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Obama nominates Chinese-American lesbian to federal bench

Chen would be one of a few openly LGBT federal judges

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President Obama nominated on Thursday an out lesbian to a New York district court who, upon confirmation, could become one of a handful of openly LGBT people to sit on the federal bench.

Obama named Pamela Ki Mai Chen, an assistant U.S. attorney who has experience as a trial attorney, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. In addition to being one the few openly LGBT people to serve on the federal bench upon confirmation, she would be the second female Chinese-American judge in history.

In a statement, Obama said, “I am proud to nominate this outstanding candidate to serve on the United States District Court bench. Pamela Chen has a long and distinguished record of service, and I am confident she will serve on the federal bench with distinction.”

According to biographical information, Chen has been an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York for 14 years — with the exception of a four-month period in 2008 when she served as New York State Division of Human Rights’s Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement.

As a U.S. attorney, Chen served has held different supervisory positions, including chief of the civil rights section and deputy chief of the public integrity section. She’s specialized in criminal civil rights matters, such as human trafficking, and has provided training to law enforcement on the issue.

Prior to being a U.S. attorney, Chen was a trial attorney in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Justice Department. She began her legal career in D.C., at the criminal defense firm of Asbill, Junkin, Myers & Buffone and at the law firm of Arnold & Porter after receiving her law degree in 1986 from the Georgetown University.

A first-generation American, Chen’s parents came to the United States as immigrants from China and met in the United States at the University of Chicago during World War II.

The Senate must confirm Chen before the end of this year or else her nomination will expire, which gives the chamber a limited amount of time to take action. The Senate is about to enter into August recess for five weeks, and no hearings have yet been scheduled in September before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would hold the hearing on her nomination.

Obama nominates Chen just one day after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he had recommendation her nomination to the White House. In a statement, Schumer commended her for her stellar legal background and even-handedness.

“Pamela Chen will be an excellent federal judge,” Schumer said. “She is an experienced attorney with a long record of public service who possesses the legal excellence, intellect and temperament to be a first-rate judge. Ms. Chen is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her leadership skills, her commitment to justice, and her extensive experience make her an fantastic choice for a position on the Eastern District Court.”

Chen’s nomination makes her the fifth openly LGBT person that the Obama administration has nominated to the federal bench. Alison Nathan, another lesbian, was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, as were two gay men: J. Paul Oetken, who was confirmed to the same court, and Michael Fitzgerald, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Edmund Dumont, was nominated to serve on the U S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but his nomination was withdrawn after the Senate took action on his nomination over the course of 18 months.

Deborah Batts, a lesbian, was appointed to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York during the Clinton administration. Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled in 2010 that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, is gay, but didn’t come out publicly until after he retired.

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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks White House to test questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

Data would be included in annual American Community Survey

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U.S. Census Bureau (Photo credit: GSA)

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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Federal Government

Pentagon to restore honor to veterans kicked out over their sexual orientation

Legislation seeks accountability for DoD

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (screen capture/YouTube/CNN)

The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to restore honor to service members who were kicked out of the military over their sexual orientation, the agency announced on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient,” he said, adding, “in the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all service members and veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.”

The move follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination,” including biased language in the discharge papers of LGBTQ veterans.

CBS News has investigated the Pentagon’s handling of service records of veterans who were kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation, revealing the broad scope of discrimination experienced by these LGBTQ veterans — finding, for instance, that more than 29,000 were denied honorable discharges.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) re-introduced a bill that would establish “a commission to investigate the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies on LGBTQ service members and veterans.”

“This commission would study the impact of these bigoted rules” barring LGBTQ troops from serving “and forge a more welcoming future in the military and at the VA,” said Takano, who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“Our country has never made amends for official discriminatory policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the transgender military ban – and that failure still haunts today’s service members and veterans,” said Jacobs.

“That’s why I’m so proud to co-lead this bicameral legislation that will right these historic wrongs, investigate the past and present impact of anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and help us move forward to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive, strong, and welcoming military.”  

“This commission would be an important step to understand the full scope of the harms caused by policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to ensure a more equitable future for all who serve our country in uniform,” Blumenthal said.

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National

Activists mark Bisexual Awareness Week

Celebrate Bisexuality Day event to take place at HRC on Saturday

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Helen Parshall (Photo courtesy of Helen Parshall)

Bisexual activists during this year’s Bisexual Awareness Week are reflecting on progress made and the work that still needs to be done.

Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist and editor of Bi Women Quarterly, told the Washington Blade that Bisexual Awareness Week “is an important opportunity to shed light on the joys, challenges and experiences of identifying as bisexual.” 

Ochs this year will be visiting Sweden for 10 days, speaking about bisexual issues in three cities and attending a gathering of bisexual people from all Nordic countries.

“I’m so excited to be a witness to history,” Ochs said.

“We are so intersectional,” added Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US and author of “Are Bisexuals Just Greedy?” 

Dawson said that because “most transgender people identify as bisexual” and because people of color are “more likely to be bisexual than any other community,” bisexual needs must be addressed when addressing the needs of other minority communities. 

BiPlus Organizing US is hosting an event on Celebrate Bisexuality Day, Sept. 23, in D.C., with support from the Human Rights Campaign, the Bisexual Resource Center, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, PFLAG and #StillBisexual. 

Adrien Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, is scheduled to speak at the event. Sara Mitchell, Rebecca Hershey and Mackenzie Harte are also expected to participate.

The Human Rights Campaign will host a Celebrate Bisexuality Day event on Sept. 23, 2023.

Lambda Legal Digital Director Helen Parshall, who is a member of the Bisexual Resource Center board of director, said that while Bisexual Awareness Week is good for the community, the need to continue talking about bisexual issues remains important, regardless of the date.

“If we’re only talking about bi identities for one week in September … we’re really missing a lot of the important times where it really matters to show up for bi plus people,” said Parshall.

The Bisexual Resource Center is holding a “Bi+ Joy Picnic” picnic in Malden, Mass., on Sept. 24.

Statistics note 58.2 percent of the LGBTQ community identifies as bisexual. People who identify as bisexual also have higher rates of substance abuse than straight people and struggle with mental illness more often than gay and lesbian individuals. 

Ochs said that good ways to support bisexuals and destigmatize bisexuality are to 
“bring up the topic,” and to visit the Bisexual Resource Center for what she calls, “a good dose of vitamin B+.” 

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