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Jose Antonio Vargas ‘optimistic’ about immigration reform

National Council for La Raza honored gay former Washington Post reporter on March 5

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Jose Antonio Vargas, National Council of La Raza, gay news, Washington Blade

Jose Antonio Vargas, National Council of La Raza, gay news, Washington Blade

Jose Antonio Vargas accepts an award from the National Council of La Raza in D.C. on March 5. (Photo courtesy of National Council of La Raza)

A gay former Washington Post reporter who came out as an undocumented immigrant nearly two years ago told the Washington Blade earlier this week the LGBT rights movement needs to do more to advocate on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.

“When we talk about immigration, we’re talking about why our country looks the way it does,” Jose Antonio Vargas said, specifically applauding the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for their efforts. “I would think and I would hope and I would pray that the LGBT community should be at the center of that conversation.”

Vargas, who publicly disclosed his immigration status for the first time in an essay he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in June 2011, spoke with the Blade the day after the National Council of La Raza honored him along with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and United We Dream at their annual awards ceremony at the National Building Museum in D.C.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has repeatedly said his decision to come out as gay in 1999 while in high school in Mountain View, Calif., was less difficult than disclosing his immigration status, although his grandfather kicked him out of the house. Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to live with his grandparents outside San Francisco when he was 12, reiterated this point during a Center for American Progress forum on undocumented LGBT immigrants on Friday.

“I ruined the plan,” he said as he discussed his grandfather’s reaction to his decision to come out as gay. “The plan was to come to America, marry a woman and get my papers that way.”

Vargas has remained among the most high profile undocumented immigrants since disclosing his status.

He founded Define American, an organization that advocates on behalf of undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship, in 2011. Vargas last month testified in support of comprehensive immigration reform before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It was definitely very stressful,” Vargas told the Blade as he recalled his testimony. His grandmother who once asked him whether he had to talk about his sexual orientation when he discussed his immigration status sat a few feet behind him during the hearing. “I’m only one person and it’s only one story, but there was an obligation to try to speak to the collective universal experience as much as possible.”

His advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants has not come without controversy.

He faced criticism for lying to his editors at the Post and other publications for which he worked about his status.

“Of course there’s criticism because I lied — I lied to my colleagues, I lied to my employers,” Vargas told the Blade immediately after the Center for American Progress forum during which he spoke. “I have no control over peoples’ judgment. All I ask for I guess is empathy.”

He responded further.

“It was either lie or don’t work,” Vargas said. “I wanted to work. I wanted to pay taxes. I wanted to contribute to my home. So that’s what I had to do.”

A Williams Institute report released during the Center for American Progress forum notes at least 267,000 of the more than 900,000 foreign-born LGBT adults currently living in the United States are undocumented.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said during the same Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Vargas testified the Uniting American Families Act that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration purposes would not increase the risk of fraud among those seeking to enter the country. She wrote to Congress last fall that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would instruct personnel to consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families while weighing the potential deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Napolitano told the Blade late last month the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the White House from placing a hold on marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples in response to requests from New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and others.

Vargas said he remains hopeful about the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform.

“I’m optimistic about it because frankly everybody realizes and acknowledges the urgency,” he said. “We’re talking about a legacy issue for the White House as well and doing what’s right.”

Vargas once again sought to personalize the issue during the Center for American Progress forum as he discussed a man with whom he recently spoke after a panel at Elmhurst College outside Chicago. He said the man told him “he would like to give him papers,” but appeared to have an issue with his sexual orientation.

“I am not going back in the closet for anybody,” Vargas said. “The country will only get gayer, it will only get browner, it will only get more Asian. This is the inevitability. In 21st century American politics diversity is destiny. Ignore it at your peril.”

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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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National

LGBTQ media ‘excited’ about Press Forward national media funds

Coalition of donors pledges $500 million for local news

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Members of News Is Out, a collaborative of six leading LGBTQ media organizations across the country, have expressed support and excitement about the newly announced national Press Forward effort to support local media in the United States. News Is Out members represent more than 200 years of LGBTQ news and culture coverage, with two member papers starting more than 50 years ago.

“This new effort from foundations, including MacArthur Foundation and Knight Foundation, truly will be a game-changer in the local media space,” said Tracy Baim, co-founder of Windy City Times, which is part of a Chicago collaborative that is also advocating for local funding in that city. “Local media are critical to covering issues across the country, from LGBTQ+ and environmental issues to education and criminal justice reform. Philanthropy can provide an important complement to other needed revenues to help local media survive and thrive.”

In the U.S., 7.1 percent of adults, or 18 million people, identify as LGBTQ, according to Gallup. About 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. The media serving this community has been life-saving, resource sharing and an integral part of the movement for LGBTQ equality, News Is Out members said, adding that this media continues to fill a vital information need.

According to the Press Forward announcement, “A coalition of 22 donors announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years.

“Press Forward will enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.”

The Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have been leading the Press Forward effort.

News Is Out is supported in part by a technology grant from the Knight Foundation. The program is called the Queer Media Sustainability Lab

News Is Out is a nearly two-year-old alliance created launched by the Local Media Association, with initial funding from Google News Initiative. The members are Bay Area Reporter, Dallas Voice, Philadelphia Gay News, Washington Blade, Windy City Times and TAGG, a national queer women’s magazine.

News Is Out members have collaborated on editorial, business and fundraising opportunities.

“LGBTQ media have always played a critical role in covering and informing our communities,” said Lynne Brown, publisher of the Washington Blade. “While we have lost dozens of LGBTQ news media outlets in recent years, those of us who have survived are thriving in 2023. We have done so because we have innovated and sought new forms of revenue. The News Is Out Collaborative has assisted with support that propels us forward.”

“LGBTQ+ media is needed now more than ever, as our communities face a backlash across this country,” said Leo Cusimano, publisher of the Dallas Voice. “By working together in News Is Out, we have formed a strong alliance to help our members in technology training, editorial collaborations and much more. New funds into this ecosystem will be vital to strengthening the network of local LGBTQ+ media in this country.”

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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks White House to test questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

Data would be included in annual American Community Survey

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U.S. Census Bureau (Photo credit: GSA)

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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