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DNC chair discouraged support for ENDA directive: sources

Wasserman Schultz’s office calls allegation a ‘bald-faced lie’

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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 gay Democratic activist claims that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has discouraged House members from asking President Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers, an assertion her office calls a “bald-faced lie.”

Paul Yandura, political director for gay philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, made the allegation when speaking with the Washington Blade from his home in West Virginia on Thursday regarding a 2013 missive that was circulated among House members by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.).

“I was told personally by two members that she was tamping down on public calls for the president to make good on his promise — this was last year when the issue was really getting hot,” Yandura said. “She is most likely doing the same still.”

Yandura’s allegation comes as lawmakers — led by the LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — are circulating a new missive among members of Congress calling on Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Two sources familiar with the 2013 letter told the Washington Blade that Wasserman Schultz discouraged members of Congress from signing it, but Yandura was the only source willing to go on the record. The other source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 23rd congressional district in the U.S. House, dissuaded Democrats from signing the letter in private conversations on the House floor.

Although these sources said Wasserman Schultz may be engaging in the same tactic for the letter currently being circulated, no one has made the same claim to the Blade about the upcoming letter. As the Blade reported this week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has already pledged to sign it.

Yandura said he wouldn’t disclose the names of the House members who told him Wasserman Schultz was discouraging support for the 2013 letter because he didn’t want to “rat them out.”

“I’m sure she’ll come with something that sounds like a good excuse, but it’s about time,” Yandura said. “It’s time that she not only signs it, but tells people that they should publicly, and that it’s OK and that there’s no pressure not to sign it.”

Mara Sloan, a Wasserman Schultz spokesperson, disputed the allegations made by Yandura, saying any assertion that she discouraged members from signing the letter “is a bald-faced lie.”

“The congresswoman believes the most effective way to ensure equal rights for LGBT Americans in the workplace is through passing comprehensive non-discrimination legislation,” Sloan said. “The congresswoman regularly speaks to the administration about issues important to the LGBT community, and will continue to be a fierce advocate for full equality.”

Sloan didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email about whether that response means Wasserman Schultz won’t sign the group letter currently being circulated among House members calling for the LGBT executive order. The response is along the lines of responses to requests for comment about the order by the White House, which consistently redirects attention to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Despite her record of support for the LGBT community, Wasserman Schultz has never explicitly called on Obama to sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. Asked about the issue in January by The Huffington Post, Wasserman Schultz said she supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority in “as broad a way as he can to ensure that we can move this country forward.”

Yandura said he thinks Wasserman Schultz refuses to express support for the executive order and has discouraged House members from speaking out in favor of it for political reasons.

“I think she doesn’t want to embarrass the president, and still doesn’t want to embarrass the president, because it is an embarrassment that he still hasn’t done it,” Yandura said. “We’re now coming down to the end of the second term, and if they don’t get moving on it, it’ll never even get implemented.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote; the Senate passed a version last year.

Yandura said he heard from House members about Wasserman Schultz because he was part of the effort to gather signatures for the 2013 letter. It ultimately was signed by 110 House Democrats. A separate letter to the same effect was signed by 37 Senate Democrats.

At the time, Yandura said he didn’t speak to the media about what he heard, but urged other groups working on the letter — Freedom to Work and most likely GetEQUAL — to address the situation with Wasserman Schultz. Freedom to Work didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEQUAL, said she couldn’t corroborate allegations that Wasserman Schultz was actively discouraging House members from signing the letter.

“I actually can’t corroborate that,” Cronk said. “I’ve heard that she wasn’t a fan of the Executive Order, but I don’t have any evidence that she actively worked against it.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he hasn’t heard anything about Wasserman Schultz discouraging members from the signing the letter, even though his group was active in gathering signatures.

Yandura said he didn’t contact HRC about about Wasserman Schultz “probably because I don’t see them as good accountability enforcers for the president or Dems.”

The offices of Capps and Pallone, who were responsible for gathering signatures for the House letter, didn’t immediately respond with information about whether they had heard anything about Wasserman Schultz discouraging support for it.

Yandura has a history of making inflammatory statements against the DNC for not undertaking sufficient efforts on behalf on LGBT rights. In 2004, he landed his partner Donald Hitchcock, then the DNC’s LGBT liaison, in hot water by publicly asserting that the Democratic Party wasn’t doing enough to combat the multitude of anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot that year.

Yandura’s boss has contributed to LGBT organizations such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL. Last year, Lewis announced that he would no longer donate to the Democratic Party after Senate Democrats excluded same-sex bi-national couples from immigration reform legislation (which was later remedied by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act) and President Obama’s decision to continue to withhold an executive order barring LGBT discrimination.

Invoking the assertion from LGBT advocates that the executive order is a 2008 campaign promise from then-candidate Obama, Yandura said the best way to convince Obama to pen his name to the directive is increased pressure.

“I think that if the pressure could get built again, we might be able to shame him into doing it,” Yandura said. “We’ve waited for him to do the right thing. Now, I don’t know what it will take other than what it took to get him to do other things — and that is causing a shitstorm, getting up in his face and demanding it get done.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride honorees

Nine LGBTQ leaders, Destination DC to be honored

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Iya Dammons is among this year’s Pride honorees. (Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced its selection of nine individuals and one D.C. organization as recipients of its annual honors awards recognizing outstanding service for the LGBTQ community and the cause of LGBTQ equality.

“Each year, the Capital Pride Alliance honors outstanding individuals, leaders, and activists in the National Capital Region who have furthered causes important to the LGBTQ+ community,” the group said in a statement. The statement says the honorees chosen this year “tirelessly contribute to our collective advocacy, outreach, education, and programming in support of our intersectional community.”

The awards were scheduled to be presented to the recipients at a Capital Pride Honors ceremony on Friday, May 31 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A statement released by Capital Pride says the event will be hosted by WUSA9 TV news reporter Lorenzo Hall, with entertainment by special guests, including singer-songwriter Crystal Waters, DJ Honey, and the Black Leaves Dance Company.

The award recipients as released by Capital Pride Alliance include the following:

Hero Award recognizing  “individuals who have furthered the causes important to LGBTQ+ community in the national capital region” and “have brought about positive changes to our lives and our community.”

• Hope Gisselle, nationally recognized author, artist, and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights through organizations she has been a part of, including her founding of a human resources organization called AllowMe and her current role as CEO and Executive Director of the National Trans Visibility March.

• Jamison Henninger, has served as leader of the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, a community-based organization that aids transmasculine individuals in the D.C. metro area, serves on the board of Trans Pride DC, and serves as a consultant for Gender Illumination, a nonprofit group.

• Kenya Hutton, a social justice, equity, HIV prevention, and sexual health advocate who has worked to address issues impacting communities affected by HIV and other health disparities for over 20 years. He currently serves as deputy director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity and is set to become its acting CEO and executive director in August.

• Carol Jameson has worked for more than 35 years in Northern Virginia developing and administering programs that address health care disparities and provide access to health care services, including HIV/AIDS related services. She has served as executive director for NOVAM, a nonprofit group providing HIV prevention and HIV care for adolescents and young adults in Northern Virginia.

• Tula, an esthetician and hair stylist by day, has been a widely recognized drag performer for more than 30 years and host to D.C. cabaret shows. A former title holder and member of the Academy of Washington, D.C. drag organization, “she brings a plethora of stage experience to any show,” according to a Capital Pride writeup.

• Jose Alberto Ucles has been involved with a wide range of LGBTQ supportive events and projects both culturally and politically while working in his day job for the past 23 years as the Hispanic Outreach Spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of his many involvements include past work with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Capital Pride organizing in the 1990s, and currently a member of the Arts & Culture Committee for World Pride 2025 DC.

Breaking Barriers Community Impact Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community and helped eliminate barriers for social, personal or professional growth of the LGBTQ+ community.

• Iya Dammons, a widely recognized transgender and LGBTQ rights advocate is the founding Executive Director of DC Safe Haven and Maryland Safe Haven, the nonprofit organizations credited with providing support and services for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, substance use problems at risk of an overdose, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service acknowledges exemplary contributions to the Capital Pride Alliance and its programs, initiatives or other Pride sponsored activities.

• Bryan Davis is an accomplished Sign Language interpreter trained at D.C.’s Gallaudet University who currently serves as Volunteer Chair with Capital Pride Alliance and previously has served as Executive Producer and Chair for Accessibility and Interpreter Coordinator for Capital Pride.

• William Hawkins has since 2017 been a committed volunteer for Capital Pride as part of its production team and as Executive Producer of Health and Safety and later as Health and Safety Chair. He is credited with helping to form alliances with G.W. Hospital, the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department, and the D.C. Licensing Division.

Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride recognizes outstanding efforts related to programs and initiatives of the annual Capital Pride Alliance or Pride movement.

• Destination DC, a private, nonprofit corporation, serves as the lead organization to successfully manage and market Washington, D.C. as a premier global convention, tourism, and special events destination, with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historical communities. It is credited with generating economic development for the city through visitor spending.

Further details about the Capital Pride honorees and the May 31 event, including availability of admission tickets, can be accessed at their website.

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United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

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District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building

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Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

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