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DHS to spell out LGBT protections in guidance to immigration officials

Napolitano will clarify same-sex couples eligible for prosecutorial discretion

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United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced DHS will include same-sex couples in written guidance to immigration officers (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Department of Homeland Security intends to spell out in written guidance that immigration officers should consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families when considering whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion in the potential deportation of an undocumented immigrant.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, 2012 to Congress, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano affirms U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement intends to disseminate this guidance to personnel in the field.

“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano writes.

Napolitano adds the applicability of family relationships should be “weighed on a individual basis” for each immigrant in a potential deportation case.

The new guidance follows up on a 2011 memorandum informing ICE personnel they should consider consider the totality of circumstances for an undocumented immigrant when making enforcement decisions in immigration law. Circumstances that were under consideration — in addition to “ties and contributions to the community” — included an undocumented immigrant’s age, military service and cooperation with authorities.

Advocates had been calling for on DHS to broaden the memo to include explicit protections for bi-national same-sex couples. Later, when DHS announced last year it would go through the deportation pipeline and take out low priority individuals on a case-by-case basis, it had informed the media that “LGBT families” would be among the factors considered, an assertion that was made on the record for the first time last month.

Still, advocates continued to seek more explicit protections. The upcoming guidance will mark the first time DHS has explicitly spelled out this policy in guidance to immigration officers.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, called the DHS announcement “a huge step forward” in the organization’s effort to ensure bi-national same-sex couples can stay together within the United States.

“Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families,” Tiven said. “Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”

Peter Boogaard, a DHS spokesperson, confirmed plans for new guidance in an email to the Washington Blade, but said officers were already operating under the policy that will be spelled out in the document.

“This written guidance will simply reiterate existing policy regarding how DHS considers the totality of circumstances presented in individual cases when exercising prosecutorial discretion in enforcement matters,” Boogaard said. “Long-term, same-sex partners have been included as ‘family relationships’ under ICE Director Morton’s June 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum.”

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said DHS informed his organization that the written guidance should be issued within the next week.

Napolitano’s letter responds to an August 3 letter signed by 84 House Democrats — led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) — urging DHS to spell out this policy to immigration officers.

In a statement, Nadler said he’s “thrilled” the Obama administration is taking action to ensure bi-national same-sex couples are included in guidelines for prosecutorial discretion.

“I am thrilled that the Obama Administration has taken to heart my concern about the need to explicitly protect LGBT immigrant families from being torn apart by needless and unwarranted immigration enforcement actions,” Nadler said. “I thank Secretary Napolitano for listening and supporting a policy that protects all American families, both straight and LGBT. With the written guidelines that I requested and which will be issued by ICE, federal immigration officials will finally have the clear direction they need to make responsible and compassionate decisions on family ties in immigration cases.”

Honda called the announcement from Napolitano “promising news” that came about as a result of collaboration between LGBT activists and lawmakers.

“After many conversations with President Obama’s administration, a strong push by the LGBT community, and with the help of my colleagues, Secretary Napolitano has announced that she will disseminate written guidance to immigration authorities that confirms the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ to include LGBT relationships — specifically the relationships of immigrants in same-sex marriages and partnerships with U.S. citizens,” Honda said.

But Honda added advocates should continue pressing for immigration reform because “current immigration laws are tearing families apart and separating American citizens from their loves ones.” In the case of same-sex couples, gay Americans are still unable to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States — regardless of whether these couples are married or otherwise.

Honda said the current situation with immigration is why he introduced the Reuniting Families Act, which he said “ensures that they are treated equitably through an immigration reform that is both comprehensive and inclusive.” It has a provision that would protect bi-national same-sex couples as one of its six prongs for immigrant families.

“The United States is a nation built upon the toil of immigrants hoping to build better lives for themselves and their families,” Honda concluded. “Our country deserves an immigration system that honors that legacy and keeps all families intact.”

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Arizona

Anti-transgender Ariz. ballot measure dies

SCR1013 will not go before voters in November

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Arizona state Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) (YouTube screenshot)

BY ERIN REED | In a stunning defeat for anti-transgender activists in Arizona, a major bill targeting trans people in schools has failed. The bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1013, would have banned trans students from using bathrooms matching their gender identity. It also would have forced teachers to misgender their trans students unless parental permission was received. 

Most importantly, the bill would have placed the issues on the November election ballot, bypassing Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto, which has been used against similar legislation. This represents the first major ballot referendum on trans people that has been defeated in 2024 and could signal Republican hesitancy around the electoral impacts of such referendums.

The bill was brought forward by Sen. John Kavanaugh, who has previously sponsored other legislation targeting trans people in schools. Kavanaugh’s district includes portions of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is notably the same city where the Alliance Defending Freedom is headquartered

The ADF has been intricately involved in the drafting and defending of anti-trans laws across the U.S. this year and has backed Chloe Cole, who is leading a similar referendum effort in California.

In the Senate Education Committee earlier this month, over 500 people registered opposition to the bill, and only 32 registered in favor, one of the most lopsided testimony ratios in any bill this year nationwide. Speaking against the bill in the hearing, Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh pointed out the negative consequences that hearing such a bill would have, stating, “This will become a debate on a statewide level harming god knows how many kids and forcing them into further isolation, harassment, bullying, victimization and vulnerability that comes. I think the effect of that will be incalculable.”

When it came time for a committee decision, Republican Sen. Ken Bennett voted in favor of the bill but stated he had concerns with the way the bill was written and that he would have trouble supporting it for final passage in the Senate.

Then, on Monday, the bill was brought forward for a final vote on the full Senate floor. Democratic senators read statements from parents and trans youth who would be impacted by the bill as the votes rolled in. Then, Bennett voted “no,” explaining his vote: “I am very concerned about putting this bill to a vote of the people. These bills combined are roughly a third of the entire U.S. Constitution. When we put things on the ballot for people to vote on them, if something goes awry, if there are unintended consequences, we have to go back to the people to fix it.”

The defeat means that in Arizona, the question will not advance to the November ballot. However, in other states, ballot measures are currently being pursued. In California, the group “Protect Kids California” has enlisted high-profile anti-trans activists such as Cole and Chris Elston to collect signatures. Measures there would out trans students to their parents, ban them from participating in sports and using bathrooms that match their gender identity, and would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. Similar ballot measures are also being pursued in Colorado. Nevertheless, with the defeat of SCR1013, there may be hesitancy to push for this as a major ballot issue in 2024 in a swing state like Arizona.

Anti-LGBTQ legislation is not highly popular, especially in general election contests. In the most recent school board elections in 2023, Moms for Liberty lost 70 percent of their school board elections, having run primarily on anti-trans issues in schools. Meanwhile, Democrats took the House and Senate in Virginia after Gov. Glenn Youngkin pushed a party platform at rallies that targeted trans youth throughout the state. Anti-trans politics have also previously failed to help Republicans in Arizona. In the 2022 governor’s race, Republicans attempted to target Hobbs’ husband for providing counseling for trans youth in the closing weeks of the campaign — a gambit that failed to swing results in their favor.

That is certainly what Gaelle Esposito, a partner at Creosote Partners who has worked with major organizations supporting trans people in the state, believes. When asked about what the bill’s defeat says in an election year, she responded, “we are also starting to see that Republicans recognize that anti-trans hatred and pure bigotry is not a big winner for them. It’s not like they have seen time and again, including here in Arizona, that this just doesn’t play well with voters. It doesn’t sit well with people.”

Esposito added a hopeful message: “The fact that we didn’t see the full force of their network trying to squeeze them to get this on the ballot shows they know it too. That they, in an election year here in Arizona, where so much is critical for them, this went down in flames … I think shows how the tide is turning in our favor.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray

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Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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