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Gay donor cuts off Dems over immigration bill

Lewis, Bastian split on donation decisions after gay exclusion

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Jonathan Lewis, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lewis, gay news, Washington Blade

Jonathan Lewis (Photo courtesy of Paul Yandura)

Prominent gay Democratic Party donor Jonathan Lewis is pledging to cut off funds to the party over his disappointment that bi-national same-sex couples were excluded from the immigration reform bill.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade on Tuesday, the Miami-based philanthropist said he’s turning off the tap for Democrats and urging others to do the same over the immigration issue and President Obama’s reluctance to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“During the immigration reform debate Senate Democrats had the opportunity to reverse some of the harm caused by DOMA and they buckled under pressure, essentially taking LGBT families for granted,” Lewis said. “With the president failing to deliver on his promised federal contractor executive order and with Senate Democrats caving to Republican threats, now is the time to stop investing in Democratic cowardice and stand proud by withholding donations until we see our friends’ actions and deeds align with their rhetoric — I will be withholding my donation and asking all of my friends and family members to do the same until such time.”

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld from the committee amendments that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act after Democrats on the committee — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — said they couldn’t vote for the measures out of fear of losing Republican support for the larger bill.

Lewis, who provided money to fund LGBT groups such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL, provided the maximum amount of $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee and the maximum amount of $2,500 to President Obama’s re-election campaign in the last election cycle. His fortune comes from his family, founders of Progressive Insurance.

Neither the White House nor the DNC responded to a request for comment on Lewis’ statement.

Lewis’ statement to the Blade builds off an op-ed piece he published on the same day in The Huffington Post, titled “No More Excuses: Mr. President,” in which he calls on Obama to issue the executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination as a way to make amends for the absence of UAFA in immigration reform.

The op-ed and the statement to the Blade come on the eve of the annual LGBT DNC gala held in New York City. This year, first lady Michelle Obama and gay NBA player Jason Collins are set to headline the event while “Love Song” singer Sara Bareilles will perform as the musical guest. It remains to be seen whether Lewis’ statements will have any impact on the funds that the DNC raises at the event.

But the anger at Senate Democrats isn’t universal among LGBT donors. Bruce Bastian, a gay Utah-based philanthropist known for his support of the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade via email he blames Republicans for the exclusion of UAFA from immigration reform and said his donations to Democrats will continue to flow.

“Like most if not all LGBT Americans, I am very disappointed that Republicans continue to define our relationships as ‘less’ than straight couples and have derailed the Uniting American Families amendment,” Bastian said. “But this is not the time to pull back in support of any kind. We are moving in the right direction. Those who do not want us to have full equality will continue to try to stop our momentum. I will continue to fight them with my time, effort and money.”

Still, one LGBT advocacy group that worked to include UAFA is saying Lewis’ sentiment is shared by others who’ve supported the Democratic Party.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he’s heard from Democratic donors that they’re “rethinking the political contributions and priorities” following the exclusion of the amendment for gay couples from immigration reform, although he wasn’t immediately able to provide names.

“I can assure you that in private conversations, significant Democratic donors have had with our executive director and with other people working on this said they were very disappointed in what happened last week, and they’re looking at where they invest their donations moving forward,” Ralls said.

Ralls further pointed to the comments on Schumer’s Facebook page expressing anger over his refusal to back UAFA as part of immigration reform — along with warnings not to attend New York City Pride — as evidence this anger is felt not just by donors, but the LGBT community at large.

“There is palpable anger among the LGBT community in social media, in conversations that we’ve had with supporters,” Ralls said. “I do think there will be a political price for senators to pay.”

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Congress

House GOP sinks their own spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Vote was 216-212

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

A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

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Congress

Senate confirms federal judge who fought for marriage equality as a lawyer

Three Republicans voted for Rita Lin’s nomination

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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Politics

Wexton, ardent LGBTQ ally, will not seek re-election

Congresswoman diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy

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U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) (Photo courtesy of Danica Roem)

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced on Monday she will not seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that the congresswoman described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”

“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”

A vice-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus who was formerly a co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force, Wexton has been a staunch ally of the LGBTQ community since her first election to Congress in 2018 and during previous five-year tenure in the Virginia State Senate.

“.@RepWexton is a strong ally to LGBTQI+ people,” the Caucus posted on X. “We extend our support to her & her family during this time and thank her for championing LGBTQI+ equality.”

“On my lowest days, she’s quite literally been a shoulder to cry on, and on my best days, she was the second person I told about my engagement last year,” Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) told the Washington Blade on Monday.

The congresswoman is “a role model, mentor and genuine public servant whose friendship and advocacy means the world to me,” said Roem, who is the first openly trans representative to serve in any state legislature and will be the first in Virginia’s State Senate if she is elected to the newly drawn 30th district seat next year.

“I spent so many years closeted in part because of the fear and loathing perpetuated by elected officials toward LGBTQ people in Northern Virginia broadly and greater Prince William [County] specifically that made for a hostile, unwelcoming environment,” she said.

“To go from that to having such outspoken, fearless representation from my member of Congress in Rep. Jennifer Wexton hasn’t so much been a breath of fresh air as much as a completely new biosphere,” Roem said.

She added, “I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s done and the example of inclusivity she’s set for her constituents.”

Roem pointed the Blade to an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Jennifer Wexton became the ‘patron saint of the transgender community,’” which details the ways in which LGBTQ rights “with an emphasis on the transgender community” had become Wexton’s “signature issue” just “six months into her first term.”

In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office.

Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, also noted Wexton’s advocacy for the community in a post Monday on X: “Thank you @RepWexton for being a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the General Assembly and in Congress.”

“You’ve made our commonwealth a better place,” the group wrote, adding, “we’re sending our love and strength to you, your family and your entire team.”

“In 2018, this state senator I called my legislative role model and looked up to so much as a first-year delegate, came over for dinner crepes to share her wisdom, humor and guidance,” Roem said on X. “Five years later, Rep. @JenniferWexton is still a mentor, friend and champion for NOVA.”

The Washington Post reported Wexton’s planned departure means her seat representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, as it was held by Republicans for 40 years prior to the congresswoman’s defeat of GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock in 2018.

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