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Clinton: LGBT-inclusion ‘the smart thing’ for U.S. foreign policy

Secretary speaks before LGBT Foreign Service officers

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Hillary Clinton, Department of State, GLIFAA, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, gay news, Washington Blade
Hillary Clinton, Department of State, GLIFAA, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered on Wednesday what might be her last public address before an LGBT audience as chief diplomat for the United States when she told group of LGBT Foreign Service officers their service is integral to the country.

“Creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing,” Clinton said. “And part of that is because the nature of diplomacy has changed and we should and need to keep up. Today, we expect our diplomats to build relationships not just with their counterparts in foreign governments, but from people from every continent and every walk of life, and, in order to do that, we need a diplomatic core that is as diverse as the world we work in.”

Additionally, Clinton said having an LGBT-inclusive State Department makes the Foreign Service corps “better advocates” for American values.

“When anyone is persecuted anywhere and that includes when LGBT people are persecuted, we’re kept from fully participating in their societies,” Clinton said. “They suffer, but so do we. We are diminished because our commitment to the human rights of all people has to be a continuing obligation and mission of everyone who serves in the government of the United States.”

Clinton delivered the remarks in Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department to observe the 20th anniversary of the department’s LGBT affinity group, Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA.

She reminded the estimated 200 people in attendance that world in which GLIFAA was created was much different than today and the organization has worked over the course of 20 years to create a fairer workplace for LGBT Foreign Service officers.

“As we heard, in 1992, you could be fired for being gay,” Clinton said. “Just think about all of the exceptional public servant — the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts — fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation. Think of what we lost because we were unable of their hard work, expertise and experience.”

Clinton also gave recognition to Tom Gallagher, whom she said joined the State Department in 1965 and in the early 1970’s became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer. He was in the audience during Clinton’s speech and rose when the secretary mentioned him.

“He served in the face of criticism and threats, but that did not stop him from serving,” Clinton said. “I want to take this moment just to recognize him, but also to put into context what this journey has meant for people for people of Tom and my generation because I don’t want any of you who are younger ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you. It is not a moment for us to be nostaglic; it is a way for us to remember.”

The speech occurs almost one year after Clinton gave a high-profile speech in Geneva in favor of LGBT human rights, telling LGBT people that face human rights abuses overseas they “have an ally in the United States of America.” Clinton noted her speech from the previous year during her remarks at the State Department.

“When I gave that speech in Geneva and said we were going to make this a priority for American foreign policy, I didn’t see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for,” Clinton said.

Toby Quaranta, who’s gay and president of the D.C Young Democrats, was among those in attendance and said the speech was “an example of why she is such a popular secretary of state.”

“She wants to make advances for LGBT people not just as a way to advance the cause of human rights, but also as a way to advance American interests abroad,” Quaranta said. “It’s a moral issue with a pragmatic end. That’s her way of doing business, and that is why she has been so successful as secretary of state.”

No new announcements were made during the State Department address, but the event was geared toward thanking those present as opposed to addressing policy issues.

Clinton gave no update during the speech on where she stands on marriage equality. She remains one of the few high-profile Democrats who’s yet to publicly endorse same-sex marriage and has remained silent in the issue even after her employer President Obama came out for marriage equality in May.

Also absent from Clinton’s speech was any mention of anti-gay legislation in Uganda that’s received considerable international attention out of fears the bill may soon be headed toward passage. It would institute a sentence of life in prison for homosexuality acts and possibly the death penalty.

But Clinton did tout the LGBT achievements the State Department has made under her watch. Among them are extending benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. On transgender issues, the department instituted policy against workplace discrimination for transgender employees and eased the process to allow transgender Americans to change the gender marker on their passports.

“Together we have worked to make something very simple and right come true: Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and sharing a life with the people with they love,” Clinton said.

Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and a long-time adviser who worked on her 2008 presidential campaign, also commended those present as she said her boss seeks to ensure each person across the globe can “live up to his or her God-given potential.”

“That principle is a very simple one, but its implementation too often requires courage and persistence, relentlessness and willingness to actual do something when doing nothing is absolutely the easiest course of action,” Mills said. “Those who have been part of and stayed with GLIFAA, they have always managed to do something, and the work that you all have done together has brought the change that we have seen in the department.”

Clinton has indicated that she intends to step down as secretary of state after the conclusion of Obama’s first term. Speculation persists that she may pursue that Democratic nomination for the presidency when Obama completes his second and final term in 2016, although she hasn’t stated she’d run.

Lane Hudson, a gay Democratic activist and outspoken Clinton supporter, said he expects her to maintain a strong relationship with the LGBT community whatever her course of action she pursues after she leaves the State Department.

“Given her long history with the LGBT community and her exemplary record on issues of equality at the State Department, I fully expect there to be a meaningful ongoing relationship between her and the community, whether she pursues the presidency or continues to advocate for equality for all as a private citizen,” Hudson said.

Others who spoke before the audience were GLIFAA President Ken Kero-Mentz, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, and Daniel Baer, who’s gay and deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor.

Notable members of the LGBT community who were in the audience included U.S. ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner, former U.S. ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan and Amanda Simpson, who was first openly transgender woman political appointee in any U.S. administration.

NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Toby Quaranta.

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Air Force base axes ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) welcomed the decision

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(Screenshot from U.S. Air Force's YouTube page)

A drag queen story hour scheduled to be held at the library in honor of Pride month at Ramstein Air Base in Germany was abruptly cancelled by the command staff of the 86th Airlift Wing on Thursday.

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. 

“An advertisement was posted to the base library social media page before the event had completed Ramstein’s established processes for special observance coordination and approval.  The advertisement has been removed and the event will not take place. Ramstein leaders strive to foster a culture based on inclusion where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their political views, color of their skin or sexual orientation. The base’s established processes will ensure all future special observance events are properly reviewed and approved prior to advertisement.”

The Post Millennial’s story framed its reporting using hard-line right terms and descriptions of the LGBTQ community; “Drag Queen Story Hour has become a phenomenon in recent years, with men dressing up in clownish, garish costumes of women to read to children. Many drag queens have sexualized names, like Penny Tration.”

The conservative outlet also reported that one mom of a toddler, whose husband is stationed at the base, told The Post Millennial that while she often takes her child to the library for story time, she was “shocked to see the Ramstein Air Force Base Library plans to hold an official drag queen story hour for children.”

“I find it wholly inappropriate that the MILITARY of all places will be using public funds to sexualize children,” she said.

According to Stars and Stripes, the cancellation of the drag queen book reading drew mixed opinions from the Kaiserslautern Military Community, which encompasses Ramstein. With tens of thousands of Defense Department personnel and their families, it is the largest U.S. military community overseas.

An opponent of the wing’s decision launched a petition at Change.org to try to get the event reinstated.

“Now more (than) ever we need to show our support to our enlisted members and spouses in the face of blatant discrimination,” wrote the petition organizer, named Natalie Oyer, who described herself as spouse to a transgender wife.

“I don’t know if anything can bring back the events though,” Oyer wrote. “Most of the queens are enlisted.”

Stars and Stripes also reported that the 86th Airlift Wing, axed a separate drag karaoke event scheduled to be held at the base enlisted club, according to community members posting on social media sites.

In a press release Friday, 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 Air Force Base 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.

The 86th Airlift Wing’s publics affairs office at Ramstein and the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs office at the Pentagon have not responded to a request for comment.

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Pulse survivor ‘at a loss’ over Texas elementary school massacre

Brandon Wolf is Equality Florida’s press secretary

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Brandon Wolf was a Grand Marshal at the 2019 Capital Pride Parade on June 8, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Adam Hall)

A survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre on Wednesday said he is “at a loss” over the massacre at a Texas elementary school that left 21 people dead.

“Twenty-one people were murdered,” said Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf in a statement he sent to the Washington Blade a day after a gunman killed 21 people inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. “Nineteen of them were children — babies. That means 19 families sent their elementary age kids off to school only to get the worst news: That their babies would be leaving class in body bags.”

Wolf was inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016, when a gunman opened fire and killed 49 people. His two close friends — Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and his fiancé, Juan Guerrero — were among those killed.

Wolf in his statement noted “right wing politicians have spent the past year insisting that the greatest threats our children face are the potential they’ll learn that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Black people or that their teacher uses they/them pronouns.”

“They’ve banned books, censored curriculum and bastardized history lessons,” said Wolf. “All the while, they haven’t lifted a finger to protect kids from what is killing them.”

Equality Florida echoed Wolf’s sentiments.

“I am heartbroken for the shattered families,” added Wolf. “Grief-stricken for these stolen lives. And enraged at the power-hungry leaders who have chosen time and again to serve up this country’s most vulnerable as sacrifices in exchange for a boost up the ladder of their own ambitions.”

Axel Rodríguez’s friend, Xavier Serrano Rosado, died inside the Pulse nightclub.

Rodríguez told the Blade that Tuesday was “such a dad day for us here” in Orlando.

“It is like going through the same emotions we had when the attack at Pulse happened, but it’s even worse because we are talking about children,” he said. “When will our government stop thinking about money and stop this madness? Everyone now can obtain a gun anywhere. I just cannot comprehend that at all.”

The Pulse nightclub massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until a gunman on Oct. 1, 2017, killed 60 people at a concert in Las Vegas.

A gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Twenty children and six adults died in the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

The Robb Elementary School massacre took place less than three years after a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

“There are no words,” tweeted Pride Center San Antonio, which is roughly 90 minutes east of Robb Elementary School, on Wednesday.

“Our hearts are with the Uvalde community,” said Equality Texas on Tuesday. “Every child deserves to free safe at school.”

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Texas

Republican lawmaker claims Texas school gunman was transgender

Massacre victims were inside single classroom

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Families gather at a Uvalde, Texas, civic center to wait for news about their loved ones. (Photo courtesy of Niki Griswold/Twitter)

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that all of the 19 children and two adults were killed in single classroom at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday.

According to officials, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos, wearing body armor had barricaded himself inside a fourth-grade classroom, where all the fatalities and injuries occurred. Ramos, who attended the nearby high school, was killed on scene by a member of a federal U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit who had responded alongside local law enforcement.

Several other children were injured in the attack, including a 10-year-old who remained in critical condition in a Texas hospital. Law enforcement officials told reporters Ramos shot his grandmother before heading to the school with two military-style rifles he bought on his 18th birthday which was within the last two weeks.

Law enforcement has only released some of the victim’s identities and according to the Austin Statesman newspaper’s political reporter Niki Griswold, parents were gathered late into the night to give DNA samples to find out whether or not their children were among the dead. Griswold also tweeted, “The agonized screams of family members are audible from the parking lot,” as she also noted “A family has erupted into sobs outside the civic center.”

As Texas and the nation reeled in shock over yet another deadly mass shooting, Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, who espouses radical right view points and former President Trump’s MAGA philosophy, took to Twitter and spread a false and transphobic claim that the suspected shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.”

Screenshot of now-deleted tweet by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar

As of Tuesday evening, Gosar had not commented on his tweet, which was deleted about two hours after being published.

Gosar is an anti-immigration, anti-vaxxer, radical right hardliner who routinely cozies up to white nationalists. He was apparently promoting a false claim circulating on right-wing networks. Users shared images of a transgender person unrelated to the attack claiming they were the shooter.

President Biden addresses nation the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday evening.
(Screenshot/White House YouTube)

In Washington last night, President Biden, speaking to the nation said;

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked. “Why do we keep letting this happen?  Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the [gun] lobbies? 

Speaking from personal experience, as a father who has lost two children, Biden added: “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There’s a hollowness in your chest, and you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out. It’s suffocating. And it’s never quite the same.”

Global reaction included sympathy from Ukraine’s leadership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed condolences to the community of Uvalde where the 21 people — including the 19 students — were murdered in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

“Deeply saddened by the news of the murder of innocent children in Texas,” Zelenskyy wrote. “Sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the people of the U.S. and @POTUS over this tragedy. The people of Ukraine share the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims and all Americans.”

NPR reported Wednesday that Zelenskyy also referenced the shooting while speaking by video link at a conference on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which he drew a direct parallel between the shooting and the war in Ukraine.

“I feel it is my personal tragedy when children are killed in Texas, and now in my country Russian military is killing our children,” he said.

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