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Despite shutdown, activists continue to engage on ENDA

Advocates say they’re meeting with lawmakers on LGBT bill during budget crisis

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U.S. Capitol, gay news, Washington Blade
U.S. Capitol, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates say work on ENDA continues despite the government shutdown. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Despite the ongoing stalemate in Congress in the second week of a government shutdown, advocates say they’re undaunted in their efforts to pass pro-LGBT legislation.

LGBT rights supporters say they remain engaged on a high-priority bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and assert plans for a vote in the Senate this fall remain unchanged.

Christian Berle, legislative director for Freedom to Work, said he doesn’t expect the shutdown to have any impact on the timing of an ENDA vote.

“We’ve always believed the most likely window for a Senate vote on ENDA was between the last week of October and Thanksgiving, and we think we’re still on track for that timing,” Berle said.

Even as Congress focuses on finding an agreement to restore funds to keep the government in operation and raise the nation’s debt limit, advocates say they met last week with lawmakers to build support for ENDA.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the shutdown “will not shut us up” on issues like ENDA as well as immigration reform.

“It’s always the right time for rights and protections: that’s why we were on the Hill last week pushing for ENDA with the members and their staff who remain at their desks during the shutdown,” Carey said. “Just because some members of Congress don’t want to do their jobs, doesn’t mean that we should stop doing ours.”

Similarly, Berle said last week Freedom to Work “had a very productive discussion” with an undeclared Republican senator who was eager to learn about the bill.

“While senators are focused, on both sides of the aisle, on resolving the government shutdown, they can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Berle said. “We have been actively engaging with our allies on the Hill, while continuing to lobby the swing votes.”

Berle declined to name the undeclared senator with whom he spoke, but said the lawmaker is “actively considering” support for the bill.

Although LGBT advocates are saying the trajectory for ENDA is unchanged, lawmakers close to ENDA are silent during the government shutdown.

Emails to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), ENDA’s chief sponsor; and Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) were returned with automatic replies that the offices were closed.

A Senate senior Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he hasn’t heard about ENDA discussions and “everything’s on hold” besides budget and debt negotiations. Still, he didn’t dispute that advocates are engaged on the legislation.

“That’s probably credible, but they also have to put on airs, or put up a face like they’re still doing the work on it,” the aide said. “But, honestly, we’re not going to get to anything until the week of Halloween. We won’t get to anything other than debt ceiling and government funding until Halloween week, so everything is on hold until we address those two things.”

Americans for Workplace Opportunity, the $2 million campaign whose steering committee consists of 11 groups seeking to pass ENDA, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the status of its ENDA lobbying during the government shutdown. The campaign was scheduled to have a citizens lobby day on Capitol Hill to push for ENDA passage on Oct. 3.

As gridlock continues, it’s reasonable to question whether legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers could reach the president’s desk during the current Congress.

Berle insisted the situation is different for ENDA when asked if the current impasse reflects poorly on the chances for passage of the LGBT bill.

“ENDA is not a partisan issue, unlike the budget and government funding, senators on both sides of the aisle are in ongoing discussion about the need for employment protections,” Berle said. “We are confident that ENDA will have the 60 votes necessary for cloture. We’re ready to pass these fundamental workplace protections.”

Berle added that there is time to push for ENDA in the House, where passage will be more difficult.

“Fortunately there are still 15 months in the current Congress to pass ENDA,” Berle said. “Freedom to Work is actively engaging not only with Senate offices, but are picking up Republican supporters in the House to help press the case for consideration and building a majority in the House of Representatives to make federal workplace protections for LGBT workers a reality.”

A shutdown for marriage equality lawsuits?

The shutdown could also have an impact on another route LGBT advocates are using to pursue LGBT rights: the federal judiciary. The website for the U.S. courts, as reported by ThinkProgress, at the time of the shutdown said the court would remain open for about 10 business days, but on or around Oct. 15, the judiciary will reassess the situation.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said it’s unclear at this time whether the shutdown will lead to a nationwide closure or impact the 35 marriage equality cases he counts pending before the judiciary.

“Federal courts will be operating at least until mid-October and thereafter, it will vary by courthouse, as each federal district and circuit makes its own independent budget decisions,” Davidson said. “Furloughs of nonessential federal judicial staff is likely to lead to postponements of pending hearings in many parts of the country, but I have not heard of any of the immediately upcoming hearings in marriage cases being delayed.”

The case for which a closure of the federal judiciary could have the most immediate impact is DeBoer v. Snyder, the federal lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Michigan. Oral arguments are set for Oct. 16, just about the time the federal judiciary will make a reassessment.

Rod Hansen, a spokesperson for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, said he doesn’t expect oral arguments in the case will be affected by the shutdown.

“There is no way of being sure, but I doubt very much that it will be postponed,” Hansen said.

But Davidson said the shutdown is already having an effect on other parts of the federal court system that are important to LGBT people.

“Immigration courts have postponed hearings in matters not involving someone in detention, meaning delays for many individuals seeking asylum or binational married couples seeking green cards for the foreign spouse,” Davidson said. “Discrimination proceedings before the EEOC are being postponed, which is having a negative impact on several cases we are currently handling on behalf of LGBT and HIV-positive workers.”

House-passed NIH bill would fund AIDS research

As Congress hashes out the way forward, the House continues to pass bills to fund the government through a piecemeal approach without approving legislation that would restore operations to the government as a whole.

Among these bills is a measure to continue funds for the National Institutes for Health. As the Blade reported last week, the lack of funds for this agency has implications for HIV/AIDS because the shutdown put a freeze on new medical research related to the disease.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, saying a piecemeal approach to fund the government isn’t appropriate, and Reid indicated a lack of interest in bringing up the bill in the Senate, saying, “What right do they have to pick and choose what parts of government can be funded?”

Laura Durso, director of LGBT research at the Center for American Progress, rejected the idea of funding the government through a piecemeal approach and said her organization doesn’t support the bill.

“While this piecemeal approach to funding the government is not a sensible strategy, restoring funding to the National Institutes of Health will mean that coordination and execution of life-saving research will continue under agencies such as the Office of AIDS Research and the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases,” Durso said.

Chris Collins, director of policy for amfAR, said the government shutdown magnifies a larger problem of inadequate government funds for AIDS research and is keeping American scientists away from an international HIV vaccine conference taking place this week in Barcelona, Spain.

“The government shutdown is frustrating AIDS research in multiple ways,” Collins said. “It has already kept scores of U.S. government scientists away from an HIV vaccine conference this week. This, on top of a continued loss of purchasing power of NIH funding over the years, will slow down new discoveries in the fight against AIDS and other diseases.”

Meanwhile, LGBT people are among the estimated hundreds of thousands of federal workers who remain on furlough during the shutdown.

Just like during the shutdown 17 years ago, these workers seem headed to receiving compensation for the time they’ve been unable to work. On Saturday, the House passed a measure to restore their pay, but only after the funding for the government as a whole is restored.

President Obama endorsed the idea of providing these workers with pay for the time they were furloughed, saying, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”

On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recalled most civilian Pentagon furloughed employees back to work on the basis of Obama signing the Pay Our Military Act to continue funding for the armed services.

Capt. Valerie Palacios, spokesperson for the LGBT employee affinity group at the Pentagon known as DOD Pride, said her fellow LGBT employees look forward to getting back to their jobs.

“DOD civilians, LGBT or otherwise, are proud to go back to work to support the military, but we, along with military personnel and the defense industrial base, remain severely hampered in our ability to do work critical to National Security by the lack of funding to support key programs,” Palacios said. “We all look forward to the day when we can get back to this critical work. Our nation’s safety depends on it.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride honorees

Nine LGBTQ leaders, Destination DC to be honored

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Iya Dammons is among this year’s Pride honorees. (Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced its selection of nine individuals and one D.C. organization as recipients of its annual honors awards recognizing outstanding service for the LGBTQ community and the cause of LGBTQ equality.

“Each year, the Capital Pride Alliance honors outstanding individuals, leaders, and activists in the National Capital Region who have furthered causes important to the LGBTQ+ community,” the group said in a statement. The statement says the honorees chosen this year “tirelessly contribute to our collective advocacy, outreach, education, and programming in support of our intersectional community.”

The awards were scheduled to be presented to the recipients at a Capital Pride Honors ceremony on Friday, May 31 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A statement released by Capital Pride says the event will be hosted by WUSA9 TV news reporter Lorenzo Hall, with entertainment by special guests, including singer-songwriter Crystal Waters, DJ Honey, and the Black Leaves Dance Company.

The award recipients as released by Capital Pride Alliance include the following:

Hero Award recognizing  “individuals who have furthered the causes important to LGBTQ+ community in the national capital region” and “have brought about positive changes to our lives and our community.”

• Hope Gisselle, nationally recognized author, artist, and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights through organizations she has been a part of, including her founding of a human resources organization called AllowMe and her current role as CEO and Executive Director of the National Trans Visibility March.

• Jamison Henninger, has served as leader of the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, a community-based organization that aids transmasculine individuals in the D.C. metro area, serves on the board of Trans Pride DC, and serves as a consultant for Gender Illumination, a nonprofit group.

• Kenya Hutton, a social justice, equity, HIV prevention, and sexual health advocate who has worked to address issues impacting communities affected by HIV and other health disparities for over 20 years. He currently serves as deputy director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity and is set to become its acting CEO and executive director in August.

• Carol Jameson has worked for more than 35 years in Northern Virginia developing and administering programs that address health care disparities and provide access to health care services, including HIV/AIDS related services. She has served as executive director for NOVAM, a nonprofit group providing HIV prevention and HIV care for adolescents and young adults in Northern Virginia.

• Tula, an esthetician and hair stylist by day, has been a widely recognized drag performer for more than 30 years and host to D.C. cabaret shows. A former title holder and member of the Academy of Washington, D.C. drag organization, “she brings a plethora of stage experience to any show,” according to a Capital Pride writeup.

• Jose Alberto Ucles has been involved with a wide range of LGBTQ supportive events and projects both culturally and politically while working in his day job for the past 23 years as the Hispanic Outreach Spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of his many involvements include past work with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Capital Pride organizing in the 1990s, and currently a member of the Arts & Culture Committee for World Pride 2025 DC.

Breaking Barriers Community Impact Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community and helped eliminate barriers for social, personal or professional growth of the LGBTQ+ community.

• Iya Dammons, a widely recognized transgender and LGBTQ rights advocate is the founding Executive Director of DC Safe Haven and Maryland Safe Haven, the nonprofit organizations credited with providing support and services for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, substance use problems at risk of an overdose, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service acknowledges exemplary contributions to the Capital Pride Alliance and its programs, initiatives or other Pride sponsored activities.

• Bryan Davis is an accomplished Sign Language interpreter trained at D.C.’s Gallaudet University who currently serves as Volunteer Chair with Capital Pride Alliance and previously has served as Executive Producer and Chair for Accessibility and Interpreter Coordinator for Capital Pride.

• William Hawkins has since 2017 been a committed volunteer for Capital Pride as part of its production team and as Executive Producer of Health and Safety and later as Health and Safety Chair. He is credited with helping to form alliances with G.W. Hospital, the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department, and the D.C. Licensing Division.

Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride recognizes outstanding efforts related to programs and initiatives of the annual Capital Pride Alliance or Pride movement.

• Destination DC, a private, nonprofit corporation, serves as the lead organization to successfully manage and market Washington, D.C. as a premier global convention, tourism, and special events destination, with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historical communities. It is credited with generating economic development for the city through visitor spending.

Further details about the Capital Pride honorees and the May 31 event, including availability of admission tickets, can be accessed at their website.

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United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

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District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building

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Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

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