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Newly elected out House members talk LGBT issues

Takano wants Obama to revisit ENDA executive order

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The new LGB members of the House. From upper left clockwise: Kyrsten Sinema (photo courtesy Sinema), Mark Takano (photo courtesy Takano), Sean Patrick Maloney (Blade file photo by Michael Key) and Mark Pocan (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Nov. 6 election resulted in four new lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates winning seats in the House of Representatives and all eyes are now on them to see what they’ll do on LGBT issues upon taking office.

A number of new faces will join the LGBT representation in Congress: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress; Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first out congressman from New York; Mark Takano of California, who’ll be the first openly gay Asian-American in Congress; and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who’ll take lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s seat in the U.S. House.

Upon taking their seats, a total of seven LGB members will serve in Congress. The four new members will join Baldwin, who’s moving from the House to the Senate, as well as Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who last week told the Washington Blade he plans on taking the lead on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next Congress.

While participating in training and orientation programs on Capitol Hill, each of the four of the new congresspersons-elect communicated with the Blade about initial plans they have for LGBT issues after being sworn in on Jan. 3 — despite the difficulty of moving any legislation forward in the Republican-controlled House.

Takano said he’s vying for a position of the Committee on Education and the Workforce because the panel has jurisdiction over ENDA and anti-bullying legislation for LGBT students.

“I know ENDA is reintroduced almost every session, and those are two parts of an equality agenda that I’d like to be able to work on,” Takano said. “I’m mindful that we have a Republican majority in the House … I want to spend time building relations with Republicans who might want to join in some aspects of an equality agenda.”

A public school teacher for 23 years specializing in British literature and member of Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees, Takano may have the experience that would land him a seat on the committee.

Takano also said he wants President Obama to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, which the White House said in April Obama wouldn’t issue at this time.

“President Truman was right to stand on the right side of history when he used his executive powers to integrate the armed forces,” Takano said. “So will President Obama be when he uses his executive authority to bar discrimination in federal contracting against LGBT workers.”

Takano joins Maloney in saying the White House should rethink its position on the issue. The congressman-elect from New York told the Blade over the course of his campaign that he still wants Obama to issue the directive. Pocan said last year — before the White House said “no” — he backs the idea of an executive order.

For his part, Pocan said he’s more focused on getting his office and staff set up as he prepares to take his seat, but said he spoke with Polis about a possible new direction for the LGBT Equality Caucus — a group of House members committed to the advancement of LGBT issues.

“I did sit down with Jared Polis, and we had a good discussion about having the LGBT [Equality] Caucus pool some money and perhaps hire a staffer like some of the other caucuses do,” Pocan said. “That way we could hopefully be even more proactive on issues like ENDA, student non-discrimimation and some of the other bills that are out there.”

Maloney, a staffer in the Clinton White House, was more general when talking about initial plans on LGBT issues after taking his seat, saying his goal is to work toward full equality for the LGBT community.

“I want to continue the work I’ve done for 20 years to secure full equality under federal law,” Maloney said. “I think the most important thing is to work with my colleagues in the House to pass legislation across party lines, and keep focused on a goal, which is full equality under federal law.”

Asked if he could name any bills or initiatives he wants to spearhead, Maloney replied, “I don’t see it as my job to put myself in front of others who have already been working on these issues. It’s my job to support and work cooperatively with folks who’ve been in the fight for years.”

None of the new LGB members of the House were able to identify pieces of legislation for which they want to be chief sponsor or other initiatives they want to spearhead, saying it’s too soon in the process to know where responsibilities will be allocated.

Pocan noted the issues affecting the LGBT community are known and what remains to be decided is the best way to approach them over the course of the next few years.

“Clearly, we know some of the issues that are out there — whether it be ENDA, whether it be tax fairness, whether it be benefits for federal employees, other non-discrimination laws,” Pocan said. “I think it’s just a matter of now figuring out — having seven of us total — how can we best move those forward either through legislation and working with the president to issue orders.”

Sinema issued a statement to the Blade saying she’s “thrilled” the next Congress will be the most inclusive ever and she’s proud to be a part of it. On her to-do list is finding ways to work across the aisle on LGBT issues.

“The first thing I plan to do is what I did while serving in Arizona’s legislature — and that was to seek out members that I often disagreed with on important issues,” Sinema said. “It was through our authentic relationships and mutual respect that we found common ground on legislation that helped people. The challenge for Congress is to move past the harsh partisanship that we saw in the last term. This is a critical step in advancing policies that will strengthen and protect LGBT families.”

NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Kyrsten Sinema.

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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