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Holder to announce new DOJ policy on gay rights

Attorney general to unveil changes during speech at HRC gala in NYC

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Eric Holder, United States Department of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride
Eric Holder, Tammy Baldwin, Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride

U.S. Attorney General is set to announce new DOJ policy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce a new policy today aimed at ensuring the Justice Department recognizes same-sex marriages under the law, the Washington Blade has learned.

Holder is scheduled to deliver the remarks at 7 p.m. during his speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in New York City held at the Waldorf Astoria.

According to excerpts from his prepared remarks, Holder is set to announce the Justice Department will issue a memorandum on Monday to outline the changes, which will bring the department into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Holder is prepared to make the announcement in the same speech in which he’s set to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.”

Each of the changes is related to the way the Justice Department handles recognition of married same-sex couples. They range from rights in civil and criminal cases, rights as inmates and access to benefits programs:

• The Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases have the same legal rights as straight married couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate a spouse.

This new rule applies in non-marriage equality states. The government won’t object to couples in same-sex marriages invoking this right if they marry in another state, but their current jurisdiction doesn’t recognize their union.

• In bankruptcy cases, the U.S. Trustee Program will take the position that same-sex married couples should be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex married couples. Consequently, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly; certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses will be excepted from discharge; and domestic support obligations should include debts, including alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse.

• Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in opposite-sex marriages. These rights include spousal visitation; inmate furloughs to be present during a crisis involving a spouse; escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral; correspondence with a spouse; and compassionate release or reduction in sentence if an inmate’s spouse is incapacitated.

• The Justice Department will recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of a number of benefits programs it administers, such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Also among these programs is the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, which provides death benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries while on duty.

“When any law enforcement officer falls in the line of duty or is gravely injured, the federal government should stand by that hero’s spouse – no matter whether that spouse is straight or gay,” Holder’s prepared remarks say.

The new policy comes seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Nothing in the excerpts of prepared remarks received by the Blade references DOMA, but a Justice Department official said the new changes are considered a step in the process to bring the Justice Department into compliance with the decision.

The Justice Department has coordinated the effort across the Obama administration to ensure married same-sex couples have the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite sex couples in the wake of the DOMA decision. The various departments and agencies announced changes in policies since that time.

Chad Griffin, HRC president, praised Holder in a statement for changes he’s slated to announce within the Justice Department.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Griffin said. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

At least one of the changes that Holder is set to announce — the eligibility of married same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy — was already the policy of the Justice Department. According to Reuters, following a ruling against DOMA by a bankruptcy court in Los Angeles, the Justice Department in 2011 elected to no longer dismiss bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by married same-sex debtors.

In his remarks, Holder is set invoke the memory of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his work in the civil rights movement as a reference point for the additional work the Justice Department is doing on LGBT rights.

“Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was on the line,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “And so the Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time.  As Attorney General, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history.”

Just last month, Holder announced the federal government would recognize the more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah following a district court ruling legalizing gay nuptials in the state — even though the state won’t recognize the unions now that the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a stay on the weddings.

HRC’s Griffin said the actions that Holder is preparing to undertake are right in line with Kennedy’s legacy as civil rights icon.

“Attorney General Holder continues to show incredible leadership, and this latest action cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another attorney general who crusaded for civil rights,” Griffin said.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael Bedwell

    February 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Eight months after the Supremes overturned DOMA? What took them so long? And could Mr. Griffin BE any more shameless in his perpetual groveling to the Administration which DEFENDED DOMA for three years, which told the Supremes they did not WANT them to rule all state bans unconstitutional, and continues to make ridiculous excuses for not keeping Mr. Obama’s years-old promise to order federal contractors not to discriminate against LGBTs?

  2. Joe Bigschit

    February 9, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Not a good time to be a gerbil. I heard PETA is going to come after you people!

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National

More Americans personally know someone who’s transgender, non-binary: survey

42% know a trans person, 26% know someone using gender-neutral pronouns

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More Americans personally know a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, according to new data from the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

A survey found 42 percent of Americans know someone who’s transgender, who is up from 37 percent who said so in 2017. Although most Americans, 57 percent, still say they don’t know anyone who’s transgender, that’s down from 63 percent five years ago.

Similarly, 26 percent of Americans say they know someone who uses non-binary gender pronouns compared to the 18 percent in 2018 who said they knew someone uses pronouns such as “they” as opposed to “he” or “she.”

At the same time, comfort levels with using gender-neutral pronouns – as well as their opinions on whether someone’s gender can differ from the sex they were assigned at birth – has remained about the same. Half of Americans say they would be either very or somewhat comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if asked to do so, compared to 48 percent who say they would not be comfortable. The numbers, according to Pew Research, are basically unchanged since 2018.

The survey found profound differences by age, party, and education in knowing a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, although in both parties growing shares of Americans report knowing a person who’s transgender.

For Americans under age 30, some 53 percent say they know a transgender person, which is up from 44 percent in 2017. In the same age group, 46 percent of younger U.S. adults know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, compared to 32 percent in 2018.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey of 10,606 U.S. adults between June 14 and June 17. The survey is weighted to reflect the U.S. adult population in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories, according to Pew Research.

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Local

D.C. police seek help in finding missing gay man

Rick Woods last seen in Georgetown on July 14

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, 65, was last seen in the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., in Georgetown on July 14.

D.C. police have issued an announcement asking the public for help in finding Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, 65, who was last seen in the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., in Georgetown on July 14.

Friends who know Woods, who is gay, say he has operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business at various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, according to an online listing, has been at 1408 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., a short distance from where he was last seen. 

The police announcement says Woods was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23, but the announcement doesn’t identify the person who reported him missing.

 “Richard G. Woods is described as a white male, 6’O” tall, 210 pounds, with brown and gray hair and brown eyes,” the police announcement says. “His clothing description is unknown,” according to the announcement.

The announcement says the case is being investigated by the department’s Youth and Family Services Division. Anyone with information about Woods’ whereabouts is asked to call the division at 202-576-6768 or to call the police Command Center at 202-727-9099. 

“Rick is known by many in our community,” said John Fanning, a Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and longtime local LGBTQ rights advocate. “He’s owned an antique wood restoration business for years,” according to Fanning, who said he and others who know Woods are hopeful that he will be found soon and unharmed. 

A D.C. police spokesperson said the police incident report for the Woods missing person case wasn’t immediately available.

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World

Gay Nigerian priest makes religion serve LGBTQ people

Rev. Jide Macaulay founded House of Rainbow

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Jide Macaulay, gay news, Washington Blade
Rev. Jide Macaulay (Photo courtesy of Rev. Jide Macaulay)

It is impossible to speak of queer identity and culture without acknowledging the important role religion has played in shaping it throughout history. Whether it’s Pope Francis praising the work an American priest has done to affirm LGBTQ identity, or a Republican legislator rebuking the existence of transgender people by invoking scripture from the Bible, religion and spirituality unquestionably influence conversations about sexual identity in the U.S. and how American society would like for people to manifest their sexuality. 

A significant portion of LGBTQ people in the U.S. are religious.

A study the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute conducted in 2020 found that 5.3 million LGBTQ adults are religious with almost half of this metric identifying as “highly religious.” Forty percent of those between ages 18 and 35 are religious, and 65 percent percent of those over 65 identify as religious as well. In addition, 71 percent of Black LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are religious. 

The Washington Blade recently spoke with Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder and CEO of the London-based House of Rainbow CIC, to talk about his work as a gay Black African Christian priest.

Macaulay was born in London and grew up in Ikeja, the boisterous capital of Nigeria’s Lagos State. He was born into a religious family to parents who he described to the Blade during a 2017 interview as “very dedicated Christians.” His father was one of Nigeria’s leading theologians, so Macaulay’s upbringing was naturally Christian-centric, with him being involved in the church from a young age. 

As a budding adult, Macaulay pursued theology as a profession and became an ordained minister in 1998 after training with his father. After a two-year hiatus from the church, he joined the Metropolitan Community Church in London to study theology and later joined its congregation as a minister in 2003. Macaulay says it was there that he became confident in his understanding that “God loves gay people regardless of all these messages of it being a taboo or abomination.”

Sheathed with this conviction, Macaulay moved back to Nigeria to create an environment that mimics that which he had experienced at the Metropolitan Community Church.

“It became important to me to go to Nigeria to create the same space and tell LGBTQ people that ‘God loves you just the way you are,’” says Macaulay. “I embodied a lot of the spirit of the human rights church that came out of the origin of the Metropolitan Community Church.”

Macaulay started House of Rainbow under this ideology on Sept. 2, 2006. This weekly gathering of LGBTQ Christians initially began with 34 congregants, but the congregation grew rapidly to a point where Macaulay “didn’t know what to do with all the people.” He says the growth “perplexed” him as he didn’t realize that House of Rainbow was so popular. 

House of Rainbow encountered problems that emanated from operating in a country with virulent homophobic laws, despite its popularity. Many congregants were physically attacked for identifying as queer, and Macaulay recalls individuals emerging to church with broken noses and arms. The media also caught wind of House of Rainbow’s weekly gatherings and chaos ensued. 

The culmination of these events forced Macaulay to leave Nigeria after two years. House of Rainbow remained steadfast with its mission to create a community for LGBTQ Christians and soldiered on for a couple of more years before it eventually dissolved. 

“It’s unfortunate, now, that as I speak to you we do not have a House of Rainbow community in Nigeria,” says Macaulay. “We still have people connected [to the community], but we don’t have a physical presence or anyone leading it.”

House of Rainbow’s reach has nevertheless now become global, with communities established in 22 countries. The majority of them are in Africa.

‘Homosexuality is not a sin; it is who we are’

The crux of Macaulay’s ideology centers on inclusion and acceptance. He creates a space at House of Rainbow where LGBTQ individuals can not only gather in community, but can also feel seen and recognized as meaningful members and contributors to Christianity

“The important thing [that people need to understand] is that as a minister of the gospel of Christ, I want every LGBTQ person to make [it to] heaven,” says Macaulay. “I want them to be on a path towards salvation and redemption.”

“This whole language that if you are gay, you are destined for hell and eternal damnation is so wrong. That is even abusive in itself,” adds Macaulay. 

He further invokes a popular scripture that loosely states, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

This scripture is a part of what homophobic Christians use to denounce queerness. Macaulay, nevertheless emphasizes that there is a lack of complete understanding of what the scripture truly communicates.

“[The scripture] didn’t say that anyone is going to hell. It said that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” says Macaulay. “Having said that, it is important to understand that homosexuality is not a sin; it is who we are.”

Macaulay’s work is therefore enmeshed in the need to fight for social justice causes. He aims to use the church as a platform to bring awareness to and fight for all iterations of LGBTQ rights. Whether it be racism, sexism, or classism, Macaulay aims to “be like Jesus” and emulate his unwavering passion to uplift those at the bottom of society’s hierarchy.

“It’s inconceivable to think that any religious space wouldn’t be a platform for social justice. Jesus Christ was about social justice,” says Macaulay. “Even the Civil Rights Movement in America had the church fighting injustices relating to racism.”

Macaulay stresses that the church needs to “do what is right” and stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people. 

“In the Bible in Micah 6:18, it says, ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice? To love kindness and work in humility with your God,” says Macaulay. “Therefore, Christian leaders need to have a strong understanding of justice.” 

When reflecting on the current state of religion, its diversion from and/or weak approach towards social justice, and also its complicity in oppressing minority groups, Macaulay says, “Jesus Christ would definitely be mad.”

Can you be a gay African and Christian?

Prior to being colonized by European countries, many African cultures had relaxed attitudes towards sexuality and gender. The Shona in Zimbabwe, Pangwe in Cameroon, Igbo in Nigeria and other African tribes all permitted queer existence without any negative repercussions. 

The expansion of European global influence brought with it homophobic laws, which were largely enacted under the pretense of “Christian values,” that forced African countries to institutionalize queerphobia, which has now become an undeniable legacy of colonialism on the continent. 

That colonialism introduced African populations to Christianity is not an uncommon sentiment among queer Africans and Africans in general. Hence, it is not uncommon to find LGBTQ Africans who denounce Christianity not only because of its association with the racism that fueled European occupation of the continent, but also its functioning as a tool that erased what many of them nostalgically view as a queer-affirming past tainted by the arrival of the white man.

Macaulay both believes and shuns this. He acknowledges that colonialism did participate in the erasure of queer acceptance in African cultures, however, the concept of Christianity being “unAfrican” is fallacious. 

He asserts that African and Black African Christians existed before colonialism, and thus, the notion that Christianity is the “white man’s religion” is a false notion. 

“Christianity was present in pre-colonial Africa,” says Macaulay. “In the Bible there are numerous references to Africa, including Egypt and Ethiopia where important biblical events happened, [for example], the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt in search of the promised land.”

Macaulay, because of this, spotlights the need for religion to be decolonized. 

By reframing how Christians conceive of religion, from unlearning the notion that Jesus is white to acknowledging the existence of Black people in the Bible, one can have a more wholesome and truthful interaction with Christianity. 

Also, this will allow for queer African Christians to exist in their queer communities comfortably as Macaulay states that there’s a need for them to occupy space in the community as proudly religious people without bearing the shame that is cast on them by what seems to be an agnostic-leaning landscape.

Lil Nas X and ‘going to hell’

Lil Nas X on March 26 released a single titled “Call Me By Your Name” which garnered massive attention for both its musical mastery through a catchy hook and its depiction of Black queerness. The accompanying video further dramatized the story by drawing from Christian visual imagery of heaven and hell, and God and the Devil. 

The song’s video features scenes of Lil Nas X in sensual form, including him giving a caricature of Satan a lap dance. This particularly angered many religious groups, including Christian allies of the LGBTQ community who USA Today reported criticized the video for “going too far to prove a point.’”

Macaulay is a fan of Lil Nas X, who he dubs as his “favorite artist of all time right now, after Michael Jackson,” and for him, Lil Nas X’s discography extends beyond simple displays of queer identity. 

Macaulay has one thought at the forefront of his mind when he looks at “Call Me By Your Name”: The concept of hell is abusive and a form of scaremongering. 

“The concept of hell is propaganda. It is almost fictional,” says Macaulay. “The idea that if you do something wrong you will go to hell, is wrong in and of itself. Homosexuality was never wrong. Homophobia is wrong.”

Little Nas X performs on Saturday Night Live on May 22, 2021. (Screenshot)

He further underlines that God made gay people, and supports this with a scripture from the book of Philippians which loosely points to God’s omnipotent knowledge before, during, and after one’s life on earth. 

Macaulay says that people should listen to Lil Nas X’s pain, and not rebuke him, because he speaks for millions of gay people.

“The reality is that when you tell people that they are going to hell, you are excommunicating them from living their own lives appropriately,” says Macaulay.

Macaulay nonetheless has a deep admiration for today’s younger generations, especially because they refuse to align themselves with the bigotry that ravages societal discourse about identity. 

“I’m really glad for the young people that have stepped out. They are fighting back. They are the warriors and heroes saying, ‘Enough is enough. I’m proud, queer and African,’” says Macaulay. “I think that the sad reality for the Christian community is that they’re missing out on the gift and talents of the queer community [by being exclusive].”

Macaulay and House of Rainbow have created “GAYMoment,” a weekly online service that centers queer worship. Each Sunday, queer people from around the world gather online for prayer, sermon, and testimonies, all provided by queer people. 

Macaulay champions sex positivity

Discussing sex and sexual identity is a topic from which Macaulay does not shy away. In fact, it is one that although he is a religious leader, he also approaches as a person of faith. 

Macaulay, who lives with HIV, is a proponent of sex positivity.

“I think it’s important for every adult human being to experience a sexual relationship that is appropriate, suitable, and consensual,” says Macaulay. “It is important that everyone in their lifetime engages positively with sex, particularly adults. I don’t recommend it for minors though.”

Macaulay is also a vocal advocate for having honest and open conversations about sex and sexuality. He gives credence to the fact that society needs to address the lack of comprehensive sex education. 

“Countries that have [addressed sex education] are doing better. They have less cases of STIs and teenage pregnancies,” says Macaulay. “Also, students get more opportunities to know more about various sexulities.”

Sex education should be age-appropriate and geared towards protecting children, minors, and vulnerable adults, says Macaulay. He believes that children should know about their bodies and be armed with the confidence to talk to adults when their boundaries are violated. 

Thus, by keeping advocacy as the focal point, Macaulay, who is affectionately known as “Mama Jide” functions in a quintessential role in the queer community, one similar to that of house mothers in ballroom culture who outstretch themselves to the limits to ensure that their children not only have their basic needs, but also reach a point of complete self-actualization and realization of their purpose in life.

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