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LGBT groups court Latinos to build ENDA, marriage support

La Raza conference features LGBT closed-door session

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A new truth has emerged about American politics in the aftermath of the election results last year and as Congress works to find a way to pass immigration reform: support from the Latino community is in high demand.

During a three-day conference of the National Council of La Raza in New Orleans, advocates for a range of causes — LGBT and otherwise — made their cases to the community, which is now the most populous minority group in the United States.

First lady Michelle Obama took the opportunity to sell her husband’s signature achievement — health care reform legislation — in addition to building grassroots support for it during the keynote address that she delivered on Tuesday.

“But let’s be clear, simply passing the Affordable Care Act was not the goal,” Michelle Obama said. “The goal is to get folks to sign up for the insurance so they have the care they need to stay healthy. And as leaders in our communities, we are going to need your help to make this happen.”

The opportunity to build support for LGBT issues in the Latino community was not lost on advocates. A closed-door LGBT session on Sunday was one of several sessions held at the conference where an estimated 2,000 attendees interested in Latino activism were present.

Representatives of LGBT groups — Freedom to Work, Lambda Legal and Freedom to Marry — met with local affiliates of the Latino organizations during the session to discuss ways to cooperate and build grassroots support for LGBT initiatives.

Jennifer Ng’andu, the National Council of La Raza’s director of health and civil rights policy projects, coordinated the session and later told the Washington Blade that about 60 organizations were there from affiliate organizations.

“What I think is important is that affiliates from all across the country, including many different states from Louisiana to Delaware, from folks in Michigan to California came to convening,” Ng’andu said.

Ng’andu said the LGBT work this year follows up on the first-ever session on LGBT issues that was held at the NCLR conference last year. Although participants said no formal agreements were made, the general sense was that Latino activists voiced interest in advancing LGBT issues.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said support from the Latino community will be crucial as efforts continue to lobby undecided senators on ENDA ahead of the Senate vote expected this fall.

“Since the ‘cafecito’ LGBT discussion, several NCLR affiliates in key states have already reached out to Freedom to Work to offer their help and advocacy in convincing holdout ENDA senators to vote ‘yes,'” Almeida said. “We may work on letters to the editor, constituent emails and phone calls, lobby visits in the senators’ home states, and outreach to local Spanish-language media. It would be great if Sen. Bill Nelson read in Florida’s Spanish-language newspapers that Latino voters are calling him ‘poco claro y quizas indeciso’ around his upcoming ENDA vote.”

Several states with significant Latino populations — Arizona, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — are represented by senators who haven’t declared support for ENDA, but are seen as potential “yes” votes on the bill this fall.

Latino groups have been some of the most vocal advocates of workplace protections for LGBT people. In April 2012, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund was the first non-LGBT civil rights group to call for an executive order from President Obama barring workplace discrimination against LGBT workers. After the White House announced the order won’t happen at this time, NCLR was the first non-LGBT group to call on the administration to “revisit” the idea.

According to a 2011 study from the Movement Advancement Project, 80 percent of Latinos believe gay people often face discrimination, 83 percent support housing and employment non-discrimination protections and 74 percent support marriage or marriage-like legal recognition for gay couples.

Omar Narvaez, community educator in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office, said he spoke briefly about the wins on marriage equality at the Supreme Court, but also his organization’s pending marriage equality cases in Nevada, New Jersey and Illinois as well as plans for another case in Virginia.

“The mood of the room was very positive as the affiliate leaders in the room were mostly not LGBT folk and/or LGBT orgs, but strictly Latino orgs that were/are working to bring inclusive policies and work to their affiliates across the country,” Narvaez said. “The responses were very positive and many left wanting more information on specific issues facing their communities like workplace discrimination, police accountability, youth in schools, bullying and foster/adoption.”

Angela Dallara, a spokesperson for Freedom to Marry, acknowledged that her group participated in the closed-door session, but deferred to NCLR for more information.

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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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