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R.I. House approves same-sex marriage bill

The measure passed by a 51-19 vote margin

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Lincoln Chafee, Democratic National Convention, Rhode Island, gay news, Washington Blade
Lincoln Chafee, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state.

The 51-19 vote came after lawmakers on both sides of the issue debated the measure for more than an hour.

“This bill is so important,” state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who introduced the proposal. “It is one of the most important things we’re going to do, and it’s historic.”

Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) is among those who spoke against the bill. He described the measure as “an irrevocable societal game-changer” that would redefine the definition of marriage.

“Marriage is also significantly the biological unit of the family, promoting the well-being of children, providing them with a framework of identity and responsibility, creating a stable marital order and through this order sustaining a civil society,” Corvese said. “By redefining marriage, by breaking and disregarding the present parameters, you are not only destabilizing the marital order and by extension civil society, you are opening the door to further redefinition.”

State Rep. John Edwards (D-Portsmouth/Tiverton) countered.

“This will be a game-changer, but I believe it is a game-changer that will make things better for our state and it will allow all those people right now who truly love each other to enter the same contract that I or my wife and most of the people in this room currently enjoy,” he said. “This is not a religious issue. This is not about the natural order. It is strictly a civil rights issue.”

State Rep. Maria Cimini (D-Providence) discussed how she and her husband tied the knot in the Rhode Island capital less than three years ago.

“He and I went with a check for $34 to Providence City Hall,” she said. “No one raised an eye brow. No one flinched. We filled out a form and I was able to get married. And yet my family members — my aunts who have been together for over 20 years have had to spend a lot of money to protect their assets, even though their love and their commitment is greater than I’ve known at this point being in such a new relationship. We have colleagues in this room who have spent decades with their partners, with their husbands. They have had to leave this state to commit to [each other.]”

Gay state Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Warwick) noted he and his partner, Tony Carparco, will celebrate their 32nd anniversary in August as he emotionally spoke in support of the bill.

“You can define marriage any way you want,” Ferri said. “We’ve had a marriage for 32 years.”

The vote comes two days after the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the measure.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples, but she has pledged she would allow a vote on the proposal in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

Rhode Island remains the only New England state without a same-sex marriage law. Governor Lincoln Chafee told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier this month that he feels nuptials for gays and lesbians are “long overdue” in the Ocean State.

“There are certain legislative votes that can fairly be characterized as ‘historic,'” he said in a statement after the House approved the bill. “The Rhode Island House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of marriage equality legislation is one such vote.”

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, agreed.

“Today is a proud and historic day,” he said. “For the first time, the Rhode Island House of Representatives has affirmed that all families in our state should have access to the unique protection and recognition that only civil marriage provides.”

Handy echoed Sullivan’s sentiments after the vote.

“This issue is about fairness and allowing all Rhode Islanders to have equal access to the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, but marriage is about so much more than legal protections,” he said. “My wife and I have been married since 1997, and as we’ve worked together to raise our son, the value of having a committed, strong family has become more apparent to us over time. All Rhode Islanders deserve to enjoy that security and support, and deserve to have their family recognized as equal to others. It feels good to see how far we’ve come in Rhode Island toward valuing all families, and I know we are close to the day when marriage equality becomes law here.”

The Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence are among the groups that remain opposed to any effort to extend nuptials to gays and lesbians in the Ocean State.

“Today’s vote by the House of Representatives undermines the common good of our state and strikes against the very foundation of our culture,” the Rhode Island Catholic Conference said in a statement that also referred to the state’s nearly 10 percent unemployment rate and the plight of those without homes during the cold spell that brought single digit temperatures to the region earlier this week. “Unfortunately, this bill redefines marriage and fails to protect the religious liberties of many faith communities and individuals of conscience who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. As witnessed in other states, those who support traditional marriage will most likely be punished by costly lawsuits and cultural persecution.”

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Florida

Gay Days 2023 will go on despite DeSantis and anti-LGBTQ animus

Tens of thousands expected at Walt Disney World

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Attendees at the Walt Disney World GAY DAYS in June 2017 (Photo courtesy of GayDays®/Facebook)

Equality Florida has issued a travel advisory to LGBTQ people that traveling to the state isn’t safe given the plethora of anti-LGBTQ laws. On May 23, the Human Rights Campaign joined with Equality Florida urging LGBTQ people to avoid travel to Florida.

Citing six anti-LGBTQ bills passed and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the two groups noted that while not a blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott, the travel advisory outlines the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community.

As Pride month gets underway Thursday, an annual event that is celebrating its 32nd anniversary this year and draws tens of thousands of LGBTQ people to Walt Disney World and the Disney resort areas near Orlando, is slated to commence over the next four day period.

Wearing red shirts to identify themselves, participants in the unofficial Disney Gay Days celebration gather for parties, meet-ups and enjoying a Disney holiday. In an interview with the Associated Press, Joseph Clark, CEO of Gay Days, Inc., said that he is hoping that this year can see upwards of 150,000 LGBTQ people descending on Central Florida to mark the start of Pride season.

In addition to Disney, the LGBTQ folks will also be visiting the neighboring amusement parks of Universal Studios and SeaWorld. 

Pride celebrations this year in Florida have taken on a different tone, St. Cloud organizers of the ‘PRIDE in St. Cloud’ scheduled for June 10 cancelled the event joining a growing list of Pride events being cancelled as a “climate of fear” has overtaken the state in the wake of DeSantis’ extreme new anti-LGBTQ laws.

The Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast notified the greater Treasure Coast community that the Pride parade was cancelled and that Pridefest will only be accessible to residents 21-years-old or older.

The Wilton Manors City Commission as well as the city’s mayor voted to amending the permit for Stonewall Pride, Inc., to force compliance of a new state law that expands the definition of “live adult entertainment” to include drag entertainment.

Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for the largest state-wide LGBTQ equality and human rights advocacy group Equality Florida, in a text with the Washington Blade noted: “These are the intended chilling effects of DeSantis’ slate of hate legislation. Just as the Don’t Say LGBTQ law didn’t direct school districts to rip down rainbow stickers, this bill does not ban drag or pride. But it uses vague language and threats to induce self-censorship.”

GayDays® Ticket and Merchandise Center at the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. (Photo courtesy of GayDays®)

“We continue to be that blue speck in a sea of red, but ultimately laws are laws, and that is the interesting situation we are in,” Clark told Deadline, adding that many folks have reached out to ask whether it’s safe to visit Florida.

In a Facebook post earlier this week, GayDays® announced the cancellation and “reimagining” of Taste of GayDays® as “due to challenges caused by the current political climate in Florida which recently caused concerns for a large group of our restaurant partners.”

“UPDATE: We’re deeply sorry to announce the cancellation and ‘reimagining’ of Taste of GayDays® due to challenges caused by the current political climate in Florida which recently caused concerns for a large group of our restaurant partners. Because of these circumstances, and though we adamantly tried to recruit additional vendors, it became clear that we would be unable to provide the exceptional experience that our guests have come to expect at the Taste of GayDays® Event.

But FEAR NOT! We’ve planned something special for you all. Join us for the FREE GayDays Orlando 2023 ‘Taste of GayDays® Entertainment Preview Show’ at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 1! This new event aims to give a preview of several other special events during GayDays® Orlando including performances by some of our Miss GayDays® Pageant competitors, introductions and meet and greets with Mr. GayDays® Leather Competitors and more. Please know — we are committed to delivering extraordinary experiences at GayDays® Orlando.

As we are days away from the start of GayDays Orlando 2023 this was not an announcement we had expected to have to make. We will not let this deter us! We are determined to work towards changing the mindset of people and ensure that future events uphold the high standards that are synonymous with GayDays®. It is because of you, that together, we’ll make a difference,” the group wrote.

GayDays® at Area Theme Parks | #RedShirtDays schedule linked here: (Link)

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The White House

Biden’s Pride month proclamation: ‘Our nation faces another inflection point’

States across the country have passed anti-LGBTQ laws

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing in December 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Just as the 1969 Stonewall riots marked a transformational time for LGBTQ civil rights in America, the country now faces another critical inflection point, President Joe Biden said in the White House’s proclamation Wednesday honoring Pride month.

This moment is precipitated by the wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through state and local legislatures across the country and amid the escalating violence and threats of violence against the community, the statement notes:

“In 2023 alone, state and local legislatures have already introduced over 600 hateful laws targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Books about LGBTQI+ people are being banned from libraries. Transgender youth in over a dozen states have had their medically necessary health care banned. Homophobic and transphobic vitriol spewed online has spilled over into real life, as armed hate groups intimidate people at Pride marches and drag performances, and threaten doctors’ offices and children’s hospitals that offer care to the LGBTQI+ community. Our hearts are heavy with grief for the loved ones we have lost to anti-LGBTQI+ violence.”

Biden drew parallels between the “LGBTQI+ protestors” who “bravely stood their ground” against the law enforcement dispatched to arrest them more than 50 years ago and the youth organizers leading walkouts in response to discriminatory education laws, along with the “young people and their parents [who] are demonstrating unimaginable courage by testifying in state capitols in defense of their basic rights.”

The statement reaffirms the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing “proudly with the LGBTQI+ community in the enduring struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” chronicling some of the major steps the administration has taken on this front.

Biden highlighted his issuance, on his first day in office, of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination, along with his signage last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protects for the rights of same-sex couples that might otherwise be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.

The statement then noted the administration’s moves to protect LGBTQ youth by ordering federal agencies to: Combat conversion therapy, “end the crisis of homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth and adults,” and address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in foster care.

Meanwhile, Biden said, the Justice Department is fighting against discriminatory laws targeting transgender youth, while the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have drafted rules that would better protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in healthcare, at school and in sports” and the White House is developing ways to combat online harassment and abuse that “disproportionately target LGBTQ people.”

Finally, the White House noted: Its rollout last year of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for LGBTQ youth, who can now reach specially trained counselors by dialing 988 and then three; the administration’s appointment of historic numbers of LGBTQ appointees at all levels of the federal government; and its repeal of bans preventing trans people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

From passing federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans via the Equality Act to addressing “the crisis of violence against transgender women and girls of color,” Biden acknowledged the work that lies ahead.

“This month and every month,” his proclamation concludes, “let us celebrate the pride that powers the movement for LGBTQI+ rights and commit to doing our part to help realize the promise of America, for all Americans.”

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Pentagon

Defense secretary orders cancellation of drag show at Nev. Air Force base

Event was to have taken place at Nellis AFB on Thursday

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs)

A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride month on the sprawling Nellis Air Force Base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) demanded in an angry tone that Austin and Milley explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany had a drag queen story time, that was to be held in honor of Pride month cancelled. 

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. 

In a press release, 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 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.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, III, and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on July 14, 2021. (Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, Department of Defense)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said Milley was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Gaetz sent a letter to Austin and Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1 Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called ‘family-friendly’ drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know: 

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1 or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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