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Boehner maxes out $1.5 mil cost cap for DOMA defense

Dems decry continued support for anti-gay law as ‘unconscionable’

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The $1.5 million cost cap that House Speaker John Boehner has allotted to defend DOMA has been reached (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The House Republican-led panel that has taken up defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court has maxed out the $1.5 million cost cap set to hire private attorneys to advocate for the anti-gay law, according to a report from Democratic lawmakers.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the Committee on House Administration made public a report stating the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group — which took up defense of DOMA after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law in court — has reached expenses totaling out to $1,447,996.73 over the course of fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

That’s just shy of the $1.5 million cost cap that House Republicans set last year to pay private attorney Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under the Bush administration, to defend DOMA. Thus far, Clement has lost in five federal courts against lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of DOMA — most notably after U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court to strike down the law.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for their continued defense of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, at the expense of taxpayer money.

“For more than a year, Speaker Boehner and Congressional Republicans have committed valuable taxpayer dollars to defending discrimination and preserving inequality – only to lose case after case in their effort to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act,” Pelosi said. “There is nothing effective or efficient about this utter abuse of the people’s trust or the public purse; it is simply wasteful and wrong, and Americans deserve better.”

Pelosi added that it’s “unconscionable” for House Republicans — including Chair of the Committee on House Administration Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) — to have authorized a contract to hire a private attorney to defend the DOMA in court and renewed her call for them “to drop their frivolous, taxpayer-funded lawsuits without any delay.”

“Rather than join Democrats to create jobs and strengthen the middle class, Republicans refuse to abandon their reprehensible fight to deny basic civil rights and justice to an entire group of their fellow Americans,” Pelosi said. “The American people should no longer have to foot the bill for Speaker Boehner’s campaign to appease the most conservative forces within the Republican Party.”

The report produced by Democrats on the House itemizes the expenses for defense of DOMA on a periodic basis. Total expenses for defending DOMA in court was $702,205.57 in FY-11 and $745,791.16 in FY-12.

The last billable period was from July 1 to Aug. 15, which totaled out to $169,237.35. More activity in defending DOMA has already occurred since that time, including Clement’s defense of DOMA late last month before the U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals against New York widow Edith Windsor’s challenge to the law.

The highest periodic expense for defending was between June 1 and July 31 when $358,736.58 was expended to defend the anti-gay law. At that time, there was a flurry of activity on DOMA because the Obama administration for the first time filed a legal brief against the law in the case of Golinksi v. Office of Personnel Management.

Now that the cost cap for funding the defense of DOMA has been reached, questions linger about whether House Republicans will raise the cap to continue  defend against DOMA litigation, which is currently pending for considering before the U.S. Supreme Court. A provision in contract enables an increase in the cost cap upon agreement of the parties involved.

Neither Boehner’s office nor the House Committee on Administration responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment about the cost cap or whether Republicans would raise the limit to defend the anti-gay law.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, said he’s unable to comment on the cost cap itself, but predicted that continued defense of the law before the Supreme Court would come at considerable expense.

“I’m not surprised at how much in legal fees has been expended up to this point,” NeJaime said. “There are multiple DOMA suits pending and there has been a flurry of activity at the Supreme Court, and BLAG is represented by an experienced and expensive legal team. If the Supreme Court takes up DOMA, these fees will increase considerably.”

Other Democrats followed Pelosi’s lead in criticizing House Republicans. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, took Boehner to task in a statement for expending $1.5 million to pay for the defense of the anti-gay law.

“Speaker Boehner has wasted more than a year, and more than $1.5 million taxpayer dollars defending DOMA,” Nadler said. “So far, he has lost five cases in a row as every court has ruled that there is no legitimate justification for this law. Every day, DOMA harms thousands of American couples and their children. Instead of wasting taxpayer money defending this unjust law in court, Speaker Boehner should join us in our effort to repeal it.”

In a separate statement to the Blade, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) decried House Republicans’ defense of DOMA in response to an inquiry on whether he’d oppose further raising the cost cap for House Republicans to advocate on behalf of DOMA in court.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer money to spend more on overpriced lawyers to defend an outdated, unconstitutional law – one that is opposed by the majority of Americans,” Honda said. “We should be focused on creating jobs, bringing down the deficit, and getting the economy back on track. Loving, committed couples are making lifelong promises of fidelity to one another. It’s past time the federal government stop singling out the LGBT community and celebrate these families like any other.”

As a member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, the lawmaker last year raised questions about whether allocating funds for the defense of DOMA violated the Anti-Deficiency Act.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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