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GOP touts opposition to marriage equality at anti-gay summit

Speakers vow to preserve traditional marriage, attack Obama for pro-LGBT policy

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Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the Values Voter Summit
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the Values Voter Summit

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican public officials — including the No. 2 person on the GOP presidential ticket — weaved opposition to same-sex marriage into their speeches during an annual social conservative conference in D.C. as they criticized President Obama’s policies and reaffirmed traditional values.

Speakers at the the 2012 Values Voters Summit, which was hosted at the Omni Shoreham Hotel by the anti-gay Family Research Council, addressed an estimated 2,500 attendees who cheered references to prohibiting marriage rights for gay couples and making abortion illegal.

Perhaps the most high-profile speech at the three-day summit came from GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who made a reference to marriage when touting the values of the candidate at the top of the ticket: Mitt Romney.

“We can be confident in the rightness of our cause, and also in the integrity and readiness of the man who leads it,” Ryan said. “He is a solid and trustworthy, faithful and honorable man. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading our country and ready to lead the great turnaround we have spent four years waiting for.”

Ryan’s description of Romney as a “defender of marriage” directly lifts from the vice presidential candidate’s speech at the Republican National Convention when he gave Romney an identical distinction.

But the reference to marriage didn’t make up a significant portion of Ryan’s remarks. Abortion and the Obama administration’s decision to mandate birth control as part of health insurance policies were more salient.

“In the Clinton years, the stated goal was to make abortion safe, legal and rare,” Ryan said. “But that was a different time and a different president. Now, apparently, the Obama-Biden ticket stands for an absolute, unqualified right to abortion at any time, under any circumstance, and even at taxpayer expense.”

Twice during Ryan’s speech, protestors interrupted and shouted at the vice presidential candidate. The second protestor said something about Romney’s now infamous remarks that “Corporations are people, my friend” before being escorted out of the room. In a YouTube video posted after the speech of one of the protesters being taken away, she was shown decrying the corporate influence over the national political parties.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was also among the speakers at the summit and touted Republicans support “traditional marriage” because of the institution’s ability to keep people out of poverty.

Eric Cantor, Republican, House Majority Leader, Values Voter Summit

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“That is why we believe in traditional marriage, because marriage, more than any government program ever has or ever will, has lifted up people out of poverty, even those who felt there was no hope,” Cantor said. “Marriage has proven to be that formula which has been more successful at allowing for that pursuit of happiness. And that is why we stand tall and stand proud for traditional marriage.”

Cantor is among the members of House Republicans who sits on the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and voted to take up defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law.

Romney didn’t make a live appearance at the Values Voter Summit, but spoke to attendees via a recorded video. During the video, Romney talked about his commitment to social issues, saying his administration “will defend marriage, not try to redefine it.”

But Romney’s name didn’t often come up in speeches during the day — except for anomalies such as Ryan’s speech and the vice presidential nominee’s introduction by conservative pundit Bill Bennett — as others took the opportunity on stage to criticize Obama without praising the alternative candidate.

Wayne Besen, who’s gay and executive director of the Truth Wins Out, was in attendance at the summit and took note of the general absence of Romney.

“You’d think that Ronald Reagan was running with Paul Ryan,” Besen said. “There’s almost no mention of Romney except in Bennett’s speech. They’re really not enthusiastic at all.”

Besen also said the emphasis on defending marriage and supporting traditional marriage were coded ways for speakers to communicate to conservatives they don’t support the LGBT community.

“I wouldn’t call it quite red meat, I would call it perhaps a red meat appetizer,” Besen said. “[They’re] talking about supporting traditional marriage, but it’s not outright gay bashing. They’re clearly sending signals to their voters, but … they don’t want to look like they’re attacking LGBT people, and they’re intolerant.”

LGBT and progressive groups decried the event and said public officials were participating in a conference hosted by an extreme right-wing organizations. Earlier this week, several groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, sent a letter to public officials urging them not to attend, although the calls didn’t seem to have an impact on the schedule.

Michael Keegan, president of progressive advocacy group called People For the American Way, said in statement Ryan “sends a clear message” by participating in the summit that he’s “decided to embrace the entrenched bigotry advocated by the farthest of the far right.”

“The Family Research Council and the American Family Association are not mainstream groups,” Keegan continued“The FRC frequently and falsely links homosexuality to pedophilia. The AFA has claimed that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust. Both have defended laws at home and abroad that criminalize homosexuality. These are not innocent differences of opinion; they are full-scale efforts to smear and denigrate LGBT Americans.

Affirmations of against same-sex marriage and attacks on Obama for his opposition to DOMA and support for same-sex marriage were a prominent feature of many other speeches.

Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas)

Rep. Tim Hueslkamp (R-Kansas), a freshman Tea Party lawmaker who this year submitted a DOMA amendment to the House floor, had stern words for the Obama administration over its refusal to defend the anti-gay, misstating the action the administration took by telling his audience Obama isn’t enforcing the law anymore.

“They’re using your taxpayer money to undermine marriage in court, after court, after court,” Hueslkamp said. “Last time I checked, the Constitution doesn’t allow a president to pick and choose … what law to enforce. They’re using those dollars, your taxpayer money, to undo your very values.”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, co-chair of the Republican Party platform drafting committee, praised how the Republican Party includes language opposing same-sex marriage and his own state’s decision to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying the concept seems “foreign” to the Obama administration.

“We were very clear that we strongly disagree with a president who will not enforce the DOMA law to be able to protect traditional marriage,” McDonnell said. “We’ve already adopted that in the constitution of Virginia; in fact, every state – I think 30 of them now – that have actually voted in their states to protect traditional marriage have done so. And so embracing that concept as a national idea should not be a foreign concept, but it appears to be to this administration.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an anti-gay lawmaker who also introduced an amendment to House floor reaffirming DOMA, decried the administration’s decision to no longer defend the anti-gay law in court and its decision to allow same-sex weddings on military bases.

“They’re having them on bases throughout the world in places … same-sex marriage in direct offense to the Defense of Marriage Act,” King said. “This is an undermining of our Constitution, and the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

GetEqual protest at the Values Voter Summit web-sized image

Members of the LGBT activist group GetEQUAL protest outside of the Omni Shoreham Hotel during the Values Voter Summit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Outside the hotel after the first day of conference, a group of LGBT protesters affiliated with the group GetEQUAL demonstrated against the conference over its anti-gay message.

In addition to a banner reading, “Your Values Are Killing Us,” protesters held up photos of gay youths who died in recent years in incidents related to their sexual orientation: Lawrence King, a gay California who was shot at age 15; Justin Aaberg, a gay Minnesota youth who killed himself at age 15; and Seth Walsh, a gay California youth who killed himself at age 13.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, a gay Tampa, Fla., resident and national field director for GetEQUAL, said protesters intended to demonstrates that the “values” espoused at the conference are responsible for the death of gay youths across the country.

“We’re opposed to all of the anti-LGBT equality beliefs that they have, including that in therapy and other things that not only hurt us, but really drive our youth to suicide,” Sousa-Rodriguez said.

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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