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Tennessee asks 6th Circuit to stay recognition of same-sex marriages

Lower court required state to recognize marriages of three plaintiff couples



Regnerus, gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

Tennessee has asked the Sixth Circuit to grant a stay on recognition of plaintiff couples’ same-sex marriages (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

On the same day that the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals placed a stay on marriage equality in Michigan, Tennessee asked the court to halt a court order requiring the state to recognize the marriages of three plaintiff couples.

In a 41-page filing on Tuesday, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. and other state attorneys write that plaintiff couples “will not be irreparably harmed” by a stay pending appending in the lawsuit, known as Tanco v. Haslam.

“[W]ith regard to Plaintiff’s due-process and equal-protection claims, Tennessee has a rational basis to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples,” the filing states. “A traditional purpose for the institution of marriage was to ensure that procreation would occur only within the confines of a stable family unit.”

The order requiring Tennessee to recognize the same-sex marriages of three plaintiff couples in the lawsuit was made by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, a Clinton appointee. After her order, she denied a request from the state to halt recognition of the marriages pending appeal of the lawsuit.

But Trauger restricted her decision to the three same-sex couples involved in the lawsuit at the time of the ruling as opposed to requiring Tennessee to recognize all same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.

In the filing, Cooper expresses concern that allowing the litigation to proceed without a stay would encourage other same-sex couples in Tennessee to “secure such injunctive relief.”

“Indeed, the District Court’s determination of harm to Plaintiffs Kostura and DeKoe rests solely upon the alleged indignities they suffer and the uncertainty of their martial protections —subjective harms that can arguably be applied to any other same-sex couple with an out-of-state marriage,” Cooper writes. “Such harm is insufficient to warrant preliminary injunctive relief, as discussed below, and the district court’s ruling to the contrary opens the gates to injunctive relief for future plaintiffs.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade earlier this week Tennessee cannot meet the standard for a stay in this case.

“The Tennessee ruling applies only to three couples who were validly married before they moved to Tennessee to accept new jobs there,” Minter said. “Tennessee recognizes the marriages of millions of couples and could not conceivably suffer any harm from recognizing these three marriages. The three couples, however, will suffer irreparable harm if Tennessee does not recognize their marriages as their lawsuit progresses.”



Netanyahu mocks gay pro-Palestinian protesters

Israeli prime minister spoke to joint session of Congress



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress on July 24, 2024. (Screen capture via NBC News)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday mocked gay pro-Palestinian protesters in a speech that he delivered to a joint session of Congress.

“Some of these protesters hold up signs proclaiming ‘Gays for Gaza,'” said Netanyahu. “They might as well hold up signs saying ‘Chickens for KFC.'”

Netanyahu spoke to Congress less than a year after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched from the Gaza Strip a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel.

The Israeli government says Hamas militants killed roughly 1,200 people on Oct. 7, 2023, including at least 260 partygoers and others at the Nova Music Festival. Dozens of people who were taken hostage on Oct. 7 remain alive in Gaza. 

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says nearly 38,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began.

The International Criminal Court on May 20 announced it plans to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh. Karim Khan, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said the five men have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza and Israel.

Outright International and the National LGBTQ Task Force are among the groups that have publicly called for a ceasefire. ACT UP, the Audre Lorde Project, and No Pride in Genocide have organized protests against the war since Oct. 7.  

Activists march in a No Pride in Genocide march from Dupont Circle to the Human Rights Campaign on Feb. 14, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
Gay U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), center, speaks with March on Israel attendees in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Gay U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), lesbian U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are among the lawmakers who refused to decline Netanyahu’s speech. 

Thousands of people have protested Netanyahu since he arrived in D.C. on Monday. 

The Associated Press reported police on Wednesday used pepper spray to disperse protesters near the Capitol after they became “violent” and “failed to obey” orders to move away from a police line. Protesters, according to the AP, also vandalized a Christopher Columbus moment in front of Union Station and set a Netanyahu effigy on fire.

Netanyahu in his speech said Iran is “funding and promoting anti-Israel protests in America.”

“When the tyrants of Tehran, who hang gays from cranes and murder women for not covering their hair, are praising, promoting, and funding you, you have officially become Tehran’s useful idiots,” he said. 

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Harris becomes the de facto 2024 Democratic Party nominee for president

Advocacy groups praise vice president, President Biden



Vice President Kamala Harris (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than three days after President Joe Biden announced his decision to step off the ticket and endorsed Kamala Harris to run in his stead, the vice president had emerged as her party’s de facto pick to take on the Republican nominee Donald Trump in November.

According to data from the Associated Press, by Monday 2,868 of the nearly 4,000 delegates who represent Democratic voters had endorsed Harris, well exceeding the 50 percent threshold necessary for her to lock up the nomination, which will be made official during the Democratic National Convention next month. The first ballots will be cast between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.

“When I announced my campaign for president, I said I intended to go out and earn this nomination,” the vice president said in a statement Monday. “Tonight, I am proud to have secured the broad support needed to become our party’s nominee,” she said, adding, “I look forward to formally accepting the nomination soon.”

Virtually all prominent Democrats whose names were floated as potential rivals quickly lined up behind Harris, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was tapped to co-chair the campaign, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member, who is considered a top contender to be her running-mate for vice president.

As of midday Wednesday, endorsements had come from over 90 percent of House Democrats, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) as well as from every Democratic governor and every Democratic U.S. senator except for Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) (who was just convicted on charges related to an international bribery scheme and announced plans to resign from Congress.)

Also supporting Harris are major organizations that are allied with the party (limited, of course, to those permitted under FEC rules to endorse political candidates). Among them are major labor unions like SEIU and IBEW, advocacy shops like Emily’s List and Gen Z for Change, and civil rights groups like UnidosUS and the Human Rights Campaign.

And in a signal of the popularity of a reconfigured Democratic ticket led by the vice president, her campaign announced that a record breaking sum in excess of $100 million was raised between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday morning with mostly small-dollar contributions from 1.1 million supporters, 60 percent of whom were first-time donors.

The journey toward Harris’s nomination began with the president’s shaky performance against Trump during the televised CNN debate on June 27, which led to a chorus of calls for the 81-year-old to step aside as polls showed he had no clear path to winning the race.

By and large, the Democratic donors, celebrities, and elected officials who pushed for a new ticket did so despite their admiration and affinity for Biden and respect for his record as president. Within the party and beyond, his decision to walk away was celebrated as a patriotic sacrifice of personal ambition for the good of the country.

After Biden backed Harris, she visited campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Del., on Monday, where she delivered remarks about how she will parlay her experience as a prosecutor who went after “predators” and “fraudsters” into her work arguing the case against Trump and ultimately defeating him in November.

Harris also reaffirmed her loyalty to and kinship with Biden while reassuring campaign staff, who had just weathered — by far (at least, so far) — the rockiest period of the 2024 cycle.

“I know it’s been a rollercoaster, and we’re all filled with so many mixed emotions about this,” she said, adding, “I just have to say: I love Joe Biden.”

The president, who was isolating and recovering from COVID-19 at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., called in to the event with words of support and encouragement for the team and for Harris, to whom he said, “I’m watching you, kid,” and “I love ya.”

The next day, Harris headlined a rally in the key battleground state of Wisconsin, where the reception she received was widely described as palpably energetic and enthusiastic, especially when compared to similar campaign affairs prior to the vice president’s emergence this week as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Putting aside voters’ apparent enthusiasm for her candidacy, the massive uptick in fundraising dollars, the rapid coalescence of support for her nomination from virtually the entire Democratic Party along with the various affiliated interests and entities, and the deftness with which she navigated an especially fraught conflict of which she was in the very center both personally and politically, any lingering questions about whether Harris has the full suite of skills and attributes of a top-tier candidate for national political office may have dissipated with her performances in these and other recent public appearances.

If, in fact, they persist, concerns about Harris’s ability to rise to the occasion largely stem from her 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, which folded ahead of the Iowa caucuses amid criticism that the California Democrat failed to articulate a cohesive and authentic message about her reasons for running and her vision for America.

As San Francisco Chronicle Washington Correspondent Shira Stein said during Jake Tapper’s CNN program on Tuesday, Harris has sharpened her skills as a politician over the past four years as she has served as vice president.

The political landscape has also shifted in ways that seem more broadly favorable to her candidacy in 2024. For example, voters might be more receptive to a nominee who built her career as a smart-on-crime prosecutor now that conversations about justice in policing are less salient than they were in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder while concerns about public safety are now more ascendant.

The 2020 campaign aside, to the extent that Harris may have other handicaps — missteps while in office, controversial elements of her prosecutorial record, her perceived shortcomings as a candidate — they are, largely, already known, Stein said. “She’s been in political life for quite a long time.”

Far less clear is what the polls will look like over the months ahead as Harris reintroduces herself to voters and the dust settles from recent events that have caused tremendous upheaval in the 2024 race, including Biden’s departure from the ticket.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with members of staff at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ groups and leaders back Harris while thanking Biden

In written statements and public remarks over the past few days, LGBTQ leaders and organizations highlighted Biden and Harris’s records advancing rights and protections for the community, touted their administration’s legacy as the most pro-LGBTQ in history. (Washington Blade editor and co-owner Kevin Naff published an op-ed Wednesday titled, “Joe Biden, our fiercest ally“.)

They voiced confidence in Harris’s vision for building on that progress over the next four years and chronicled the ways in which she — in her roles as San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general, U.S. senator, and vice president — had a hand in many of the major milestones in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights that were won over the past few decades, from the legalization of same-sex marriage to ending the so-called “gay and trans panic defense.”

Several who spoke out to support Harris noted that she would be the first Black woman and the first South Asian presidential nominee to lead a major party ticket, having previously broken barriers throughout her career in elected office.

“We are deeply grateful to President Biden for his more than 50 years of public service and his longtime support for the LGBTQ+ community,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “Today’s announcement reflects what President Biden has done his entire career and will be core to his legacy: Putting 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,” she said. “And the Human Rights Campaign endorses the tough, formidable, and experienced Vice President Kamala Harris for president. Vice President Harris has the support of millions of Americans, as primary voters have already made the decision to put her on the ticket.” 

Robinson said, “Vice President Kamala Harris is a trailblazer and has been a champion for LGBTQ+ equality for decades: from leading the fight in San Francisco against hate crimes and her work in California to end the so-called gay and transgender ‘panic defense’ to her early support for marriage equality and her leadership serving as our vice president.” 

“Convicted felon Donald Trump has already shown that he aims to destroy democracy and divide the country in his quest for power,” she said. “Vice President Kamala Harris is a true champion of unity and accountability – and will fight for a country where no one is above the law and ‘justice for all’ means something.”

HRC, Robinson wrote, “could not be prouder to endorse Vice President Kamala Harris and commit to channeling our resources and supporters to work to elect the first Black and South Asian woman president of the United States.”

LGBTQ+ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said her organization “commends President Joe Biden on leading the most progressive and inclusive presidential term in American history” under which “LGBTQ+ people have received a record number of federal appointments, including cabinet members, judges and around 14 percent of political appointments.”

“His dedication to supporting LGBTQ+ communities and championing pro-equality legislation and executive action has created the most inclusive and affirming administration our country has ever seen,” Parker said. “And, despite attacks on LGBTQ+ liberties in state governments nationwide, the Biden administration has reinforced its dedication to LGBTQ+ equality through action.”

“We are sincerely grateful for President Biden’s leadership, partnership and service to our nation,” she said. “We know we have a trusted ally in Vice President Kamala Harris who works tirelessly toward full LGBTQ+ equality.”

Noting how Harris’s identity would make her nomination historic for the party and the country, Parker said she “is an enthusiastic supporter of pro-equality policies and LGBTQ+ communities” and added that “the record-breaking LGBTQ+ inclusivity of the Biden/Harris administration will continue under Harris’ leadership” while “the possibility that someone like Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg could be her running mate is monumental.”

“The prospect of a Harris/Buttigieg ticket would be a watershed moment in our decades-long efforts to make all levels of government more inclusive and could be the most historic Presidential ticket ever in our nation,” she said.

National LGBTQ+ Task Force Action Fund Executive Director Kierra Johnson said: “We are grateful for President Biden’s decades of service and allyship to LGBTQ communities — and for everything his administration has done to move our community forward. 

“At this critical moment for our democracy and our freedoms, we have both hope and excitement for Vice President Kamala Harris and what she can do for our country. We fully expect a continued commitment to always putting our communities first.

We now recommit to moving forward in the democratic process, the upcoming convention and the November elections.

The Task Force action fund calls on LGBTQ+ people and our allies to take action and engage in the political process. Only through a show of voting power in the Nov. 5 election will we begin building the democracy we deserve.”

Gay U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who on Saturday became the 36th Democrat on Capitol Hill to call for Biden to exit the race, urged the president to hand “the torch to Vice President Harris as the Democratic Party presidential nominee.”

“It has become clear to me that the demands of a modern campaign are now best met by the Vice President, who can seamlessly transition into the role of our party’s standard bearer,” he wrote.

Another gay Democrat in the California delegation, U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia, told Lesley Marin of CBS News on Monday that “we’re going to unite behind Vice President Harris,” noting “the incredible record that she’s been a partner of,” which has included “lowering the price of insulin, infrastructure, investments in climate change, [and] her incredible work in protecting women’s right to choose.”

“At the same time, she’s a prosecutor,” Garcia said. “Look at her work as attorney general. She’s going to prosecute the case against Donald Trump.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the openly gay chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, also spoke in support of Harris during an interview with CBS News Sunday, arguing that “She’s ready to win Wisconsin,” which is “one of those pivotal states” along with Michigan and Pennsylvania that “are on the top of the list” for Democrats to win in November.

Harris has “the energy to run around the state and do all the campaigning and show that contrast with” the Republican nominee who is “old” and “tired,” the congressman said, using an argument against Trump that has been rolled out by a number of Democrats following Biden’s withdrawal from the race on Sunday.

The vice president will be especially effective in relaying to voters how Trump’s appointment of three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court during his first term led to a decision revoking constitutional protections for abortion that were in place since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, Pocan said. As a result, he added, “now we are in 1849 law in Wisconsin” with respect to reproductive rights.

An ally both politically and personally

In a written statement to the Blade, Harris for President Senior Spokesperson Kevin Munoz said, “Vice President Harris has been a steadfast ally and fighter for LGBTQ+ Americans since her early days in office.”

He added, “Like President Biden, she’s never shied away from fighting for us, as demonstrated by her record throughout her time in public service, as well as being a part of the most pro-LGBTQ+ administration in history. Vice President Harris has had the LBGTQ+ community’s back, and this November, we’ll have hers.”

High-profile LGBTQ officials serving in the Biden-Harris government include Buttigieg, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, and Ben LaBolt and Karine Jean-Pierre, who respectively serve as communications director and press secretary for the White House.

Two gay men who were on her staff prior to her election as vice president spoke with the Blade for a story in June that accompanied the newspaper’s exclusive interview with Harris. Munoz and Sergio Gonzales, senior advisor to Harris and the campaign, were among the six LGBTQ aides and officials who participated in a three-part profile series last year (during which time the operation in Wilmington was far leaner than it is now.)

Those who are close with the vice president (or those who follow her speeches closely) understand she has deep ties to the community and treasured relationships with LGBTQ friends and colleagues like Jim Rivaldo, a political consultant who helped elect gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk before leading Harris to victory in her first district attorney’s race in 2003.

As vice president, Harris not only shared in the credit for her administration’s pro-LGBTQ wins while maximizing representation from the community in positions of power and influence in American government, but she also found ways to signal her support through other personal, individual means.

For example, Harris in 2022 became the first sitting VP to host a Pride month celebration at the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory, which became an annual tradition under her tenure.

Rosenberg Foundation President Tim Silard, who worked under Harris when she was San Francisco district attorney, shared a statement with the Blade by text voicing his support for her candidacy.

“Vice President Harris will be the most outstanding President in my lifetime,” he said. “She has been an unwavering champion of the LGBTQ community, fighting to make all of our families safer and expanding civil rights and our opportunities to thrive.”

Silard added, “I know she will take on bullies at home and abroad and bring our nation together in new and exciting ways. I could not be prouder to support her and will do anything I can to help elect her.”

Vice President Kamala Harris makes an appearance with second gentleman Doug Emhoff at the main stage of the 2022 Capital Pride Festival. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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NoVA Prism Center becomes hub for local LGBTQ community

Leon van der Goetz founded organization in 2022



(Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

The NoVA Prism Center in Oakton has emerged as a hub for LGBTQ community engagement in Northern Virginia.

Leon van der Goetz, a transgender man, founded NoVA Prism Center in 2022 after he returned to the U.S. from Japan where he had been an English teacher. The organization has steadily grown since.

NoVA Prism Center this year had five Pride events, including one at the end of May.

Fairfax County helped NoVA Prism Center organize some smaller events. NoVA Prism Center has also put on workshops, hosted monthly club meetings and other events.

NoVA Prism Center has worked with around 20,000 people even though it only has an annual budget of $12,000 that comes through online and in-person donations.

“To the best of my knowledge and research, NoVA Prism Center is the only physical space in the D.C. suburbs (i.e., outside of D.C. city limits), particularly in Northern Virginia, that is by and for the LGBTQ community, open year-round, and does not involve being around alcohol or needing to spend money,” van der Goetz told the Washington Blade in an email. “There are plenty of bars, restaurants, support groups, and meetup groups that gather in other public community spaces, but we’re the only physical LGBT+ center within an approximately 90-minute drive.”

“Before I was about to move back (from Japan), I heard that Fairfax and Loudoun Counties were having protests at the school board meetings, regarding books about people like me,” he said, discussing how the idea behind NoVA Prism Center came about.

A Loudoun County School Board committee in January 2022 voted to uphold then-Supt. Scott A. Ziegler’s decision to remove two LGBTQ-themed books — “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” — from school libraries amid parent protests. The school board later that year fired Zeigler amid criticism over his handling of student sexual assaults.

“And I decided at that moment, rather than go the route of being a public school teacher and potentially be a first-year teacher, early in transition, I decided to specifically start protecting these books, creating NoVA Prism Center as a library and community center around providing access to information about queer lives, stories, and history,” said van der Goetz.

More than a third of the community’s center’s library are LGBTQ-themed books that have been challenged or banned in schools. NOVA Prism Center also has a closet that allows community members who may not feel comfortable shopping at thrift or retail stores for clothes that correspond with their gender identity or expression.

“It started with our binder exchange program, where we started collecting chest binders for the trans masculine community,” said van der Goetz. “When I was early in my transition, I found that I needed more masculine clothing. And I had a whole bunch of feminine clothing to get rid of.”

NoVA Prism Center founder Leon van der Goetz (Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

NoVA Prism Center also publishes “The Lantern,” an online magazine. It includes art, poems and short stories from community members. “The Lantern”’s first issue is on NoVA Prism Center’s website, while its second is available for purchase. The e-zine’s third issue is currently in the works.

NOVA Prism Center is looking for a more permanent location, but the office building in which it is currently located remains a safe space for anyone who participates in their events. 

The organization hopes to raise money for a new space at their annual fundraising event in October, Coming Out Gay-la, an 18+ LGBTQ prom. Funds will support NOVA Prism Center itself, community programs and expansion of their events. 

NoVA Prism Center next month will begin to promote the prom on its social media pages. or

Van der Goetz described NoVA Prism Center as an “oasis in the storm” for LGBTQ people who continue to face harassment and efforts to curtail their rights. 

“I see people making connections, building friendships and support structures,” he said. “By being together and protecting each other I think that we’re going to be able to make it through.”

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