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Obama admin to recognize Michigan same-sex marriages

Holder’s announcement benefits more than 300 couples who wed in Wolverine State

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the federal government will recognize Michigan same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The marriages of same-sex couples who wed in Michigan when marriage equality was briefly allowed in the state will be recognized for federal purposes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday.

“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government,” Holder said. “These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”

More than 300 same-sex couples wed in Michigan on Saturday after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriages. But after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision and requested a stay, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely halted the weddings pending appeal of the lawsuit.

Snyder announced the marriages were legal under state law, but couples will receive no state benefits until the stay is lifted. As they criticized Snyder for withholding the state benefits, Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress called on the Obama administration to deem the marriages valid for the purposes of federal recognition.

In his statement announcing the decision, Holder noted a similar situation in which he deemed same-sex marriages performed in Utah were valid in the eyes of the Obama administration.

“For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Holder said.

After a federal court struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples wed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings with stay pending appeal. Gov. Gary Herbert announced he wouldn’t recognize the weddings, but Holder announced they would be valid at the federal level.

The Human Rights Campaign, which had also called for federal recognition of the Michigan same-sex marriages, praised Holder in an organizational statement.

“Last week 300 committed and loving same-sex couples were legally wed in Michigan,” the statement says. “As such they deserve the recognition and treatment that all other married couples receive. Attorney General Eric Holder has once again demonstrated his steadfast commitment to equality and upholding the core values of the U.S. Constitution by affirming federal recognition of these marriages.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who organized a letter to Holder seeking federal benefits for married same-sex couples, called the development “welcome news” and turned to Snyder for additional action.

“These legally married and loving couples shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the recognition and benefits they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution,” Kildee said. “It’s my hope that Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette will also drop their appeals in this matter and recognize the inherent rights of these Michiganders to love and marry one another.”

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said the Justice Department continues to work to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized under federal law.

“Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families,” Holder said. “The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government. And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.”

Holder’s full statement follows:

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER
ON FEDERAL RECOGNITION OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGES IN MICHIGAN
 
WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder issued the following statement today on the status of same-sex marriages performed in the state of Michigan:
“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government.  These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. The Governor of Michigan has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into, although Michigan will not extend state rights and benefits tied to these marriages pending further legal proceedings.  For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled.
 
“Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families.  The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government.  And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.”
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Biden urged to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach LGBTQ people abroad

US bought 500 million Pfizer doses for COVAX initiative

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Four Democratic congressmembers have asked President Biden to ensure some of the 500 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine it bought to distribute around the world will reach LGBTQ people that the pandemic has left even more vulnerable.

“While we are pleased to see the administration’s efforts to support global public health, we would like to ensure these vaccines are equitably distributed once they are sent abroad,” wrote U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), William Keating (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in a letter they sent Biden on Tuesday.

The Washington Blade exclusively obtained the letter.

“We are particularly concerned that the LGBTQI+ community may be unjustly excluded from receiving vaccines in various countries,” it reads.

The Biden administration last week announced the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The African Union and 92 countries around the world will receive them through COVAX, a global initiative the World Health Organization co-founded in order to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.

The letter notes the pandemic “exposed inequity in health care systems around the world for many marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQI+ community.”

“Due to stigma, violence, and discrimination, LGBTQI+ people — and transgender and non-binary individuals, in particular — face additional barriers to accessing relief and health care services,” wrote the congressmembers. “In addition to non-inclusive approaches to distributing relief, unsafe distribution centers and anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments and/or rhetoric of relief workers may also prevent LGBTQI+ individuals from obtaining vaccines.”

The letter, among other things, notes transgender people in Panama faced discrimination under gender-based regulations the country’s government implemented to control the pandemic’s spread. The congressmembers also cite Ugandan authorities who charged 19 LGBTQ people with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules after their April 2020 arrest at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to further restrict LGBTQ rights in his country after lawmakers gave him more power under the guise of combatting the pandemic.

“These are just a sample of the countless instances where those in the LGBTQI+ community have been unjustly discriminated against because of their gender identity and expression, sexual orientation or whom they love,” reads the letter. “As the entire world focuses on trying to return to some normalcy, we must ensure those who have been marginalized are afforded the same opportunities and resources to resume their lives.”

Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. The congressmembers in their letter notes they “appreciate your long record of promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world.”

“We hope that as the United States finalizes agreements for vaccine donations to countries, your administration will ensure that governments receiving vaccine doses from the United States will equitably distribute them to their residents regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” they conclude.

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As NYC Pride nears, ban on police seen as support for trans, BIPOC attendees

Organizers to provide ‘community-based security and first responders’

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A scene from NYC Pride in 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NYC Pride announced last month that it would no longer allow corrections and law enforcement exhibitors to participate in NYC Pride events until 2025. The decision is in accordance with NYC Pride’s commitment to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBTQ groups including BIPOC and transgender individuals at their Pride festivities.

“Effective immediately, NYC Pride will ban corrections and law enforcement exhibitors at NYC Pride events until 2025. At that time their participation will be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees, as well as the Executive Board,” reads NYC Pride’s statement. NYC Pride is scheduled for June 27. 

To make sure that safety regulations are still adhered to at events, NYC Pride will “transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

Police officers being banned from participating in Pride parades and festivities is not an unfamiliar conversation to LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups in North America. In 2018, Capital Pride in D.C. announced that uniformed officers would not be allowed to march in the Pride parade. In 2019,  Pride Toronto announced that uniformed police officers would not be permitted to attend any Pride Toronto events. 

The announcement was preceded by a voting session that took place among Pride Toronto members. Global News, a Canadian news platform, reported a final result of 163-161, disallowing police participation in Pride Toronto events.

Global News also reports that Pride Toronto committed to using their $1.25 million federal grant to examine the LGBTQ community’s feelings regarding police, and to forge a way forward. 

In solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Vancouver Pride Society announced in 2020 that police officers were no longer welcome to march and exhibit during any of Vancouver Pride Society’s festivities. 

“The roots of Pride are in righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality. These riots against the violence of the police were led by Black and Brown trans women and queer people. The Stonewall Riots propelled gay movements from assimilationist tactics towards unapologetic Pride. These riots worked,” reads Vancouver Pride Society’s statement. 

The organization also pledged to ensure public safety by participating in calls to defund the police and “commit to learning and convening community dialogues about what these alternative forms of managing public safety look like.”

Why ban the police? The decision from NYC Pride was simple: given the law enforcement’s history of police brutality in America, there is a need to ensure that BIPOC and transgender individuals who attend Pride events can do so comfortably, without feeling vulnerable at events meant to be safe havens that allow full, unabashed identity expression and manifestation. 

“After many interactions between the police and LGBTQ community locally, [including] the passive aggressive moves between the NYPD and peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park last year, we have to look at the history,” said André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair. “The ability to welcome Black, Brown, and trans Americans at our events is an even higher priority than for someone to be able to wear police uniform in a parade.”

It is no secret that BIPOC and transgender communities are some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to interactions with corrections and law enforcement officers. 

Mapping Police Violence reports that in 2020, Black people constituted 28% of those killed by the police despite only constituting 13% of the country’s population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also reports that Black transgender people were 50% more likely to report that their interactions with police officers as suspecting them of soliciting sex work and leading to an arrest. In addition, the Movement Advancement Project reports in a 2017 study that nearly 40% of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are LGBTQ youth of color. 

With this in mind, NYC Pride’s goal is to make their events harm-and-fear-free for members of the LGBTQ community. 

To supplement the absence of corrections and law enforcement officers at NYC Pride events, the organization will provide community-based security companies and first responders who will ensure that Pride events are secure and will also be on standby in case of emergencies. 

As part of their training, the security companies are primed on how to deal with all kinds of situations including responding to an active shooter. 

“Our staff has gone through active shooter training and everything it entails including what they’re wearing and how they’re identifiable to the community,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure people that even though the NYPD may be a block away, there is still security [present] to take care of your needs.”

A lot of NYC Pride’s information regarding security measures is currently being relayed through social media and reportage from various news sources. 

“We tweeted about our meetings that we had with the NYPD to reinforce public safety after the initial news broke out of what’s been going on,” said Thomas. 

Regarding whether NYC Pride will implement this year’s model for next year’s Pride, “[NYC Pride is] figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to do things in a hybrid model with some limited in-person and some virtual events. We’re going to figure out what to keep and what to change, and this will influence the planning and processes that we do.”

As for future Prides, Thomas wants everyone to remember this: “It’s always someone’s first Pride, and so, you want to be able to give someone that special experience. So, for future Prides, we’ll be working on greater inclusivity and representation.”

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National LGBTQ Task Force welcomes new leadership

Mayra Hidalgo Salazar named deputy executive director

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Mayra Hidalgo Salazar is the new deputy executive director of the Task Force. (Photo courtesy Task Force)

Earlier this month, the National LGBTQ Task Force named Mayra Hidalgo Salazar as its new Deputy Executive Director. Hidalgo Salazar joined the then newly appointed Executive Director Kierra Johnson as part of the Task Force’s new and growing leadership team that will continue to advocate for LGBTQ individuals across the country while paying close attention to intersectionality as a crucial component of LGBTQ activism. 

As part of a statement released by the Task Force, Hidalgo Salazar said, “I am overjoyed to stand on the shoulders of the giants, elders in our movement who started the National LGBTQ Task Force over 40 years ago. The seeds that the Task Force has planted in training and developing LGBTQ+ leaders for nearly 5 decades are in full bloom.”

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on this new journey, it is clearer for her that fighting for LGBTQ rights is important now more than ever. 

Hidalgo Salazar was introduced to LGBTQ activism at age 17. She worked on the Trail of Dreams in 2010, a 1,500-mile walk from Miami to Washington, D.C., in support of immigrant rights. The Trail of Dreams’s goal, according to Amnesty International, was to “[raise] awareness about broken U.S. immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy.” 

During her time working on this campaign, Hidalgo Salazar became more personally acquainted with the concept of intersectionality, in addition to her basic academic understanding of the concept. 

“Before I could really understand what intersectionality meant…this campaign really showed me, in action, a great example of what it looks like to support people and support our community, which is not living single-issue lives,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “Two of the walkers [at the Trail of Dreams] were actually a queer couple: Isabel Sousa Rodriguez and Felipe Matos, and, it’s interesting because all of the demands that the campaign was making people really understood them as solely immigrant rights or immigrant justice issues.”

This realization, showed Hidalgo Salazar that to adequately advocate for the LGBTQ community, activists must recognize that LGBTQ individuals inhabit multiple identities, such as undocumented immigration status, that shape their realities as members of the queer community. 

Being a young activist did not come without its challenges for Hidalgo Salazar. She acknowledges that while passionate about her work, she was not prepared for the emotional baggage that accompanies leadership. 

“I will say that now at 29, I can recognize that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for a lot of things leadership would bring my way,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “I was part of the first generation of undocumented people in Florida that started coming out publicly, and it was a very different time for immigrant justice than it is now.”

Hidalgo Salazar further remarked, “There were so many people who were afraid and even outraged, people who said ‘No don’t do that; you can’t do that; you’re putting yourself at risk; you’re putting yourself and your family in danger’ and, I think so many of us were at a place where our current existence was unbearable.”

Hidalgo Salazar is grateful that she did not let those remarks cloud her vision and stand in the way of the work she was doing. Given this, her main advice to young and upcoming activists is to “actively listen and carve your own path” amid people whose relationship to risk will force them to impose their problems on young activists. Simultaneously, she also believes in practicing self-care as it establishes longevity within the activism world.

“I can’t tell you how many gifted, incredible organizers I know who have burned out before they were even 25. There’s environmental reasons for this and also, it’s about how we hold — or don’t — our boundaries. So, self-care is really important,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Spearheading new era of leadership

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on her new role with the LGBTQ Task Force, one of the goals at the forefront of her mind is to “level-up” the work that has already been done by her predecessors and existing leaders within the LGBTQ activism space. 

“I think [that in] any role I undertake, it’s super important that I’m building a bench, that I am leveling up the existing leaders. That’s just important for me when I think about the longevity of this work and really building a culture of passing on the torch and normalizing it,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar will also support Kierra Johnson’s vision to build the Task Force’s organizing efforts, and better train, support, and defend local grassroots power. Having worked with undocumented youth at United We Dream  as the development director, Hidalgo Salazar understands the importance of having an organized front of directly impacted people ready to mobilize and hold those in power accountable.

“The Task Force used to have a field organizing team that was in the double digits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Right now, our organizing team is three people, and as we’ve seen these past four years, no one advancement and policy is actually ensured unless we have an organized base of grassroots leaders,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, part of what Kierra Johnson is wanting to settle down at the Task Force is really building out [our] local organizing arm.” 

In addition to this, Hidalgo Salazar brings a deep understanding of America as it exists today and how integral youth are to mobilizing masses to demand change. She is aware of the power and fervor Generation Z possesses and how this passion has become one of the main driving forces of modern day activism. 

“[Young people] are at the forefront of social change across so many different issues from climate change, to immigrant justice, to uprisings against police brutality, and so many more,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “We are forging a future for ourselves and we’re inviting people to come with us; and we’re going [in full force].” 

Ultimately, Hidalgo Salazar’s work will be aimed at preserving and continuing the tradition at the Task Force of approaching LGBTQ activism and advocacy with a strong consciousness surrounding intersectionality, a tradition that she appreciates. 

“I think the Task Force has done such an amazing job at really focusing not just on how different genders and sexualities are criminalized, but also working from this place of really innovating and creating a space where folks can enter a sex-positive framework really young,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar’s modus operandi will focus on participating in an exercise where LGBTQ individuals outline and work toward what they would like their liberation to look like. 

“I think it’s about being able to articulate the alternative worlds we want to live in. And when I think about intersectionality at the Task Force, we have the first-ever Black bisexual woman and the first woman with an undocumented immigrant experience in leadership,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, there’s so much opportunity for us to really leverage our own stories so that more people that maybe didn’t see themselves as part of the LGBTQ movement per se, can see this work as relatable.” 

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