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High hopes for Obama’s second term

LGBT advocates seek continued advances in coming years

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Barack Obama, inauguration, gay news, Washington Blade
Barack Obama, inauguration, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama will have two swearing-in ceremonies next week for his inauguration. (Public domain photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN)

Amid festivities from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, President Obama will officially begin his second term on Monday while LGBT advocates have high hopes for the actions he might undertake in the next four years.

There will be two swearing-in ceremonies for Obama. On Sunday, the president will be sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House, where he’ll place his hand on the Robinson family Bible when he takes the Oath of Office. A public ceremony will take place on Monday at the Capitol Building, where Obama will place his hand on two Bibles: one from President Lincoln, the other from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Following the public ceremony on Monday, Obama will deliver his inauguration speech before an anticipated crowd of 500,000 to 800,000 people on the National Mall. The inaugural parade will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

The area for non-ticketed viewing is between Fourth Street Northwest and the Washington Monument on the National Mall, which can be entered on Constitution Avenue at 7th, 9th or 12th streets, N.W. and also on Independence Avenue, S.W. at 7th and 12th streets. In addition to the obvious closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, both the Third and 12th Street tunnels will be closed as well as the Memorial Bridge.

Obama begins his second term after noteworthy accomplishments for the LGBT community — including coming out in favor of marriage equality and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and expectations remain high for administrative actions to advance LGBT issues in the next few years.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Obama “got off to really rough start” by taking some controversial actions — such as withholding support for marriage equality and issuing a legal brief in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act that was riddled with anti-gay language — but noted an “increasingly productive tone” by the end of the his term.

“If you look at the very early on rough start and then how far the administration and President Obama came within that four years, it is significant,” Carey said. “To go from in the very first months huge missteps around, in particular marriage, to his last year of this term coming out publicly as the first president in support of our marriages, it’s a huge shift.”

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate, said Obama “delivered in a major way” during his first term on LGBT issues, but will be expected to build on the progress right away at the start of his second term.

“All indications are that the president has the opportunity to very strongly build on a great first term record,” Socarides said. “Obviously, there was some tension along the way, but people feel good about what he was able to accomplish in the first term. But on the eve of the second term, the big issues are going to come up right away.”

Administrative action is seen as the way forward for many LGBT issues because the Republican-controlled House is expected to block any meaningful legislation from passing Congress.

The requests from the LGBT community are already well-established and many of them must be undertaken within a few weeks after Obama is sworn in for his second term. A list of some of the more prominent requests follows:

• the reaffirmation from defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel during his Senate confirmation hearings on Jan. 31 that he’ll support LGBT military families and extend partner benefits and non-discrimination protections upon the taking the helm at the Pentagon;

• the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief by the Justice Department before the Supreme Court prior to the Feb. 28 deadline to assert same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution as justices consider the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8;

• signing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation to continue receiving federal awards, a move that would cover between 400,000 and 600,000 LGBT workers;

• the appointment of LGBT officials to prominent positions in the administration, such as Cabinet-level positions or G-20 ambassadorships — particularly with prominent vacancies at the head of the Commerce Department, Labor Department and Department of the Interior;

• holding in abeyance the marriage-based green card applications of married bi-national same-sex couples to ensure these families aren’t separated before the Supreme Court makes a final determination on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

But Carey cautioned that some of the advances to come may be more low-key internal changes within the administration — such as the inclusion of LGBT questions on the hundreds of federal surveys conducted each year.

“The results for those surveys determine the flow of money and the flow of attention from the federal government to communities around the country,” Carey said. “Currently, our community is basically rendered invisible when it comes to those surveys, which means that our community is not getting the funding for our community-based organizations, for youth services, for any number of services around the country.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to calls for continued attention to LGBT issues by noting progress made in the first four years.

“President Obama is proud of the many accomplishments he’s achieved on LGBT equality during his first term, and he looks forward to building on that progress in the months and years to come,” Inouye said.

Already, Obama was faced with a controversy over the choice of an inaugural speaker.  In 2009, Pastor Rick Warren of the California-based Saddleback Church was selected to give the inaugural benediction — and remained in place — despite outcry over his support for Prop 8.

This time around, things are different. Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church said he would “respectfully withdraw” from the same duties after an anti-gay sermon from the 1990s came to light in which he advocated for widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy and urged Christians to stop the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society.

In his place, the committee has selected Rev. Luis Leon of the D.C.-based St. John’s Church near the White House, to deliver the benediction. His church, which is often attended by Obama, is known for its pro-LGBT atmosphere. According to The Huffington Post, it has had openly gay, non-celibate priests and a gay bishop in addition to announcing this summer that it would bless same-sex partnerships and ordain transgender priests. Leon also gave the inaugural benediction for President George W. Bush in 2005.

Carey said replacing Giglio as the inaugural pastor — as opposed to allowing Warren to stay on in 2009 while including gay Rev. Gene Robinson at another event hosted by HBO — certainly “feels like” a promising shift in terms of the expectations of tone that will be seen from the Obama administration on LGBT issues over the next four years.

“It feels like it, and I hope that tone continues,” Carey said. “For the inaugural committee and the administration to reverse course on someone they had already publicly announced as a key participant of the swearing-in day, I think, was not only a significant victory for our community, but it absolutely showed that this administration has moved in its understanding that prejudice coming from the inaugural swearing-in podium will not be tolerated in this country.”

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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