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Inouye remembered as ‘beacon of hope’ for LGBT people

Hawaii senator was among 14 to vote against DOMA

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The late Sen. Daniel Inouye (photo public domain)

The late Sen. Daniel Inouye (photo public domain)

The passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was a somber moment for LGBT advocates as they remembered him for being among 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act and his early advocacy for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

On Monday, Inouye’s office confirmed the senator died of respiratory complications at 5:01 p.m. at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The senior senator from Hawaii, Inouye was a World War II veteran and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. According to his office, the senator’s last words were “Aloha.”

A senator since 1963, Inouye was the most senior member of the U.S. Senate and served as president pro tempore. That distinction will now be given to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which makes him third in line to succeed the presidency. The 88-year-old senator was the second longest to serve in the U.S. Senate after the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

In a statement, President Obama commended Inouye for his lifelong work as a public servant — noting that his contribution to the war effort cost him his right arm.

“In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve,” Obama said. “But it was his incredible bravery during World War II – including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor – that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him.”

Inouye’s arm was mutilated in 1945 during military operations in Italy and had to be amputated without anesthetic. It was deemed Inouye had already been given too much morphine at an aid station prior to the procedure.

A supporter of marriage equality, Inouye was a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act. His support for the LGBT community goes back to 1996, when he was among 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Inouye not only for the senator’s work on LGBT advocacy, but also for distinguishing himself “in everything he set his mind to — from his heroic service in World War II to his historic tenure and record of accomplishment in the U.S. Senate.”

“Sen. Inouye was a trailblazing leader and he will remain in our memories for standing with his LGBT sisters and brothers from day one,” Griffin said. “We will miss him, and every American should be grateful to have been touched by the life of this remarkable man.”

Following President Obama’s announcement in May in favor of marriage equality, Inouye announced he shares Obama’s support for marriage rights for gay couples.

“I am very pleased that the president affirmed his support for marriage equality,” Inouye said. “I think everyone who wishes to enter into marriage and start a life together should be allowed to do so, regardless of sexual orientation.  How can we call ourselves the land of the free, if we do not permit people who love one another to get married? I look forward to working with the president to ensure his position on marriage equality becomes law in this country.”

Inouye was also known for being an early advocate of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the legislative effort to repeal the law was off the ground. In 2009, Inouye delivered the keynote speech at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s annual dinner.

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, commended Inouye for his commitment to repeal the military’s gay ban.

“Tonight our condolences go out to the family of Senator Inouye,” Robinson said. “He will be remembered for many things, but here at OutServe-SLDN, we will remember him above all as an advocate for fairness and equality, becoming a key supporter of the movement to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law when the chips were down and it mattered the most.”

Scott Larimer, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, also praised Inouye for his commitment to Hawaii’s LGBT community, saying the late senator has “long been a beacon of hope for those who endured ridicule and retribution for being different.”

“Our hearts go out to his family, friends and all people of Hawaii,” Larimer said. “His tireless advocacy for the civil rights of all people will always be remembered, and his legacy of fairness and equality will endure the test of time. He has been a stalwart in the Senate and shining example of the best an elected official has to offer. He will be greatly missed.”

UPDATE: Gay Congressman-elect Mark Takano of California, who’s candidacy was endorsed by Inouye, issued the following statement to the Washington Blade upon news of the senator’s death:

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye today, who has exemplified the meaning of public service for over 70 years. First, as a part of the Nisei 442nd Infantry Battalion during World War II where he showed his heroism, then as a member of Congress where he represented the people of Hawaii for decades.

“Senator Inouye served as a role model for countless Japanese Americans, like myself, and it was one of my greatest honors to have his support earlier this year as he departed from tradition and endorsed my candidacy for the House of Representatives before the primary had been decided — knowing very well that I was seeking to become the first LGBT person of color to enter Congress. For many years, I’ve admired his fundamental sense of fairness, as he invoked his status as a decorated veteran of WWII to support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and was a strong voice in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act long before the recent turn in public opinion.

“We have lost yet another great man, who hails from our greatest generation.

“My condolences go out to his wife Irene, and the rest of his family during this difficult time.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and 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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