Connect with us

News

Will new voices call on Obama to sign ENDA exec order?

New letter gives Dem leaders, Republicans chance to seek action

Published

on

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among those who haven’t articulated support for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new letter is being circulated among members of Congress urging President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT workers, raising questions about whether pro-gay lawmakers who have previously made no explicit calls for the directive will take the opportunity to do so.

Key members of the Democratic leadership have yet to call for the executive order as have Republicans who’ve already articulated support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter that’s being circulated among lawmakers calls on Obama to sign the order in the wake of his declaration that 2014 will be a “Year of Action” through administrative means if Congress doesn’t act on his legislative agenda.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter states.

A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign it would close at the end of Monday.

Although this is the first letter intended to include signatures from members of both the House and Senate, it’s not the first time lawmakers signed letters calling for the executive order. Last year, 110 House Democrats signed a letter seeking the directive and 37 senators signed a letter to that effect.

But neither of those letters included names of lawmakers in Democratic leadership or Republicans — even though many had previously articulated support for the executive order or ENDA in some capacity. The newly circulated letter presents an opportunity for those lawmakers to augment the call with powerful voices and create a bipartisan effort to push Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

The top members of the House Democratic Caucus — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-Calif.) — each refrained from signing the House version of the letter in 2013. None of the offices for those lawmakers responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether they’d sign the letter this time around.

[UPDATE: Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Monday following the initial publication of this article that the Democratic Whip “is signing onto the letter.”]

Even though she didn’t sign the letter, Pelosi has been on the record in support of the executive order since 2011, when the Blade asked her during her weekly news conference if she’d support that action. She also said Obama “of course” should sign the directive in January when speaking with The Huffington Post.

Clyburn was quoted as saying by The Huffington Post he feels “very strongly” that Obama should sign the executive order just months ago, reportedly adding “I don’t know where I would be today if the executive order had not been used to get rid of slavery.” The Blade is unaware of any public comments from Hoyer on the LGBT executive order.

At the time the 2013 letter was made public, Pelosi’s office cited a policy that she refrains from signing group letters because of her position in Democratic leadership. However, she had earlier signed her name to letters seeking action from the administration to help bi-national same-sex couples in addition to signing amicus briefs calling on federal courts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

[UPDATE #2: Following publication of this article, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss won’t sign the letter currently being circulated, noting she rarely signs group letters, and said she’ll instead take her own course of action.

“Leader Pelosi has publicly expressed support for this executive order and will be sending her own private letter to the President on this matter,” Hammill said.]

Also conspicuously absent from the 2013 letter is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee and is known for her support of LGBT rights. In the past week, she’s announced the DNC would form a lesbian leadership council and hired a gay operative as the DNC’s national political director.

Neither Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office in D.C. nor the DNC responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether she’d sign the letter this time around.

In January, Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post she broadly supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority, but refused to say whether that principle applies to an executive order for LGBT workers.

Wasserman Schultz’s name was also absent from letters seeking support of bi-national same-sex couples. At the time one letter was signed in 2011, Wasserman Schultz told reporters during an Immigration Equality fundraiser she supported the action, but didn’t feel comfortable making demands on the administration because of her position in the DNC.

“Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “So I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.”

On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also didn’t sign his chamber’s version of the letter in 2013. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’ll add his name this time around.

Reid has offered a nuanced position on the executive order. In February, he told The Huffington Post, “If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it.”

But on either the letter signed by the House or the Senate in 2013, not a single Republican signed their name. If a single one did so this time around, it would represent the first time that a Republican lawmaker had called on Obama to sign an executive order.

None of the offices of 10 Republican senators who voted for ENDA on the Senate floor responded to a request for comment on the letter. Those are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Despite being an original co-sponsor of ENDA, Kirk has previously spoken against an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all of which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said in 2011. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

In the House, six Republicans co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.).

According to the Huffington Post, Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the executive order. Of those six Republicans, only Dent’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the letter, and the response was negative.

“Congressman Dent believes that the regular legislative process is the best way to proceed in making this critical legislation outlawing workplace discrimination the law of the land,” said Dent spokesperson Shawn Millan.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t know whether Republicans will sign the letter, but hopes to see some GOP names calling for the executive order.

“I’m not going to engage in speculation, but with declared GOP support for ENDA among House members of both the House and Senate, I would hope to see some Republican representation on any letter holding the president accountable to a promise he made to Americans six years ago,” Angelo said.

Neither the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is handling circulation of the letter in the House, nor the office of ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which is handling it in the Senate, responded to the Blade’s request for comment over the weekend about expected signers of the letter.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Local

Anti-LGBTQ group claims Va. marriage amendment repeal will legalize polygamy

State Sen. Adam Ebbin rejected claim during committee hearing

Published

on

census, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

A representative of an anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said the repeal of Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman would pave the way for the legalization of polygamy in the state.

“There are some, at least, very legitimate concerns about whether this would actually legalize polygamy, among other forms of marriage,” said Family Foundation of Virginia Legal Counsel Josh Hetzler.

Hetzler made the comment during a Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee hearing on state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s resolution to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. Ebbin, who is the only openly gay member of the Virginia Senate, in response to the claim noted polygamy is a crime under Virginia and federal law.

“I take offense to the Family Foundation’s characterization that this would allow polygamy,” said Ebbin. “This has nothing to do with polygamy, what this has to do with is equality.”

Carol Schall, who, along with her wife, Mary Townley, joined a federal lawsuit that paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia, and outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck are among those who testified in support of the resolution. The committee approved it by a 10-5 vote margin.

Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment in 2006.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Virginia since 2014.

The General Assembly last year approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Ebbin earlier this month told the Washington Blade he remains “hopeful” the resolution will pass in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Prospects that the resolution will pass in the Republican-controlled state House of Delegates are far less certain.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin before his election reiterated his opposition to marriage equality. Youngkin, however, stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

Continue Reading

National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

Published

on

First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

Continue Reading

National

FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

Published

on

gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular