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Senate confirms first openly gay Latina to federal court

Nitza Quiñones Alejandro is originally from Puerto Rico.

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Nitza Quiñones, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington Blade, gay news
Nitza Quiñones, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones by voice vote as a federal judge. (Image courtesy of the United States Senate)

The U.S. Senate confirmed on Thursday by voice vote for the first time ever an openly gay Latina to the federal judiciary.

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, who has been a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since 1991, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, along with another nominee, Jeffrey Schmehl.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended the Senate for what he said was the confirmation of another well-qualified LGBT person to the federal judiciary.

“We are very pleased to see yet another highly qualified, openly-LGBT nominee confirmed to the federal bench – particularly a woman of color who helps reflect the diversity of the American people in the judiciary,” Cole-Schwartz said.

A Puerto Rico native, Quiñones breaks a glass ceiling as the first openly LGBT Hispanic to serve on the federal bench. Additionally, she’s the seventh openly LGBT person ever to receive confirmation as a federal judge.

President Obama first nominated Quiñones for the position in November and renominated her at the start of the 113th Congress in January as part of a group of 33 nominees.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who recommended the Quiñones nomination, said in a statement he’s “pleased” the Senate confirmed her along with Schmehl “in a bipartisan fashion.”

“Nitza’s life as a lawyer, judge and civic leader make her a true American success story,” Casey said. “Her 21 years on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas have prepared her well for a seat on the federal bench, and I’m confident she’ll serve the Eastern District of Pennsylvania well.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a Tea Party Republican who spoke highly of Quiñones when she was first nominated to the bench, took to Twitter to congratulate her and Schmehl upon their confirmation.

According to a bio provided by the White House, Quiñones, before serving on state court, worked as a staff attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs and as an attorney advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services.

She received her law degree in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law and graduated with honors in 1972 from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

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Liz Cheney: ‘I was wrong’ to have opposed same-sex marriage

Trump critic reverses after public spat with lesbian sister

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) (Photo via Facebook)

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), one of a handful of Republicans who have criticized President Trump in his actions to attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, has now said she “was wrong” to have opposed same-sex marriage.

Liz Cheney, whose sister Mary Cheney is a lesbian and married to a woman, made the comments during an interview on “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night after Lesley Stahl asked the Republican about her one-time opposition to marriage rights for gay couples.

“I was wrong. I was wrong,” Liz Cheney said, whose opposition to same-sex marriage had formerly made her estranged to her sister. The two have since reconciled.

“I love my sister very much. I love her family very much, and I was wrong,” added Liz Cheney, who appeared emotional. “It’s a very personal issue and very personal for my family. I believe my dad was right, and my sister and I have had that conversation.”

Cheney makes the comments after she has been ostracized by the Republican Party over her vote to impeach former President Trump and her participation in the congressional panel on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Liz Cheney has publicly come to regret her former opposition to same-sex marriage after a sea change in public opinion on the issue. For the first time this year, a majority of Republicans, 55 percent, are in support of marriage rights for gay couples and a record high of 70 percent of Americans are behind it, according to a Gallup poll released in June.

Blade readers remember the public spat Liz and Mary Cheney had over same-sex marriage in the 2013, which reflected the division over the issue at the time among conservatives, when the former when first considering a congressional run.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, the father of the two and considered an early supporter of same-sex marriage, with his spouse Lynne Cheney acknowledged in a statement at the time family conflict over same-sex marriage “is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public.”

“Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage,” Richard and Lynne said at the time. “She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect.”

Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. Liz Cheney as a member of Congress never had an option to weigh in the issue of same-sex marriage, having been seated well after the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment were debated in Congress.

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Biden recognizes 10th anniversary of end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Pete Buttigieg, Gina Ortiz Jones named in White House statement

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President Biden recognized in a statement on Monday the tenth anniversary of the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that once discharged service members from the military for being openly gay or bisexual.

“Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members,” Biden said. “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.”

Biden recognized high-profile openly gay appointees in his administrations who are also veterans, naming Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Biden also names Shawn Skelly, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, who would have been discharged from the military under President Trump’s transgender military ban.

“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden said. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”

Technically speaking, the anniversary of Obama signing repeal legislation was in December. Today is the anniversary of defense officials certifying the military is ready, which put an end to the policy.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Tenth Anniversary of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do. And, it showed once again that America is at its best when we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

Despite serving with extraordinary honor and courage throughout our history, more than 100,000 American service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—including some 14,000 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Many of these veterans received what are known as “other than honorable” discharges, excluding them and their families from the vitally important services and benefits they had sacrificed so much to earn.

As a U.S. Senator, I supported allowing service members to serve openly, and as Vice President, I was proud to champion the repeal of this policy and to stand beside President Obama as he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act into law. As President, I am honored to be Commander-in-Chief of the strongest and most inclusive military in our nation’s history. Today, our military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ service members—it is led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans, including Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, who served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I was gratified to appoint the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and Afghanistan veteran who joined the military under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. And during my first week in office, I proudly delivered on my pledge to repeal the discriminatory ban on open service by patriotic transgender service members.

On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation. We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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