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Obama urged to raise LGBT issues with Francis

Adviser says president ‘inspired’ by pontiff

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Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Advocates have urged President Obama to raise LGBT-specific issues with Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican on Thursday.

Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino and Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said in a letter to Obama that the meeting will be “an important opportunity to address critical moral issues confronting the global community.”

“We write to urge you to use this meeting — and the joint statement following it — to reinforce Pope Francis’ positive statements on the inherent dignity of LGBT people and to amplify the shared opposition of the United States and the Catholic Church to laws criminalizing LGBT people which have sparked violence against this vulnerable minority around the world,” said the women.

Massimino and Kennedy specifically cited Nigeria and Russia, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics last month against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, in their letter to Obama. The women further noted Francis is expected to travel to Uganda this year.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“At a time when members of the LGBT community are being arrested, attacked, and ‘outed’ in situations that make them vulnerable to violence, there is a real urgency for U.S. leadership,” writes Massimino and Kennedy. “There is particular value for Pope Francis to raise this issue publicly in Uganda because his words will reverberate throughout Africa and worldwide at this time, and we hope he would raise these issues consistently.”

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón told the Washington Blade he also hopes Obama will discuss Russia and Uganda’s LGBT rights records with Francis.

Paulón noted the pontiff was among the most vocal opponents of his country’s same-sex marriage bill before lawmakers approved it in 2010. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio over his rhetoric against the measure that included calls for a “holy war” against it.

“We hope that in this meeting President Obama, like he did when he visited Russia (in 2013) and in recent declarations against Uganda’s homophobic laws, brings to the table at this meeting the need for the Vatican to change the position it has had on LGBT rights,” Paulón told the Blade. “We know that Obama supports marriage equality and the pope was the most active opponent to the Argentina law.”

Paulón added he hopes Obama will also urge Francis to change the Vatican’s policy towards sexual abuse.

“The Vatican must stop covering up and protecting pedophiles,” said Paulón.

LGBT Catholics continue to welcome Francis’ more moderate approach to gays in the church since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March.

The Argentine-born pontiff said last summer during an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. Francis less than two months earlier told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank during a flight back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Brazil that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2001 visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 people with AIDS. Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Blade during an interview earlier this month that Francis uses the word “gay” as opposed to “homosexual or same-sex attraction disorder or any of the sort of distancing and clinical kind of terms” that Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, used.

The LGBT Catholics and advocates with whom the Blade spoke about the first anniversary of Francis’ pontificate noted church teaching on homosexuality, marriage and other issues has not changed in spite of his more conciliatory tone.

Francis last July criticized what he described as the “gay lobby” during his press conference with reporters while returning to Rome from World Youth Day. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child last month sharply criticized the Vatican over its continued opposition to homosexuality and anti-gay rhetoric that contributes to the “social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples.

A White House spokesperson on Wednesday declined to say whether Obama would raise LGBT-specific issues during his meeting with Francis.

“You always welcome the opportunity to meet with the pope,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Wednesday while traveling to Rome from Brussels where Obama discussed Russia’s continued aggression towards Ukraine with European and NATO allies. “But in particular, the president – I think like many people around the world – has been inspired by the first year that Pope Francis has had, by the way in which he has motivated people around the world by his message of inclusion, of equality, which has deep meaning for people both of the Catholic faith, but people of different faiths all over the world.”

“It’s an opportunity for them to get to know each other personally, for the president to hear from the pope about what he is trying to do around the world, and really for the president to express his appreciation for the pope’s leadership on a range of challenges that he has highlighted in his first year,” added Rhodes.

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Politics

Joe Biden to ‘stand down’ from 2024 presidential race

Announcement comes amid growing pressure from Democrats to step aside

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Pride celebration on June 10, 2023, at the White House. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden on Sunday announced he will “stand down” from the 2024 presidential ticket.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your president,” he said in a statement he posted to X. “And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as president for the remainder of my term.”

Biden said he will speak to the country “later this week in more detail about my decision.”

The president in his statement specifically thanked Vice President Kamala Harris, describing her as an “extraordinary partner in all this work.” Biden in a second statement endorsed her.

The move comes after weeks of pressure from Democratic leaders, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who met privately with the president to urge him to step aside because he had no clear path to beating the Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Doubts among Democrats were crystalized by Biden’s poor performance in his televised debate against Trump on June 27, which led prominent donors including actor George Clooney to urge the party to replace him. They were followed by a steady trickle of elected Democrats.

“We are deeply grateful to President Biden for his more than 50 years of public service and his longtime support for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a statement. “Today’s announcement reflects his legacy and what President Biden has done his entire career: put the needs of Americans and his country above his own. We owe the Biden-Harris team a debt of gratitude for leading the country out of a state of chaos and constant crisis under former President Trump.”

“The Biden-Harris administration has been the most pro-LGBTQ+ equality administration in history: assembling the most diverse administration, signing the Respect for Marriage Act into law to protect against attacks on marriage equality, and taking important steps to protect our transgender community and LGBTQ+ students,” added Robinson. “President Biden and Vice President Harris have worked closely with HRC and others to get things done and move us closer to equality. We look forward to hearing President Biden address the nation later this week.”

The Washington Blade will update this story.

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Politics

Log Cabin Republicans host GOP candidates in tight congressional races

Speakers included U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (D-Calif.) and Senate candidate Eric Hovde

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U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) speaks at the Log Cabin Republicans Big Tent Event at Discovery World in Milwaukee on July 17, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MILWAUKEE — Republican congressional candidates in some of the most anticipated races of the 2024 cycle delivered remarks at the Log Cabin Republicans Big Tent Event at Milwaukee’s Discovery World Art and Science Museum on Wednesday.

Speakers included U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), a 31-year incumbent with an anti-LGBTQ voting record who is narrowly trailing gay Democratic challenger Will Rollins, and Eric Hovde, an entrepreneur vying to unseat the first openly gay U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Nick Meade, president of LCR Coachella Valley, introduced the California congressman by acknowledging that Calvert “didn’t have the most loving relationship vote-wise for our community” when his district was redrawn to include Palm Springs in 2022.

“We met with Ken,” Meade said. “We met with him again. And he showed up again. And he showed up again. We asked him to come to events and he showed up to the events. We asked if he would support us financially. He did it and then he did it again. He continues to show up.”

Eventually, Calvert joined 46 other House Republicans in endorsing the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified federal protections for married same-sex and interracial couples and was signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2022.

Meade explained that directly after the floor vote in July, the congressman passed Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran a slip of paper on which he had written the number “47,” telling the conservative LGBTQ leader “this is for you guys.”

Addressing his remarks to Calvert, Meade said, “I know, as humble as you are, you say you didn’t whip votes, but there are a lot of your friends close to our jurisdiction, your [congressional district] that voted for it as well. I will never forget that.”

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in our party, and one of those things is just that, as Nick was pointing out, that we were able to pass the gay marriage initiative on the floor,” Calvert said. “That was a good day.”

The congressman then discussed the importance of providing for the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces. “Everyone who serves in the military should be treated equally,” he said.

“It was refreshing to see the Log Cabin Republicans admit that Ken Calvert had never met a gay Republican until he decided he needed their support to win his new congressional district,” Rollins said in an emailed statement to the Washington Blade.

“But Ken might’ve forgotten to tell them that he voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, voted to defund LGBTQ senior centers, and just tried to make it harder for the spouses of LGBTQ military personnel killed in combat to collect survivor benefits.”

When introducing Hovde later in the program, Moran said, “Here in Wisconsin, we have a lesbian senator who’s a Democrat, who has been voting in lockstep consistently with President Biden, who has been making it worse for the lives of LGBT families, business owners, [and] service members, not only here, but also abroad.”

Senate candidate Eric Hovde speaks at the Log Cabin Republicans Big Tent Event at Discovery World in Milwaukee on July 17, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Baldwin should not expect the community to line up behind her reelection effort, Moran said, because gay voters “are not just voting on gay issues.”

Hovde told the audience he was “proud” that they had not “gotten caught up in the identity politics that the left has been pushing, you know, based on your race, your sexuality, your income level, your religion.”

“They want to try to drive a narrative and say you have to vote one way when you’re talking about issues that affect everybody,” he said.

The businessman then pivoted to voice his support for Log Cabin Republicans’ positions on transgender issues that were outlined earlier by Moran — specifically, opposition to irreversible gender-affirming medical interventions for patients younger than 18 and bans prohibiting trans girls and women from competing against girls and women in sports.

In recent years, athletics have provided opportunities for girls that were not available in generations past, he said, so “I’m thankful that you are using, just, a common-sense approach to these issues because that’s where most Americans stand.”

“Men shouldn’t be playing and girls sports — period,” Hovde said, adding, “That doesn’t mean that we’re against transgender people.”

The Republican hopeful noted, “we don’t let people drive before the age of 16” and “we don’t let them drink alcohol till 21” so the idea that “we’re gonna push or allow them to change their gender at 13, 14, 12” is “insanity.”

Baldwin, Hovde said, is divisive for claiming that former President Donald Trump is “one of the most dangerous men with a dark soul,” and the Democratic senator is a “rubber stamp for the progressive socialist left” as evidenced by her refusal to confirm Ric Grenell’s nomination, during the Trump administration, to serve as U.S. ambassador to Germany (a post for which he was confirmed by vote of 56-42.)

Hovde called Grenell, who also served as acting director of national intelligence and special presidential envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations, “a super competent man with great foreign policy chops” and “exactly who you want serving in government.”

“As the first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin didn’t run to make history, she ran to make a difference,” said Baldwin campaign spokeswoman Jackie Rosa. “And she’s proud of the difference she’s made to create jobs, lower health care costs, defend our freedoms, and improve the lives of millions of Wisconsinites.”

“Eric Hovde has to rely on divisive and false rhetoric about Tammy because he knows he doesn’t hold a candle to her legislative record,” she said.

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Africa

Uganda tightens grip on LGBTQ rights groups

Yoweri Museveni on July 16 dissolved country’s National Bureau of NGOs

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LGBTQ activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. Yoweri Museveni, the country's president, has signed a bill that tightens the grip on LGBTQ groups and other NGOs in the country. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The licensing, operation, and funding of LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups in Uganda will now be under the government’s strict supervision.

President Yoweri Museveni on July 16 signed the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2024, that dissolves Uganda’s National Bureau of NGOs, which regulated the groups. The new law places its work under the Internal Affairs Ministry’s authority.

Museveni assented to bill after parliament passed it in April. MPs accused the NGOs Bureau of impeding the monitoring of NGOs activities, such as the promotion of homosexuality, that violate Ugandan law.

“I want you people (MPs) to be very careful when you are talking about NGOs,” Speaker Anita Among said during the parliamentary debate. “This is where money is being laundered into the country; this is how homosexuality money is coming into the country.”

The MPs noted that allowing the taxpayer-funded NGOs Bureau to operate independently without the State’s close supervision was putting Uganda at risk of losing its national objective of protecting its citizens from what they described as unwanted foreign practices through “funny money” given to LGBTQ rights organizations.

“I am aware of some NGOs that have been operating and doing things that are contrary to our own values and cultures, but I believe police and other agencies have been dealing with those other NGOs,” MP Sarah Opendi, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent, said.

The MPs also backed the move for the NGOs Bureau to be under the Security Ministry’s oversight as “critical” by accusing it of bureaucracy in getting licenses and information. The NGOs regulator, however, does not allow the licensing of LGBTQ lobby groups for promoting homosexuality.

The NGOs Bureau in August 2022 halted the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group that fights discrimination against LGBTQ people in the country, because it was not registered by it or the Uganda Registration Services Bureau as Ugandan law requires. This decision came despite SMUG’s attempt in 2012 to reserve the name with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau for incorporation but the name was rejected for being “undesirable.”

The NGOs Bureau in stopping SMUG’s operations also noted the group did not have a physical office or location, and its representatives were reluctant to disclose it, despite partnering with the Health Ministry, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and the Uganda police.

The NGOs Bureau, however, established government institutions that partnered with SMUG were unaware that it operated illegally.   

The NGOs Bureau’s move to halt SMUG’s operations “with immediate effect” prompted the group to challenge the decision in a lower court and then the Court of Appeal. SMUG lost both cases.    

SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha on Thursday, two days after Museveni signed the NGOs law, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s ruling against SMUG.

“Today, we filed a case at the Supreme Court of Uganda to challenge the decision by the Court of Appeal rejecting the registration of Sexual Minorities Uganda,” Mugisha stated.    

Mugisha, together with two other LGBTQ activists, Dennis Wamala and Ssenfuka Joanita Wary, argue the Court of Appeal judges’ application of the principle of public morality in interpreting constitutional and human rights law in its March 12 ruling was erroneous.

“The learned justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the proposed objectives of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) are criminal and prohibited under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act,” reads the Supreme Court petition.

The three appellants also argue the Court of Appeal judges incorrectly maintained SMUG’s name was “undesirable” and the NGOs Bureau was within its mandates to disallow the registration in the “public interest” under the Companies Act. They also argue the Court of Appeal judges erred when they dismissed their appeal and want the Supreme Court to grant them to fully consider their petition.

 “It is proposed to ask the Supreme Court for orders that the decision and orders of the Court of Appeal be set aside and substituted with orders of this honorable court,” reads the petition.  

Activists consider the NGOs Bureau and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s decision to reject SMUG’s registration a violation of the right to freedom of expression and association. 

The appeal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling to the Supreme Court comes on the heels of the appeal of the Constitutional Court’s ruling that upheld the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Museveni signed in May 2023. Mugisha is among the 22 activists who petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Constitutional Court’s ruling on July 11.

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