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Ros-Lehtinen meets LGBT activists from Russia, former Soviet republics

Florida Republican sat down with three advocates on Wednesday

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Taras Karasiichuk, Gay Alliance Ukraine, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Ana Rekhviashvili, Georgia, Identoba, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia, Vladimir Putin
Taras Karasiichuk, Gay Alliance Ukraine, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Ana Rekhviashvili, Georgia, Identoba, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Igor Kochetkov, Sphere

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (left) meets with LGBT rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia in D.C. on Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Alex Cruz)

Florida Congresswoman and pro-LGBT Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday met with gay rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT rights group Sphere, Gay Alliance Ukraine Director Taras Karasiichuk and Anna Rekhviashvili of the Georgian advocacy organization Identoba met with the lawmaker in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. The three activists, who traveled to the United States for the first time, were in D.C. to take part in an LGBT civil and human rights training sponsored by the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

“During my meetings with these brave LGBT activists, I impressed upon them my firm belief that they must continue their work for equal rights and that I have supported them every step of the way,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade on Friday.

Kochetkov was one of the LGBT advocates who met with President Obama earlier this month during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The activist told the Blade he was pleased the meeting took place, but claimed Obama said he couldn’t make human rights a priority in U.S.-Russia relations.

Kochetkov said he disagreed with that sentiment.

Countries’ LGBT rights records sparks concern

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with the three activists comes against the backdrop of ongoing concern and outrage over anti-LGBT discrimination and persecution Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute that prohibits same-sex couples and anyone else from a country in which same-sex couples are allowed to marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July.

The aforementioned laws and growing outrage over the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT crackdown threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Thousands of people in May attacked a few dozen Georgian LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a rally in Tbilisi the country’s capital, to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia. Identoba Executive Director Irakli Vacharadze told the Washington Blade before the IDAHO march that violence against gays and lesbians in the former Soviet republic remains a serious concern.

Russian police on May 25 arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Dozens of advocates on the same day held Ukraine’s first gay rights rally in the country’s capital, Kiev, in spite of an earlier court ruling that banned it. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft is among those who supported the march.

“It’s increasingly difficult for LGBT individuals in Russia, Georgia and Ukraine to live openly and authentically due to the repressive governments that continue to advance policies that are hostile and discriminatory,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade. “These folks just want to live normal lives with their loved ones, but the governments of these nations are either physically harassing them or intimidating them through the legislative process. Responsible nations should condemn these actions and relate to these governments that equality should be for all their citizens and that these human rights abuses will not be tolerated.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with Kochetkov, Karasiichuk and Rekhviashvili also took place less than two months after she met with Cuban LGBT rights advocates Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero in her Capitol Hill office. The Cuban-born Republican who supports marriage rights for same-sex couples also co-sponsored a bill that Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced on Thursday that would ensure gay federal employees would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they are not legally married.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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