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House Dems to urge Supreme Court to strike down DOMA

Other briefs filed by businesses, ‘red state’ coalition, GOP

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will lead Democrats in a brief against DOMA before the Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will lead Democrats in a brief against DOMA before the Supreme Court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Democrats are circulating a legal brief that will argue against the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court, the Washington Blade has learned.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said his boss will lead other Democrats in the friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, which is due on Friday. The case pending before the court is known as Windsor v. United States.

“There will be a strong expression of support from the House Democratic Caucus in support of overturning DOMA and casting DOMA into the dustbin of history,” Hammill said.

Hammill declined to provide additional details about the filing, so it’s unknown what the argument of the brief will be. It will likely counter the arguments presented by the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group that the committee speaks for the House as a whole.

The individual House members who signed the brief and the total number of signatures wasn’t immediately known. But Ilan Kayatsky, a spokesperson for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), said his boss is the principal signer of the brief. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif), the only openly gay Asian-American in Congress, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the only bisexual member, independently told the Washington Blade they would sign the brief.

It’s not surprising House Democrats are preparing a brief because they’ve participated in each of the DOMA challenges pending before appellate courts.

They filed a brief before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals when the Windsor case was before that court. House Democrats also filed a brief before the First Circuit in the combined case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services, and another before the Ninth Circuit in the case of Golinski v. United States.

House Democrats are preparing their brief amid a flurry of news regarding other briefs that have been submitted in the case against DOMA before the Supreme Court as well as Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging California’s Proposition 8.

LGBT advocates are also eagerly waiting to see whether the Obama administration will take part in the lawsuit against Prop 8 before the Supreme Court. The deadline for the Justice Department to do so is Thursday.

Following the White House news briefing on Wednesday, the Blade shouted out to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney an inquiry on whether the Justice Department would file a brief. Without turning around to answer as he left the room, Carney replied, “I don’t have anything for you on that.”

A group of 278 businesses and organizations — including tech companies like Xerox and Microsoft as well as web companies like Google, Twitter and eBay — filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court on Wednesday arguing that DOMA is bad for business.

In the 36-page brief, the companies argue that DOMA imposes compliance burdens upon employers because they treat benefits — such as health care benefits and family leave — differently for straight married employees and gay married employees.

“Although marriages are celebrated and recognized under state law, DOMA, a federal law withholding marital benefits from some lawful marriages but not others, requires that employers treat one employee differently from another, when each is married, and each marriage is equally lawful,” the brief states. “DOMA thus impairs employer/employee relations and other business interests.”

The brief also argues that DOMA requires companies to affirm discrimination they believe is injurious to their corporate missions and is contrary to non-discrimination laws and policies.

“DOMA imposes on amici not simply the considerable burden of compliance and cost,” the brief states. “DOMA conscripts amici to become the face of its mandate that two separate castes of married persons be identified and separately treated.”

Also among the signatories is the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the official non-partisan organization of all United States cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a member of the group Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, said the conference is proud to take part in the brief.

“Mayors want their citizens and businesses to prosper, and that means supporting them against discrimination – from any level of government,” Nutter said. “Married means married, and mayors and businesses agree that DOMA can’t stand.”

Another brief was filed on Wednesday by a coalition of groups representing Red States where same-sex marriage isn’t legal. The “Red State” brief, which responds to both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, was signed by groups like Kentucky Equality Federation, Equality Virginia, the Utah Pride Center and the the Utah Pride Center and the Campaign for Southern Equality.

The 34-page brief argues that the Supreme Court should find laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, citing laws that demean gay students in the education system as well as bans on adoption and same-sex marriage.

“The keystone of existing systems of de jure denigration of gay Americans is the denial of their right to marry,” the brief states. “It is both the crux of the matter and the root of other forms of discrimination against gay citizens. The heartbreaking message to committed, gay couples: Your love is unworthy of marriage.”

And The New York Times reported that more than two-dozen Republicans have signed onto the brief against Prop 8 being circulated by gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, which received significant media attention this week. The additional reported signers include former Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, who signed on as co-sponsor of DOMA repeal late last year, and Beth Myers, who was an adviser to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The Times initially reported that former congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who authored the Federal Marriage Amendment while in Congress, was another signer. But Musgrave denied to local Denver media that she signed the brief and the Times later ran a correction saying the signer was in fact B. J. Nikkel, who last year was the only Republican on the Colorado House Judiciary Committee to vote in support of civil unions and worked as district director for Musgrave.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Caitlyn Jenner releases campaign ad and social media reacts- ‘enough already’

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MALIBU – Former Trump presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale released the first campaign advert Tuesday for reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who is running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election race.

The ad drew an immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction for exasperated social media users, many who identify as LGBTQ, decrying the reality TV personality getting into politics.

Jenner, 71, who is Trans herself, had drawn a firestorm of criticism over the past few days after she was caught outside a Malibu coffee spot Saturday and made remarks to a reporter from celebrity tabloid media outlet TMZ, saying that she didn’t think it was fair to have trans women athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

In Tuesday’s advert, Jenner claims to be a “compassionate disrupter” and offers to rebuild and reopen California while in imagery silently alludes that Newsom in conjunction with ‘big government’ has somehow destroyed the state.

“I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world,” she says in the ad, noting her own history in the state. “Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California.”

Reaction to the ad has been brutal. (Sampling below)

Another challenger to Newsom also released a campaign video Tuesday Sacramento’s Fox affiliate KTXL reported.

California businessman John Cox, who has challenged Newsom previously for the governorship launched his Meet the Beast Bus Tour Tuesday morning at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento. Cox brought a live bear with him.

Throughout the news conference, Cox attacked Newsom’s handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, water management and strain on the power grid.

Cox lost the 2018 general election to Newsom by 23 points.

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National transgender military advocacy group elects new president

Bree Fram has been SPARTA member since 2014

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram (Photo courtesy of SPARTA)

SPARTA, the nation’s leading transgender military service advocacy organization, announced Saturday that it had elected Bree Fram as its new board chair and president of the organization.

She has been a member of SPARTA since 2014 and has served on the board of directors since April 2018, most recently as vice president. Fram is also a lieutenant colonel and astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and will soon be recommissioning into the U. S. Space Force.

She is currently a student at the U.S. Naval War College with a follow-on assignment to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as SPARTA president on behalf of so many amazing transgender service member,” said Fram. “We will do our utmost to continue SPARTA’s a rich history of incredible dedication and progress. My heartfelt thanks go to the previous leaders of the organization, including Sue Fulton, Jacob Eleazar, Blake Dremann, and Emma Shinn, and all our members for the incredible achievements of the past eight years. Despite setbacks, their desire to make transgender military service possible is reality again as of yesterday as the new Department of Defense Policy went into effect.”

The immediate past president, Emma Shinn served through a challenging time as President Trump’s ban on transgender service went into effect in April 2019. Her leadership rallied the organization and ensured SPARTA remained dedicated to positive change.

With the January 2021 executive order from President Biden directing the Defense Department to re-implement open transgender service, she and the organization celebrated a major success that will benefit all members of SPARTA and the nation.

“Leading SPARTA for the past two years has been a tremendous honor and privilege,” stated Shinn as her time at the head of SPARTA came to an end. She continued, “I am confident that SPARTA will continue to help our military and nation recognize the value trans service members bring to the mission. I am thankful for the opportunity SPARTA has given me to work with leaders in the DoD, legislators, and partner groups to make open trans service a reality again. I look forward to continuing to work with this amazing group of people under Bree’s leadership. I am excited for the future of our organization and nation.”

In a press release the organization noted that Fram’s remarks highlighted the fact that SPARTA’s mission is not over. “Although transgender service members have already proven they belong on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “We need to ensure they can’t be erased in the future by an administration set on turning back the clock. Beyond ensuring our members can thrive in their careers, my top priority is to ensure the opportunity to serve is enshrined in law.”

Fram spoke on additional goals for SPARTA during her tenure and listed the following:

·  Minimize the administrative burden and career impact of transition in the military

·  Advocate for inclusion of transgender voices in policy making

·  Push for inclusive policies regarding intersex and non-binary military service

“All Americans who are otherwise qualified to serve in the military should have the opportunity to do so,” Fram summarized. “This nation will be better and better defended with inclusive policies that enable the military to draw upon the best talent this nation has to offer.”

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