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DNC 2012: Jubilant LGBT delegates vow to support Obama

White House official, HHS Secretary among speakers at Caucus meeting

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Kathleen Sebelius, HHS, gay news, Washington Blade

‘With a change in the White House much of the litany of what you’ve just heard is gone,’ said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said after listing some of President Obama’s LGBT-related accomplishments.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hours before the Democratic National Convention’s opening session was called to order Tuesday night, a record number of more than 550 LGBT delegates, alternate delegates and convention committee members met as a recognized convention caucus.

Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Adviser to the President; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Tammy Baldwin, the lesbian Democratic House member from Wisconsin who’s running for the U.S. Senate, were among a parade of elected officials and Democratic Party leaders to speak at the caucus meeting.

While greeting each of the speakers with loud applause, many of the LGBT delegates and convention participants said the big news of the day was the size of their caucus and its growth over the past two decades.

“History is being made this week,” said Minnesota gay delegate Rick Stafford, who serves as chair of the LGBT Caucus. “There’s over 550 LGBT Americans who are an official part of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.”

Stafford said that for the first time all 50 states have sent at least one or more LGBT delegates to a Democratic convention.

“Please let everyone know we are here to be seen and heard,” said Brandon Marcus, an out gay member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and one of 12 LGBT delegates and alternates from the Tar Heel state.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior advisor to Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

‘With your efforts we have been able to move our country forward,’ said Valerie Jarrett, White House senior adviser.

Marcus, who said he was proud to welcome his fellow LGBT convention participants to his home state, said he was certain that the cause for LGBT equality in North Carolina advanced this year despite the fact that voters passed Amendment 1, which added a provision to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

“The cause was not lost with Amendment 1,” he said.

Jarrett said efforts by the LGBT Caucus members and their supporters throughout the country on behalf of LGBT rights made it possible for the Obama administration to move forward with the president’s legislative and executive office initiatives on LGBT equality.

“With your efforts we have been able to move our country forward, I believe, in a fair way that respects everybody’s rights,” she said. “And that’s something that’s the foundation of our country and it’s something we can’t take for granted. We have to fight for it and make our country the more perfect union we know it can be.”

Jarrett received a prolonged, standing ovation when she added, “And I believe we are a more perfect union than we were four years ago.”

Sebelius said the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which banned gays from serving openly in the military, and the passage by Congress of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which authorizes the federal government to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, were an important part of the president’s legislative proposals.

But she said that due to opposition from the Republican-controlled House, most of the Obama administration’s achievements on LGBT rights came from directives from the president and federal agencies and departments under the president’s control.

Non-discrimination polices in federal housing programs, hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners, a ban on employment discrimination for transgender people in the federal workforce are among many of the Obama administration’s LGBT-related initiatives, members of the LGBT Caucus said.

“A lot of what you heard about today is not the law of the land,” Sebelius said. “It really is administrative rules and regulations that are in place and which can be wiped out in a heartbeat. With a change in the White House much of the litany of what you’ve just heard is gone.”

She said one task that LGBT Caucus members could take on to help ensure Obama’s re-election is to reach out to younger voters who support LGBT equality and other progressive causes in large numbers but who often don’t turn out to vote.

“Younger voters are enthusiastically in favor of equality for all,” she said. “But too many of them are not yet engaged in this election. They’re our voters but they are kind of sitting on the sidelines.

“So one of the things that has to be done in the next 63 days is, first, make sure they are registered and secondly get them to vote. And you all have a great microphone to do that – to talk to them about the LGBT issues at stake,” Sebelius said.

Baldwin is scheduled to address the convention Thursday night before President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden deliver their respective speeches. She told the LGBT Caucus she would provide needed support for the president’s initiatives on a wide range of issues, including LGBT equality and health care, if she wins her Senate race.

She said she believes she has a “very close” race against her GOP opponent, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Some political observers have said Thompson, considered a GOP moderate on social issues, emerged as the strongest Republican opponent to run against Baldwin when he won the GOP primary.

“An election is about who writes the rules and who benefits from them,” Baldwin said.

LGBT Caucus at the DNC (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Others who spoke before the LGBT Caucus meeting were Randi Weingarten, the lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers; Brian Bond, the gay director of constituent outreach at the Democratic National Committee and former deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Andy Tobias, the gay DNC treasurer; Ray Buckley, the gay chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party; and Steve Kerrigan, the gay CEO of the 2012 Democratic Convention.

A second LGBT Caucus meeting is scheduled to take place Thursday.

As of late Tuesday, convention officials had yet to release a list of the names of the LGBT Caucus members. The Democratic National Committee has not responded to a Washington Blade request for that list.

Stafford and Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said they have independently compiled their own list of LGBT Caucus members. They said they would consider releasing their lists but did not do so as of Tuesday.

Gay alternate delegate David Meadows of D.C. said he would raise objections to any decision by party officials to withhold the names of the LGBT delegates and other LGBT convention participants.

“All of us checked a box saying we were part of the LGBT community,” Meadows said. “All of us self-disclosed who we are. It makes no sense to withhold the names.”

Meadows was referring to a form that the DNC asked all state parties circulate to Democrats seeking to become delegates to the 2012 convention. The form was part of an effort to assess the party’s outreach to various minorities, including LGBT people.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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