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Election Day brings more out gays to Congress

But balance of power will likely prevent action on LGBT bills

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U.S. House candidate Sean Patrick Maloney

Sean Patrick Maloney was among the openly gay people elected to Congress (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The results on Election Day were hailed as a milestone as a record number of openly LGBT people were elected to Congress, although prospects for the passage of pro-LGBT legislation next year don’t look promising.

In addition to re-electing President Obama and approving the marriage equality side on ballot initiatives in four states, voters elected at least six openly LGB lawmakers to Congress in addition to electing pro-LGBT lawmakers like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

Tammy Baldwin made history by becoming the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate (see related story) as incumbent Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) were re-elected. Joining them will be Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first openly gay congressman from New York; Mark Pocan, who’ll occupy the seat Baldwin held in the House; and Mark Takano, a California Democrat who’ll be the first openly gay person of color elected to Congresss.

As of press time, the race to represent Arizona’s 9th congressional district between bisexual Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker wasn’t yet called. However, Sinema maintained a slim lead in the votes that were already tabulated. If elected, Sinema would be the first bisexual member of Congress.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, acknowledged the night resulted in historic wins in terms of LGBT representation at the federal level of U.S. government.

“It’s without a doubt historic,” Wolfe said. “I think you can talk about the fact that it was history-making, and those that won will be making history for years to come.”

The election results means Congress will look very different in terms of LGBT representation in the wake of Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) retirement and Baldwin leaving the House for the Senate. The results also mean that number of openly gay House members will go from four to at least six.

Gay candidates who didn’t win were Republican Richard Tisei, who lost his bid to unseat pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), and lesbian Democrat Nicole LaFavour, who lost her bid to unseat Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). LaFavour wasn’t endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Despite the excitement, the Election Day results in some respects resulted in the status quo for the legislative and executive branch of the U.S. government from what existed after the 2010 election when no pro-LGBT legislation passed Congress. Democrats retained control of the White House and the Senate, while Republican remain in control of the House.

As of press time, the Senate was poised to have 54 senators caucus with the Democrats and 45 senators caucus with the Republicans, although the Senate race in North Dakota remained too close to call. That would mean a net gain of one Democrat in the Senate. In the House, Republicans retained control of the chamber, but had a slimmer majority of 232 seats while Democrats claimed 191 seats — with 12 races being too close to call.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, acknowledged in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that these results still mean a pro-LGBT majority doesn’t exist in Congress, making the passage of favorable legislation difficult.

On the issue of federal workplace non-discrimination protections, which remain an outstanding issue for the LGBT community, Griffin said in response to a question from the Washington Blade the votes won’t be there to pass legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“We need to acknowledge that although we certainly made some gains in the Senate, and potentially some gains in the House, we are still short of having a vote for an inclusive ENDA in the House,” Griffin said. “We need to be realistic about that.”

Griffin said “more successes could be seen” on the state and local level and called on the White House to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, which it said in April it wouldn’t issue at the time.

“It is my hope and belief that we can get an executive order out of this White House,” Griffin said. “It is something that should be done and we will continue to urge our newly re-elected president to do. That would not be the full solution, but it would be a step toward the end goal.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and one of the leading advocates of the executive order, also said it’s time for the White House to reconsider to its decision in the wake of the Election Day results.

“Yesterday was a turning point for our LGBT movement and President Obama has proven that elected officials can stand strongly on the side of LGBT fairness without fear of voter backlash,” Almeida said. “We will continue to push for the president to sign the executive order as soon as possible because every day that passes is another day in which taxpayer money can be squandered on anti-LGBT workplace harassment and discrimination.”

Asked whether the White House would revisit this idea, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson said, “I have no updates for you on that issue.”

Almeida also said action could be seen in the Senate to pass ENDA and called for a hearing, mark-up, and full Senate vote  in 2013 when lawmakers convene at the start of the next Congress.

“One lesson from recent LGBT advocacy efforts is that we should not wait until the second year of a congressional session to move legislation forward because that’s when some elected officials start getting nervous about the upcoming election and the legislative clock starts to run out of legislative days,” Almeida said.

In the addition to workplace non-discrimination protections, action could be done at the federal level to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Griffin said during the conference call HRC would “continue to push forward” in Congress, but expressed skepticism about passage of any legislation.

“We do have to remember the leadership in the House of Representatives is not a pro-equality set of leaders, so we still have a lot of work to do there, but I can believe we can continue this momentum,” Griffin said.

Griffin placed greater emphasis action from the Supreme Court, which on Nov. 2o will determine whether it will take up litigation challenging California’s Proposition 8 and Section 3 of DOMA. If the court declines to hear the Prop 8 case, it would mean same-sex marriage would almost immediately return to California.

Another question is which states will advance pro-LGBT legislation or relationship recognition bills in the wake of the Election Day results. Griffin said he expects progress there, but said it’s “very early” to determine which states will see action.

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Conservative West Virginia state GOP lawmaker comes out during Pride

“I’m still a conservative Republican. That’s rare, I know, but you can be gay and Republican. You can be gay and conservative.”

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Joshua Higginbotham (Screenshot via WCHS ABC News 8 Charleston, W.VA)

CHARLESTON, WVA. – A conservative Republican lawmaker in the House of Delegates took to Twitter and other social media platforms this past weekend announcing that he is gay. Twenty-four year old Joshua Higginbotham said that he felt he owed it to the voters of West Virginia, after recently deciding to share it with his family and friends.

Higginbotham, who was first elected to the House when he was only 19, represents rural Putnam County located alongside Interstate 64 between the state’s capital city of Charleston to the East and Huntington to the West. His campaign adverts have all trumpeted his avid support of the Second Amendment as well as taking a pro-life position.

However, a check of some of his recent legislation shows a more progressive mindset. He is lead sponsor on House Bill 2998, a measure amending the State’s current codes relating to unlawful discriminatory practices in four categories covered by the West Virginia Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, adding language that prohibits discrimination based upon age and sexual orientation, or gender identity; and defining “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

That measure, earlier in the legislative session, led to a series of conflicts which involved the state’s only other openly gay lawmaker, Democratic Delegate Cody Thompson (D43-Marion). Republican House Delegate John Mandt, who resigned after posting an anti-gay slur but then was re-elected drew harsh criticism for an extended online diatribe opposing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity the Associated Press reported earlier this year on February 7, 2021.

In his social media video as well as in an interview with reporter Anthony Conn from the local ABC News affiliate WCHS 8 in Charleston, Higginbotham said, “I am still a Christian. People think that gay people can’t be Christians.  I believe God loves me no matter what. I’m still a conservative Republican. That’s rare, I know, but you can be gay and Republican.  You can be gay and conservative.”

He added referring to his conservative politics that “nothing changes except now [you] know about my personal life.”

The statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia applauded the delegate’s decision to come out. “We think that it’s great that Delegate Higginbotham can lead his authentic life now. This must be a big burden that’s lifted off his shoulders,” Executive Director Andrew Schneider told WCHS ABC 8.

There are some in the state who are critical of Higginbotham. One source who asked to not be identified, told the Blade in a phone call Tuesday that Higginbotham’s support of former President Trump raised some doubts as to his veracity especially in issues surrounding Transgender West Virginians.

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Biden admin: Discrimination against LGBTQ kids illegal under Title IX

In contrast, Trump DOJ sided with anti-trans laws

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The Biden administration made official on Wednesday its position that discrimination against LGBTQ kids in schools is illegal under federal law at a time when states have enacted measures prohibiting transgender kids from playing in school sports or obtaining transition-related health care.

The Education Department, in a notice of interpretation signed by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, declared it would enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, to prohibit discrimination both on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Supreme Court has upheld the right for LGBTQ+ people to live and work without fear of harassment, exclusion, and discrimination – and our LGBTQ+ students have the same rights and deserve the same protections” Cardona said in a statement. “I’m proud to have directed the Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX to protect all students from all forms of sex discrimination. Today, the Department makes clear that all students — including LGBTQ+ students — deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination.”

In contrast, the Trump administration had interpreted Title IX to exclude cases of anti-transgender discrimination in schools. In fact, the Justice Department under former President Trump filed a legal brief in defense of an Idaho law against transgender kids in sports in ongoing litigation against the statute.

Just this year, a number of states have enacted similar laws. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, said upon signing into law a measure banning transgender kids, that status would go “based on biology.” Arkansas has enacted a law over the veto of its governor making criminal the providing of transition-related care to transgender kids.

The notice of interpretation is consistent with the executive order President Biden signed on his first day in office instructing federal agencies to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. In his executive order, Biden specifically spelled out students should be able to go school without being  “denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Biden administration would follow up on the memo with legal action against states with anti-transgender laws. The Education Department didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry on the issue.

The White House has consistently referred questions on whether the Biden administration would take up legal action against states enacting anti-transgender laws to the Justice Department, which hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.

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As NYC Pride nears, ban on police seen as support for trans, BIPOC attendees

Organizers to provide ‘community-based security and first responders’

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A scene from NYC Pride in 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NYC Pride announced last month that it would no longer allow corrections and law enforcement exhibitors to participate in NYC Pride events until 2025. The decision is in accordance with NYC Pride’s commitment to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBTQ groups including BIPOC and transgender individuals at their Pride festivities.

“Effective immediately, NYC Pride will ban corrections and law enforcement exhibitors at NYC Pride events until 2025. At that time their participation will be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees, as well as the Executive Board,” reads NYC Pride’s statement. NYC Pride is scheduled for June 27. 

To make sure that safety regulations are still adhered to at events, NYC Pride will “transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

Police officers being banned from participating in Pride parades and festivities is not an unfamiliar conversation to LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups in North America. In 2018, Capital Pride in D.C. announced that uniformed officers would not be allowed to march in the Pride parade. In 2019,  Pride Toronto announced that uniformed police officers would not be permitted to attend any Pride Toronto events. 

The announcement was preceded by a voting session that took place among Pride Toronto members. Global News, a Canadian news platform, reported a final result of 163-161, disallowing police participation in Pride Toronto events.

Global News also reports that Pride Toronto committed to using their $1.25 million federal grant to examine the LGBTQ community’s feelings regarding police, and to forge a way forward. 

In solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Vancouver Pride Society announced in 2020 that police officers were no longer welcome to march and exhibit during any of Vancouver Pride Society’s festivities. 

“The roots of Pride are in righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality. These riots against the violence of the police were led by Black and Brown trans women and queer people. The Stonewall Riots propelled gay movements from assimilationist tactics towards unapologetic Pride. These riots worked,” reads Vancouver Pride Society’s statement. 

The organization also pledged to ensure public safety by participating in calls to defund the police and “commit to learning and convening community dialogues about what these alternative forms of managing public safety look like.”

Why ban the police? The decision from NYC Pride was simple: given the law enforcement’s history of police brutality in America, there is a need to ensure that BIPOC and transgender individuals who attend Pride events can do so comfortably, without feeling vulnerable at events meant to be safe havens that allow full, unabashed identity expression and manifestation. 

“After many interactions between the police and LGBTQ community locally, [including] the passive aggressive moves between the NYPD and peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park last year, we have to look at the history,” said André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair. “The ability to welcome Black, Brown, and trans Americans at our events is an even higher priority than for someone to be able to wear police uniform in a parade.”

It is no secret that BIPOC and transgender communities are some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to interactions with corrections and law enforcement officers. 

Mapping Police Violence reports that in 2020, Black people constituted 28% of those killed by the police despite only constituting 13% of the country’s population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also reports that Black transgender people were 50% more likely to report that their interactions with police officers as suspecting them of soliciting sex work and leading to an arrest. In addition, the Movement Advancement Project reports in a 2017 study that nearly 40% of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are LGBTQ youth of color. 

With this in mind, NYC Pride’s goal is to make their events harm-and-fear-free for members of the LGBTQ community. 

To supplement the absence of corrections and law enforcement officers at NYC Pride events, the organization will provide community-based security companies and first responders who will ensure that Pride events are secure and will also be on standby in case of emergencies. 

As part of their training, the security companies are primed on how to deal with all kinds of situations including responding to an active shooter. 

“Our staff has gone through active shooter training and everything it entails including what they’re wearing and how they’re identifiable to the community,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure people that even though the NYPD may be a block away, there is still security [present] to take care of your needs.”

A lot of NYC Pride’s information regarding security measures is currently being relayed through social media and reportage from various news sources. 

“We tweeted about our meetings that we had with the NYPD to reinforce public safety after the initial news broke out of what’s been going on,” said Thomas. 

Regarding whether NYC Pride will implement this year’s model for next year’s Pride, “[NYC Pride is] figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to do things in a hybrid model with some limited in-person and some virtual events. We’re going to figure out what to keep and what to change, and this will influence the planning and processes that we do.”

As for future Prides, Thomas wants everyone to remember this: “It’s always someone’s first Pride, and so, you want to be able to give someone that special experience. So, for future Prides, we’ll be working on greater inclusivity and representation.”

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