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Polis pledges to take the lead on ENDA

Gay Colo. lawmaker mulls bid for Democratic caucus vice chair

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Rep. Jared Polis has pledged to become the lead sponsor of ENDA in the next Congress (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Colorado congressman who’s set to become the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House is pledging to take the lead on perhaps the most high-profile piece of pro-LGBT legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said during a Washington Blade interview on Tuesday that he intends to become the chief sponsor of ENDA following the retirement of gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s championed the bill since 2007.

“I plan on introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next session,” Polis said. “Across our country, gays and lesbians face discrimination in the workplace and lose their jobs and their livelihood. It’s wrong and it’s got to end. People shouldn’t be fired in this country just because of who they date in their private life.”

In addition to taking the lead on ENDA, Polis said he’ll remain the chief sponsor of another pro-LGBT measure called the Student Non-Discrimination Act — legislation based on Title IX that would prohibit the bullying and discrimination of LGBT students in school.

Polis said he still wants to see President Obama issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to institute LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies. The White House said Obama wouldn’t issue the directive at this time in April, but it’s unclear where that stands in the wake of Election Day.

“I, of course, believe that the White House should move forward with preventing discrimination toward contractors,” Polis said. “That’s always been my position.”

Polis became the first public official to go on record in support of the executive order when he told the Blade during an interview in March 2011 that he’s behind the idea.

And Polis has other goals. He’s weighing a run for a seat in the House Democratic leadership as vice chair of the Democratic caucus — and his win would be another milestone because no member of the LGBT community has ever been elected to House leadership.

“I’m still looking at doing that,” Polis said. “I think it would be great to have more diversity in our caucus leadership. There’s never been a member of the LGBT community in caucus leadership.”

But Polis said he isn’t certain if he’ll make the bid and is waiting to see what positions other House Democrats are seeking. One lingering question is whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will continue her role as head of the caucus.

“A lot of members of the caucus are waiting to see who’s returning and who’s running for the different positions, so until that’s known, there’s no definitive candidacy, but I certainly have been talking to a lot of members about it and I’ve got a lot of encouragement from them,” Polis said.

House Democrats are set to vote on caucus leaders on Nov. 29. The vice chair ranks just below the House Democratic caucus chair. In addition to other duties, the vice chair has a seat on the Steering & Policy Committee, which assigns committee membership to Democrats and advises them on policy decisions.

The current vice chair of the House Democratic caucus is Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), but he’s expected to leave that role to pursue the position as caucus chair. Polis may have competition if he launches a bid to replace him. Other names that have been mentioned as possibilities as vice chair are Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

But as far as movement on pro-LGBT bills, Polis was pessimistic — either during the lame duck session or next year at the start of the 113th Congress — as long as Republicans remain in control of the House. Polis said the votes may actually be present in the Republican-controlled House to pass LGBT bills, but the problem is Republican leadership prevents the measures from coming to the floor.

“We have bipartisan support whether it’s ending workplace discrimination or my Student Non-Discrimination Act or housing non-discrimination,” Polis said. “Those would be very close votes if they were put to the House as a whole, but Republican leadership has refused to allow those bills to even advance to the floor.”

One possible way to skirt House leadership would be to move pro-LGBT bills to the floor via a discharge petition. If a majority of House members sign a discharge petition for any particular bill, it would go to the floor regardless of the desire of House leadership. Polis acknowledged that route as a possibility, but was skeptical about its chances.

“We can certainly file one,” Polis said. “Certainly in my time in Congress and long before it, there has never been a successful discharge petition … There certainly hasn’t been one in my time, or in the immediate past before my time.”

That last successful discharge petition was more than 10 years ago for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which later became known as McCain-Feingold, in 2001.

But the situation in the Democratic-controlled Senate is a different story. As in the 111th Congress, which saw a Senate committee vote on the Respect for Marriage Act and a hearing on ENDA, Polis said some progress could be made on pro-LGBT bills in that chamber — and possibly a successful floor vote on some bills.

“You’d have to ask a senator about that, but I think they could forge a majority of senators to move forward on passing the bill out of the Senate,” Polis said. “That doesn’t mean that [House Speaker John] Boehner or [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor would take it up in the House, but at least we’d have it on record as passing the Senate.”

Despite the divided government, one initiative that may see progress in the 113th Congress is comprehensive immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner has signaled he may be willing to work on this legislation in the wake of Republican losses and the party’s poor showing among Latino voters on Election Day.

LGBT advocates are interested in comprehensive immigration reform and are seeking a provision enabling gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners seeking residency in the United States. Standalone legislation that would address this issue is known as the Uniting American Families Act.

But Polis, who’s also been a leading advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, said he’s unsure at this time what provisions could be made part of the bill and whether the legislation would include the pro-gay language sought by LGBT immigration advocates.

“At this point, besides a few words of encouragement from Speaker Boehner, I really don’t know what an immigration package would look like,” Polis said. “I’ve long been active on this issue and would love to see comprehensive immigration reform, but we need to see what the Republicans are willing to agree to and we haven’t even seen the starting point for that discussion even.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article said Joe Donnelly was in contention as House Democratic vice chair. The Blade regrets the error.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar & lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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National

LGBTQ media ‘excited’ about Press Forward national media funds

Coalition of donors pledges $500 million for local news

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Members of News Is Out, a collaborative of six leading LGBTQ media organizations across the country, have expressed support and excitement about the newly announced national Press Forward effort to support local media in the United States. News Is Out members represent more than 200 years of LGBTQ news and culture coverage, with two member papers starting more than 50 years ago.

“This new effort from foundations, including MacArthur Foundation and Knight Foundation, truly will be a game-changer in the local media space,” said Tracy Baim, co-founder of Windy City Times, which is part of a Chicago collaborative that is also advocating for local funding in that city. “Local media are critical to covering issues across the country, from LGBTQ+ and environmental issues to education and criminal justice reform. Philanthropy can provide an important complement to other needed revenues to help local media survive and thrive.”

In the U.S., 7.1 percent of adults, or 18 million people, identify as LGBTQ, according to Gallup. About 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. The media serving this community has been life-saving, resource sharing and an integral part of the movement for LGBTQ equality, News Is Out members said, adding that this media continues to fill a vital information need.

According to the Press Forward announcement, “A coalition of 22 donors announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years.

“Press Forward will enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.”

The Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have been leading the Press Forward effort.

News Is Out is supported in part by a technology grant from the Knight Foundation. The program is called the Queer Media Sustainability Lab

News Is Out is a nearly two-year-old alliance created launched by the Local Media Association, with initial funding from Google News Initiative. The members are Bay Area Reporter, Dallas Voice, Philadelphia Gay News, Washington Blade, Windy City Times and TAGG, a national queer women’s magazine.

News Is Out members have collaborated on editorial, business and fundraising opportunities.

“LGBTQ media have always played a critical role in covering and informing our communities,” said Lynne Brown, publisher of the Washington Blade. “While we have lost dozens of LGBTQ news media outlets in recent years, those of us who have survived are thriving in 2023. We have done so because we have innovated and sought new forms of revenue. The News Is Out Collaborative has assisted with support that propels us forward.”

“LGBTQ+ media is needed now more than ever, as our communities face a backlash across this country,” said Leo Cusimano, publisher of the Dallas Voice. “By working together in News Is Out, we have formed a strong alliance to help our members in technology training, editorial collaborations and much more. New funds into this ecosystem will be vital to strengthening the network of local LGBTQ+ media in this country.”

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