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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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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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South America

Argentina’s former special envoy for LGBTQ rights criticizes new government

Alba Rueda resigned before President Javier Milei took office

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Alba Rueda (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)

Argentina’s former Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade discussed recent setbacks in LGBTQ rights in the country. 

Alba Rueda, a transgender woman who held the position in former President Alberto Fernández’s administration, revealed the challenges and risks faced by the queer community in the South American country in which 57.4 percent of the population lives in poverty, which is the highest rate in 20 years. The Catholic University of Argentina’s Observatory of Social Debt also notes Argentina began 2024 with a 20.6 percent inflation rate; this figure is 254.2 percent from year-to-year.

President Javier Milei took office in December.

“We received a request from our president at the time, Alberto Fernández, that we submit our resignation as part of the team that integrates the presidency,” Rueda told the Washington Blade.

Rueda explained she “resigned on Nov. 28, a few days before, to make it effective on Dec. 10 with the new government and since then, since Milei, the presidency and the chancellor, Daniela Elena Mondino, took office, (her post) was eliminated. It was already foreseeable according to Milei’s statements about closing the offices on gender perspective.”

“Our special representation was closed. My colleagues were redirected to other areas,” Rueda explained. “The person who accompanied me in political terms resigned with me, so the two of us left on Dec. 10, and the rest of the technical staff was relocated within the Foreign Ministry.” 

The former ambassador described how the closure of her position and the elimination of the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry represent a significant setback in the protection of LGBTQ rights in Argentina. She stressed that while the country was a pioneer in passing progressive laws for the LGBTQ community, the lack of effective implementation and declining government commitment are jeopardizing these advances. 

“We argued that it had been a long time since very significant laws were passed in our country and that they had to be translated into national and local public policies,” she explained. “LGBTIQ+ people not only have to be protected formally in the law, but we have to change and modify the living conditions of our community that has experienced discrimination, violence and persecution for many years.”

She added “to change that culture, there needs to be not only a formal framework, but functioning democratic institutions” 

“This elimination has a direct affectation to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people,” said Rueda.

The interview revealed how Milei’s government has dismantled institutions and policies designed to protect queer people. 

“We created, for example, a program that was the first program at the national level that was an assistance program for trans people,” Rueda said. “This program of accompaniment for the protection of their rights was in the sub-secretariat and provided economic support and was working on solving all the procedures related to access to education, health, employment, issues related to substantive issues.”

Rueda highlighted that recent political decisions are not only curtailing LGBTQ rights, but are also directly affecting the community, especially those who are economically vulnerable. The elimination of assistance programs and lack of legal protections are leaving many LGBTQ people in a vulnerable position.

“Economic rights have been affected, as is the inflationary process and the inflationary decisions of this last month are directly affecting the middle class, lower middle class and the most impoverished sectors,” said Rueda. “It directly affects not only economic rights of the LGBTIQ+ population that belongs to these classes, but also affects rights that are not being worked within the framework or promoted within public policies.”

Rueda also raised concerns about a possible increase in violence towards LGBTQ people in Argentina, comparable to what has been observed in other countries under hostile political leadership. Rueda stated incidents of violence have already been recorded and that the current political climate is fueling discrimination and hatred towards the LGBTQ community.

“It started during the campaign, and I think that during the whole last year we saw how effectively, punctually in social networks and in the public space there was a whole attack on LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “Let’s not forget during the campaign that the main candidates who are the president, the vice president and the chancellor expressed themselves in the wrong way, generating with their ignorance a completely wrong message in the media, amplifying these messages that directly affect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Rueda recalled the vice president “expressed in her campaign that for her it was not necessary to call marriage a union of people of the same sex … that was the civil union and saying that marriage was a figure associated with religious aspects.”

While Milei “in an interview also during the presidential campaign, said that he did not care if people want to have sex with other people of the same sex or with animals, such as elephants, equating and putting on the same level the consensual relations of people of the same sex over 18 as zoophilia.”

The situation has reached the point that different WhatsApp groups created to seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic became active again because of the interruption of the National Social Protection Plan and changes to an employment program that made vulnerable trans people in Argentina more at-risk.

“We are in a bad moment for the rights and quality of life of LGBTQ+ people,” Rueda said.

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