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LGBT advocates hope to amend immigration bill

‘Gang of Eight’ plan lacks provision for bi-national gay couples

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Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA

Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The immigration reform proposal advanced by the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate is now public and lacks protections for bi-national same-sex couples, but plans are already underway to include the Uniting American Families Act at a later point during the legislative process.

On Tuesday, members of the bipartisan group working on comprehensive immigration reform unveiled a 19-page outline of the legislation that lays out components of the bill, including enhanced border security and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The outline doesn’t mention the Uniting American Families Act, legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. LGBT rights advocates, speaking to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said staffers for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the “Gang of Eight,” informed them earlier this week the provision wouldn’t be included, which is consistent with earlier reporting from the Washington Blade.

Attention is now focused on Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of UAFA, to see whether he’ll introduce the legislation when the committee reviews the “Gang of Eight” bill over the course of a process that’s expected to last weeks.

A Senate aide said Leahy still needs to review the final “Gang of Eight” legislation before announcing plans, but LGBT rights advocates say they’ve received assurances he’ll introduce UAFA as a committee amendment. Moreover, during a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform, Leahy expressed a commitment to including UAFA as part of comprehensive reform.

The amendment would almost assuredly pass if introduced in committee. The only two Democrats who aren’t co-sponsors on the committee are Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — and they’re strong LGBT advocates in the Senate.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said his organization has received assurances that UAFA will be amended in committee and all 10 Democratic members will vote in favor of it.

“They expect an amendment to be offered and they expect all their Democratic colleagues to vote in favor of that amendment,” Ralls said.

According to Ralls, Durbin had a phone call with constituents in Illinois earlier this week to talk about the immigration reform bill, and while the senator noted UAFA won’t be in the base bill, he gave assurances he and Schumer were expecting the opportunity to vote on the amendment in committee.

But the conservative makeup of the Republican members of the committee makes it unlikely UAFA will find bipartisan support. Members include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who expressed disapproval over including UAFA as part of the bill. The only GOP co-sponsor of UAFA is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and she’s not a member of the committee.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said on the day the immigration bill is offered his organization will issue an action alert to members and supporters who live in states represented by a Judiciary Committee member asking them to call their senators to urge them to vote for UAFA.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans can find a way to disrupt the amendment process in committee so that UAFA would ultimately not be included.

Ralls said Immigration Equality is speaking to senators from both sides of the aisle to encourage both Democrats and Republicans to vote for the bill and will bring in couples from across the country next week to Capitol Hill to make the case.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Ralls said. “There will certainly be loud and vocal opposition from some on the committee. We expect that. We’re not taking the votes for granted until the votes happen, but I can tell you based on our conversations with senators on the committee — and even more importantly, the conversations that senators have had with their constituents about this issue — we’re feeling pretty good that we have the votes to be added in committee.”

Even if the Senate ultimately passes a comprehensive bill that includes UAFA, whether the Republican-controlled House follows suit remains to be seen. According to The Huffington Post, the House may not even pass a comprehensive bill because House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering breaking up the legislation and passing it in several installments.

LGBT rights advocates are pleased with other parts of the “Gang of Eight” bill. Ralls noted the outline includes an expedited pathway to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants who would be eligible under the DREAM Act, many of whom identify as LGBT, and said he believes the bill will include a repeal of the one-year filing deadline for asylum speakers.

“That’s really critical for a lot of our clients,” Ralls said. “LGBT asylum seekers often do not know when they arrive in the U.S. that they have only one year to pursue asylum, and our legal team hears from many asylum seekers every year. You have really strong cases except they don’t meet they’re filing deadline, and that makes their case really tough.”

 

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Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Biden-Harris campaign debuts ads targeting LGBTQ voters

Ads to begin running Tuesday

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Pride month ad (Photo courtesy of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign)

The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month ahead of November’s election.

“These ads will be featured across national and battleground LGBTQ+ media outlets, and will run throughout the month,” the campaign explained in a press release.

The aim is to “uplift” Biden’s record as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history” while also highlighting “Donald Trump’s history of attacking their rights and his plans to go further.”

One ad that was previewed exclusively by the Washington Blade reads, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are fighting for the LGBTQ community!” with a photo of the president and vice president.

Another, formatted for social media, features a photo of Pride flags atop a quote from the “PBS NewsHour”: “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been outlining what he plans to do if elected in November. That includes rolling back the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people. It’s part of a wider playbook to undo many civil rights advances for minority groups.”

“This Pride is an important time to remember the progress we’ve made for our community under President Biden, and the stakes of this election for LGBTQ+ Americans as Trump proudly runs to strip us of our rights,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson Kevin Munoz, who is gay.

“From threatening IVF treatments to threatening LGBTQ+ marriages, Trump’s Project 2025 agenda would rip away our rights, and sow needless hate and division for Trump’s political gain,” he said. “LGBTQ+ Americans deserve to hear from us about these stakes, and this buy shows we will continue to show up and make our case to them in this election.”

The ad blitz on Tuesday comes after the campaign’s announcement of a paid media and organizing push for Pride month, which includes sizable investments in courting LGBTQ voters in battleground states.

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Politics

Out former staffers reflect on working for Vice President Kamala Harris

Tim Silard and Ike Irby spoke to the Blade before the VP’s interview

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Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo credit: The White House/Lawrence Jackson)

The Washington Blade spoke last week with two gay men who have worked for vice president Kamala Harris and provided insight into her work advancing LGBTQ+ rights and her lifelong close ties to the queer community.

These conversations preceded the exclusive interview with Harris published on the Blade Tuesday.

Tim Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, which provides grants to promote racial and economic justice in California, worked for Harris when she served as the District Attorney of San Francisco.

Ike Irby, a scientist who now leads his eponymously named communications firm, served as special assistant to the president and deputy domestic policy advisor and chief climate advisor to the vice president until January 2024, having previously worked in Harris’s U.S. Senate office.

Harris has sincere, deep ties to the LGBTQ community

“She’s had close working relationships with and advisors from the [LGBTQ] community, and in particular, one of her main campaign people the first time she ran [for district attorney] was Jim Rivaldo, who was a legend in San Francisco and part of Harvey Milk’s inner circle,” Silard said.

Irby, and Harris herself, also told the Blade about her work with Rivaldo, who through his role electing Milk, California’s first openly gay public servant, helped show the country it was possible for queer people to hold elected office.

“From the get go, she both hired — and, I think, maybe just as significantly, promoted into the top ranks of the office — a number of LGBTQ people,” Silard said. Harris “was intentional about not only hiring more people of color into the office, but also women and LGBTQ people,” he noted.

When he joined her Senate office, Irby remembers, “it was actually such a shock to like, finally, be in a work environment where it’s not just like there was another queer person, it was like there was a whole family, a brigade of queer people in this office.”

“Law enforcement as an institution tends to be dominated by straight white men,” Silard said. So, “promoting LGBTQ people into [positions] as managers of units and into the top executive staff, I think is a very important element to culture change within an office and to ensuring that the voices of the community are heard within the office.”

“Kamala, just by the virtue of who she is and what she believes, and her deep relationships across many communities, brought a very different perspective,” he explained. “And that was true across so many things, communities of color, women, LGBTQ folks — I think it was just natural for her, and, you know, she became a prosecutor to represent the underdog, right, to represent people who are victimized.”

In her personal life, too, Silard said, the vice president has “always had deep relationships and close friendships” with LGBTQ+ people who “were really part of her immediate, extended family, coming to Thanksgiving dinner and whatnot.”

“In the time period where the vice president was was growing up and learning the foundation of who she was going to be, both as a child in the Bay Area, but then also right after she graduated undergrad and moved to law school over there and then became a D.A., both those time periods were such a moment of the queer liberation movement,” Irby said.

This time was also a period in which LGBTQ rights intersected with “women’s rights and Black equality,” he noted, “all of these fights, together, and the way the vice president really addresses and thinks about these issues is that intersectionality.”

“Both because of her relationships, and going back to hiring and promoting a lot of LGBTQ people, all of the things that she did and that we did, that I mentioned, and there were others, all came from and were developed in direct conversation and coordination with leaders from our community,” Silard said.

Taking action, and understanding problems as intersectional

In her first term as district attorney, which was also her first elected position, Harris was sure to appoint LGBTQ+ staff to the Victim Services Division, Silard said.

“Our office provided victim services whether there was an actual prosecution or not,” he said. “If there was a police report, then the victim advocates could do a lot of practical things, like accessing victim support funds and funds for therapy, changing your locks, other kinds of practical ways to keep you safe, as well as emotional support.”

Silard added, “That was the first in California — I don’t know about, possibly, the nation — but where there was a whole team of victim advocates who were from our community.”

As a result, he said, more LGBTQ people came forward to report crimes. Having “vertical prosecution units” with “lawyers and paralegals and others who not only are from the community, but they are experts, they have lower caseloads, they pay more attention,” he said, tends to yield “more successful prosecutions, and you can define that in a whole number of different ways.”

Irby and Silard both highlighted Harris’s work combatting use of the “gay panic defense” and “trans panic defense,” arguments in the courtroom that endeavor to mitigate acts of violence against LGBTQ+ victims.

“She brought a focus to LGBTQ hate crimes, and in particular, transphobic crimes,” said Silard, who noted, “it hadn’t been that long since [the murder of] Matthew Shepard and then, I think, more recently for us in the Bay Area, Gwen Araujo’s murder.”

“We did a whole conference, for law enforcement, on the trans and gay panic defenses,” he said, recalling, “we had these sheriffs from Texas and Florida and people in cowboy hats; we had people from all over the country come from prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement,” many of whom had never met a trans person and now were listening to full panels of trans speakers.

“It really was impactful for those law enforcement people to be hearing directly from trans people about what their lives are like, the oppression and violence that they and people in their community were suffering all the time,” Silard said.

Irby pointed to the fact that Harris “gathered other district attorneys from around the country to do a training so that she could share that information, so that it wasn’t just her impacting [the issue] there in San Francisco.”

Silard said the notion that she “somehow she did these things because she thought it would get her more votes” is ridiculous, as if bringing in law enforcement officials from Florida to work on this issue could have carried some electoral advantage for her.

“It’s classic Kamala to say, ‘okay, what are we going to do about it?'” when confronted with a problem, he said. So, with respect to the gay and trans panic defenses, she set about figuring out ‘”how do we educate people in law enforcement to confront it?’ and ‘how can we craft a law and do it in such a way that still protects the rights of defendants?'”

Irby remembered how Harris, as a new senator, saw and took the chance to help broaden access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication regimen that substantially lessens the chances of transmitting HIV through sex.

“There’s a lot of people who have been senators for a very long time, and there are not a lot of open policy lanes for a new person to come in and try to make sure that they are making their mark on specific issues,” he said. “But on LGBTQ issues in particular, the Vice President found that opportunity by her bill to help people access PrEP.”

Harris, he recalled, said, “‘hey, this is important. We need to de-stigmatize this. This is about healthcare for LGBTQ people. This is about their ability to to be to be safe, to be healthy and live their fullest lives.'”

“As a former prosecutor, she understands the power of the courts, certainly,” Irby told the Blade. Going back to her time as a prosecutor and later as California’s Attorney General, he noted, Harris “refused to uphold Prop 8 in the courts and saw the power of that as making sure that she was fighting for that expansion and not the restriction” of rights through the judiciary, whose role she has always understood as a means of strengthening and broadening freedoms and protections.

“I am so proud of her, and I was so proud to be part of so many things that she did early on and proud of what she’s continuing to do,” Silard said.

“It’s one thing for a politician to talk about an issue, to orate about it very nicely,” Irby said. “It’s another thing to show up in those spaces; it’s another thing to surround yourself and demonstrate that you have credibility,” as she has done and continues to do.

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Congress

Equality Caucus, White House condemn anti-LGBTQ riders in spending bill

Biden has promised a veto

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U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Congressional Equality Caucus on Wednesday condemned House Republicans’ passage of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (“MilCon”) Appropriations Act, 2025, with anti-LGBTQ riders attached.

“Once again, Republicans are attacking the transgender and broader LGBTQI+ community with riders that both harm our LGBTQI+ veterans and undermine our military readiness by discouraging LGBTQI+ people from enlisting,” said caucus chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“We strongly condemn this bill and its cruel attacks that target those who have served our nation in uniform,” the congressman said. “Our members remain committed to defending the LGBTQI+ community throughout the Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations process and beyond.”

The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden would veto the House version of the MilCon bill, with opposition stemming in part from the anti-LGBTQ riders along with anti-abortion riders, which would reverse the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy of covering abortions in cases of rape or incest. These provisions will almost certainly not be included in the Senate version of the appropriations package.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a statement outlining the Biden-Harris administration’s position on the bill, writing: “H.R. 8580 includes numerous, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences, including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two of the four anti-LGBTQ riders would prohibit the use of appropriated funds for “surgical procedures or hormone therapies for the purposes of gender affirming care” and the implementation, administration, application, or enforcement of three executive orders by Biden containing LGBTQ-inclusive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives:

A third would prohibit the flying of Pride flags over VA facilities and national cemeteries while a fourth would create a “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ people under the pretext of religious liberty.

For instance, the caucus writes, “it prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating a federal contract or grant with an organization that discriminates against LGBTQI+ people if the organization justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

Likewise, the rider “prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating the employment of an employee who discriminates against LGBQI+ people if the employee justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

This means a benefits counselor could, without being penalized, refuse to process applications and changes for a veteran’s same-sex spouse, the caucus notes.

On X, the caucus pledged to defeat the anti-LGBTQ riders, noting “we were able to ensure these harmful riders were not included in last year’s final MilCon-VA bill.”

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