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Clay Aiken ‘actively considering’ run for Congress: sources

‘American Idol’ alum has reportedly talked to DCCC about a bid

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Clay Aiken, gay news, Washington Blade
Clay Aiken is "actively considering" a run for Congress, sources say. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Clay Aiken is “actively considering” a run for Congress, sources say. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay singer and “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken is actively considering a bid to represent North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House, according to two Democratic sources familiar with his plans.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 35-year-old Raleigh native has taken initial steps for a run, including consulting with political operatives in Washington, D.C., about a bid for the seat.

One Democratic source said Aiken  made phone calls to gauge support, talked to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has met with figures in Raleigh, N.C., about a potential bid. Although it’s unclear when Aiken might formally announce a decision, the source said Aiken is “actively considering” it and “sounding and acting like a candidate.”

To help explore a run, the source said Aiken has been working with Betsy Conti, a Raleigh-based political strategist who’s worked for former North Carolina Gov. Bev Purdue and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in addition to serving as Maryland’s deputy labor secretary in the Glendening administration. It’s unclear whether Aiken has formally hired her or anyone else to help with his bid.

Another Democratic source said Aiken was in D.C. last month meeting with pollsters at Hart Research Associates to examine polling data with one of the partners at the firm.

The DCCC hasn’t responded to multiple requests to comment about a potential Aiken candidacy in the past few weeks. Neither Conti nor the Hart Research Associates responded to the Blade’s request for comment on Thursday.

Aiken himself was unable to be reached for comment. A Los Angeles-based management company known as the Firm, which reportedly represented Aiken for his music career in the last decade, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Aiken wouldn’t be the only candidate on the Democratic side to pursue a run for the House seat, which is currently occupied by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). Former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco is expected to formally announce his candidacy on Monday. He  formed a campaign committee to explore a run in December.

The filing deadline to participate in the primary is Feb. 28. The primary itself in North Carolina is set for May 6.

Although the polls indicate Republicans may be favored as the mid-term elections approach on a general ballot, the Democratic nominee — whether it’s Aiken, Crisco or someone else — may have a shot at the seat, which comprises Raleigh and was controlled by Democrats before the Republican surge in 2010. A House Democratic aide, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, described the second congressional district as a “winnable seat” for Democrats.

After finishing in second-place on Fox’s “American Idol” in 2003, Aiken used the prominence he gained from performing on the show to launch a successful music and Broadway career. He’s sold more than six millions copies of his albums, and, according to Forbes, made $1.5 million in 2010.

Aiken has also drawn on his fame to help promote causes as an activist. He co-founded the the National Inclusion Project, formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which seeks to help children with disabilities. Tapped as a national ambassador for the United States Fund for UNICEF in 2004, Aiken has travelled to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Kenya and Somalia as part of aid missions.

The singer has also taken part in LGBT activism. In 2010, the singer appeared at a briefing on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, to urge for passage of anti-bullying legislation with LGBT protections known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

“Like many kids now in middle schools and high schools, I was bullied,” Aiken said at the time. “I was picked on, I was called gay, I was called fag, I was called sissy, you name it. Fortunately, I was able to overcome it and live through it because of a number of friends who were supportive of me.”

Dogged by rumors about his sexual orientation during his appearance on “American Idol” and over the course of his musical career afterward, Aiken came out as a gay in 2008 by appearing on the cover of “People” magazine with his then-infant son Parker Foster Aiken.

“It was the first decision I made as a father,” Aiken told the magazine. “I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn’t raised that way, and I’m not going to raise a child to do that.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows Biden administration to end MPP

Trump-era policy placed LGBTQ asylum seekers at increased risk

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling said the Biden administration can end a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019.

The Biden administration suspended MPP enrollment shortly after it took office in January 2021. The program was to have ended six months later, but a federal judge in Texas ordered MPP’s reinstatement after the state and Missouri filed suit against the Biden administration.

Thursday’s ruling sends the Texas and Missouri case back to lower courts.

“As Secretary Mayorkas concluded in October 2021 after a thorough review, the prior administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” said the Department of Homeland Security in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision affirming that the Secretary has the discretionary authority to terminate the program, and we will continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible.” 

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.”

Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo on Thursday told the Washington Blade the Supreme Court ruling “will certainly impact our community in a positive way.”

“We know that people who have to remain in Mexico to wait continue to be victims of violence,” said Salcedo. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and we’re grateful that this happened in this way.”

Emilio Vicente, communications and policy director of Familia: TQLM, an organization that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants, echoed Salcedo.

“We’re glad to finally have some good news from the Supreme Court after horrible rulings on abortions, climate change, Native American rights,” said Vicente. “Ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ will allow LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who face increased discrimination and abuse during the journey to the U.S., to be able to seek asylum here.” 

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán is a South Texas-based immigration attorney and human rights law and policy expert who the LGBTQ+ Bar in 2021 recognized as one of its 40 best LGBTQ lawyers who are under 40.

He told the Blade on Thursday the Supreme Court ruling is “a victory we must celebrate.” Echevarría-Cabán also said MPP placed LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers at increased risk. 

“Refugees in general, but especially LGBT refugees, are extremely vulnerable to other type of harms such as kidnappings by cartel members, extortion, physical and psychological abuses from Mexican law enforcement authorities and third parties given the high levels of discrimination for LGBT refugees in Mexico,” said Echevarría-Cabán.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling a day after the Justice Department filed charges against four people in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in the back of a tractor trailer truck in San Antonio.

The Biden administration in April announced its plans to terminate Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Title 42 was to have ended on May 23, but a federal judge ruled against the White House.

“This decision isn’t the end of the fight for ensuring that people seeking asylum get asylum but it’s an important step in protecting vulnerable people,” Vicente told the Blade after Thursday’s ruling. “President Biden must follow through on his commitment to end MPP and protect all asylum seekers.”

Salcedo noted to the Blade the “system, as it is, particularly when it comes to trans women, needs to be completely changed so that we can be at a better place as a community.” Padilla in his statement urged the Biden administration “to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all.”

“Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system,” he said. “We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

The Department of Homeland Security in its statement notes Title 42 remains in place.

“The department also continues to enforce our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully, and will continue the court-mandated enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order,” it reads.

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Politics

Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black woman Supreme Court justice

Roe v. Wade struck down last Friday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a welcome change on the bench for progressives who are still outraged after the decision last week overturning the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade.

Jackson, who’s now the first Black woman to serve on the high court, has replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is retiring upon the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Breyer announced his forthcoming departure months ago as progressives urged him to stop to ensure a replacement appointed a Democratic president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.

The briefing swearing-in was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office for Brown before a small gathering of Jackson’s family, including her two daughters, according to a report in the New York Times.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement the beginning of Jackson’s tenure on the Supreme Court “will bring long-needed representation to the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, and after the court’s disastrous term dismantling personal liberty.”

“It bears repeating the obvious that women, people of color and LGBTQ people are Americans deserving of equal protection under law,” Ellis said. “Justice Jackson will be a visible and inspiring presence on a court currently dominated by extremists, reminding all that America should always be moving forward to expand freedom.”

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