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Texas Nat’l Guard withholding spousal benefits for gay troops

Lesbian couple rejected at Camp Mabry facility

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Alicia Butler, Judith Cedville, gay news, Washington Blade, Texas National Guard
Alicia Butler, Judith Cedville, gay news, Washington Blade, Texas National Guard

Alicia Butler (left) and Judith Cedville with daugher, Jordan. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Butler)

Amid celebration for many gay service members on the day that the Pentagon begins to award same-sex spousal benefits, the Texas Military Forces is withholding such benefits for gay troops on the basis that state law prohibits same-sex marriage.

Alicia Butler, an Austin, Texas, attorney, said she was rejected when she tried to register with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, the military’s health benefits system, when she applied on Tuesday at Camp Mabry, where her spouse, Judith Chedville, a nurse and Iraq war veteran, is stationed as a member of the National Guard.

“We were told that Texas would not register us into the system and would not issue an ID card for me,” Butler said. “We were told that if she was active duty they would do that for me, but not for a National Guard member because she’s part of the Texas National Guard.”

The explanation the couple was given, Butler said, was that they were denied because she and her spouse are the same gender. Butler said she and her spouse were legally married in California.

Butler added she and her spouse were directed to another facility in Texas that is run by the federal government.

“They told us to go to a different facility, such as Ft. Hood in San Antonio, where the federal government runs the facility, so that we could get the ID card,” Butler said. “That’s an hour-and-a-half drive for me, and we have a five-month-old, so that’s kind of hard.”

But Butler, 43, added even if she and her spouse made that trip, Camp Mabry would still not recognize her as the spouse of Chedville, 38, at that facility.

“We were also told that even if my spouse went there without me and got the registration and that all taken care of, Camp Mabry still would not take my photograph and issue the ID, which is something that’s normally done,” Butler said.

Butler said she was left with the impression that Camp Mabry would continue to deny benefits for guard members with same-sex spouses “indefinitely.”

Tuesday marks the first day that the U.S. armed forces started offering partner benefits, including military IDs, to troops with same-sex spouses after a period of implementation this year. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, gay troops are now eligible for major spousal benefits, including health and pension benefits as well as equal access to housing.

Butler said she was denied benefits as the American Military Partner Association, an LGBT military group, says it was leaked guidance indicating that Texas Military Forces, or the Texas National Guard, wouldn’t honor the U.S. armed forces’ plan to begin offering partner benefits to gay troops because the Texas Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage.

“The TXMF is a state agency under the authority and direction of the Texas state government,” the guidance states. “Therefore, the TXMF must consider that the Texas Constitution and Texas Family Code 6.204 conflicts with the DoD policy extending benefits to same-sex spouses. Due to this potential conflict, we are unable to enroll same-sex families into DEERs at our state supported facilities until we receive legal clarification.”

Similar to what Butler and Chedville were told, the guidance says troops who are affected by this issue should seek a federal facility to apply for benefits.

“However, the TXMF remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” the guidance states. “As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.”

The American Military Partner Association has a photo of the guidance written on an official and letterhead signed by Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John Nichols. It’s posted at the end of this article.

Laura Lopez, a Texas Military Forces spokesperson, confirmed the guidance is accurate, but said she doesn’t known when the legal uncertainty cited in the guidance will be resolved.

“Our goal in the Texas Military Forces is to provide the benefits available to our Soldiers and Airmen under existing federal law and policy, while also adhering to applicable Texas state law,” Lopez said. “The Texas Military Forces will continue to follow state law until legal clarification is determined. It is important to note that Soldiers and Airmen are not being denied these benefits, there are multiple locations throughout the state where they can enroll for same sex benefits.”

Lopez added unlike Fort Hood or Randolph Air Force Base, Camp Mabry receives state funding for property, equipment, and personnel, so personnel and the operation of facilities are subject to Texas state law.

“Despite the legal conflict, the TXMF remains committed to ensuring military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” Lopez said. “As such, we fully support same-sex families enrolling for benefits at the nearest federal installation.”

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said apparent decision to withhold benefits is a “disgrace” for Texas and Texas Gov. Rick Perry “should be ashamed.”

“Our military families are already facing enough challenges, and discrimination from the state of Texas only compounds those challenges,” Peter said. “It’s simply disgusting that Gov. Perry would try to play politics with our military families. Considering the far majority of the funding for the Texas Guard facilities comes from the federal government, I don’t believe they have a leg to stand on.”

Jeremy Johnson, co-chair of the newly formed LGBT military group SPART*A, said withholding benefits to gay troops in Texas amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination and the issue should be resolved immediately.

“The Department of Defense no longer discriminates against same-sex military families and instead embraces them as an important part of the support structure for uniformed members,” Johnson said. “This announcement by Texas Military Forces makes clear that that they are either unwilling or incapable of doing the same. If that is the case, the Department of Defense must ensure that there is no question about the rights of same-sex military families and their ability to access the benefits to which they are entitled.”

According to the Associated Press, the Mississippi National Guard will join Texas in refusing to grant benefits to gay troops with same-sex spouses, but only at state-owned facilities. A spokesperson was quoted as saying Mississippi National Guard offices on federal property would accept the applications.

But the AP also reported that officials in 13 other states that ban same-sex marriage — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia — said offices would follow the federal directive and process all couples’ applications for benefits the same way.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said he’s unable to confirm the Texas guidance, but said federal military installations in the state will provide a military ID to troops with same-sex spouses.

“All Federal Military installations in Texas will issue IDs to all who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” Christensen said.

Apparent guidance from the Texas Military Forces saying it won't provide partner benefits to troops with same-sex spouses (Screenshot courtesy American Military Partners Association).

Apparent guidance from the Texas Military Forces saying it won’t provide partner benefits to troops with same-sex spouses (Screenshot courtesy American Military Partners Association).

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Nathaneal Register

    September 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I wonder if Texas would be so willing to say, "we'll work on it" if all the National Guard members refused orders because, "It might conflict with what the federal government would want us to do at this time and we'll need farther guidance and legal council."

  2. Alan Bone

    September 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Texas should just… go away. Forever.

  3. Michael Holtz

    September 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I recognize that the installation is Texas owned and operated, but does the Pentagon plan to intervene in any way? For good order and discipline, if nothing else.

    • Steve

      September 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Operated maybe, but not owned. The federal government pays for pretty much all their stuff and they have to follow federal law. Texas merely implements rules. They have no say in making them.

      The Constitution is very, very clear about this:
      “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”

  4. Brian Marsiglia

    September 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    That's crazy

  5. Heidi Jo Bean

    September 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    This illustrates the devolution of the red states. As we try to move forward as a country, the south digs their heels in and goes retroactive to the 1950's. Face it, if they had their way, women, minorities,& LGBT persons would not have the right to vote, let alone the freedom to the pursuit of happiness.

  6. Joel Taylor

    September 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Fuck Tejas. Give it back to Mexico.

  7. Joel Taylor

    September 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    TX National Guard receives federal funding, therefore is subject to federal laws and regulations. They are in violation of military policy. POTUS should federalize the Guard to override this.

  8. Steve Williams

    September 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Unfortunately, they'd be glad to. They are quite quick to remind everyone that they were once their own nation and don't really have to be team players.

  9. Christen Bustani

    September 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    The Obama Administration recently declared Equal Treatment For All Same-Sex Marriages Under Tax Code no matter even if said married couple moved to a state which does not allow for same sex marriage….so….. it would appear that we have yet another incongruency between state and federal laws to deal with that are in line and backed by that ruling…..and which may help to set precedent and congruency in this arena going forward….

  10. Diane McLaughlin

    September 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    If they will not issue the IDs and follow the policy, ALL federal funding should be pulled.

  11. Christian Harrison

    September 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I sense that this might be an important story … but the reporting is utter shite. I actually feel dumber having read it.

    A few questions:

    Was it a denial of benefits or a redirect to a federal facility?
    If the facility in question is a Nat’l Guard facility? And if so, how does that play into the equation, seeing that that the Nat’l Guard units are administered by the states?

    Seriously bad reporting. Shame on the BLADE.

  12. Christian Harrison

    September 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    It’s as if the writer and editor had no idea that the Nat’l Guard units were state-sponsored militias — that’s the only conclusion one can draw, seeing the state issue is not addressed AT ALL.

    • Steve

      September 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      Maybe you should actually read the Constitution some time. The states only run those so-called “militias” under the laws and guidelines set by Congress and the federal government. They don’t pay for them either.

      Then then there is the fact that’s only Texas that’s being stupid about this. That tells you that this is just a manufactured controversy and not true or legal.

      • Christian Harrison

        September 4, 2013 at 1:55 am

        Oy vey.

        I’ve read it. And you made my point for me: the states run the Guard units. And how do you know other states haven’t / aren’t doing this? Anyway … it’s a shite article. Here’s hoping someone willing to put in the legwork writes a better treatment so we can have an educated discussion on the matter.

        (And here’s hoping SCOTUS gets a good case to knock all this silliness to the curb, making marriage equality the law of the land.)

  13. Darwin Akbar

    September 4, 2013 at 12:33 am

    As a pro-equality straight man from a northern state, I am going to open my pop-corn as I watch these southern homophobes are about to have their a–es handed to them by the federal courts. What? Did they expect they can just say 'no' and that's the end of the matter? The disgusting world of phobia and discrimination that they inhabit is about to collapse again, for the second time in 50 years. It is going to be entertaining to watch.

  14. Joey Turman

    September 4, 2013 at 12:46 am

    People like Rick Perry make my ashamed to be from Texas.

  15. Joey Turman

    September 4, 2013 at 12:49 am

    and Texas voluntarily gave up its right to be a sovereign country, believe me not all Texans are like these bigots. There's 4 million or so democrats in Texas and we're steadily gaining the majority.

  16. Joey Turman

    September 4, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Mexico wouldn't take Texas back, gay marriage is legally recognize in Mexico and not all Texans are as stupid and backward as Rick Perry and his neocons.

  17. Andrea Pearson

    September 4, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Fort Hood is in Killeen. Ft Sam Houston is in San Antonio. So male the hour and a half drive. Many guard families have to drive hours to get to military facilities. Yrs, its a shame but its true. Guard isn't active duty.

  18. Michael Bedwell

    September 4, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Once again, there's ugly historic precedent for this—and BECAUSE there is, the DOD should have anticipated it and preemptively done a much better job of ordering Guards to immediately, unequivocally comply. The precedent: though racial integration was completed throughout active duty forces in 1953, as of 1962 there were still TEN segregated state guard units. And those only integrated after the federal government threatened to withhold funding. TexASS Gov. Perry is to gays today what Alabama's George WallASS was to blacks 45 years ago. Eventually he'll fall into the same dustbin of History, but WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE in terms of bigots resisting change in the military and society generally, and there was NO NEED for it to have repeated itself.

  19. David Breshears

    September 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    This seems pretty easy – the Court has recognized this as an Equal Protection issue. The Federal Constitution trumps state constitutions. Why isn't isn't this an easy case to overturn Texas' constitutional ban on same sex marriage?

  20. Armand Lavallee

    September 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    First of all, RICK PERRY is not really a governor…nor a real politician…he is A JOKE just like GeeDubbya…for which Texans are so dually noted.
    SECCESSION for Texas is the ultimate desire of every other citizen in this country…with a few exceptions. But really…Texas should belong to MEXICO.

  21. Armand Lavallee

    September 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Just export all of those democrats our way before that happens!!! We could use about 4 million or so good people our neck of the woods.

  22. Carolyn Gray

    September 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Steve Williams Excuse me, there are plenty of us here in Texas who have no intention of going anywhere, and are working to change things. It is a hard battle but we're not giving up. Believe in that.

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LGBTQ groups stop short of criticizing Sinema for obstructing filibuster reform

Bisexual senator rebuffs Biden on voting rights proposal

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has declared she won't support filibuster reform to pass voting legislation. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Despite an out bisexual being among two Democrats responsible for thwarting President Biden’s call to advance voting rights, LGBTQ groups that supported Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) stopped short of criticizing her directly for impeding legislation at the top of progressives’ wish lists.

Although the change being sought was limited to voting rights legislation, the refusal from Sinema to change the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to move legislation to the Senate floor as opposed to a simple majority, effectively put a stake in the heart of the legislative agenda for Democrats, including any possibility of enacting LGBTQ civil rights legislation like the Equality Act.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, declined to identify Sinema by name in an organizational statement provided by a spokesperson via email in response to a Washington Blade inquiry on her refusal to change the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

“The core of our democracy is the right to vote,” the statement says. “The United States Senate must act on legislation to protect that right now, including passage of federal voting rights and voting protection legislation. Without its essential safeguards guaranteeing that the voices of all voters — including LGBTQ+ Black, Brown and other minority voters — will be heard at the ballot box, we cannot ensure that any other right, even those currently enshrined in law, will be protected in the years to come.”

The closest the statement comes to criticizing Sinema, without actually doing so, is the final line: “As a result, we feel that it is necessary for the Senate to take whatever actions are required, including changes to Senate rules, to ensure a majority to pass this essential legislation.”

The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Sinema in the past as a candidate for U.S. Senate and hosted her as a special guest for fundraising and promotional events. It should be noted, JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president of policy and political affairs, once worked for Sinema as chief of staff.

Asked whether HRC’s position was informed by Winterhof’s past work, the spokesperson replied: “Many of our staff have experience working on the Hill. Regardless of who they have worked for, we continue to believe that it is necessary for the Senate to take whatever actions are required, including changes to the Senate rules, to pass federal voting reform.”

Moments before Sinema was set last Thursday to meet with Biden on the filibuster, she took to the Senate floor preemptively and declared she wouldn’t budge.

“There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation,” Sinema said.

Added Sinema: “When one party need only negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” adding that she doesn’t support that outcome and “Arizonans do not either.”

Joining Sinema in refusing to budge on the filibuster is her fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has proposed alternatives to the current state of Senate rules, but ultimately rejected the changes proposed by the caucus.

In contrast to the relatively muted response from LGBTQ groups, other civil rights organizations were quick to denounce Sinema and Manchin for supporting the filibuster, calling the Senate rules as they stand Jim Crow 2.0. Late Monday, Emily’s List announced it would no longer support Sinema for re-election over her position on voting rights.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, compared Manchin and Sinema to white moderates who half-heartedly supported his father’s work.

“History will not remember them kindly,” the younger King said, referring to Sinema and Manchin by name, according to PBS News Hour.

One exception to LGBTQ groups declining to criticize Sinema was the National LGBTQ Task Force, which said the senator should be coming up with alternatives to filibuster reform.

Kierra Johnson, executive director of the Task Force, said she’s been “asking questions because Sen. Sinema is known for being a supporter of so many pieces of progressive legislation and culture change related to queer people and women’s civil and human rights.”

“I want to see better and more, right?” Johnson said. “Yes, we should be working to build bridges across the aisle, across political ideology, but for me, the question is if you’re not going to support filibuster reform, then what are you supporting, and what is the pathway forward?”

Johnson added Sinema “owes it to the people who have supported her over the years to come up with these alternatives if she won’t support filibuster reform.”

Asked whether the Task Force has done any outreach to Sinema, Johnson said the organization is “in the process of trying to meet with her folks” and looking at ways to bring to her voices from LGBTQ movement community leaders.

Biden’s call to reform the filibuster — even though it was limited to voting rights legislation — may have been dead on arrival as Sinema and Manchin have consistently resisted efforts in the Senate to reform the filibuster. The efforts to change Senate rules, however, appeared to have new strength after Biden’s speech in Georgia last week making a plea for reform based on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the restrictive voting law passed in that state.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked Friday about Sinema and Manchin refusing to budge on the filibuster, said the administration would continue to push for voting rights legislation.

“I would say that the president’s view, as you heard him say yesterday, is that we’re going to continue to press to get this done moving forward,” Psaki said. “And that means continuing to engage with a range of officials who are supportive, some who have questions and some who are skeptical.”

Psaki pointed out Biden ended up having the meeting with Sinema despite her remarks on the floor, adding “that’s evidence of his continued commitment to keep engaging.”

The LGBTQ community, as with any issue, isn’t uniform in thinking Sinema should be obligated to have a certain view against the filibuster simply because she’s bisexual, or that LGBTQ groups should criticize her for being obstructionist.

One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, outright rejects calls for Sinema to support a change in rules because the filibuster “ensures that minority perspectives cannot be trampled by majoritarianism.”

“Portraying an LGBTQ woman as a gender and sexuality traitor shows a deep disrespect for our history,” the strategist added. “Sinema’s success in fighting for working families, vulnerable populations and LGBTQ rights is grounded in the belief that building large coalitions is how to best effect legal and social changes. Naturally, it follows she would be against a change in decades of Senate precedent that would prioritize hyper partisanship over persuasion.”

Biden’s speech in Georgia may have been more of an attempt to excite the progressive base as opposed to making a strategic push for filibuster reform. After all, his popularity is at an all-time low, which limits his influence. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll asking voters to grade Biden after his first year in office found 37 percent gave him an “F,” compared to the 31 who gave either “A” and “B,” which is a touch worse than Trump at this point in his presidency.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Sinema in the past, declined to make any declarations about withholding an endorsement when asked by the Washington Blade.

“Our Victory Fund Campaign Board – made up of more than 150 political leaders and advocates from across the country – votes to determine our endorsements,” said Elliot Imse, a Victory Fund spokesperson. “If Sen. Sinema runs for reelection, a review of her record as it relates to equality will of course be a primary consideration for whether she receives our endorsement. That board vote would take place, if she applies for endorsement, in late 2023 or 2024.”

Imse added as a U.S. senator Sinema is not currently up for election because after being elected in 2018 she is set to hold her seat for another four years.
 
“Sen. Sinema is not currently endorsed by Victory Fund and is not on an active ballot,” Imse said. “We last endorsed her in 2018 when she was running against Martha McSally – a right-wing extremist candidate vociferously opposed to equality for LGBTQ people.”

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Grenell emails reveal internal talk on Trump era policy against Pride flag

U.S. embassies barred from rainbow flag on official poles

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Ric Grenell, Richard Grenell, gay news, Washington Blade
Richard Grenell's emails reveals internal talk about the Pride flag policy at U.S. embassies. (Blade file photo)

The latest emails from the State Department obtained by the Washington Blade via its lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act reveal internal deliberation in the Trump administration over news reports about the prohibition of displaying Pride flags on the official pole at U.S. embassies.

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, whose emails the Blade is seeking as the public face of a global initiative that pledged to decriminalize homosexuality, is repeatedly shown in the communications instructing his aides at the embassy in Berlin to give no comment to the media, including in response to an inquiry at the time from the Blade, on the flag policy for embassies.

“Thanks. Say nothing. I’m working it internally,” Grenell responds in an email chain after being updated on the latest media inquiries, which included requests from ABC’s Conor Finnegan, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and CBS.

It’s unclear what, if anything, Grenell was doing as part of “working it internally” as news broke that embassies were barred from flying Pride flags on the official pole, or even whether he was seeking a substantive change as opposed to crafting talking points to mitigate the appearance of the Trump administration being anti-LGBTQ.

“No Fox or local German press but I suspect that the latter will be coming today once they wake up and read other coverage,” writes Joseph Giordono-Scholz, who was handling media relations for the embassy. “Will continue as discussed, no responses.”

In 2019, shortly after Grenell announced he’d spearhead a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality on behalf of the Trump administration, U.S. embassies that had sought to raise the rainbow flag in recognition of June as Pride month were barred from doing so under guidance from the State Department. 

Critics at the time jumped on the policy as further evidence the Trump administration was anti-LGBTQ, despite having recently launched the decriminalization initiative. Trump defenders pointed out the prohibition was limited to the official pole, was a general ban of flying any flag other than the U.S. flag, and embassies found other ways to display the Pride flag on their grounds.

Grenell didn’t respond Tuesday to the Blade’s request for comment on the meaning of “working it internally,” but Log Cabin Republicans, an organization close to Grenell, volunteered a message shortly after the Blade sent its inquiry to him.

Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, said in the email the conception the Trump administration banned Pride flags at embassies is erroneous.

“We were very pleased that President Trump made it clear that pride flags could continue to be flown at embassies around the globe, despite logistical discussions internally being had at the State Department,” Moran said.

Attached in the email is an image of Moran standing below a pole with both a U.S. flag and a rainbow flag, which Moran said was taken at the U.S. Embassy Berlin on July 26, 2019, when he was en route to a decriminalization discussion forum being hosted there. 

Asked by the Blade whether that was the official pole, Moran replied, “I don’t know what an ‘official pole’ is. It was a professionally installed flag pole, on the embassy next to the front door.” Moran didn’t respond to an additional follow up question on what he meant by Trump making it clear Pride flags would be allowed at embassies.

Morgan Ortagus, then-spokesperson for the State Department, defended former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s policy against Pride flags on as she acknowledged “Pride Month that we’re in right now celebrated around the world by many State Department employees, by many embassies.”

“The secretary has the position that, as it related to the flag pole, that only the American flag should be flown there,” Ortagus said.

The email chain within the U.S. embassy in Berlin on the news development began with Giordono-Scholz forwarding Grenell a link to a story from NBC News’s Josh Lederman, who broke the story on U.S. embassies being unable to fly Pride flags, followed by a subsequent email with the text of his article. The immediacy with which the aide sends the link in an email first before the story itself in a subsequent message suggests a sense of urgency in distribution and awareness the article would be forthcoming.

Other news outlets were quick to follow up, including the Blade, as evidenced by Giordono-Scholz’s follow up question to Grenell after sharing the initial NBC News story.

“CNN (Michelle Kosinski) just called, asked if we had anything to add,” Giordono-Scholz writes. “Wash Blade also just emailed. How would like me to respond to these and coming inquiries — just point them to the NBC statement you gave and refer back to DC on questions about the Dept?”

Grenell was succinct in response: “Say nothing. Right now don’t respond.”

Giordono-Scholz acknowledges the instructions from Grenell in a subsequent email, which also notifies him of an inquiry from the Washington Post’s Carol Morello.

“Will continue to let you know about inquires but not respond to any,” Giordono-Scholz writes.

The emails were obtained in a FOIA production from the State Department this week as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Blade with attorneys at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The litigation was filed in August 2021 after interminable delays in production of communications, which the Blade initially sought by a FOIA request in September 2020.

The State Department has identified tens of thousands of emails potentially responsive to the Blade’s request and is expected to release those it deems to be responsive periodically as a result of an agreement in the litigation.

Also ensnared in the latest email dump are communications on other foreign policy topics, including the Nord Strom 2 pipeline and Iran’s seizure of oil tankers. Many of these emails reveal a preoccupation with using tweets as a tool to convey foreign policy messages with little else mentioned in terms of engagement.

“I’m watching. Already tweeted about it ;)” Grenell responds when an aide informs him that Iran has seized oil tankers.

Evyenia Sidereas, political minister-counselor at the U.S. embassy in Berlin, responds: “My twitter alerts can’t keep up :),” which prompts Grenell to reply: “I’ve been a little busy today. Lol.”

The emphasis on Twitter is also seen after an aide in May 2019 brings to Grenell’s attention the Kenya high court has affirmed the country’s law against homosexuality. An aide (whose name the State Department redacted in the email) informs him then-U.S. Ambassador Kyle McCarter is set to have a meeting with staff “to discuss whether he’ll issue a statement” and the embassy in Nairobi had updated the State Department while awaiting further guidance.

“I’ll tweet about this one, too,” Grenell says. “Can you make a suggestion and I’ll tweet Hungary today. Kenya tomorrow.” (It’s unclear what the reference to Hungary was regarding.)

In terms of discussion at the U.S. embassy on the Kenya decision, whatever was considered apparently didn’t bear fruit. The Blade couldn’t immediately find any public statement on the Kenya decision from McCarter in his capacity as a U.S. ambassador during the Trump administration. McCarter didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment for this article.

In 2018, McCarter was grilled during his Senate confirmation hearing on his record as an Illinois state legislator who opposed LGBTQ rights, including his vote against an anti-bullying measure after stating he believed it would promote homosexuality. McCarter also had a history of misogynistic tweets and in 2016 tweeted: “Hillary for Prison. No, really.”

Much of the focus on the Trump administration’s global initiative appeared to be Iran, which has been an antagonist on the global stage and more so after Trump withdrew from the Iran deal. Iran is also one of the countries where homosexuality is not only criminalized, but punishable by death.

Although Grenell has publicly disputed Iran was the focus, he was quick to provide a quote to his assistant seeking a response from him after the country’s foreign minister affirmed its anti-gay policy in response to questions from a reporter with a German newspaper.

“The UN’s Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that these answers from the Iranian regime are violating basic UN principles,” Grenell writes. “UN members should agree with the Declaration in order to be members. Criminalizing homosexuality violates the Declaration, plain and simple.”

Grenell’s response was later found online in an article in The Jerusalem Post, which covered reaction to the news in an article titled, “Iran’s FM affirms right to execute gays and blasts U.S. and Israel.”

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Biden puts his weight on changing Senate rules to pass voting rights

President says changes need to ‘protect our democracy’

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President Biden said he supports changing Senate rules to advance voting rights legislation. (Screen capture via C-SPAN)

President Biden, after paying tribute to civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by leaving a wreath on his grave, brought the strength of his presidency to bear in a speech Tuesday in an effort to reform U.S. Senate rules to enact voting rights legislation.

“I’m making it clear, to protect our democracy, I support changing Senate rules whichever way they need to changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking basic voting rights,” Biden said.

Biden has indicated before he supports changes to longstanding rules the Senate requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster and proceed with debate on legislation, but the speech marks an elevation of viewpoint in a more formal way and increases the pressure on fellow Democrats like Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who oppose such a change.

Based on his words, Biden’s position on filibuster reform appears limited to voting rights legislation, which like so much other legislation has passed in the House and has stalled out in the Senate. The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the White House seeking comment on why, if Biden supports changing the filibuster for voting rights, why hasn’t he made the case for other issues, such as police reform or LGBTQ civil rights.

A major reason cited by Biden to bring the force of his presidency down on this issue: The attack on U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 instigated by President Trump, who falsely claimed he won the 2020 election against Biden.

Biden conjured images of the long road in the civil rights journey in the United States and a “violet riot” at the Capitol that Biden said undermined the process.

The recently enacted voter law in Georgia, which makes mail-in voting illegal, limits hours and locations for ballot drop boxes and bars the delivery of food and water to persons waiting in line to vote, was another major focus for Biden, who pointed out Republican lawmakers in Georgia put it in place after he won the state in 2020 and Trump pressured officials there to find more votes for him.

As a result, Biden said the “threat to democracy is so grave” he supports changes to the filibuster, which came about in use in the Senate from senators seeking to block civili rights legislation.

“If that bare minimum is blocked, we have no choice but change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” Biden said.

Biden identified two bills in his speech: the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which seeks to rectify a U.S. Supreme Court decision undermining the Voting Rights Act and the Freedom of the Vote Act, which would dramatically reform voting process, including the expansion of voting by mail and early voting.

Joining Biden in Atlanta in favor of changing rules to advance voting rights was Vice President Kamala Harris, who said “nowhere — nowhere — does the Constitution give a minority the right to unilaterally block legislation.”

“Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws, that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws, a danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal, a danger of becoming complacent, complicit,” Harris said. “Anti-voter laws are not new in our nation, but we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal.”

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