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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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Puerto Rico

Two men charged with attacking trans Puerto Rican woman plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges

Alexa Negrón Luciano attacked with paintball gun before her murder

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(Bigstock photo)

Two men on Monday pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges in connection with attacking a transgender woman in Puerto Rico in 2020.

A Justice Department press release notes Jordany Laboy Garcia, Christian Rivera Otero and Anthony Lobos Ruiz “were out driving together” in Toa Baja, a municipality that is about 15 miles west of San Juan, early on Feb. 24, 2020, “when they saw” Alexa Negrón Luciano “standing under a tent near the side of the road.”

“The defendants recognized A.N.L. from social media posts concerning an incident that had occurred the day prior at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja,” reads the press release. “During that incident, A.N.L. had used a stall in the McDonald’s women’s restroom.”

“Upon recognizing A.N.L., Lobos-Ruiz used his iPhone to record a video of himself yelling, ‘la loca, la loca,’ (‘the crazy woman, the crazy woman’) as well as other disparaging and threatening comments to A.N.L. from inside the car,” it notes. “The defendants then decided to get a paintball gun to shoot A.N.L. and record another iPhone video. Within 30 minutes, they retrieved a paintball gun and returned to the location where they had last seen A.N.L., who was still at that location. Lobos-Ruiz then used his iPhone to record Laboy-Garcia shooting at A.N.L. multiple times with the paintball gun. After the assault ended, Lobos Ruiz shared the iPhone video recordings with others.”

Negrón was later killed in Toa Baja.

Laboy and Rivera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice. El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, notes a federal judge sentenced Lobos to two years and nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges last November.

Laboy and Rivera are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.

They, along with Lobos, have not been charged with Negrón’s murder.

“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico in the Justice Department’s press release. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence. Our community must stand together against acts of violence motivated by hate for any group of people — we remain steadfast in our commitment to prosecute civil rights violations and keep our communities safe and free from fear.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesperson for Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, on Tuesday welcomed the guilty pleas. Serrano also urged authorities to bring those who killed Negrón to justice. 

“The time for total justice for Alexa is now,” said Serrano in a press release. “Her murder was a hate crime. Nobody doubts this. They falsely accused her, persecuted her, hunted her, insulted her with transphobic epithets, uploaded onto social media a video of them accosting her and they killed her. There are already three individuals who will serve time in federal prison for attacking her in a hate crime. That’s some justice, but not complete.” 

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Federal Government

Barbara Lee: PEPFAR is ‘more in peril’ than ever before

Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for Bush-era HIV/AIDS program

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) speaks about the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Sept. 22 said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is “more in peril” now than at any point since its launch two decades ago.

“This program is reauthorized every five years, but it’s always on a bipartisan basis,” said Lee during a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. “As we approach the benchmark of an AIDS-free generation by 2023, it is unfortunately more in peril now than ever before.”

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR.

Lee noted PEPFAR as of 2020 has provided nearly $100 billion in “cumulative funding for HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and research.” She said PEPFAR is the largest global funding program for a single disease outside of COVID-19.

New PEPFAR strategy includes ‘targeted programming’ for marginalized groups

The panel took place amid the continued push for Congress to reauthorize PEPFAR for another five years. The federal government will shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last December at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. acknowledged HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups. A new PEPFAR strategy the Biden-Harris administration announced that seeks to “fill those gaps” over the next five years includes the following points:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

The Family Research Council Action in an email to supporters urged them to tell Congress to “stop Biden from hijacking PEPFAR to promote its radical social policies overseas.” Family Watch International has said PEPFAR “has been hijacked to advance a radical sexual agenda.”

“Please sign the petition to tell the U.S. Congress to ensure that no U.S. funds go to organizations that promote abortion, LGBT ideology, or ‘comprehensive sexuality education,'” said the group in an email to its supporters. 

A group of lawmakers and religious leaders from Kenya and other African countries in a letter they wrote to members of Congress in June said PEPFAR, in their view, no longer serves its original purposes of fighting HIV/AIDS because it champions homosexuality and abortion.

“We wrote that letter to the U.S. Congress not to stop PEPFAR funding to Kenya, but to demand the initiative to revert to its original mission without conditioning it to also supporting LGBTQ as human rights,” it reads.

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. The law, which Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed on May 29, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his U.N. General Assembly speech last week noted LGBTQ and intersex rights and highlighted PEPFAR. Family Watch International in its email to supporters included a link to the letter from the African lawmakers and religious leaders.  

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both the FRC and Family Watch International as anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

“[PEPFAR is] not about abortions,” said Lee.

HIV/AIDS activists protest inside house speaker kevin mccarthy (r-calif.)’s office in d.c. on sept. 11, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power during the panel referenced Bush’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post that urged lawmakers to reauthorize PEPFAR.

“The way he put it is no program is more pro-life [than] one that has saved more than 25 million lives,” said Power.

Power referenced the “manufactured controversy that is making it difficult to get this reauthorization.” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Knengasong said a failure to reauthorize PEPFAR would weaken “our own foreign policy and diplomacy.”

“Once again the United States will be missing in action,” stressed Lee.

Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for Legislation Melanie Egorin and Kenny Kamson, a Nigerian HIV/AIDS activist, also spoke on the panel that MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated. 

From left: U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. John Nkengasong and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power discuss the future of PEPFAR at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in D.C. on Sept. 22, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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