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Pelosi envisions path for House passage of ENDA

Democratic leader looks to VAWA as way to move LGBT anti-bias bill

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she hopes ENDA could pass the House in a way similar to VAWA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she hopes ENDA could pass the House in a way similar to VAWA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Amid expectations the Senate will vote next week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is a envisioning path for passage of the bill in her chamber of Congress despite Republican control.

During her routine news conference on Wednesday, Pelosi said she’s hoping for a situation on ENDA similar to what happened when the House passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.

“We made it too hot to handle in the public,” Pelosi said. “It had to come to the floor. Even so, a majority of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. But nonetheless, it came to the floor. I hope we could have a similar situation with this.”

Asked to clarify whether VAWA reauthorization could be a model for House passage of ENDA, Pelosi called for expedited movement of the legislation in her chamber.

“Well, I would think it would be “once burned, twice learned,” and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor,” Pelosi said. “It’s really important. Our country – ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.”

In February, the House, amid public pressure, passed the Senate measure to reauthorize VAWA, which contained protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence. It was the first and only time a bill with LGBT-specific language passed under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

House Republican leadership initially brought to the floor its own version of the bill without LGBT protections, but didn’t have enough votes in its own caucus to pass the measure. Afterward, House leaders brought to the floor the Senate version of the bill, which was approved unanimously by the House Democratic caucus along with 87 Republicans.

Pelosi said Wednesday the situation could be similar for ENDA after noting the significant cultural change on LGBT issues since 2007, when a gay-only version of ENDA was introduced on the House floor. The Democratic leader attributed this change to “the community’s” efforts.

“So I would hope that the public attitude, which I attribute to the community’s activism, outside mobilization, and just family awareness and respect for people to end discrimination, increases its prospects for now,” Pelosi said. “And, it will be interesting to see if in the Republican Party they want to see a continuation of discrimination in the workplace for people because of their gender identity.”

Notably, throughout her remarks, Pelosi twice explicitly mentioned the bill’s protections in employment based on gender identity, and never once mentioned sexual orientation. That’s significant because the House under her leadership moved forward a bill in 2007 that included protections based on sexual orientation, but omitted language for transgender people.

Small progress has been made on ENDA quietly in the House amid considerable attention about whether the bill will have enough votes to pass in the Senate.

In this week alone, the legislation has gained at least two new Republican co-sponsors following the initial news that ENDA would soon come to a floor vote in the Senate. According to “Thomas,” the website for the Library of Congress, Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) signed on as a co-sponsor on Monday.

Joining him on Wednesday were six additional co-sponsors. Among them are Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and William Owens (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday also signed on as a co-sponsor to ENDA. He’s facing a challenge next year to his congressional seat from Sean Eldridge, a gay Democratic activist who’s married to Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, called Gibson’s co-sponsorship of ENDA “welcome news indeed.”

“Cynics will say that this is all politics and precipitated by Sean Eldridge’s carpetbagging candidacy, but I know that this was a decision Congressman Gibson didn’t make lightly,” Angelo said. “A great deal of contemplation and consultation with Log Cabin Republicans and others in the GOP who know support for ENDA is prevalent and growing put Congressman Gibson on the right side of history here.”

Counting these new co-sponsors and chief sponsor of ENDA gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the legislation has a total of 194 supporters. That’s still 24 votes shy of the 218 votes necessary to pass ENDA in the House.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said he agrees with Pelosi that VAWA advocates ran an impressive campaign and that method could be applied to ENDA.

“Freedom to Work and other LGBT organizations with strong Republican connections should meet with Republican House leaders to urge them to drop the Hastert Rule as they did with LGBT-inclusive VAWA and allow a vote,” Almeida said. “Our Republican Legislative Director has already started on an impressive number of Republican House meetings.”

But Almeida said a VAWA-like strategy is one of three possible approaches to passing ENDA in the House. Others, as he’s previously already articulated, include a discharge petition, as proposed by McCain-Feingold author Trevor Potter, and attaching ENDA in the Senate to a larger bill for the House to pass.

“We should try all of the above strategies in the next year before the election,” Almeida said. “It’s not a choice. We should push on multiple fronts. We can only win if we’re willing to try.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, wouldn’t rule out any option as a possibility for passing ENDA in the House despite Republican control.

“As with any measure that passes the Senate and already enjoys bipartisan support in the House, all options remain on the table,” Hammill said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between Pelosi and reporters follows:

Reporter: Madam Leader, Leader Reid in the other body mentioned in the next couple of weeks he is going to try to bring up ENDA. I know this passed in the House in 2007. I think there were 10 Republicans who are still in the House who voted for it. Why do you think there would be any chance if it moved to this body – they think they might be within striking distance of 60 next door – why would they have any ability to move it here when they can’t even pass a farm bill? Why would they be interested in trying to move ENDA in this body in this political circumstance?

Leader Pelosi: Well, I believe a lot has changed since 2007 on this subject. We have seen – as we know, in 2010, we repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military. The Supreme Court has overturned the so-called euphemistically named Defense of Marriage Act. Thank God they overturned that and its name. And just generally, the public awareness and acceptance of ending discrimination in any way.

Some people think ENDA is ending discrimination in the workplace. Isn’t that a given in our country? Apparently not. And that’s why we have to pass the bill.

So I would hope that the public attitude, which I attribute to the community’s activism, outside mobilization, and just family awareness and respect for people to end discrimination, increases its prospects for now. And, it will be interesting to see if in the Republican Party they want to see a continuation of discrimination in the workplace for people because of their gender identity.

We had a problem with the Violence Against Women Act. They didn’t want to bring that to the floor. We made it too hot to handle in the public. It had to come to the floor. Even so, a majority of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. But nonetheless, it came to the floor. I hope we could have a similar situation with this.

Reporter: Do you think you could use the model that was used for VAWA to make this ENDA bill “too hot to handle,” as you put it?

Pelosi: Well, I would think it would be “once burned, twice learned,” and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor. It’s really important. Our country – ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the additional ENDA co-sponsors in the House that signed on Tuesday.

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United Nations

UN Security Council urged to focus on LGBTQ, intersex rights

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield chaired Monday meeting

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The United Nations (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday chaired a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. co-sponsored the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield announced four “specific steps the U.S. will take to better integrate LGBTQI+ concerns into the U.N. Security Council’s daily work.”

• A regular review of the situation of LGBTQ and intersex people in conflict zones on the Security Council’s agenda that “includes regularly soliciting information from LGBTQI+ human rights defenders.

• Encouraging the U.N. Secretariat and other U.N. officials to “integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports” to the Security Council.

• A commitment “to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in our national statements in the Security Council.”

• A promise to propose, “when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“We are proud of these commitments,” said Thomas-Greenfield during Monday’s meeting. “They are just the beginning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, provided a briefing on LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. 

“My mandate is based on one single fact: Diversity and sexual orientation and gender identity is a universal feature of humanity,” he said. “For too long, it has been made invisible in national level contributions to peace and security, including policies and programs and in the political and programmatic action of the United Nations.” 

María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary also took part in the meeting.

Peralta said Colombia’s peace agreement “has created a standard by which other countries can use,” but noted the country’s Special Justice for Peace has yet to prosecute anyone who committed human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity during the war.

Akbary noted the persecution of LGBTQ and intersex people in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Akbary also said LGBTQ and intersex Afghans cannot flee to Iran and other neighboring countries because of criminalization laws.

“The whole world is watching as the rights of LGBTQ people are systematically violated in Afghanistan,” said Akbary. “LGBTQ people on the ground in Afghanistan need and deserve protection.”

Representatives of U.N. delegations from France, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, the U.K., Malta, Colombia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union spoke in favor of the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the Security Council’s work.

“A person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics often increases the risk of of becoming the target in conflict and crisis situations,” said Luis Guilherme Parga Cintra of Brazil.

British Ambassador to the U.N. General Assembly Richard Crocker made a similar point.

“We know the conflicts have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Women and girls, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “It is only right the Security Council is discussing this issue today.”

Ambassador Karlito Nunes, who is Timor-Leste’s permanent U.N. representative, read a statement in support of the Security Council discussions about LGBTQ and intersex issues. Representatives from China, Russia and Ghana who spoke said the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss them.

“Sexual orientation is an individual choice of every individual,” said the Russian representative.

The meeting took place less than 13 months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine. 

A Russian airstrike on March 1, 2022, killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law school student who volunteered for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, while she was volunteering inside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv’s regional administration building. Activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said LGBTQ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas of the country did not go outside and tried to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were afraid of Russian soldiers.

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ-specific meeting, which focused on the Islamic State’s persecution of LGBTQ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

Stern, along with U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), attended the meeting alongside OutRight International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, among others.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 during a U.N. General Assembly meeting hosted an event that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates are two of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. 

“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward further concrete actions the Security Council, and all parts of the U.N., can take to integrate LGBTQI+ human rights, experiences, and perspectives into their day-to-day work,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Blade in a statement after Monday’s meeting. “We’re proud of the four commitments we made today, and we will keep working to make sure this topic remains on the Council’s agenda.”

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World

Pope Francis: Gender ideology is ‘one of the most dangerous colonizations’ in the world

Argentina newspaper published interview with pontiff on March 10

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Pope Francis earlier this month said gender ideology is “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” in the world today.

“Gender ideology, today, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations,” Francis told La Nación, an Argentine newspaper, in an interview that was published on March 10. “Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women.”

“All humanity is the tension of differences,” added the pontiff. “It is to grow through the tension of differences. The question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike, and that is contrary to the human vocation.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis publicly backs civil unions for same-sex couples, and has described laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity have nevertheless not changed since Francis became pope.

Francis told La Nación that he talks about gender ideology “because some people are a bit naive and believe that it is the way to progress.” The Catholic News Agency further notes Francis also said these people “do not distinguish what is respect for sexual diversity or diverse sexual preferences from what is already an anthropology of gender, which is extremely dangerous because it eliminates differences, and that erases humanity, the richness of humanity, both personal, cultural, and social, the diversities and the tensions between differences.”

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Maryland

Md. House of Delegates approves transgender rights bill

State Medicaid program would be required to cover gender-affirming treatment

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Md. state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) speaks at a press conference for the Trans Health Equity Act in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday approved a bill that would require the state’s Medicaid program to cover gender-affirming treatment for transgender people.

House Bill 283, or the Trans Health Equity Act, passed by a 93-37 vote margin. The measure now goes before the Maryland Senate.

“Proud that the MD House of Delegates passed the Trans Health Equity Act with such a strong majority,” tweeted state Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), who introduced HB 283.

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