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Seeking to ‘move Maine forward’ as governor

Recently out, Michaud could make history at the ballot

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Mike Michaud, Maine, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade
Mike Michaud, Maine, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Having only come out five months ago in several editorials in Maine newspapers, Mike Michaud is new to the club in terms of out public figures.

Nonetheless, he’s on the path to achieving a goal that has never been accomplished by any openly gay person: Winning a gubernatorial election.

During an interview with the Washington Blade in the office of one of his campaign’s consultants near Capitol Hill, Michaud tried to tamp down his sexual orientation as a factor in the race, but acknowledged the significance it places on his candidacy.

“That’s not why I ran for governor, because of my sexual orientation; it’s because I want to move Maine forward,” Michaud said. “But, quite frankly, if elected, it is historic, and I think it’ll also change the tone of the debate when you look at LGBT issues, not only in Maine, but throughout the country.”

The five-term member of Congress is seeking election in a state that legalized marriage equality at the ballot in 2012 and non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in 2005 (after earlier failed attempts).

“As governor, one of the advantages I’ll have is the opportunity to talk with some of my colleagues,” Michaud said. “As a matter of fact, the National Governors Association just met this week. To sit down with some of the governors talking about LGBT issues as it might come up in their particular states is something that I’m not hesitant to do, and it’s easier talking to peer-to-peer.”

As Michaud noted, the State House recently rejected by a 89-52 vote a measure that would carve out a portion of Maine’s civil rights law to allow individuals to discriminate, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s similar to a controversial “turn away the gay” bill pending before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) that would enable individuals and businesses to refuse service based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Michaud said he would veto any such measure that might reach his desk as governor, and furthermore said he believes Brewer “absolutely” should veto the version of the bill in her state. Recalling the recent meeting in D.C. of the National Governors Association, Michaud said “that would be something I would be able to talk with her about this week if I was governor.”

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Equality Maine have endorsed Michaud’s candidacy. The Human Rights Campaign hasn’t yet officially thrown its support behind him, but is expected to announce more endorsements for Election 2014 following an upcoming board meeting.

Elise Johansen, Equality Maine’s executive director, said a win by Michaud in the gubernatorial election would be historic for the country and the state — and maintained her organization will help him achieve the victory.

“We endorsed Congressman Michaud’s campaign for governor because we strongly believe that he is the best choice to lead Maine, for the LGBT community and everyone in our state.” Johansen said. “In addition to electing a proven leader with a long history of standing with LGBT Mainers, we have the opportunity to make history by electing our nation’s first openly-gay governor.”

No other Democrats are challenging Michaud for the nomination in the race, so he’ll carry the Democratic banner in what could be a three-way race.

On the Republican side is incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, who was first elected during the Tea Party wave in 2010 and was recently dubbed by Politico as “America’s Craziest Governor.” Also in contention is Eliot Cutler, an independent who’s a perennial candidate for Maine governor.

The race will be tight. Cook Political Report rates the contest as a toss-up, while Rothenberg Political Report considers the match toss-up/lean Democrat. Nonetheless, Michaud said the polling he sees in the race is promising.

“I feel pretty good about where we’re at; we’re leading in all the polls head-to-head,” Michaud said. “With our current governor, it’s a slam dunk, with a three-way race it complicates it a little more, but I feel really good about where we’re at.”

Making an impact by being out

Although he’s served in Congress since 2003, Michaud came out in November via a series of editorials published in the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News and the Associated Press.

“It never was an issue in my campaigns before,” Michaud said. “It appears that someone was trying to make it an issue this time around, so rather than let them make an issue, I decided to come out and move forward.”

The announcement came the same week that the Senate began considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but Michaud said the timing was based on his presence in Maine as well as a pending endorsement from Maine firefighters and policemen. Because those groups tend to be more conservative, the campaign announced the news so those groups wouldn’t rescind their support afterward.

Nonetheless, Michaud said his announcement had a positive impact and recalled a story in which a restaurant owner who had a gay son wanted to speak with him.

“He actually literally had tears in his eyes because his son came out five months before that as gay,” Michaud said. “But the way he came out, he needed help, he was sick and needed help. And the fact that when I came out, it really lifted the spirits of his son.”

Saying the incident made him “feel really good” as he recalled what happened, Michaud said it was just one of several of cases of individuals who have told him it made a big difference.

Now that he’s out, Michaud said he sees no evidence of his sexual orientation being an issue among the candidates in the race — although he said a Tea Party challenger to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to Twitter and Facebook to make it an issue.

Although he could be be the first openly gay person elected as governor, Michaud won’t be the first openly gay person to serve as governor. That distinction belongs to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who came out as gay in 2004 amid controversy before resigning.

Michaud is also not the only openly gay person seeking to win election as a governor in 2014. In Maryland, Del. Heather Mizeur is pursuing the Democratic nomination in a contentious primary. The Maine Democrat said he’s never met Mizeur and professed that he’s unaware of McGreevey.

Heading Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign is Matt McTighe, who also ran a successful campaign in 2012 to legalize marriage equality at the ballot in Maine in addition to heading Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition of groups that pushed for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate last year.

Michaud said he supported the idea of bringing marriage equality to the ballot in Maine 2012 — despite what he said were persistent concerns among Democratic leadership at the legislature the issue would hamper Democrats at the ballot.

The Maine Democrat recalled a conversation he had with McTighe and then-Equality Maine executive director Betsy Smith before the decision was made to go forward.

“They were concerned where I might fall out on this particular issue, or they just wanted my perspective,” Michaud said. “I remember telling both of them, ‘If not now, when? Because when is the right time? Because in 2014, you’ll probably have the same excuse. Well, we have the governor’s race. We have to win it back. It’s not the right time. So, when is the right time?'”

The gamble paid off. Democrats regained control of the legislature that year, and the marriage equality initiative passed by a 53-47 percent vote, making it the first state ever to approve marriage equality purely through voter-intiatied ballot initiative.

“And I’m very glad they went with the campaign when they went with it,” Michaud said. “The way it was dealt with was it did change the hearts and minds of individuals one by one, and they made the difference.”

Michaud sees opportunity for ENDA

Before Michaud could be elected governor, he’s set to complete his 10th term in office representing Maine’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House. One item that remains on his agenda is continued push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In 2007, Michaud was among the roughly two-dozen Democrats who voted against a version of ENDA that afforded protections only on the basis of sexual orientation after gender identity-related provisions were removed.

“It should be all-inclusive,” Michaud said. “I did vote against it because it was actually weaker than Maine’s law. I wasn’t going to vote for something that was weaker than Maine’s law. I wasn’t going to vote for something that was weaker than what Maine has already had on the books. Actually, Maine Equality encouraged a ‘no’ vote on the legislation.”

Michaud said he was among the members of the LGBT Equality Caucus who participated in a January meeting first reported by the Washington Blade with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in which ENDA was a topic.

Although gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) told the Blade that Boehner said there’s “no way,” ENDA would come up this session, Michaud offered a slightly different version of events that didn’t throw quite as much cold water on the legislation, saying a lame duck effort on the bill remains possible.

“He actually wanted some more information on it, and we’re going to get him the information,” Michaud said. “They might have already sent it over; I’m not sure yet. He said it was highly unlikely that it would happen before the election, so hopefully there is a leeway maybe after the election. Hopefully, we can take it up in the lame duck session.”

Joining other supporters of the bill who say ENDA has sufficient support to pass the Republican-controlled House, Michaud predicted the measure would pass on the floor — if only Republican leadership would allow the legislation to come up.

“When you look at the overwhelming support, I believe that they’ll get that from the Democratic caucus,” Michaud said. “We’ll definitely have Republican support. I feel comfortable in that regard. Clearly, the more advance notice, we can have on it, the more opportunities we’ll be able to convince our colleagues to support it.”

Michaud declined to comment further on the meeting because of its private nature other than to say Boehner was “very gracious to meet with us.” It was the first time Boehner met with the LGBT Equality Caucus. Michaud said that Boehner chose to meet with the caucus even before President Obama granted an audience with the lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the Maine Democrat is adding his voice to others calling on President Obama to take administrative action against LGBT workplace discrimination by signing an executive order.

“It starts that ball moving,” Michaud said. “Until we see what might happen on the House side, since the Senate already passed it. I think it’s a good step in the right direction because if we can’t get it done in Congress, at least by executive order we’ll have 20 to 25 percent of workers covered.”

Michaud said the LGBT Equality Caucus is working on gathering signatures for another letter to President Obama to encourage him to sign the executive order.

Torey Carter, chief operating officer of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Michaud’s candidacy is significant.

“Mike Michaud is uniquely qualified to serve as the next governor of Maine,” Carter said. “He is a visionary leader that is a strong voice for fairness, freedom and equality for all Mainers. As a member of Congress, he has been an unwavering supporter of LGBT issues, and if elected he would become the nation’s first out LGBT governor.”

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N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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LGBTQ elder care facilities open nationwide, but discrimination persists

Advocates say seniors face challenges despite groundbreaking advances

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The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing facility opened this week in Los Angeles. (Blade file photo)

Marsha Wetzel, an out lesbian, shared her life with her partner of 30 years, Judith Kahn, at the couple’s home in Illinois until Kahn died in 2013 of colon cancer.

As is the case with some same-sex couples who never married, Kahn’s family took legal possession of the couple’s home several years later, forcing Wetzel, who suffered from severe arthritis, to move into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a retirement and assisted living facility in Niles, Ill.

According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2016 by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, when word got out that Wetzel was a lesbian after she disclosed her sexual orientation to a fellow resident, she was called homophobic slurs, spat on, and assaulted on several occasions by other residents of the facility. The lawsuit, which later resulted in a court ruling in Wetzel’s favor, charged that officials at the Glen St. Andrew facility illegally failed to take action to prevent Wetzel from being subjected to abuse and threats by fellow residents and retaliated against her when she complained.

Lambda Legal announced one year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, that Wetzel passed away at the age of 73 of natural causes after a landmark 2018 appeals court ruling in her favor affirmed that residential facilities such as the one in which she lived are legally responsible for the safety of tenant residents.

“Marsha spent the rest of her days in a senior living community where she was out and affirmed,” said Lambda Legal attorney Karen Loewy, who represented Wetzel in the lawsuit.

Advocates for LGBTQ seniors were hopeful that the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in the Wetzel case would speed up the gradual but steady advances in the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and in society in general.

A short time later, the New York City-based national LGBTQ elder advocacy group SAGE expanded its programs providing cultural competency training for the nation’s long-term care residential facilities. And in some cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, LGBTQ specific retirement and long-term care facilities began to open to provide LGBTQ elders with a wide range of “wrap around” services in addition to a safe place to live.

But LGBTQ elder advocates were taken aback in October of this year when news surfaced that transgender U.S. Army veteran Lisa Oakley, 68, was denied placement in more than two-dozen long-term care facilities in Colorado in 2020 and earlier this year.

“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of the facilities didn’t want me,” Oakley told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing,” she said. “We’re humans, just like everybody else.” 

Oakley told other media outlets her ordeal in trying to gain admission to a residential care facility began in October 2020, when she became unable to care for herself due to complications from diabetes. Her first choice was a facility in her hometown in rural Craig, Colo., where she had lived for the previous 25 years. She believes that facility turned her down because of her gender identity.

A social worker who assisted in Oakley’s applications for long-term care facilities said the facility in Craig said Oakley would have to be placed in a private room, which was at the time unavailable, “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman” in a shared room. 

Many other Colorado facilities to which Oakley applied for admission, according to social worker Cori Martin-Crawford, cited the COVID pandemic as the reason for not accepting new residents. But as COVID related restrictions began to subside, other facilities continued to deny Oakley admission.

With Martin-Crawford’s help, Oakley finally found a facility that is LGBTQ supportive in Grand Junction, Colo., which is nearly three hours away from her hometown of Craig, where she had hoped to remain.

LGBTQ activists expressed concern that the discrimination that Oakley faced took place in the state of Colorado, which has a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts familiar with long-term care facilities for older adults have said many private elder care facilities can get around state LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by claiming other reasons for turning down an LGBTQ person.

Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, told the Blade that the wide range of programs and initiatives put in place by SAGE and other groups advocating for LGBTQ elders in recent years have resulted in significant changes in support of LGBTQ seniors.

“It is the case now that in almost all states there are one or more elder care facilities that have been trained through our SAGECare program,” Adams said. “But it’s nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be that there are welcoming elder care facilities in every single community in this country” for LGBTQ elders.

Adams was referring to the SAGE program started recently called SAGECare that arranges for employees and other officials at elder care facilities throughout the country to receive LGBTQ competency training. The facilities that participate in the program are designated “SAGECare credentialed,” and are included in SAGE database lists available to LGBTQ elders looking for a safe facility in which to reside.

SAGE spokesperson Christina Da Costa provided the Blade with data showing there have been 136,975 professionals trained at a total of 617 SAGECare credentialed organizations nationwide. Out of 617 organizations, 172 are residential communities. Also, out of the total of 617 are 167 Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Centers, and senior Ombudsman offices.

Da Costa said 278 of the credentialed entities that have received the SAGECare training throughout the country are “other aging focused nonprofit and for-profit businesses.”

According to SAGE, there are 12 SAGECare credentialed elder care facilities or service providers operating in the D.C. metropolitan area, with two located in D.C. One of the D.C. facilities is Ingleside at Rock Creek, located in Northwest D.C., which is a residential facility. The other is Options for Senior America, a company that provides in-home care services for seniors, including seniors living in D.C.

A SAGE list of the D.C.-area SAGECare credentialed facilities shows that three are in Rockville, Md.; two are in Gaithersburg, Md.; and one each are in Bethesda, Md.; Arlington, Va.; and Alexandria, Va. The list shows that one of them that provides services to elders in the D.C. area is based in North Carolina.

SAGE has a separate list of the 15 elder care residential facilities in the U.S. created specifically to serve LGBTQ residents. 

None are in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. However, SAGE says it has been working in cooperation with Mary’s House for Older Adults, a D.C.-based LGBTQ organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors and is in the process of opening LGBTQ elder residential facilities in D.C. and others in the surrounding suburbs.

Mary’s House founder and CEO Dr. Imani Woody couldn’t immediately be reached to determine when the organization expects to open its first residential facility. 

While a residential LGBTQ elder facility has yet to open in the D.C. area, activists note that in addition to Mary’s House, services and amenities for LGBTQ elders in the area are currently being provided by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, which also has a legal services branch.

Adams of SAGE said the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center opened the nation’s first LGBTQ elder residential facility over eight years ago called Triangle Square. He said the L.A. Center opened a second LGBTQ elder residential facility a short time later. And this week, the L.A. Center announced it has opened a third LGBTQ elder residential facility in Hollywood that is part of a larger “intergenerational campus” that will bring together LGBTQ seniors and LGBTQ youth. 

SAGE, meanwhile, operates two LGBTQ elder long-term care residential facilities in New York City, one in Brooklyn called the Stonewall House and one in the Bronx called Pride House. 

The other U.S. cities with LGBTQ elder residential facilities include: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco (which has two such facilities), San Diego, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Islip, N.Y.

Adams said the LGBTQ elder residential facilities range in size, with the largest – New York’s Stonewall House – having 143 apartments that can accommodate 200 residents. He said others vary from 40 or 50 residential units to 120.

Advocates for LGBTQ elders point to what they consider another important breakthrough for LGBTQ elders this year in the release of a joint SAGE-Human Rights Campaign Long-Term Care Equality Index report for 2021. Adams said the report is the first of what could become an annual report and rating and scorecard for long-term care elder residential facilities and other elder facilities. 

The 2021 report includes a self-reporting assessment of elder care facilities that the facilities themselves completed through a questionnaire in which many disclosed they have LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies for elders around admission to the facility and for practices by staff for those residing in their facilities.

The report includes a chart showing that 158 elder care facilities in 31 states responded positively to the outreach to them by organizers of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.

“We are thrilled to be working with SAGE and to be working with the Human Rights Campaign who are developing the Long-Term Care Equality Index,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, who serves as senior adviser and LGBTQ liaison for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP.

“There is a great deal of work that we’re doing in the area of LGBTQ older adults nationwide,” Quartey told the Blade. “And AARP has been engaged with the LGBTQ community nationwide for many years now,” he said.

“In recent years, we’ve turned up the volume in working more closely with organizations like SAGE and Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund Institute, the Center for Black Equity, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and the Hispanic Federation.”

According to Quartey, a recent AARP study of LGBTQ elders called Maintaining Dignity shows that longstanding concerns of discrimination remain despite the many advances in support for LGBTQ seniors in recent years.

He said a survey that was part of the study found that 67 percent of the LGBTQ elders who responded, “were concerned about neglect in a long-term care setting.” Over 60 percent feared verbal or physical harassment in a long-term care setting and over half “felt forced to hide or deny their identity” as an LGBTQ person, Quartey said.

Another recent survey of LGBTQ elders conducted by SAGE asking them how they feel about the use of the word “queer” in descriptions of LGBTQ people yielded findings that came as a surprise to some, according to Adams. A large majority of those surveyed from across the country said they are “comfortable at this point using that word and reclaiming that word, which is different from what we had heard historically,” Adams said.

He said in response to those findings SAGE will now as an organization gradually shift to using the term LGBTQ instead of its past practice of using LGBT.

Although Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, last year under the Trump Administration, Congress acted in a rare bipartisan way to approve the required five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Older Americans Act with new language supportive of LGBTQ older adults. President Trump signed the legislation.

The language includes a mandate for outreach to and reporting about services provided to LGBTQ older adults in federally funded programs. It also opens the way for LGBTQ older adults to be designated in a category of “greatest social need.” Under that category, older adults receive a higher priority in the allocation of resources by the federal government.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to go to get over the finish line,” said the AARP’s Quartey. “And aside from passing legislation federally and on the state and local level, we absolutely need to continue the hard work of changing hearts and minds,” he said.

Longtime gay activist and writer Brian McNaught, whose latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray – Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives,” was just released, says his own very informal survey of LGBTQ elders found there is a need for intimacy that may be too controversial for the establishment LGBTQ elder groups.

“I’m a SAGE volunteer and the 81-year-old man with whom I was working after his husband of 47 years died, said after his grieving process, ‘I want to be hugged and kissed. Does that make me a bad person?’”

McNaught told the Blade he assured the man those feelings do not make him a bad person. McNaught said the man’s comment prompted him to conduct further research, in which he found that some gay male elders in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area who often need assisted living support would like to patronize gay bathhouses or seek the services of an escort agency. He said he determined that any LGBTQ elder group providing such services would trigger “a huge uproar of protests” and most likely a loss of funding.

“We don’t want to talk about sexuality and aging,” McNaught said.

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Former VOA director nominated to head U.S. Agency for Global Media

Previous CEO’s actions threatened LGBTQ internet freedom

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(Public domain photo)

President Biden on Monday nominated Amanda Bennett, the former head of Voice of America and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor, to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

“I am honored by this nomination,” Bennett told Voice of America. “If confirmed, I will be so proud to work with all the dedicated journalists at USAGM who are doing the critical and difficult work around the world of upholding and demonstrating the value of a free press.”

The agency operates independently from the U.S. government and oversees five different entities that include Voice of America, broadcasting platforms and the Open Technology Fund. The fund is an independent non-profit organization that focuses on advancing global internet freedom by providing internet access, digital privacy tutorials, privacy enhancement and security tools like encryption.

These tools have been integral in preserving internet freedom for LGBTQ people abroad, especially in places where it’s unsafe or illegal to be LGBTQ.

Bennett, 69, was named VOA director in 2016 and resigned from her post in June 2020 after conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack was confirmed as the agency’s CEO during the Trump administration.

Under Pack’s tenure, several technology freedom experts said the former CEO thwarted the Open Technology Fund’s efforts abroad by freezing funds. Pack also ignored a House subpoena for an oversight hearing that was meant for him to address mass firings, withholding congressionally approved funds and other questionable activities.

Pack stepped down at Biden’s request in January, and the president named Kelu Chao, a VOA veteran journalist, as Pack’s replacement and interim CEO.

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