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Still waiting for first LGBT Cabinet appointment

‘Muted’ pressure as Perez said to be considered for labor secretary

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John Peres, gay news, Washington Blade, California
California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez is set to be in contention as labor secretary, but are LGBT groups pushing for his nomination? (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez is set to be in contention as labor secretary, but are LGBT groups pushing for his nomination? (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama is facing a flurry of requests to take administrative action on behalf of the LGBT community at the onset of his second term. One call that has so far been ignored is for the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member.

In recent months, LGBT groups — such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — have said the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member is important because it would provide visibility to the community and break a key remaining glass ceiling. No president has ever appointed an openly LGBT Cabinet member.

In November, Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, told the Washington Blade the LGBT community is “rightly interested” in a Cabinet appointment as well as a G-20 ambassadorship.

But in comparison to other requests, such as participation in the lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court against California’s Proposition 8 or an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the issue of appointing an LGBT Cabinet member hasn’t yet received significant attention.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate and proponent of an LGBT Cabinet appointment, said he couldn’t say whether action from advocacy groups on the appointment is sufficient because he doesn’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but acknowledged the public pressure is “rather muted.”

“I think that right now the organized political gay community in Washington has a very strong connection with, and relationship with the president, and he has delivered for us in many ways,” Socarides said. “So I think that there is, no doubt, a reluctance to rock the boat for the most part.”

Jim Burroway, a gay editor of the Tuczon, Ariz.-based blog Box Turtle Bulletin, said he hasn’t given the issue the “thought it deserves,” but acknowledged the importance of pushing for high-profile LGBT appointments.

“I’m always reluctant to say that this appointment or that appointment needs to be an LGBT person, but in the general scheme of things, it’s certainly time that an appointment somewhere reflects the diversity of the nation, or even of corporate America, when it comes to LGBT inclusion,” Burroway said.

HRC and the Victory Fund had no comment last month when Obama selected Sally Jewell, a Washington State-based businessperson, for the role of interior secretary, even though that selection meant John Berry, the gay head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, didn’t get the job. Although Berry was passed over, Jewell is a known advocate of the LGBT community and helped drive business support for marriage equality when it was on the ballot last year in her state.

Media speculation that Berry would be tapped to head the Interior Department was widespread because of his close ties to the administration and his background as a lower-level official in the department during the Clinton years and service as head of the National Wildlife Federation and National Zoo.

Comparatively, LGBT groups like HRC and OutServe-SLDN were aggressive in calling on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend the available benefits to gay troops with same-sex partners, which ultimately led to the Pentagon taking action.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said in response to the comparative silence that HRC has “been clear from the start” that it would like high-profile LGBT appointments during Obama’s second term.

“We have not called for any specific position to be filled by any specific individual and it is not our intent to comment on every personnel decision,” Cole-Schwartz said. “As the president continues to make nominations in his second term, there remains an abundance of exceptional LGBT Americans willing and able to serve and it is our hope that we will see an openly gay Cabinet secretary and other historic appointments.”

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, touted the success of the Presidential Appointments Project in response to a similar inquiry. The Project has helped facilitate the appointment of at least 260 openly LGBT officials within the Obama administration.

“The Project continues to advocate for qualified, experienced openly LGBT individuals who are capable of becoming leaders at all levels of government, including at the Cabinet level,” Dison said. “Because personnel decisions are by their nature sensitive, we believe our advocacy is best done privately.”

Even though the position of interior secretary will be off the table once Jewell receives Senate confirmation, other positions are open in the Cabinet that are possibilities for LGBT appointments.

One that has sparked media attention recently is the potential appointment of gay California Assembly Speaker John Perez as a replacement for Hilda Solis as labor secretary.

John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said Perez would be an excellent choice as labor secretary because he’s a champion of both LGBT people and the working class.

“Perez has built bridges between the LGBT community and labor,” O’Connor said. “Given his legacy of accomplishment in our state, we are incredibly supportive of his candidacy and would be so proud to see it happen.”

Fred Hochberg, the gay head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, has been viewed as a potential candidate for the role of commerce secretary. In December, an administration official told the Blade the White House is “looking carefully” at Hochberg for the position. However, he may have been passed over as well if media reports are correct that Obama is close to nominating banker Penny Pritzker for the role.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in response to a Blade inquiry on whether the administration values sexual orientation and gender identity as an element of diversity in high-profile appointments that he has “no personnel announcements.”

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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