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Bi advocates seek visibility through White House roundtable

Closed-door meeting to take place Monday

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bisexuality, bisexual pride flag, gay news, Washington Blade

The White House is set to hold a closed-door bisexual roundtable on Monday (Photo by Peter Salanki via Wikimedia Commons).

Bisexual advocates are hailing an upcoming roundtable at the White House as an opportunity for greater discussion about their issues — despite the closed-door nature of the panel.

For the first-time ever, the White House Office of Public Engagement is set on Monday to hold a meeting on bisexual issues at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The roundtable, which is closed to the press, will take place on Celebrate Bisexuality Day on which bisexual visibility is observed.

Two groups responsible for putting together the roundtable are the Boston-based Bisexual Resource Center and BiNet USA, an umbrella organization for bisexual groups.

Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, said she’s “excited” the administration is taking time to talk to members of the bisexual community about their issues.

“Our community is definitely in desperate need,” Cheltenham said. “We’re hoping that this dialogue is just the start of a very long, fruitful relationship to help serve our community.”

An observer might reject the idea of the need for a separate discussion on bisexual issues when they’re closely to tied to gay and lesbian issues. After all, bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act provide protections based on sexual orientation, which is inclusive of bisexuality.

Cheltenham, who’s married to a straight man, rejected the notion that bisexuals automatically face the same challenges as gay or lesbian people, saying many bisexual people suffer additional discrimination.

“When we do come out, the things that happen to us are different than what happens to gays or lesbians,” Cheltenham said. “We won’t get promoted sometimes because we’re out and people think we’re flaky. That has nothing to do it. Bisexuality is sexual orientation; it’s an innate part of who we are.”

These advocates also say bisexual visibility is necessary because bisexuals face disparity not only in the general population, but within the LGBT community.

For example, as Cheltenham noted, a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control Control found 61 percent of bisexual women have faced intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking based on their sexual orientation. Comparatively, the numbers are 44 percent for lesbians, 35 percent for straight woman, 26 percent for gay men and 37 percent for bisexual men.

Cheltenham also said bisexual men face unique problems compared to gay men in terms of increased vulnerability to mental health issues and HIV/AIDS.

“Te HIV prevention models that have been working or do work for gay men and heterosexual men — there’s no specific bisexual one, and that’s a problem,” Cheltenham said. “So bisexual men aren’t being educated on HIV at the levels that we want them to be. We’re not seeing them reflected in HIV materials.”

Ellyn Ruthstrom, president of the Bisexual Resource Center, said the White House roundtable provides an important opportunity for bisexual advocates to come together to “share their perspectives” with LGBT advocates and administration officials.

“Our bisexual community is suffering to a larger degree on many of these different health disparities, mental health issues,” Ruthstrom said. “You just assume if we’re addressing just the LGBT community as a whole, then we must be taking care of bisexuals. And that is not the case.”

Although bisexuals may not be considered as publicly prominent as lesbian or gay people, a 2011 report from the Williams Institute estimated that they actually make up a majority of those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Among the 3.5 percent of the population identifying as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority, or 1.8 percent, compared to the 1.7 percent who identify as lesbian or gay, the report says.

Cheltenham and Ruthstrom were reluctant to talk about how many people will attend the roundtable, or disclose any names of participating advocates or administration officials because the event is off the record.

Still, they confirmed they planned to attend along other bisexual advocates and researchers from across the country, including a large percentage of people of color. The Human Rights Campaign has previously said it would take part in some capacity.

Asked whether President Obama would attend, Cheltenham said she couldn’t speak to it, but hasn’t heard he’ll be in attendance.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, confirmed the roundtable would take place on Monday, but declined to provide additional information other than to affirm it’s closed to the press.

“As it routinely does with interested parties on any number of issues, the White House Office of Public Engagement will hold a briefing on Monday on issues of concern to the bisexual community,” Inouye said. “This event is closed press.”

It’s not unusual for the Office of Public Engagement to hold meetings that aren’t public. That’s generally the ground rules for the events that office holds — LGBT or otherwise.

Asked whether she wants the White House to open up the event, Cheltenham would only say generally she sees value in discussions on bisexual issues be open to the public.

“I’m totally in support of any public event that gives us a chance to dialogue about the disparities of our community — whatever they may be, whether that’s at the White House, or at HRC or at other places,” Cheltenham said.

While the meeting may be a first for the White House, bisexuals have been organizing independently of the LGBT community for some time. The Bisexual Resource Center, for example, was founded in 1985 following a regional conference.

Cheltenham said bisexual advocates have engaged with the White House for years and first brought up the idea for a panel with then-White House LGBT liaison Brian Bond in June 2010.

“From there, we started having discussions about what that would look like,” Cheltenham said. “We engaged the White House, and this is sort of where we came together.”

Robyn Ochs, a Boston-based bisexual activist and educator, told the Washington Blade via email she’s “delighted” the roundtable is taking place because the needs of bisexual people “are not exactly the same” as others in the LGBT community.

“Yet in research, in public policy and in health policy we are usually either lumped in with lesbians and gay men, or else completely ignored,” Ochs said. “For this reason, I am delighted that this meeting is taking place, as it is an opportunity to shine some light on issue facing this sizable population.”

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Russia

WNBA star Brittney Griner released

Olympic Gold medalist detained in Moscow in February

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(Bigstock photo)

Russian authorities have released WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Griner was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.

President Biden said he has spoken with Griner. The White House tweeted a picture of Biden in the Oval Office with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“She is safe,” tweeted Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

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District of Columbia

DC Center, Capital Pride sign joint lease for new offices

LGBTQ groups to operate in historic Shaw neighborhood building

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The Adora is located at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, announced on Wednesday that they have signed a joint lease to move their operations into a renovated warehouse building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

In a Dec. 7 statement, the two organizations said the lease is for a 6,671-square-foot space on the entire first floor of a five-story building at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. called The Adora. The building is located steps away from the Howard Theatre and a little over a block from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

The new space is more than double the 2,400-square-foot offices the D.C. Center and Capital Pride currently occupy in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 2000 14th St., N.W. The Reeves building is slated to be demolished as part of a new development project that will require all its tenants, including the D.C. Center, to move.

The sprawling building, which takes up about half of the narrow, one-block long Wiltberger Street, was built in 1891 as the home of the Holzbeierlein Bakery, according to the online publication Commercial Observer. 

Online real estate listings show it was redeveloped about two years ago with an extension and now includes commercial condominium space on the second and third floors and nine luxury residential condominium units on the fourth and fifth floors.

The statement released by the D.C. Center and Capital Pride Alliance says the first-floor space in the building that the two groups leased currently is un-renovated warehouse space. The statement says the space is being designed for a build out renovation by an architectural firm “with the D.C. Center’s specific needs in mind.” It will include 10 offices and multiple workstations, the statement says.

According to the statement, the renovation is being funded in part by a $1 million grant approved by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Rehana Mohammed, who serves as vice chair of the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors, told the Washington Blade the renovation work was scheduled to be completed by mid-2023. She said D.C. Center officials were hopeful that the Center and Capital Pride would be able to move into the new space in June or early July.

The statement says the new, larger space will enable the D.C. Center to expand its services to include “dedicated therapy rooms, a larger food pantry for the community food distribution program, and dedicated wellness spaces for meditation, yoga, and counseling.”

It says there will also be an expanded state-of-the-art cyber lounge, a larger Community Closet program, which provides free apparel, and that will incorporate a designated dressing area, and individual lockers providing temporary storage for “unhoused/displaced community members.”

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings and provide vital and integral wraparound care to and for our LGBTQIA2s+ siblings,” D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush said in the statement.

“When community members come to this new space, they’ll see a broader range of support being offered and an enhanced experience for increasing their health, wellness, and personal security,” Bush said.

“We are very excited to support this opportunity and come together in a new space with fellow nonprofits,” said Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director. “Collectively and collaboratively, we will better serve the LGBTQ+ community and combine resources to provide a much-needed safe space to gather,” Bos said in the statement.

The statement by the two groups says the new larger space will also allow the D.C. Center to sublease office and desk space to other LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations. As of this week, the Wanda Alston Foundation, Rainbow Families and G3 Associates, an organization operated by local gay activist George Kerr, have confirmed arrangements to sublease space in the new building, the statement says.

“We are proud to reaffirm our support for D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community,” said Mayor Bowser in a statement referring to her office’s awarding a $1 million grant to help fund the D.C. Center’s build out in the new space. “This investment is a reflection of our D.C. values,” the mayor said.

“We know that when we foster community, and when we support organizations that invest in the community, D.C. is stronger and our residents have more and better opportunities to reach their full potential and live happy, healthy lives,” the mayor said. 

‘This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings,’ said D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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Congress

Takano: Asian Development Bank LGBTQ, intersex safeguards are an ‘opportunity’

‘It’s not a radical thing’

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U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

California Congressman Mark Takano on Dec. 2 told the Washington Blade he is hopeful the Asian Development Bank will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the institution’s safeguards.

“I am optimistic that something like this can be done,” said Takano during a Zoom interview. “It’s not a radical thing. It’s very modest.”

The ADB, which is based in the Philippines, seeks to promote economic and social development through the Asia-Pacific Region.

Ambassador Chantale Wong, who is the ADB’s U.S. director, is the first openly lesbian American ambassador. Takano, a Democrat who will represent California’s 39th Congressional District in the next Congress, is openly gay.

The Treasury Department has endorsed the safeguard that Takano said he expects “to come to a head” in the spring of 2023. Takano and other members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional LGBT+ Equality Caucus — U.S. Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Ted Liu (D-Calif.) — in an Oct. 14 letter to ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa expressed their “strong support for the creation of a standalone gender and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) safeguard in the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s updated Safeguard Policy Statement.”

“The inclusion of such a safeguard presents an opportunity for the ADB to lead by example among multilateral development banks (MDBs) in a region of the world where civil society has been at the fore of pushing positive change for sexual minorities,” reads the letter.

“The explicit inclusion and protections for sexual and gender minorities in this proposed safeguard are not only beneficial for the economic and social development of the region, but would also open further opportunities for investment,” it adds.  

Takano noted the ADB would be the first multilateral development bank to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its safeguards.

“This is an opportunity for the ADB to be a leader among MDBs globally,” reads the letter. “As Asian Americans and advocates for the LGBTQI+ population here in the United States, we are eager to see the ADB spearhead the establishment of necessary protections for the international LGBTQI+ community that will allow them to participate in civic life more fully.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 issued a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Wong and Takano were both at the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore on Aug. 1 when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke in support of LGBTQ and intersex rights.

The speech coincided with a Congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that Pelosi led. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Aug. 21 announced his country will decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Lawmakers in the Southeast Asian city-state late last month repealed the colonial-era sodomy law, and approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Taiwan since 2019. Lawmakers in Indonesia on Tuesday approved a new Criminal Code that would, among other things, criminalize sex outside of marriage.

Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. 

Takano over the Thanksgiving holiday led a Congressional delegation to Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq and Lebanon. The Council for Global Equality notes homosexuality is still criminalized in Kuwait and Lebanon. Discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in all four of the Middle Eastern countries that Takano visited.    

“Different parts of Asia are showing signs of huge progress in terms of governance and recognizing LGBTQIA+ minorities and recognizing their humanity,” Takano told the Blade, while noting 60 percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. “Being able to embed safeguards into Asian Development Bank standards and how they approve projects and implement projects could be a huge leap forward in terms of achieving new standards in all these countries with regards to LGBTQ people in Asian nations.”

“This is very exciting,” he added.

Takano also specifically praised the Biden administration, American diplomats and Wong herself for their efforts to advance LGBTQ and intersex rights

“(U.S. foreign missions) find ways to create safe spaces for LGBTQ people in those countries to be able to come together, to talk,” said Takano. “To have someone like Ambassador Wong lead that is very important and that the administration supports the efforts of Ambassador Wong is not surprising.”

“What a difference it makes to have President Biden and Vice President Harris, but not only have they with their words said they support our community, they’ve also appointed people like Amb. Wong, who is actually taking actions,” he added. “She’s using the levers and dials of her office to take a step forward.”

GOP support for Respect for Marriage Act ‘an unexpected turn’

Takano spoke with the Blade two days after the Respect for Marriage Act passed in the U.S. Senate by a 61-36 vote margin, with 12 Republicans supporting it.

More than 40 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the Respect for Marriage Act in July. A final vote could take place in the chamber as early as Thursday.

“We were reeling from that Supreme Court decision on Roe and the comments in Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion,” said Takano. “Boy oh boy did we in Congress say that we need to protect what we can. The Respect for Marriage Act is making sure we protect same-sex marriages, but also protect interracial marriages.”

Takano conceded Republican support for the bill “is kind of an unexpected turn in this Congress,” even though a majority of GOP lawmakers opposed it. Takano also acknowledged public opinion has shifted significantly in support of marriage equality over the last decade.

“This court has shown it’s pretty radical,” he said. “I’m happy that we have a way to make sure that existing marriages are protected.”

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