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Obamas, Bidens won’t attend Russian Olympics

Two lesbian athletes chosen amid calls for stand against Putin’s anti-gay crackdown



Billie Jean King, tennis, sports, gay news, Washington Blade
Billie Jean King, tennis, sports, gay news, Washington Blade

Billie Jean King will be part of the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Olympics. (Photo by Andrew Coppa Photography)

Amid concerns over the anti-gay climate in Russia, the White House announced on Tuesday the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi wouldn’t include either the Obama or the Biden families, but instead two accomplished members of the LGBT community.

Billie Jean King, a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was tapped as one of five members of the delegation for the opening ceremony. For the closing ceremonies, lesbian ice hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow, was named as part of the five-member delegation.

In the announcement on Tuesday, no member of the first or second families was named as part of the delegation for the opening or closing ceremony. Also, no statement from Obama or any White House official accompanied the announcement.

Instead, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system and former secretary of homeland security, was tapped to the lead the delegation for the opening ceremony. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was selected to lead the delegation for the closing ceremony.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a follow-up email to the Blade that Obama is proud of U.S. athletes and will root for them even though Obama’s schedule “doesn’t allow him to travel to Sochi.”

“President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington as they compete in the best traditions of the Olympic spirit,” Inouye said. “He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America – diversity, determination, and teamwork.”

Inouye maintained Obama has sent a “high-level delegation” to Sochi in his place that includes several individuals who served or have once served in the administration.

“The U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States,” Inouye said. “All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games.”

The White House announced King and Cahow would take part in the delegation after the U.S.-based international rights group Human Rights First called on the administration to include LGBT people as part of the delegation. The call was echoed by other LGBT groups: the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, All Out and the Council for Global Equality.

Concerns over the anti-LGBT record in Russia consist of the country’s recently passed law barring pro-gay propaganda to minors, another prohibiting same-sex couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children and continuing reports of anti-LGBT hostility and violence in the country.

Shawn Gaylord, advisory counsel to Human Rights First, praised the Obama administration for taking the organization’s advice about the inclusion of LGBT leaders in the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

“We are pleased to see the Obama administration take action in line with our recommendations to have LGBT people included in the delegation and believe this can send a positive message to the LGBT community in Russia, as well as to Russian government officials,” Gaylord said. “The selection of this delegation displays to the international community the American values of respect and equality for all.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the absence of the Obamas and the Bidens from the delegation was appropriate as was the inclusion of LGBT figures.

“We are pleased that the delegation is at a lower level than might otherwise be expected and that it includes such an important LGBT sports legend,” Bromley said. “In both respects, we hope the delegation’s composition and its members will give voice to our country’s disdain for Russia’s persecution of its LGBT citizens.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, also commended the White House for its choices regarding the Olympics delegation.

“Given Russia’s deplorable law against LGBT people, the makeup of this delegation is entirely appropriate,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Particularly the inclusion of openly gay athletes sends a message to the world that the U.S. values the civil and human rights of LGBT people.”

The Obamas’ decision not to attend the Olympics in 2014 — unlike in 2012, when Michelle Obama led the delegation to the London Olympics — follows the announcement by several world leaders that they would skip the games. Notably, the announcement from the White House came less than two months ahead of the games; an announcement was made four months ahead of time for the 2012 Olympics in London.

The Belgian press reported on Tuesday that Belgian and Flemish Prime Ministers, Elio Di Rupo and Kris Peeters, have no plans to attend the Winter Olympics. Without explaining the decision further, French President Francois Hollande and other French officials announced they wouldn’t attend the Olympics. German President Joachim Gauck and European Union commissioner Viviane Reding earlier made similar announcements.

In an August interview, the Blade asked King whether she feels athletes should boycott the Olympics over the anti-gay atmosphere in country. Recalling Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists in the air as they stood on the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, King said athletes should decide for themselves.

“The athletes who have the most to derive from it and the least to derive from it if they don’t go, I think they should get the vote,” she said. “This is the Olympics. This is about the athletes and the fans, so it’s a really hard call.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.


District of Columbia

D.C. Pride officials monitoring Canadian wildfire smoke conditions

Whitman-Walker advises caution if attending outdoor events



Smoke from the Canadian wildfires have created air quality disturbances across the East Coast. (Screen capture via WUSA9 YouTube)

Organizers of D.C.’s Capital Pride parade scheduled for Saturday, June 10, and the Capital Pride Festival scheduled for Sunday, June 11, which were expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants, are monitoring the air quality situation following the Code Red hazardous alert issued by city officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

D.C. officials issued the alerts after massive smoke clouds caused by dozens of Canadian wildfires moved into the mid-Atlantic region, including the D.C. metropolitan area, on Wednesday and were expected to remain in the area at least through Thursday and possibly Friday.

“As with all concerns regarding health and safety issues, the Capital Pride Alliance will monitor the air quality situation resulting from Canadian wildfire smoke and take necessary precautions in consultation with our partners in the D.C. government,” said Ryan Bos, executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual Pride parade, festival, and other Pride events.

“Any updates or changes will be posted on our website and social media,” Bos told the Washington Blade.

Local and national meteorologists said late Wednesday that it was uncertain whether atmospheric conditions would push the smoke clouds away from the D.C. area by Saturday and Sunday. But they said with rain not expected to come to the region until Monday, the poor air quality could last through the weekend.

In response to an inquiry from the Blade, Dr. Sara Henn, the Chief Health Officer at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health, urged those planning to attend the weekend Pride events to “keep an eye on the Air Quality Index (AQI),” which provides the status of the air quality.

“If it is orange or red or purple you may want to modify your plans,” Henn said. She was referring to the AQI score of orange, which is considered potentially harmful to people in risk groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with lung or heart conditions.

The “red” AQI reading is considered to be unhealthy for most or all people regardless of the state of their health. A “purple” AQI reading is considered dangerous for everyone.

“A lot will depend on the wind and how it changes over the next couple of days,” Henn said. “Even healthy regular runners should reduce their outdoor activities on red air quality days and if the air quality is purple people really should stay indoors and events should be rescheduled, if possible,” Henn said.

Henn said those spending time outdoors on code red days should use the KN95 face masks that were considered protective against the COVID virus during the pandemic years.

“Wear them when you are outside to help protect yourself against the air pollution and take them off indoors,” Henn said.

Among those scheduled to participate in the Capital Pride Parade is D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

The mayor’s office released a statement on Wednesday reminding city residents that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment issued a “Code Red” air quality alert for Wednesday, June 7, and Thursday, June 8.

“Smoke from Canadian wildfires is causing unhealthy air quality in the Washington, D.C. area and the northeast United States, and this problem is likely to continue through Friday,” the mayor’s statement says.

D.C. Health and DOEE recommend that residents pay attention to local air quality reports and the U.S. Air Quality Index at,” the statement says.

More information on air quality can be found here.

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The White House

White House debuts new actions to protect the LGBTQ community

The administration is coordinating efforts across different federal agencies



The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, announced a slate of new actions the administration will undertake to better protect the LGBTQ community.

These will focus on three major areas, she said: safety and security, issues for LGBTQ youth like mental health and housing insecurity, and combatting book bans.

President Joe Biden has “already developed a historic record of supporting the LGBTQ community,” Tanden said, noting that he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are also prepared to “host the largest Pride celebration in White House history” on Thursday evening.

At the same time, she said, LGBTQ Americans are now experiencing “a whole range of attacks” from “hateful, un-American legislation” to “a disturbing surge in violent threats.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the administration’s “community safety partnership” will “work hand in hand with LGBTQ community organizations” to provide safety training and resources, Tanden said.

For example, she said, “and it’s so unfortunate to have to say this,” but the partnership will help LGBTQ community centers “prepare for the worst” – including “bomb threats, active shooters, and cybersecurity threats – while also protecting “healthcare providers who serve the community by working with doctors and medical associations.”

Actions for LGBTQ kids that Tanden previewed on Wednesday include HHS’s development of a behavioral health care advisory for transgender and gender diverse youth, to help ensure young people are given the best evidence-based care.

On Thursday, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch federal initiatives to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness and new regulations to “protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.”

Finally, Tanden said, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “will appoint a new coordinator” to combat book bans, which disproportionately target, for exclusion, materials with LGBTQ characters or themes, or communities of color.

DoE’s coordinator will “offer trainings and resources to schools to help them understand that students have a right to learn free from discrimination, and that book bands may violate federal civil rights laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” Tanden said.

A senior administration official, responding to a question from the Washington Blade following Tanden’s remarks, elaborated on the scope of the community safety partnership.

Community organizations, they said, will include “health clinics, community centers, and organizations that are planning Pride celebrations, but it also includes small businesses like restaurants and bars that have been targeted because they’re run by LGBTQI+ Americans or because they host events that support that community.”

“We’ll be encouraging and reaching out directly to organizations that have been impacted by these violent threats to help make sure that they have the training and the resources they need to stay safe,” the official said.

They added that DHS and DoJ, in anticipation of the possibility that threats will increase in June, “have both been working proactively over many months leading up to Pride to communicate with state and local law enforcement about the threats that the community may face and to help local pride organizers get access to any federal safety resources they may need to help keep the community safe.”

Asked to explain how HHS’s healthcare focused initiatives will be reconciled with restrictions targeting medical interventions for trans youth in conservative states, the official noted ongoing efforts to fight back – including by federal rulemaking and litigated challenges of policies that violate Americans’ rights.

When it comes to the actions previewed by Tanden, the official said, “Almost half of LGBTQI+ youth say they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, and that attacks on their rights have made their mental health worse. That’s a serious crisis that we want to take on and this advisory will help.”

Additionally, they said, “HHS is announcing that they’re going to release new guidance to states to help them use federal funds to offer dedicated mental health services to the LGBTQI+ community,” while “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, is releasing $1.7 million in new federal funding for programs that support the health and mental health of LGBTQI+ youth by investing in programs that are focused on family affirmation.”

Responding to other questions about anti-LGBTQ legislation and the rising transphobic and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, the official offered some insight into the Biden-Harris administration’s positions on these matters more broadly.

“Part of our role here is to lift up the stories of transgender kids and their families to help the American people understand what is happening to families who, as the President says aren’t hurting anyone but are being hurt by these laws,” said the official.

“These aren’t just attacks on the rights of LGBTQI+{ Americans, they are part and parcel of a coordinated attack on our democracy,” they said. “We’re not just talking about laws that target transgender kids. These are really laws that get at the heart of our basic freedoms and values: the right to free expression, the right to make decisions about your own body, the right to parent and raise your children.”

The official added, “Opponents of LGBTQI+ Americans are leading a pretty significant campaign of disinformation,” which have included “the same types of hateful lies and stereotypes that have been used against our community really for decades and for generations.”

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Mark Milley defends cancellation of drag show at Nevada Air Force base

Move followed pressure from anti-LGBTQ Rep. Gaetz



U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (Official photo via U.S. Department of Defense)

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Oren Liebermann during an interview Monday that last week’s cancellation of a drag show at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada was “the absolute right thing to do.”

The top U.S. military officer said the decision came from U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but added that he agreed with the move.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade on Thursday that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

He echoed those comments during Monday’s interview, asserting that the performances “were never part of [Department of Defense] policy to begin with, and they’re certainly not funded by federal funds.”

“DoD resources should be used for mission-essential operations, not diverted toward initiatives that create cultural fissures within our service ranks,” anti-LGBTQ U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a May 23 letter to Milley and Austin.

“I find it completely unacceptable that DoD is using taxpayer dollars to fund DEI programs that are divisive in nature,” said Gaetz, referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion – programs typically administered by corporations that have increasingly become targets of conservative outrage.

Milley pushed back on accusations that the military had “gone woke” during the interview, which took place in Normandy, France, marking the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion into Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944.

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