi was cautious about predicting that Democrats would win the 25 seats necessary to regain control of the House, saying there’s a “50-50” chance, nor would she presume that she would once again be elected speaker in that scenario.

“One thing at a time,” Pelosi said. “Let’s win the House first.”

Pelosi also wouldn’t rule out more progress on LGBT issues under the current makeup of Congress. She said conferees working on the Violence Against Women Act may adopt LGBT-inclusive language because the Democratic-controlled Senate wouldn’t pass a bill without it.

“It’s supposed to go to conference,” Pelosi said. “I don’t think the Senate will pass a bill without those protections, and we certainly won’t support it in the House.”

Pelosi maintained the lack of LGBT language ensuring non-discrimination in shelters and inclusion in grant programs — which is found in the version of the bill passed by the Senate — was among the reasons Democrats voted against the House bill.

“How can you say you don’t approve of violence against women except if you happen to be lesbian or bisexual or transgender?” Pelosi said. “Those are the people who need it the most, you know? And so, but it’s not only the [LGBT] community, it’s also Native Americans and immigrants who are excluded from protections in the House bill.”

Pelosi said Republican lawmakers have confided to her they want to push their caucus to support more inclusive language in the conference report even as many voted for the less inclusive House version of the bill because they didn’t want to seem like they favored violence against women.

“If they’re from places with lots of Native Americans and/or lots of LGBT [people] — there are people who vote with their experience, and their constituents, so I think they will be feeling some pressures to support the Senate bill,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi also commented on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this week not to rehear a case challenging California’s Proposition 8 after a three-judge panel initially struck down the law.

She deferred to others when asked whether the case should move to the Supreme Court, where justices could rule on same-sex marriage bans throughout the country.

“There are better skilled legal minds on this subject,” Pelosi said. “What I want it to do is end up at a place where we really make a difference in people’s lives, and some of the court decisions have deferred to the Supreme Court acting, so that may be what it takes, but again I’m waiting to hear from those who are in the community who are looking at the consequences.”

Pelosi spoke to the Blade after remarks she gave at a reception for Hill staffers called “LGBT Pride on the Hill,” which, in addition to celebrating June as Pride month, honored Pelosi for her 25 years of service on Capitol Hill.

Prior to her remarks, Pelosi was given a rainbow-studded gavel by her deputy director of scheduling, Timothy Merritt, who’s gay. Merritt was appointed to the job in April 2011, but is leaving for Chicago to pursue a job with the Obama campaign.

Additionally, Pelosi commented on Wednesday’s news that one of the daughters of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, has publicly come out as a lesbian in hopes of preserving the marriage equality law in Maryland. Pelosi said she read the Blade article that broke the story.

“I was very happy with her,” Pelosi said. “I know it must have brought her some peace, too. It’s liberating to make a decision. I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but God bless her for her decision, and God bless her for the work that she is setting out to do.”

Pelosi said she hasn’t spoken with Hoyer about her daughter’s decision to come out as a lesbian, but plans to bring it up with him.


Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1



U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass



Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office



Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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