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Obama touts LGBT achievements at White House reception

POTUS pledges to be LGBT advocate as long as he’s president

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President Obama addresses White House Pride event attendees (Blade file by Michael Key)

President Obama pledged at this year’s White House Pride reception that he’ll continue to be an advocate for the LGBT community for as long as he’s in the White House, calling on attendees to dream big and “as openly as you want.”

“And as long as I have the privilege of being your president, I promise you, you won’t just have a friend in the White House, you will have a fellow advocate — for an America where no matter what you look like or where you come from or who you love, you can dream big dreams and dream as openly as you want,” Obama said.

The reception comes near the conclusion of Obama’s first term — and he wasn’t shy about touting his pro-LGBT achievements over the past three-a-half years, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and dropping defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Repealing the military’s gay ban got the most applause from the audience; the runner up was dropping defense of DOMA in court.

One other significant action by Obama was also included in his remarks: his recent endorsement of marriage equality.

“And Americans may be still evolving when it comes to marriage equality — but as I’ve indicated personally, Michelle and I have made up our minds on this issue,” Obama said.

Attendees fill East Room for White House Pride reception (Blade photo by Michael Key)

An estimated 500 people came to the event, which took place in the East Room of the White House. A military band welcomed guests. Attendees munched on hors d’oeuvres served on tables adorned with red and pink roses.

Those who came largely consisted of LGBT advocates from around the country and LGBT people who held important roles in the federal government. Among the attendees were openly gay members of the Obama administration, including Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, chair of the Export-Import Bank Fred Hochberg and chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley. Also on hand: Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California; gay actor Matt Bomer; and gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.

Obama noted that his administration has seen many achievements on LGBT rights as he encouraged attendees to continue pressing forward

“After decades of inaction and indifference, you have every reason and right to push, loudly and forcefully, for equality,” Obama said. “But three years ago, I also promised you this: I said that even if it took more time than we would like, we would see progress, we would see success, we would see real and lasting change. And together, that’s what we’re witnessing.”

Another success that Obama mentioned was the lifting of the HIV travel ban. The president acknowledged this action has enabled D.C. to host the International AIDS Conference in July — marking the first time the United States has hosted the conference since 1990.

While touting his accomplishments, Obama said “we’ve got more to do” and identified two LGBT issues that he said still need to be addressed further: passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and bullying in schools.

“Americans may feel more comfortable bringing their partners to the office barbecue, but we’re still waiting for a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Obama said. “Congress needs to pass that legislation, so that no American is ever fired simply for being gay or transgender.”

The reception marks the fourth time that Obama has hosted a Pride reception at the White House. In each of the three previous years of his administration, the president has held a reception to commemorate June as Pride month.

This year’s Pride reception marks the first time openly gay service members participated while in uniform. A handful wearing uniforms from the various military branches could be seen mingling in the crowd, although they declined to talk to reporters during the event.

Josh Seefried, co-director of OutServe, was among the active duty service members who participated and said afterward he was proud to attend.

“I was incredibly proud to be there not only with the people we worked side by side with to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ but for the first time with my military peers as well,” Seefried said. “It was surreal.The president’s speech showed leadership from the top and I’m proud to call him my commander-in-chief.”

Numerous attendees told the Washington Blade at the event they were thrilled to receive invitations and show their support for Obama as Election Day approaches.

Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, said it’s important for the LGBT community to work to re-elect Obama after he took a political risk by coming out for marriage equality.

“I think it’s interesting that’s he taken such a major chance in support for this community, and I hope this community answers that challenge,” Segal said.

Mary Burns, executive director of the Indianapolis, Ind., based Indiana Youth Group, said she was “ecstatic” to attend the reception and doesn’t know anyone else who’s been invited to the White House.

“Just because we got invited, we’re celebrities in Indianapolis,” Burns said. “It’s very significant to us. We’re fighting a constitutional amendment [against marriage equality] in Indiana, and so the fact that we can come to the White House for a reception just says that the government isn’t all against us.”

Attendees at the event universally said they don’t believe presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would host a similar Pride event if he’s elected to the White House.

Michael Rogers, a gay D.C. activist and another attendee at the reception, said he doubts there would be any LGBT advances under a Romney administration.

“He’s so bound to the right-wing, especially in a first term that you just won’t see anything,” Rogers said. “You’ll see his social policy pushed off on some right-winger and [Romney will] care about destroying the economy. What they want to create is apartheid; they want to hold all  the money for the rich, white people when more and more the country is becoming people of color and more diversity.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the members of Congress who was in attendance, expressed satisfaction with Obama’s inclusion of marriage equality in his speech — but was particularly happy Obama mentioned a trans-inclusive ENDA in his remarks.

“A few years ago, there was a major rift in the Democratic caucus, and in the gay community,” Nadler said. “When we put a bill on the floor for ENDA, it was not inclusive, and you wouldn’t do that today. Compare that a few years ago to today, when the president specifically mentioned an inclusive ENDA, and the president specifically comes out in favor of repealing DOMA and in favor of marriage equality. That’s tremendous change.”

Some LGBT advocates used the occasion of the White House Pride reception to press Obama to take administrative action against workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

Jacob Tobia, a gay 20-year-old student from Duke University, sought to deliver a letter to Obama calling on him to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue such a directive at this time, but advocates have continued to press the administration.

Tobia, director of LGBTQ Policy for Duke student government, said he spoke briefly with the president following his remarks, but the message was taken by an aide.

“I don’t know if it’ll actually get to the president; I hope it will,” Tobia said. “But I shook his hand and got to say, ‘Mr. President, I wrote you a letter about the executive order, and I hope you’ll get a chance to read it.’ He said, ‘OK.'”

Tobia said he feels the executive order would help him personally because he resides in a state with no law protecting LGBT people against discrimination.

“It’s a very good possibility that I could be working in my home state and someone could give me my two weeks and say, ‘You’re fired,’ because I’m gay,” Tobia said. “With the job market the way it is, it’s really scary that I could be fired from my job just for being gay.”

The reception took place on the same day that Obama issued an executive order along the lines of the DREAM Act to protect young, undocumented immigrants pursuing college education or military service from deportation. According to the Associated Press, a few hundred young people rallied before the White House in support of the move before the reception started.

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Florida

Federal judge blocks Fla. trans health care ban and restrictions

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to appeal ruling

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The Florida Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

BY JACKIE LLANOS | Florida’s ban on puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for transgender minors and restrictions for adults are both unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over the case in Tallahassee, sided with the plaintiffs in the class action — parents of trans minors and trans adults — who argued the measure violated the U.S. Constitution because it solely targeted trans people.

“The federal courts have a role to play in upholding the constitution and laws. The state of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. (Florida Channel screenshot)

Those restrictions came into place following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval of Senate Bill 254 in May 2023 and promulgation of rules from the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine enacting that law. Those boards and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo were named as defendants.

The measures banned minors’ use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, common treatments for gender dysphoria. Additionally, the law said only physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists could treat adults seeking gender-affirming care, with the added requirements of frequent in-person visits, tests, and authorization through a consent form that contained false information about the harms of hormone replacement therapy.

However, the law didn’t impose the same restrictions on cisgender women needing to take testosterone or cisgender men needing to take estrogen.

Appeal incoming

The state plans to appeal the ruling, said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to DeSantis. An appeal would go to the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” Redfern wrote in a statement to Florida Phoenix.

“We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science. As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Redfern wrote that the state would continue to “fight to ensure children are not chemically or physically mutilated in the name of radical, new age ‘gender ideology.’”

In his 105-page ruling, Hinkle noted that “there were no complaints from patients, no adverse results in Florida, just a political issue.”

However, the ruling does not lift the state ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors and restrictions on surgery for adults. That’s because the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the statutes relating to surgery for minors, and the adult plaintiff had not sought surgery and so lacked standing to challenge those restrictions.

Relief for plaintiffs

Plaintiff Gloria Goe (they used pseudonyms to protect the privacy of their children) is the mother of an 8-year-old (at the opening of the case) trans boy. During the opening day of the trial on Dec. 13, she testified that she feared her son would be swallowed by depression if forced to go through puberty without medical treatment.

“This ruling lifts a huge weight and worry from me and my family, knowing I can keep getting Gavin the care he needs, and he can keep being the big-hearted, smiling kid he is now. I’m so grateful the court saw how this law prevented parents like me from taking care of our children,” Goe wrote in a press release.

Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Southern Legal Counsel, and the Lowenstein Sandler law firm represented the plaintiffs.

Hinkle compared the discrimination trans people face nowadays to racism and misogyny.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished.”

Editor’s note:

In a statement made to the Los Angeles Blade after Tuesday’s rule, Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said:

“This decision is important because is the first federal court to rule on a law restricting healthcare for transgender adults and because it finds that Florida’s laws are plainly based on anti-transgender bias, not science. This victory shows that we can and must keep fighting these dangerous laws, notwithstanding the deeply flawed rulings of some conservative appellate courts.

Judge Hinkle ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs in this case even after the negative 11th Circuit ruling that reversed our initially successful challenge to a similar ban in Alabama. He was able to do so because the evidence showing that these laws have no medical justification and are rooted in false stereotypes and bias was so strong. This is a huge victory, and one that shows that we can win these battles even in red states.”   

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Jackie Llanos is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media, and Virginia Mercury.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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National

New poll: 60 percent of Americans oppose bending gender-affirming care for young people

Gallup researchers conducted poll.

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Upwards of 1,000 people took part in the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy in D.C. on March 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new Gallup poll out this week found that six in 10 U.S. adults oppose laws banning gender-affirming care for minors. The poll also found that a steady 51 percent of Americans think changing one’s gender is morally wrong, while 44 percent say it is morally acceptable.

According to the researchers at Gallup: There are significant demographic differences in Americans’ views of the morality of changing one’s gender. Majorities of political liberals (81 percent), Democrats (72 percent), those who do not identify with a religion (67 percent), those who do not attend religious services regularly (59 percent), young adults aged 18-29 (56 percent), and college graduates (53 percent) believe changing genders is morally acceptable. Less than half of their counterparts say the same.

While slightly less than half of women believe in the moral acceptability of changing genders, they are significantly more likely than men to think as much (48 percent vs. 39 percent, respectively.)

In data published by the Human Rights Campaign, as of May, 39 percent or 117,600 transgender youth aged 13-17 are living in the 25 states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care. This includes 18,500 youth living in the three states — Florida, Ohio, and Montana — where bans are currently on hold or blocked from enforcement through court orders.

In its survey, Gallup researchers gauged Americans’ support for laws banning such care for minors with two questions, each asked of half of the total sample. One question asks about bans in general terms, on “treatments and medical procedures,” while the other spells out some of the specific treatments that could be banned, such as “psychological support, hormonal treatments and medical surgeries” to help minors align with their gender identity.

Gallup researchers found that on both questions, Republicans are more supportive than Democrats and independents of bans on gender-affirming care for minors.

On the more specific question that includes psychological support, hormonal treatments and medical surgeries, a majority of Republicans (53 percent) but far fewer Democrats (25 percent) and Independents (34 percent) favor a ban.

On the more general question, Republicans are somewhat less likely to support a ban on treatments and medical procedures (45 percent), while Democrats’ and Independents’ responses remain unchanged from the more specific question.

Gallup researchers measured U.S. adults’ gender identity in all of its surveys; an average of 0.9 percent of U.S. adults in 2023 identified as trans. Trans identification among adults is highest (2.8 percent) for those in Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2005).

The Gallup polling data also revealed:

A slim majority of Americans believe that changing one’s gender is morally wrong. Yet, a majority also oppose laws banning gender-affirming care to help minors align with their gender identity.

This discrepancy could be because the questions about gender-affirming care specifically mention minors, while the question about the morality of changing one’s gender does not. In addition, the relatively low support for banning laws on gender-affirming care may be attributable to Americans’ general distaste for bans, a pattern that can be seen in Gallup trends on banning cigarette smoking and handguns.

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The White House

Advocacy groups condemn Biden immigration executive order

Directive ‘catastrophic’ for LGBTQ asylum seekers

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President Joe Biden (X screen capture)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order that prohibits migrants from asking for asylum in the U.S. if they “unlawfully” cross the Southern border.

Senior administration officials on Tuesday told reporters before Biden announced the directive that it will take effect “when high levels of encounters at the Southern border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today.” The Associated Press reported this figure is 2,500 “border encounters between ports of entry” a day. 

“Today, I’m announcing actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” said Biden at the White House. “Migrants will be restricted from receiving asylum at our southern border unless they seek it after entering through an established lawful process.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) joined Biden at the White House alongside San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, El Paso (Texas) Mayor Oscar Leeser, Edinberg (Texas) Mayor Ramiro Garza, Harlingen (Texas) Mayor Norma Sepulveda, Laredo (Texas) Victor Treviño, Brownsville (Texas) Mayor John Cowen, Bexar County (Texas) Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Santa Cruz County (Ariz.) Supervisor Manuel Ruiz.

El Paso, Edinberg, Harlingen, Laredo, Brownsville, and Santa Cruz County border Mexico.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) in February unveiled an immigration overhaul bill they described as “the strongest border security package in decades to reassert control of the border, end catch and release, enhance security, fix the asylum system, and support border communities.” Senate Republicans blocked the measure.

“I’m moving past Republican obstruction and using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border,” said Biden.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now — that’s broken — fixed, to hire more Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers, more judges,” he added. “But Republicans have left me with no choice.” 

Biden stressed migrants who “come to the United States legally … by making an appointment and coming to a port of entry” will still be able to ask for asylum.

“If an individual chooses not to use our legal pathways, if they choose to come without permission and against the law, they’ll be restricted from receiving asylum and staying in the United States,” he said. 

“This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden added. 

Biden further stressed the ban “will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a statement sharply criticized the executive order.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” said the California Democrat.

The Council for Global Equality said the executive order is “catastrophic for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and other asylum seekers from vulnerable populations — and it’s highly unlikely to help move the electoral needle.” Immigration Equality Director of Law and Policy Bridget Crawford reiterated this point.

“President Biden is playing craven political games with the lives of refugees, including LGBTQ people fleeing persecution, instead of implementing workable solutions,” she said.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexicali and other Mexican cities that border the U.S. 

ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a statement to the Washington Blade said the executive order will harm “LGBTIQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from persecution.” He also said the directive “will put more LGBTIQ asylum seekers in harm’s way in dangerous Mexican border towns and puts added pressure on refugee-serving organizations throughout Mexico.”

The State Department currently advises Americans not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, because of “crime and kidnapping.” It also recommends Americans to reconsider travel to the country’s Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua states that border California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas respectively. 

“President Biden’s unlawful policy flies in the face of U.S. refugee law and removes the critical protections and paths to safety of these asylum seekers, leaving them vulnerable and with no resources,” Roth told the Blade.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Impact Officer Terra Russell-Slavin noted Biden issued the executive director days after he issued a Pride Month proclamation. Russell-Slavin, like other activists, also referenced the previous administration’s policies they said harmed LGBTQ migrants and asylums seekers.

“The Biden administration cannot have it both ways: They cannot ‘celebrate’ Pride Month while turning their backs on LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking the rights our movement is based on,” said Russell-Slavin. “We strongly condemn this executive order, and urge the president to immediately reverse this harmful action.”

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