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EXCLUSIVE: Blade’s Q&A with Hillary Clinton

‘I want LGBT people to know that I will always have your back’

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National Gay Media Association, Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Hillary Clinton laid out her vision for a ‘hopeful, inclusive America’ in a Washington Blade interview. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Hillary Clinton pledged to build a “hopeful, inclusive America where everyone counts” as she continues to draw a contrast between herself and Donald Trump over their views on LGBT issues.

The Democratic presidential hopeful answered 13 questions on issues important to the LGBT community in a written interview with the Blade completed Wednesday with less than one week remaining before Election Day.

“We have so much more work to do, and I want LGBT people in every corner of this country to know that as president, I will always have your back,” Clinton said.

In the interview, Clinton recommitted herself to pushing comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act and to work to ensure the prohibition on gender discrimination under current law applies to LGBT people.

“As president, I’ll make fighting discrimination against the LGBT community a top priority – including by working with Congress to pass the Equality Act,” Clinton said. “And we won’t stop there. We’ll also take on harassment, bullying, and violence – and youth homelessness, which disproportionately hurts LGBT kids.”

For the first time, Clinton explicitly vowed to veto the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

In response to Trump’s criticism over the Clinton Foundation accepting millions of dollars from countries with anti-LGBT laws, Clinton laid out the charity’s work combatting the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and pointed out Trump has had business dealings with these same countries “for the sole purpose of padding his own pockets.”

Clinton also identified as a personal role model Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

“Edie is a truly remarkable woman: smart, feisty, and very brave,” Clinton said. “She came of age at a time when many LGBT people felt they couldn’t live openly – but she had the courage to stand up for her marriage in such a bold, public way and the faith to believe that justice would ultimately prevail.”

The Washington Blade agreed to conduct the written interview with Clinton and submitted similar questions to Trump’s campaign. Although the Trump campaign said it would answer the questions, the Blade as of this posting has yet to receive responses from the Republican candidate.

Washington Blade: Where would passage of the Equality Act fit among your legislative priorities as president?

Hillary Clinton: As you know, there are still places in America where LGBT people can get married on Sunday and fired on Monday, just because of who they are or who they love.  That’s wrong, and it goes against everything we stand for as a country.

As President, I’ll make fighting discrimination against the LGBT community a top priority – including by working with Congress to pass the Equality Act. And we won’t stop there. We’ll also take on harassment, bullying, and violence – and youth homelessness, which disproportionately hurts LGBT kids. We’ll end the harmful practice of so-called “conversion” therapy for minors, because LGBT kids don’t need to be “cured” of anything. And we’ll bring people together to reform our gun laws and keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, so that what happened at Pulse never happens again. All of these things are part of my vision for a hopeful, inclusive America where everyone counts, and everyone has a place.

Blade: If the next Congress isn’t amenable to LGBT rights, in what areas would you expand President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors?

Clinton: For starters, I’m going to keep working as hard as I can between now and Election Day to elect champions of LGBT rights up and down the ballot. I want us to have plenty of people in Congress who are committed to equality and dignity for all Americans.

But this is a really important question, and a reminder that LGBT rights are absolutely on the ballot in this election. Our next president can either defend President Obama’s executive actions, or repeal them. Donald Trump has promised to repeal them. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, I’ll protect them, and I’ll build on them. We’ll make sure we’re enforcing the President’s executive actions in a real and meaningful way. And we’ll support the efforts that are already underway in the courts and across the federal government to clarify that protecting people from “sex discrimination” means protecting them from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, too.

Blade: The Clinton Foundation has faced criticism for accepting millions of dollars from countries with laws that punish homosexual acts with death, including between $10-$25 million from Saudi Arabia. The foundation has done much good work, but do the ends justify the means?

Clinton: I am so proud of the work the Clinton Foundation has done on behalf of vulnerable people all across the world – especially the work to combat HIV and AIDS, an epidemic that disproportionately impacts LGBT communities around the globe. Due to the work of the Clinton Foundation, 11.5 million people in the developing world have access to HIV medication at 90 percent lower cost. That’s more than half of all adults and ¾ of all children receiving treatment today.

I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t shy away from confronting human rights abuses around the world – against LGBT people or anyone else. That’s why, as Secretary of State, I actively stood up to these countries and have advocated for the rights of many, including declaring that “gay rights are human rights,” and made advancing the rights of LGBT people around the world a cornerstone of our foreign policy, including advocating for the first ever United Nations resolution on LGBT rights. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has conducted business deals worth millions of dollars in or with some of these countries and has done it for the sole purpose of padding his own pockets.

Here’s the bottom line: As your president, I will continue to fight for LGBT rights here in the United States and around the globe.

Blade: In 2013, you forcefully came out in favor of marriage equality, but others, including President Obama and Republican Sen. Rob Portman, preceded you. Why didn’t you echo President Obama and endorse marriage equality as secretary of state and do you regret not coming out for it sooner?

Clinton: Like a lot of Americans, my views on this have changed for the better. And that happened because people I cared about had the grace and patience to help me understand two key things. First, everyone in this country must have the right to marry whoever they love just like everyone else. This was about being recognized as full and equal citizens and protecting families from very real discrimination. I’ve always believed marriage is a great blessing, so why deny that joy to anyone? And second, marriage equality makes us fairer, more respectful and a better country. It is the affirmation of our basic civil rights.

Blade: Based on donations to the Clinton Foundation, Donald Trump has famously said “ask the gays” who has the better record between you and him on LGBT rights. Who has the better record and what is the biggest risk to the LGBT community of a Trump presidency?

Clinton: I’ll gladly put my record on LGBT rights next to Trump’s for the voters to decide any day!

Let’s start with Donald Trump. He’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn marriage equality, and said he’ll repeal President Obama’s executive actions to protect LGBT people from discrimination. And in case there’s any doubt about the kind of president he would be, look who he chose for his running mate: Governor Mike Pence, who signed a law that allowed Indiana businesses to legally discriminate against LGBT customers. We also know that Donald Trump has a long track record of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in his businesses, including reportedly against LGBT employees.

LGBT equality is an issue that’s so close to my heart. As First Lady, I fought to expand funding for HIV and AIDS research – and became the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade. As Senator from New York, I championed legislation to address hate crimes, fought for federal non-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT Americans in the workplace, and pushed for an end to discriminatory and harmful laws that blocked LGBT Americans from adopting children. As Secretary of State, I led the effort to pass the first-ever U.N. Resolution on LGBT Human Rights, launched the Global Equality Fund, ended State Department regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families equal rights, helped implement LGBT-friendly workplace policies, and updated the State Department’s policy so that transgender individuals’ passports reflect their true gender.

We have so much more work to do, and I want LGBT people in every corner of this country to know that as president, I will always have your back.

But first, we have to win this election!

Blade: Trump has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, “religious freedom” legislation that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination, if Congress approves it. Would you veto such legislation if passed while you’re president and what is your plan to fight the growing movement of religious freedom bills across the U.S.?

Clinton: I would absolutely veto that legislation, which is part of a concerted effort to discriminate against LGBT people under the guise of protecting religious freedom. I firmly believe that we can promote equal rights and dignity for all Americans and protect religious liberty at the same time. That’s not what the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” does. It’s insincere and insidious, and we can’t let it become law.

As president, I will protect religious liberty and fight to make sure all Americans can live their lives free from discrimination. We can do both. The Equality Act, for example, advances LGBT equality while maintaining the religious exemptions that have been part of our civil rights laws for decades.

Blade: You have set out a vision to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.” How will your policies help get the country to an AIDS-free generation, and one with treatment for all who have HIV?

Clinton: As Secretary of State, I said that an AIDS-free generation was within our reach, and I will keep fighting for that future as president.

Since our fight first began, infection rates have fallen in many places, more people with HIV are getting life-saving treatment, and more babies born to HIV-positive mothers are getting the treatment they need to avoid infection. But HIV and AIDS are still with us. More than 1.2 million people live with HIV in the United States, and globally, HIV afflicts a total of 37 million people. So we’ve made a lot of progress toward this goal – but we still have our work cut out for us.

I believe that now is the time to rededicate ourselves to achieving the AIDS-free generation that is within our grasp. That’s why as president I will convene an “End the Epidemic” working group to end AIDS as an epidemic in the United States and globally. Here at home, we’ll expand the availability of HIV prevention medications like PrEP, take on disparities and barriers to accessing care, cap out-of-pocket drug costs, and launch a campaign to end stigma and discrimination. Around the world, we’ll dramatically increase the number of people on HIV treatment through programs like PEPFAR, increase our investment in HIV and AIDS research, and engage in public education campaigns in key countries where stigma and discrimination are rampant.

Blade: You have been a devout Methodist throughout your life and cited that as inspiration for seeking to help others, but the Methodist Church won’t officiate or recognize same-sex marriages. Should the church embrace same-sex marriage and do you expect that will happen?

Clinton: I’m deeply grateful for my faith, and the church that has nurtured it since I was a young girl.  As I’ve said, I believe we can protect religious liberty while ensuring that all Americans are treated equally under the law.  On a personal level, I am going to keep fighting for equality and encouraging others to embrace the LGBT community because I think it’s the right thing to do.

Blade: You made international LGBT rights a priority as secretary of state. How would you advocate for them as president?

Clinton: LGBT rights are human rights—plain and simple. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity. But hundreds of millions of people live in places where anti-LGBT violence is rampant and where they can be arrested, imprisoned, even executed for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As president, I’ll continue to stand up for LGBT rights around the world, as I did as Secretary of State. We’ll start by stepping up our support for the Global Equality Fund with a $50 million investment over the next decade. This will expand programs that advance LGBT human rights around the world and send a strong message that the United States is an ally to LGBT people everywhere. We’ll also continue to work on public health issues like HIV and AIDS, and take on discriminatory, outdated laws that stigmatize and even criminalize being LGBT. And we’ll partner with governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, and activists on the ground so that the LGBT community around the world gets the resources and support they need to not just survive but thrive.

Blade: When you were Secretary of State, what are the top items you accomplished on behalf of LGBT people and do you have favorite memories of working with LGBT people in other countries?

Clinton: I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish at the State Department in making the advancement of LGBT equality worldwide part of our foreign policy.

We announced for the first time ever that we would take into consideration how a country treats LGBT people when we delivered foreign aid. We instructed American diplomats to raise concerns about specific cases and laws. We worked with partners to strengthen human-rights protections. I helped lead the effort to pass the first-ever U.N. resolution on LGBT human rights. And we launched the Global Equality Fund to support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world.

Some of my proudest accomplishments were actually here at home, because we know that the U.S. is strongest when we lead by example. We ended State Department policies denying same-sex couples and families equal rights, implemented LGBT-friendly workplace policies, and updated the Department’s policy for transgender persons’ passports to reflect their true gender.

Blade: The rates of violence and murder for transgender women of color remain stubbornly high. What would you do to address this problem?

Clinton: This is a serious and urgent problem. In 2015, 21 transgender people — most of them women of color — were murdered. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the violence that goes unreported or ignored.

We need to stand up for the lives and safety of transgender people, and take on bigotry and discrimination wherever they occur.

That means fighting for strong anti-discrimination laws. It means doing a better job of collecting data on gender identity and sexual orientation, because we can’t solve the problem of discrimination until we understand its full scope. It also means investing in law enforcement training to ensure fair and impartial policing in interactions with the LGBT community.

America saw the effects of hate in Orlando, with the attack on the Pulse nightclub — the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in our history. So we also need to finally pass common-sense reforms to address the gun violence epidemic.

Most of all, it’s far past time we say with one voice that transgender people are valued, they are loved, they are us, and they deserve to be treated that way.

Blade: You hired a gay man, Robby Mook, to run your campaign. How did you meet him and why did you choose him for the job?

Clinton: Easy: He was the best person for the job, hands down. Robby is brilliant, he’s one of the most incredible organizers I’ve ever met, and he creates a real culture of hard work and inclusion. That’s why just about everybody who works for him winds up working for him again (sometimes again and again and again!).

Blade: In separate interviews with the Washington Blade in 2008, Barack Obama cited as a gay role model his college professor Lawrence Goldyn and John McCain cited 9/11 hero Mark Bingham. Whom would you identify as an LGBT role model?

Clinton: I’m inspired by Edie Windsor, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that paved the way for marriage equality. When Edie’s wife, Thea Spyer, passed away, Edie realized she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal estate taxes she wouldn’t have had to pay if she had been married to a man. She had to choose whether to live with this injustice, or fight back. She chose to fight back – and as a result, the Court ruled that all legally married LGBT couples must be treated equally under federal law. Edie’s case opened the door for the Supreme Court ruling one year later, which held that marriage equality was the law of the land in all 50 states.

Edie is a truly remarkable woman: smart, feisty, and very brave. She came of age at a time when many LGBT people felt they couldn’t live openly – but she had the courage to stand up for her marriage in such a bold, public way and the faith to believe that justice would ultimately prevail. And even though her own case has been fought and won, she’s still fighting just as fiercely for the rights of all LGBT Americans.

Windy City Times executive editor/publisher Tracy Baim contributed to this report.

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Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court

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Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Human Rights Campaign’s ex-president sues over termination, alleges racial discrimination

Alphonso David alleges he was terminated unfitly

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Alphonso David, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign terminated by the board after he was ensnared in the Gov. Andrew Cuomo scandal, sued the nation’s leading LGBTQ group on Thursday, arguing he was fired as a result of racial discrimination “amid a deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees” and was explicitly told he was paid less because he’s Black.

David, speaking with the Washington Blade on Thursday during a phone interview, said he came to the decision to file the lawsuit after practicing civil rights law for 20 years and “never thought that I would be a plaintiff.”

“But I’m in this chair, I was put in this position,” David said. “And as a civil rights lawyer, I couldn’t look the other way. It would be anathema to who I am and it would undermine my integrity and purpose for the work that I do. And so I have to go through and make a very, very difficult personal decision to file this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses the Human Rights Campaign of violating new state and federal laws for terminating David, who was the organization’s first person of color and Black person to helm the LGBTQ group in its 40-year history. The lawsuit also contends the Human Rights Campaign contravened equal pay law in New York by paying David less than his predecessor, Chad Griffin.

After a public dispute with the board in September amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair, the Human Rights Campaign boards unceremoniously fired David and shortly afterward announced a still ongoing search for a new president. David was named nearly a dozen times in the damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James, suggesting David assisted in efforts by Cuomo’s staff to discredit a woman alleging sexual misconduct in Cuomo’s office. David has consistently denied wrongdoing.

But the lawsuit is broader than the termination and describes an environment at the Human Rights Campaign, which has faced criticism over the years for being geared toward white gay men, as a workplace where “non-white staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.” After a speech David gave on issues of race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission, the lawsuit claims a board member complained about him referring too much to being Black, but faced no penalty from the organization.

Specifically named in the report is Chris Speron, Senior Vice President of Development, who expressed concern about “alienating” white donors and specifically “white gay men” after David issued a statement on the importance of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit claims Speron pushed David to “stop mentioning in his public statements and remove from his bio the fact that he was HRC’s first Black President in its history.” Speron also was critical of hiring a Black-owned consulting firm and “criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” the lawsuit claims. Speron couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.

In terms of equal pay, the lawsuit says HRC’s co-chairs informed David he was underpaid compared to his predecessor because he’s Black. But the lawsuit also acknowledges in 2021, just before news broke about the Cuomo report, the Human Rights Campaign in recognition of David’s work renewed his contract for five additional years and gave him a 30 percent raise.

David, speaking with the Blade, said he was in “shock” upon experiencing these alleged incidents of racism, maintaining he had kept quiet at the time out of concern for the greater good of the aims of the Human Rights Campaign.

Asked whether as president he considered implementing racial sensitivity trainings for his subordinates, David said “yes,” but added many trainings aren’t effective and said the power in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign is often spread out.

“There are people within the organization that have a fair amount of board support because they bring in the money because they are responsible for overseeing the money,” David added.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed the organization is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”

“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths,” Madison said. “We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”

Madison adds the individuals accused of racism in the lawsuit “are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization,” without naming any specific individual. The boards for the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation who made the decision to terminate David, were comprised of seven independent directors, five of whom were Black.

The racist environment, the lawsuit says, culminated for David in September 2021 amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair conducted by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP at the behest of the organization. According to the lawsuit, the board co-chairs contacted David late at night before Labor Day weekend to tell him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or be terminated for cause. When David asked whether the Sidley Austin investigation had made any findings against him, or if a report would be issued explaining what he was accused of doing wrong, the board co-chairs refused to say, the lawsuit says.

As is publicly known, David declined to resign and took to Twitter to complain about the board, which subsequently issued a statement disputing his claims. He was then fired “for cause” under his contract.

The termination, the lawsuit says, signified differential treatment of David because he is Black, taking note the Human Rights Campaign under his predecessor had “endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals,” but Chad Griffin was never terminated “for cause.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board and the Human Rights Campaign board voted to terminate David. A source familiar with the vote said no one voted “no” in either case. The campaign board vote was unanimous and there were two abstentions in the foundation board vote, the source said.

The source familiar with the vote said David never told the Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his time as HRC president nor did he disclose he was talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says David “performed extremely well as HRC president, by any measure,” navigating the organization through the coronavirus epidemic and boosting fundraising by 60 percent. (The Blade has not yet verified this claim.) It should be noted the Human Rights Campaign cited coronavirus as the reason it laid off 22 employees, as reported at the time by the Blade.

David, asked by the Blade how he sees the alleged racist culture at Human Rights Campaign infused in his termination, said “Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization,” citing a “Pipeline Report” leaked to the press in 2015 documenting an environment in which employees of color were unable to thrive.

“And so, the fact that I’m being treated differently now, in the fact that a different standard is being applied to me is just simply consistent with what they’ve always done,” David said. “You know, we go back to the Pipeline Report: Imagine if I was leading the organization at the time, and there was a report that was issued, that said that anti-Semitic remarks were being made within the organization, and that women were being discriminated against within the organization or some other marginalized group and that one of the senior vice presidents used a derogatory remark. Do you think I would still be at the organization or would they have fired me?”

David concluded: “There’s a different standard and a double standard that they’ve applied for decades, and I’ve just now been one casualty — another in a long series of casualties based on their systemic bias and discrimination.”

Among the requests in the prayer for relief in the complaint is a declaration the Human Rights Campaign’s actions violated the law; restoration of David to his position as president; an award of the compensation he would have received were he still on the job as well as punitive damages. Asked by the Blade whether any settlement talks have taken place, David said that wasn’t the case and pointed out the lawsuit was recently filed.

Legal experts who spoke to the Blade have doubted the validity of a review by Sidley Austin on the basis it was among the legal firms agreeing in 2019 to help with the Human Rights Campaign entering into litigation to advance LGBTQ rights, an agreement David spearheaded upon taking the helm of the organization.

David, in response to a question from the Blade, said the independent investigation into his role in the Cuomo affair “is a sham and I believe it was a sham,” citing the lack of transparency of findings.

“One of the first instances that caused me concern,” David said, “is I suggested to the organization that we conduct an independent review, and they came back to me and said, ‘Here’s our press release history,’ and the press release never mentioned that I actually suggested that they do this review. And when I challenged them on that, they told me that they thought it would be better for the press to review a complaint or receive a statement that showed that they were bringing this investigation as opposed to I’m recommending and push back even more. And then they said ‘Well, we will put in the statement that you are cooperating.’ So from the very beginning, they were not honest about what they were actually doing.”

Representing David in the lawsuit is the Chicago-based employment law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. and and Chicago-based attorney Matt Singer. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a George W. Bush appointee, an informed source familiar with the case said.

The lawsuit was filed in New York as opposed to D.C. because David is a New York resident and much of the discriminatory behavior took place in New York, the source said. The pay disparity alleged in the lawsuit is expressed in percentages as oppose to hard numbers pursuant to rules for the judiciary in New York, the source added.

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