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Freedom to Marry fundraisers raise $450,000 for state marriage campaigns

D.C. among cities where National Engagement Parties have taken place

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage

Zack Wahls speaks at a Freedom to Marry house party in Kalorama on Saturday (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal)

A series of Freedom to Marry house parties across the country this month has raised nearly half a million dollars for statewide same-sex marriage campaigns.

The latest National Engagement Parties took place in D.C., New York, San Francisco and Miami Beach, Fla., on Saturday. These fundraisers and those that took place in San Diego, Atlanta and other cities earlier this month have raised $450,000 for efforts to defend marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Maine, Maryland and Washington and defeat a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Minnesota.

“Even though I’m straight guy, the policies that affect gay people — my parents — affected me,” said Zach Wahls, whose 2011 testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned the state’s same-sex marriage law went viral, at Drew Murphy and Michael Golder’s Kalorama home. He also spoke about his continued advocacy in support of the Boy Scouts of America allowing gay scout leaders. “The stigmas that affected gay people affected me. And so I really do feel as though allies is definitely the right word, but also to me it’s more than that. This is part of who I am. And that’s why I’ve been so involved in this work since the video blew up and I’ve found this incredible opportunity to talk about this issue and speak for my family.”

Gay Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) was among those who attended the D.C. fundraiser.

New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler was among the guests at the National Engagement Party in Manhattan. “Good Morning America” weather anchor Sam Champion, who came out earlier this month, attended the Miami Beach fundraiser with fiancé Rubem Robierb. Actress Jane Lynch attended Freedom to Marry’s Los Angeles house party alongside gay former Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger and others on Oct. 7.

“What I’m most proud to be able to report is that these campaigns are in, by and large, tremendous shape,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, as he referred to the four statewide marriage campaigns. “The polling is looking promising. We’ve never gotten into one of these referendum with majority support and in several of the states we have solid majority support. We have outraised our opponents. And we haven’t just outraised our opponents, we’ve been smart in getting money into these campaigns early.”

Freedom to Marry has contributed $4.5 million over the last two years to the four statewide same-sex marriage campaigns — including $30,000 it gave to the NAACP National Voter Fund for Question 6 on from its Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC, according to the campaign finance report it filed with state election officials in Annapolis on Friday. The organization has helped raise an additional $2.4 million for these efforts through public education campaigns and outreach to Freedom to Marry donors.

The group, which remains the largest single source of funding for three of the four statewide same-sex marriage campaigns, raised and spent approximately $5 million in 2011. Freedom to Marry projects it will have raised and spent another $10 million by the end of the year.

Solomon, a former executive director of MassEquality who has worked on same-sex marriage campaigns in California, New York and other states, described the four statewide campaign managers as “truly exceptional.” He further noted that anti-marriage ads have already begun to air in the four states.

“I can tell you we are really prepared, but we know that these fights are always exceptionally difficult,” said Solomon. “And every one of the marriage fights I’ve been involved in has been exceptionally difficult.”

In spite of these challenges, Solomon and others who attended the D.C. fundraiser remain hopeful that voters in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota will either support their states’ same-sex marriage referenda or defeat the proposed constitutional amendment.

I’m cautiously optimistic,” Wahls told the Washington Blade. “We all remember what happened with Prop 8 [in California] and in Maine, so you can’t get your hopes too high. But I’m feeling very positive. And I think events like this indicate that kind of support.”

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The White House

Biden’s Pride month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’

States across the country have passed anti-LGBTQ laws

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing in December 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Just as the 1969 Stonewall riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride month.

This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:

“In 2023 alone, state and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen states have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”

Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in state capitols in defense of their basic rights.”

The statement reaffirms the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.

Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: Combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.

Meanwhile, Biden said, the Justice Department is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting transgender youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”

Finally, the White House noted: Its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then three; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.

“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”

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Pentagon

Defense secretary orders cancellation of drag show at Nev. Air Force base

Event was to have taken place at Nellis AFB on Thursday

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride month on the sprawling Nellis Air Force Base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) demanded in an angry tone that Austin and Milley explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany had a drag queen story time, that was to be held in honor of Pride month cancelled. 

According to Stars and Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ news outlet in Canada, the Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers. 

Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, III, and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 14, 2021. (Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, Department of Defense)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said Milley was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1 Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called ‘family-friendly’ drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know: 

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1 or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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Alabama

Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday

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Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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