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Eyes on Schumer in push for gay-inclusive immigration bill

N.Y. senator won’t commit support; Hatch urges Leahy to withhold amendments

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Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Chuck Schumer‘s vote on gay-inclusion in immigration reform is in question. (D-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has become the new focus for LGBT rights supporters seeking gay-inclusive immigration reform in the wake of comments he made suggesting he may not support amendments to include bi-national same-sex couples in the bill.

The senior senator from New York is seen as the only uncertain vote among the 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for two amendments that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said late Thursday that “it has become crystal clear” that the fate of these amendments — proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — now “rests entirely” with Schumer because his vote is needed to have majority support in committee.

“Sen. Schumer will determine if our families have the 10th vote they need,” Ralls said. “If he fails to offer that vote to Senator Leahy, and the chairman in turn cannot offer the amendment, it will be his fault, and his fault alone, that LGBT families are left behind.”

Earlier on Thursday, Schumer wouldn’t commit to supporting gay inclusion in immigration reform when speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill — even though he’s a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act — on the basis that he thought their inclusion would derail the larger legislation. His office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on his position on the Leahy amendments.

According to Buzzfeed, Schumer said, “I’m not going get into speculatives. I would very much like to see it in the bill. But we have to have a bill that has support to get [the language] passed. That’s the conundrum.”

A member of the “Gang of Eight” that produced the base immigration bill, Schumer appears to be wavering amid threats from Republican members of the gang — including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who threatened to kill reform if the amendments are included.

Ralls noted that Schumer voted in 1996 for the Defense of Marriage Act, and said a vote in favor of the amendments would make up for that anti-gay action.

“In 1996, Senator Schumer cast a vote in favor of DOMA,” Ralls said. “Now, he has the option of cleaning up the disastrous mess he helped make. He has so far chosen, instead, to deliver our opposition’s talking points for them.”

Leahy filed two amendments earlier this week that would incorporate same-sex couples as part of immigration reform. One is along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the country, while the other would be restricted to bi-national same-sex couples who are married. The two amendments are among the more than 300 that are on the table.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, was more confident Schumer would cast a vote in favor of gay-inclusion if the amendments were brought to a vote.

“If Chairman Leahy offers either amendment he filed, and given Sen. Schumer’s long record of supporting LGBT equality, we would expect the senator to support either of them,” Sainz said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans in the committee seem united in suggesting that including the amendments as part of comprehensive immigration reform would be unacceptable.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday during a brief interview with the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill their inclusion “would kill the bill.”

“You’ve got to have a bipartisan, heavy majority in the Senate to be able to get this bill, and that would make it very difficult,” Hatch said.

Asked whether he’d vote “no” on the amendments, Hatch replied he hopes Leahy doesn’t bring up the amendments.

“If we can change the bill effectively, so that it will work, I would like the bill to go through,” Hatch said. “I don’t want to stop it. I have amendments that would stop the bill, too, but I’m not going to bring them up.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, dismissed Hatch’s argument that gay-inclusion would kill immigration reform, pointing to the successful passage of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization with LGBT provisions.

“The notion that something as simple as allowing married same-sex couples to sponsor their partner would kill the bill is preposterous,” Angelo said.  “LGBT provisions didn’t stop VAWA from passing in the Senate — and the House — and it won’t kill the CIR bill, either.”

The committee began consideration of amendments to the immigration reform on Thursday. Consideration of additional amendments is set to continue Tuesday, Thursday, May 20 and every day that follows until there’s a final vote on the bill.

Besides Schumer, Immigration Equality says the rest of the Democrats on the panel are “yes” votes. Durbin, another Democrat on the committee and member of “Gang of Eight,” isn’t in the same boat as Schumer because the Illinois senator has articulated support for the amendments. Max Gleischman, a Durbin spokesperson, confirmed for the Blade that his boss supports the measures.

During an interview with CNN on Sunday, Durbin commented on the prospects of including bi-national gay couples as part of immigration reform.

“I happen to believe that it’s consistent with the position we should have marriage equality, and therefore, recognize marriages between people from the same gender,” Durbin said. “Now, this is a hot issue. It’s a contentious issue. If we can find a way through this to protect that basic right of an individual and still pass immigration reform, that’s what I want to achieve.”

For a time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the Democrats on the committee, was seen as questionable because she expressed concerns over granting affidavits to same-sex couples as written under UAFA. Her office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the amendments, but Ralls maintained his organization has received commitments that she’d vote for the Leahy amendment restricted to married bi-national same-sex couples.

Leahy also continues to promote the idea that protections for gay couples should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform as more states continue to legalize same-sex marriage. He articulated his views in an interview with Politico published on Thursday.

“On this particular issue, you know, at some point we’re going to have to face it, and we have to decide when is the best time to face it,” Leahy said. “You can’t go into a state like mine or — it will be now 11 or 12 states and the District of Columbia — where same-sex marriage is legal, and say to this couple, ‘OK, we can help you with the immigration matter.’ Turn to another couple equally legally married and say, ‘Oh, we have to discriminate against you.’”

At the same time, debate is ensuing within the religious community about support for immigration reform if it includes language for bi-national couples.

According to the Associated Press, leaders from conservative religious groups who previously expressed support for immigration said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday they would withdraw support if language for gay couples is included. Among the groups on the call were the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals

“We’re extremely hopeful that this bill will remain an immigration bill and not get tangled up with the issue of gay rights,” Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, was quoted as saying. “But if it did, if it did, the Southern Baptist Convention would not be able to support the bill.”

But a letter dated May, 6 2013 to Leahy from a coalition of other religious groups calls for the inclusion of gay couples in immigration reform. Among the 15 signers are leaders from the Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Church.

“More than 2,500 faith leaders from all fifty states, including 57 bishops of the Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran churches are part of the Faith Coalition for the Uniting American Families Act,” the letter states. “No reform of that system can truly be called comprehensive unless it includes all immigrant families, including the families of same-sex spouses and partners.”

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Exclusive: Biden briefed on transgender deaths breaking record in 2021

At least 46 people killed in grim milestone

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President Biden was briefed on Nov. 18 on anti-transgender violence the year, a White House official said.

President Biden, in a year when the killings of transgender people are at the highest number in recorded history, has been briefed on the grim milestone of anti-transgender violence, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

A White House official confirmed via email to the Blade on Monday that Biden was briefed Thursday, Nov. 18 on the number of transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021, which was the same week as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

In response to a follow-up inquiry from the Blade on which principals were in attendance at the briefing, the White House official had nothing to share.

At least 46 transgender and non-binary people have been killed, which is the highest number since efforts to record those deaths began. The violence has consistently had a disproportionate impact on transgender women of color.

The Blade first posed the question about whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Nov. 12. At the time, Psaki said she was unsure whether Biden was briefed, but said deaths were “terrible, heartbreaking” to hear.

Biden’s briefing on the anti-transgender violence is consistent with the statement he issued on Saturday recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which decried the deaths of the 46 transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021.

“Each of these lives was precious,” Biden said in the statement. “Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people — disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”

Biden, who has called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time,” is credited with being a transgender advocate in the White House, having issued policies such as a rollback of former President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible under the law.

The Biden administration announced in June an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive as possible, which the White House says is ongoing.

The year 2021 reached a new record for anti-transgender murders upon the death of Marquiisha “Quii” Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman who was shot and killed in her home in Greenville, S.C.

Biden and other transgender advocates marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance this year with the solemn acknowledgment of the 46 transgender and non-binary people lost in 2021.

Biden as a 2020 presidential candidate highlighted ongoing anti-transgender violence, including its disproportionate impact on transgender people of color. In his comprehensive LGBTQ platform, Biden repeatedly pledged he’d take steps to protect LGBTQ people from violence.

In fact, Biden predicted the killing of transgender people would end if former President Trump were voted out of office, telling attendees at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2019: “The fastest way to end it is to end the Trump administration.”

Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison and LGBTQ Caucus chair Earl Fowlkes issued a joint statement, saying each of the lives lost “represents a family broken, a friend forever changed, or a community in mourning.”

“Today, we mourn the lives lost due to senseless violence,” Harrison and Fowlkes said. “Tomorrow, we reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to enacting the change necessary to create a future where no one is forced to hide or live in fear.”

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Biden recognizes anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance

2021 deadliest year on record for transgender people

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President Biden recognized the deaths of 46 people on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

President Biden issued on Saturday a statement recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, noting an estimated 46 transgender and non-binary were recorded as killed in 2021 in a horrific milestone of the most violent year on record for the transgender community.

“This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country — and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence,” Biden said. “Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in response to a question from the Washington Blade last week on whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence reaching a new record in 2021, called the grim milestone “heartbreaking to hear,” but said she was unsure if Biden was briefed on the issue.

The Biden statement implies he was briefed on the deaths because it referenced 2021 being the deadliest year on record with 46 deaths, although the White House hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he was briefed on the violence.

Biden moved early on during his administration to act on transgender rights, reversing President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible.

The Biden administration has announced an ongoing created an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive, which is the White House says is still ongoing.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

November 20, 2021
 Statement by President Biden on Transgender Day of Remembrance
 This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country—and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence. Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls—who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.
 
In spite of our progress strengthening civil rights for LGBTQI+ Americans, too many transgender people still live in fear and face systemic barriers to freedom and equality. To ensure that our government protects the civil rights of transgender Americans, I charged my team with coordinating across the federal government to address the epidemic of violence and advance equality for transgender people. I continue to call on state leaders and lawmakers to combat the disturbing proliferation of discriminatory state legislation targeting transgender people, especially transgender children. As I have said before, these bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation, they are un-American, and they endanger the safety and well-being of our children. I also continue to urge the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act so that all people are able to live free from fear and discrimination.
 
Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But no person should have to be brave just to live in safety and dignity. Today, we remember. Tomorrow—and every day—we must continue to act.
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House resolution introduced to recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance

2021 deadliest year on record with 47 recorded deaths

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Reps. Marie Newman (left), Pramila Jayapal (center) and Jennifer Wexton have introduced a resolution to recognize the Transgender Day of Remembrance Photos of Newman and Jayapal public domain; Washington Blade photo of Wexton by Michael Key).

On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a trio of House Democrats have introduced during a year with the highest recorded deaths of transgender and non-binary people a resolution that would officially recognize the annual occasion.

The measure was introduced by Reps. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who are known as vocal transgender advocates and members of the Transgender Equality Task Force, as part of group of 62 members of the U.S. House, according to a statement from the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. The resolution would commemorate Nov. 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Newman, who’s been open about having a young transgender daughter, said in a statement violence against transgender Americans, particularly Black and Brown transgender women, has become a “national epidemic.”

“With this resolution, we are not only recognizing the far too many souls lost to violence this year but also honoring their memory with a commitment to fight against anti-trans hate, rhetoric and violence,” Newman said. “Transgender Americans face hateful and disgusting attacks — verbal and physical — every single day just for simply existing in the world, and each of us has a fundamental obligation to speak out against it.”

The Transgender Day of Remembrance comes with 2021 having the highest number of recorded killings of transgender and non-binary people in a single year. A total of 47 deaths have been recorded, according to the LGBTQ Equality Caucus.

Wexton said in a statement the ongoing deaths of transgender people are “cannot be overlooked or ignored,” calling 2021 the deadliest year on record.

“Our trans friends and neighbors face greater threats of violence, bullying, and discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, and they deserve justice and equality,” Wexton said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade last week on whether President Biden was briefed on 2021 being the deadliest year on record for transgender people, said the grim milestone is “terrible and heartbreaking” although she said she was unsure on whether Biden was briefed.

The White House hasn’t responded with any update on whether or not Biden has been briefed as of the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Jayapal, who in addition to being a transgender advocate has been the face of the $1.75 trillions Build Back Better plan approved recently in the House, said in a statement the names of each of the transgender dead should be spoken aloud, the action should follow.

“Our resolution acknowledges this truth as we continue our dedicated work to strengthen hate crime laws, pass the Equality Act through the Senate, and ensure that every transgender person is able to live freely as themselves,” Jayapal said.

An LGBTQ Equality Caucus spokesperson didn’t respond Friday to the Blade’s request to comment on whether House leadership gave the sponsors of the legislation any indication the resolution would obtain a floor vote.

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