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DNC treasurer defends Michelle Obama’s LGBT speech

First lady fails to mention immigration, workplace bias at fundraiser

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Andrew Tobias, DNC, Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Committee, gay news, Washington Blade
Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back in email over ENDA, immigration criticism (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back against ENDA, immigration criticism. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee is defending first lady Michelle Obama for failing to address LGBT workplace discrimination and the exclusion of bi-national gay couples from immigration reform during a fundraising speech she gave Wednesday in New York.

Andrew Tobias, who’s gay, responded to concerns expressed in an off-the-record listserv for major LGBT donors in an email obtained by the Washington Blade on Thursday.

In the email, Tobias praised Obama for her speech, which did not mention her husband’s failure to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. She also didn’t directly address the exclusion of bi-national same-sex couples from the immigration reform bill.

“My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH),” Tobias wrote to the listserv. “You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line).”

Tobias attempts to allay concerns about Senate Democrats rejecting the Uniting American Families Act by saying the Supreme Court will likely address the issue soon by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act — thanks in part to “two Justices McCain would never have appointed” — and by estimating that 500,000 LGBT people are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants who would obtain a pathway to citizenship if reform were passed. (The Williams Institute estimates a smaller number, 267,000, are LGBT.)

“Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to,” Tobias wrote. “But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way.”

Tobias enumerates the many high-profile LGBT people who attended the event — including Edith Windsor, the New York widow who is the plaintiff in the DOMA case, and Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo — before concluding by saying people are right to push for more rights, but the other major national party wouldn’t have held such an event.

“The RNC has never had a dinner like this,” Tobias writes. “We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.”

Tobias wrote the email days after one Democratic donor, Miami-based philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, said he is withholding donations to Democrats and asking others to do the same over the immigration issue and the executive order.

The first lady spoke at the annual LGBT gala for the Democratic National Committee, which she headlined along with gay NBA player Jason Collins. A DNC official said tickets were between $1,250 and $32,400 and approximately 350 people attended.

The DNC wouldn’t reveal the total amount raised at the event. It’s unclear whether Lewis’ email had any impact on the money raised.

After being introduced by Collins, Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, according to a pool report from the event, and touted the president’s achievements on LGBT issues and other matters.

“Because of you, we are taking on climate change, gun violence, comprehensive immigration reform,” the first lady said. “And because of you, yes, we have a president who stands up for our most fundamental rights, from ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to strengthening hate crimes to supporting our right to marry the person we love. Because of you.”

Obama urged the attendees to max out the donations they can offer the Democratic Party over the course of an election cycle. For the DNC, that’s $32,400 in each of the two years of this cycle, so $64,800 if someone maxes out both years.

“We need you to keep on writing those checks — and if you haven’t maxed out, you know, what’s my motto?” the first lady said. “Max out. Let’s say it together. Max out. And if you’ve maxed out, get your friends to max out. …  Sounds kind of baller, too — maxing out. Everyone here should be maxed out.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why LGBT workplace discrimination and immigration were absent form the first lady’s speech.

LGBT groups working on these issues said they’d welcome the first lady’s help by the addition of her voice to efforts to protect bi-national couples and institute LGBT workplace discrimination protections.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Michelle Obama’s voice would be a boon to efforts to pass ENDA over the course of this year and the campaign to institute an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“I think the first lady’s a rock star, and she’s admired by many, many Americans,” Almeida said. “I admire her a great deal. In part, I admire her because she’s an incredibly effective advocate for many issues, and important issues, that she’s championed over the past years. It would be wonderful if the first lady helped our ENDA advocacy and made the case this year as we’re moving toward the full Senate vote that LGBT Americans should be able to build a career without fear of getting fired just because of who they are, or who they love.”

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, redirected attention to another speech from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in which he called for UAFA-inclusive immigration reform.

“I wasn’t in the room with the first lady last night,” Ralls said. “But I can tell you that, as she was speaking, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was addressing Immigration Equality’s supporters — just a few blocks away — at our New York gala. Mayor Bloomberg called on Congress to include LGBT families in immigration reform, putting one of the most important advocates for reform solidly on record in support of our families.”

The full email from Tobias follows:

My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH).

You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line). One key player I spoke with praised Jeffrey Marburg’s Washington Post op-ed (posted here a few days ago) as exactly the right way to do it: respectful, well-reasoned, powerful.

But while I have you, a few other notes from the glass half-full side of the ledger:

1. It was a wonderful dinner, celebrating the progress we HAVE made since the last time, as a senator’s wife, the First Lady spoke at our dinner.  Here was the video we showed.  It begins with an excerpt from her remarks five years ago.

2. As frustrating as the UAFA situation is – and deeply wrong that anyone has to choose between love and country – I’m pretty sure that in part because of the two Justices McCain would never have appointed, DOMA will fall in a few weeks and a great many couples will no longer have to make such a choice.  We should keep pushing until we have an even better resolution, but I’m hopeful it will truly change the lives of most who’ve had to deal with this so long.

2a. Let’s not lose sight of our 500,000 undocumented LGBT brothers and sisters who, if the immigration bill does get signed into law, will have their lives transformed with legal status and a pathway to citizenship. (I’m assuming that 4% or 5% of the 11 million are LGBT.) They can’t afford to come to dinners like the one we had last night, but they count too.

Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to.  But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way. (To borrow Barney Frank’s line from a different context: “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.”) This isn’t to say I’m not disappointed. But given the two points above, and what will be our continued efforts to get where we all want to end up, there’s reason, I think, to be less angry than some are.  And room for many of us, equally committed to equality, to be more supportive.

3. There were many highlights last night — Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo was there!  Inaugural poet Richard Blanco was there!  P-FAW’s Michael Keegan, GLSEN’s Eliza Byard, Lambda’s Kevin Cathcart, and GMHC’sMarjorie Hill were there! A SINNER IN MECCA’s gay Muslim documentarianParvez Sharma was there!  Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson and the ACLU’s James Esseksand the Victry Fnd’s Chuck Wolfe were there! Media Matters founder David Brockand Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor and All Out co-founder Andre Banks and SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis were there! The first transgender member of the DNC’s executive committee, Babs Siperstein, was there!  Robbie Kaplan, who argued Edie Windsor’s case before the Supreme Court, was there! Edie Windsor HERSELF was there! – along with terrific elected officials, local and national, gay and straight, and Ambassador James Hormel . . .

. . . but the unexpected highlight of the evening (everyone knew Bravo’s Andy Cohen would do a great job emceeing and that NBA center Jason Collins would give the First Lady a great into and that the First Lady herself would leave the assembled on their feet cheering) was a 22-year-old transgender woman who did a lovely job of introducing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (whose congressional district, she notes, which include South Beach, she now refers to as “straight friendly”) and then turned to where DWS was supposed to enter from backstage to give her remarks . . . and waited a little more . . . nervous, supportive laughter riding from the crowd . . . and then — far from freezing in the headlights — just won us over completely by telling us her story, taking questions . . . it was completely charming, and the transgender CEO of a multi-billion-dollar biotech firm seated next to me with her wife was just loving every minute of it, as were 280 others.  Young Evie Renee Arroyo was a star.

Anyway, and as always:  everyone is right to push, and also to support, because BOTH are in our self-interest to do.  The RNC has never had a dinner like this.  We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.

Thanks!

Andy

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White House mum on whether Biden raised LGBTQ rights with Putin

Geneva summit took place amid ongoing Chechnya crackdown

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President Biden on June 16, 2021, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

The White House on Wednesday did not say whether President Biden raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else; it’s for the American people: fighting COVID-19; rebuilding our economy; reestablishing our relationships around the world with our allies and friends; and protecting our people,” Biden told reporters during a press conference that took place after the summit, which took place in Geneva, ended. “That’s my responsibility as president. 
 
“I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view,” added Biden. “That’s just part of the DNA of our country.” 

Biden said he told Putin that “human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him.” 

“It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights; it’s about who we are,” said Biden. “How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?”

Biden also told reporters the U.S. will continue to “raise our concerns about cases like Alexey Navalny,” a Russian opposition leader who remains in jail.

Navalny last August spent weeks in a coma after he was poisoned with Novichok in the Siberian city of Tomsk. Navalny underwent treatment in Germany before he returned to Russia in January.   

“I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights because that’s what we are, that’s who we are,” Biden told the reporters. “The idea is: ‘We hold these truths self-evident that all men and women … ‘ We haven’t lived up to it completely, but we’ve always widened the arc of commitment and included more and more people.”

Putin in 2013 sparked global outrage when he signed a law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. Putin in April signed a series of constitutional amendments that, among other things, formally defines marriage as between a man and a woman in Russia.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, and the Kremlin continue to downplay the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya.

The State Department in February expressed concern over the fate of two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia and returned to their homeland, even though they had fled its anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

The Russian LGBT Network, a Russian LGBTQ rights group, said authorities in Dagestan, a semi-autonomous Russian republic that borders Chechnya, on June 10 kidnapped a bisexual woman who had sought refuge at a shelter for domestic violence survivors. Reports indicate Chechen police officers forced her into a vehicle and drove her back to Chechnya.

The National Security Council before the summit did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about whether Biden planned to raise Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade to the White House for comment.

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

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Lesbian, trans Defense nominees sail through confirmation hearings

Biden picks exemplify change after LGBTQ bans lifted

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Two nominees, one lesbian and one transgender, sailed though a breezy confirmation hearing on Wednesday for high-ranking positions at the Defense Department.

Among the five nominees questioned before the Senate Armed Services Committee were Shawn Skelly, who’s transgender and nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s a lesbian and nominated to become under secretary of the Air Force.

The LGBTQ nominees for the high-ranking posts stand out in the wake of the Biden administration enacting to reverse the transgender military ban enacted under President Trump, as well as the coming anniversary of the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Both Jones, a former Air Force pilot, and Skelly, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, served in the U.S. military at times when they would have been discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jones made a reference to serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of her opening statement for the confirmation hearing.

“My experience in the Air Force was hindered by the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, yet I to remain undeterred because of my desire to serve our country,” Jones said. “That experience cemented my resolve to ensure anyone ready and able to serve can do so to their full potential and accordingly our country’s fullest potential.”

Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement the nominations of the LGBTQ individuals to high-ranking Defense roles is significant.
 
“These two trailblazing nominees demonstrated their deep military expertise and qualifications before the committee and we know their experiences as LGBTQ people will shape their leadership in these critical positions,” Parker said. “Their performance was a powerful testament to the progress our military and nation has made – just one decade after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – and is an important moment for LGBTQ service members who served or continue to serve in silence. Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”

No member of the committee objected to — or even pointed out — the sexual orientation or gender identity of the nominees. In fact, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had openly called for codifying the transgender military ban into law as opposed to reversing it, notably recognized Skelly’s gender identity by referring to her as “Ms. Skelly” when addressing her.

Questions, instead, comprised issues related to the U.S. military, including rooting out “extremism” in the military, competition with China, access to care at medical facilities and the U.S. military being the biggest single consumer of fossil fuels.

Skelly, in her opening statement, said she was “simultaneously humbled and inspired” over being nominated for the role as assistant secretary of defense for readiness, which includes being responsible for recruitment, career development, pay and benefits, and oversight of the state of military readiness.

“As a retired Naval flight officer, the importance of the department safety and professional military education programs, and the manner in which they support the readiness of the total force are deeply ingrained in me, and if confirmed, I will ensure they receive the priority and focus they deserve,” Skelly said.

Jones and Skelly are two of three pending LGBTQ nominees for high-ranking Defense positions. The other is Brenda “Sue” Fulton, a lesbian who had advocated for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and was nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and readiness.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Fulton wasn’t among the nominees questioned on Wednesday even though she was nominated at the same time. The Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t respond Wednesday to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

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House Republicans block LGBTQ small business credit measure

‘No attack is too low’

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New York Representative Ritchie Torres (Photo Credit: Office of NY Rep. Ritchie Torres)

WASHINGTON – A measure introduced by freshmen New York Representative Ritchie Torres (D15-Bronx) that would ensure that financial institutions are providing LGBTQ-owned small businesses equal access to credit was blocked by the Republican caucus this week.

TorresLGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act, HR 1443, requiring financial institutions to collect data on credit applications by LGBTQ-owned businesses, was stopped from passing in a 248-177 vote Tuesday. The measure required a 2/3rds vote (284) to pass.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement after the vote noted, “House Republicans are using Pride Month to attack LGBTQ-owned small businesses. […] Passing this uncontroversial bill to help small businesses stay afloat during a pandemic should be a no-brainer.”

“Sadly, no attack is too low for this House Republican Conference, not even attacking LGBTQ-owned small businesses during Pride Month,” Pelosi added.

The openly gay Ritchie tweeted, “The Republicans in the House voted down my legislation, HR 1443, which would protect LGBTQ-owned businesses from discrimination. A slap in the face to the LGBTQ community right in the heart of Pride Month.”

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