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Gay ambassador in the spotlight amid Ukraine crisis

Baer a ‘strong voice for human rights’ at OSCE as Russia invades

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay U.S. ambassador Daniel Baer is representing U.S. interests during the Ukraine crisis at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gay U.S. ambassador is taking center stage in the crisis over Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine by representing American interests at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Daniel Baer, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August to his seat at the Vienna-based international conference, has his work cut out for him in one of the most daunting foreign policy challenges faced by the Obama administration.

As widely reported, after turmoil in Ukraine leading to the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian military forces under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin occupied buildings, airports and other assets in Crimea for what he’s said is ensuring the safety of ethnic Russians living on the peninsula. Both the United States and the Ukraine government have deemed the incursion an act of invasion and occupation by Russian forces.

From his Twitter account, Baer has posted updates about efforts to mitigate the crisis, which include attending emergency meetings to deliver the U.S. call to send an international observer mission to Ukraine.

The OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a forum where the United States could raise human rights and security issues with countries aligned with the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, the OSCE has served as a pan-Atlantic forum now comprising 57 European, Asian and North American countries for conversations on conflict management and human rights, although the most recent crisis in Ukraine recalls the original purpose of the organization.

In his prepared remarks for an initial emergency meeting on Sunday, Baer said Putin is breaking various international agreements by intervening in Crimea, such as its 1994 Budapest Summit commitments that enabled the de-nuclearization of Ukraine.

“The effects on relations between the Russian Federation and every single participating state around this table, to which the Russian Federation has pledged its commitment to abide by principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, will be profound,” Baer said.

Baer also lists the times Russian diplomats were critical of military incursions in the Middle East, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sri Lanka, saying Russia can’t selectively apply this principle to its foreign policy.

In response, the Russian government insists it has undertaken the incursion into Crimea out of concern for the Russian ethnic minority. But Baer asserts an international monitoring team would be an appropriate way to handle the situation.

“Now just a moment ago we heard from the delegate of the Russian Federation a repeat of their concerns about the protection of Russian citizens, the treatment of minorities, and the security of Russian military installations and personnel in Crimea,” Baer said. “An international monitoring mission is the right way to address these concerns.”

Following the meeting, Baer was photographed speaking with the media as he spoke about the U.S. call for an OSCE-led monitoring mission to Ukraine. According to Reuters, Baer told reporters the United states has won tentative support for a many members for a monitoring mission, including “openness” from the Russian delegation. Moscow has veto power on the OSCE.

 

Recently via Twitter, Baer said he’s hearing “worrying” multiple reports that paramilitaries are going house to house in Crimea and issuing threats if residents don’t attend pro-Russia rallies.

It should be noted that Baer is taking a lead role during the Ukraine crisis, but isn’t the top U.S. diplomat handling the situation. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, was also set to participate in the OSCE meetings along with Baer.

An initial emergency ambassadorial meeting of the 57 OSCE participating states called by the Swiss chairman took place Sunday. Following a special meeting Monday in which Nuland spoke for the United States, Baer said via Twitter yet another meeting was set for Wednesday “in response to Ukraine’s activation of Vienna Document Ch III mechanisms.”

Prior to his assignment as U.S. ambassador to OSCE, Baer was the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, where he took a lead role in shaping policy for international LGBT affairs. In his new post, Baer has moved to Vienna with his partner Brian Walsh.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Baer was “a strong and vibrant voice for human rights” at the bureau, so his role in mitigating the Ukraine crisis is reassuring.

“The OSCE was originally created to engage the former Soviet Union on human rights issues, and so it’s fitting that Dan is representing our country there now as we come – once again – to a confrontation with Russia over human rights with a leader who looks increasingly like a Soviet-era dictator,” Bromley said.

Recalling the anti-gay laws — including a controversial law banning anti-gay propaganda to minors — already put in place under Putin’s regime, Bromley said Putin has shown his targets for persecution aren’t limited to his own LGBT citizens.

“It’s important that we have a strong ambassador at the OSCE, and one who, as a gay American, understands that persecution of just one small minority in a country rarely ends with that one group, but, as history has shown repeatedly, almost always ends with a more aggressive assault on the rights of a broader group of people,” Bromley said.

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Maryland

Lesbian candidate loses Hyattsville City Council race by 17 votes

Final results show low turnout in special election to fill vacant seat

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost her race by just 17 votes.

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost by just 17 votes in a three-candidate special election on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.  

In what it said on Wednesday afternoon were the final certified results, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election board posting said.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

At that time, she said she remained hopeful that just a small number of mail-in ballots that may not have been counted on Tuesday night might emerge in her favor when the election board conducted its final tally of the votes later in the day on Wednesday or early Thursday.

But the final count released Thursday afternoon was identical to the preliminary count released Tuesday night, with winning candidate Strab receiving just 17 more votes than second-place finisher Melendez Rivera.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast for the candidates plus what the election board lists as 3 “under votes” brought the total vote to 701 in the special election. That’s considered a low turnout for the Ward 2 election district that has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

Melendez Rivera said she plans to run again for the Ward 2 Council seat. The Hyattsville Council consists of two members for each of the city’s five wards. The second of the two Ward 2 Council seats is up for election in 2023, but Melendez Rivera said she will not run if the incumbent, Danny Schaible, decides to run for re-election.

“But I will definitely run in 2025,” she said, against then incumbent Strab, if Strab runs for re-election in 2023.

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National

Biden announces pardons for thousands convicted of federal marijuana possession

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs”

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(Photo courtesy of NORML)

President Biden traveling in New York state on Thursday announced that he was granting a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.

Taking aim at federal conviction rates for marijuana possession, Biden noted in a statement released by the White House, “while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

This announcement by the president comes roughly a month before the midterm elections that will decide whether the president’s party can hold on to control of Congress. Democratic and progressive candidates have pushed the administration for action on this issue which which many Democratic activists have long called for.

The White House estimates will affect more than 6,500 people and in conjunction with his action today Biden is asking that all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.

Statement from President Biden on Marijuana Reform

As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
 
Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.
 
First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
 
Second, I am urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.  Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.
 
Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.  Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. 
 
Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place.
 
Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs. 

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Local

Comings & Goings

Conner promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications

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Robert Conner

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Robert Conner, promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. On his promotion Conner said, “I’m proud to be promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. Our clients are all mission-driven. I am fortunate to use my expertise to help clients communicate complex and urgent information to the public in order to help people learn about new research relating to their health, and the society around them. As an activist fighting for equality and LGBTQ causes, my daily work at Scott Circle Communications aligns with my overarching life goal of using communication to benefit the greater good by writing clearly to bridge misunderstandings.” 

Conner previously worked at SKDKnickerbocker in D.C. Prior to that he had been an intern in the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).  He has had a number of speaking engagements with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and received a bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign 2022. He served as chair of the volunteer engagement committee of the Human Rights Campaign in Greater Philadelphia.

Conner earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

Congratulations also to Christopher Rudolf who joined Atlantic Shores Sotheby’s International Realty in Ocean City, Md. Rudolph is a licensed Realtor in Maryland and Delaware specializing in the beaches and coastal areas of Worcester County, Md., and Sussex County, Del. He said, “I have been assisting buyers and sellers of real estate in our area since 2015. I thoroughly enjoy helping people achieve their dreams of coastal property ownership. The Maryland/Delaware seashore is a very cool place that I like to call home, and teaching people about the history and attractions of the region is a lifelong passion of mine.”  

In addition to real estate in the warm months, Rudolf works part-time as a manager at The Kite Loft of Ocean City. He was appointed to the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals in 2013 by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, and recently was elected chair of the board.  

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Salisbury University in Maryland.  

Christopher Rudolf
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