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Sessions pledges to ‘fully enforce’ LGBT laws, but concerns remain

Trump’s AG pick says he’d ‘follow the decision’ on same-sex marriage

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Jeff Sessions, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) at his Senate confirmation hearing. (Image courtesy C-Span)

Amid LGBT advocates’ vehement opposition to his confirmation as U.S. attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sought to allay concerns by saying he’d enforce laws protecting LGBT people, although other portions of his testimony raised eyebrows.

During the first part of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions — who has a long anti-LGBT record in the U.S. Senate — said he’s aware of concerns among LGBT people about his potential confirmation as attorney general and swore to ensure their protection under the law.

“I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community,” Sessions said. “I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are fully enforced.”

Donald Trump’s pick to become attorney general first came under questioning on LGBT issues from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee.

Feinstein raised a question about the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality and despite Sessions’s history of opposition to same-sex marriage, he declared he’d “follow that decision.”

“The Supreme Court has ruled on that,” Sessions said. “The dissents dissented vigorously. It was 5-4, and five justices on the Supreme Court, the majority of the court, has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America, and I will follow the decision.”

Sessions answered the question on marriage after he said he believes the Roe v. Wade was unconstitutional. Asked why he would “follow the law” for the marriage ruling when he believes Row was erroneous, Sessions denied any contradiction in his responses.

“I haven’t said that the woman’s right to choose or the Roe v. Wade and its progeny are not the law of the land, or not clear today,” Sessions said. “So, I would follow that law.”

But concerns about Sessions’s commitment to LGBT people came to the fore under questioning from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who asked Sessions about his vote against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization in 2013.

“It is kind of frustrating to be accused of opposing VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, when I voted for it in the past,” Sessions said. “There were specific add-on provisions in the bill that caused my concern and I think other people’s concern.”

The law contained a provision protecting LGBT people, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans on tribal lands. The Alabama Republican later clarified he opposed the law because he feared it would leave non-Native Americans open to prosecution under tribal law.

Sessions also revealed a predilection under questioning from Hatch about “religious freedom,” which is considered code among social conservatives to mean the ability to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination.

“There are situations in which I believe we can reach accommodations that would allow the religious beliefs of persons to be honored in some fashion as opposed to just dictating everything under a single provision or policy,” Sessions said. “I believe you are correct we should recognize religious freedom. It will be a very high priority of mine.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) aggressively challenged Sessions on his LGBT record, recalling remarks he delivered against hate crimes protections in which he said he’s “not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination.”

Sessions denied that characterization of his views is accurate, saying, “That does not sound like something I said or intend to say.” When Leahy insisted the quotation was accurate, Sessions replied, “I understand but I’ve seen things taken out of context and not given an accurate picture.”

“My view is and was a concern that it appeared that these cases were being prosecuted effectively in state courts where they would normally be expected to be prosecuted,” Sessions added. “I asked Attorney General Holder to list cases that he had that indicated they were not being properly prosecuted. I noted that Mr. Byrd was given the death penalty in Texas for his offense, and Mr. Shepard, there were two life sentences imposed as a result of the situation in his state, so the question simply was do we have a problem that requires an expansion of federal law into an area that the federal government has not been historically involved.”

In response, Leahy said a recent FBI report shows LGBT people are more often the victims of hate crimes than any other group, adding “We can study this forever, but that’s a pretty strong fact.” The Vermont Democrat recalled other statements Sessions made about the law — such as remarks it “cheapens the civil rights movement” — but Sessions said his opposition is moot.

“The law has been passed, the Congress has spoken, you can be sure I will enforce it,” Sessions said.

After Leahy’s questioning of Sessions on LGBT issues, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) quoted a letter from former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson, the lead attorney in litigation that brought marriage equality to California and Virginia. The senator quoted Olson as saying he had “no reservations” about Sessions as attorney general.

“As a lawyer who devoted years of effort to litigating and vindicating the civil rights of our fellow gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, I recognize that people of good faith can disagree on legal issues” the letter says. “Such honest disagreements should not disqualify them from holding public office. In particular, I have no reservations about Sen. Sessions’ ability to handle these cases fairly, and in accordance with that law and to protect the civil rights of these and all of our citizens.”

With a question apparently aimed at Obama administration guidance asserting transgender students should be able to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked Sessions about the legal validity of guidance from the federal government. Without either Lee or Sessions explicitly mentioning the guidance specifically, the Alabama Republican expressed skepticism of such documents.

“I do think you raise a valid concern,” Sessions said. “A guidance document cannot amount to an amendment of the law. Bureaucrats do not have — that’s a pejorative term — but department and agency attorneys and members don’t have the ability to rewrite to make it say what they’d like it to say — and if we get away from that principle, we’ve eroded respect for law and the whole constitutional structure where Congress makes the laws, not the executive branch.”

Asked by Lee if he thinks courts should grant deference to guidance as they do under precedent to regulations, Sessions said he doesn’t know, but he thinks that “would be a pretty bold step” and he “would be dubious about it.”

At least five times during the hearing, protesters interrupted and halted the proceedings. One protester shouted “No Trump, No KKK, no fascist USA!” as Capitol Police pulled him out of the room. One protester shouted, “You are racist! You have ties to the KKK!” before starting a chant of “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” Another protester joined in with objections to Sessions’ views on immigration and chanted “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”

Despite efforts from Sessions to allay concerns, LGBT advocates who oppose his confirmation were unmoved in their opposition to the nominee.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed doubt Sessions would enforce laws to protect LGBT people given his opposition to the hate crimes law.

“Want to predict how vigorously an attorney general nominee will enforce federal hate crimes law?” Stacy said. “Look at his voting record on hate crimes legislation. Jeff Sessions didn’t only vote against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes law, he led its opposition. We need an AG who takes these crimes seriously and pursues justice aggressively. We have serious doubts he can do so.”

Drew Courtney, spokesperson for People for the American Way, said Sessions’ assertions during his confirmation hearing he’s a champion of civil rights is “preposterous.”

“Jeff Sessions is once again painting himself as a civil rights leader — that’s preposterous,” Courtney said. “He can’t puff up his record by taking credit for the work of others. If anything, he should explain why he attempted to claim responsibility for cases he hardly touched.”

Sessions faces substantial opposition to his confirmation from Democrats, civil rights supporters and LGBT advocates, but he seems headed toward confirmation. Sessions only needs support from a majority of the senators in the Republican-controlled chamber. One of the more moderate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), introduced him and declared support for him at the hearing. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has also expressed support for Sessions.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said in a statement he opposes the nomination on the basis the Alabama Republican opposes laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in the workforce.

“The Senate cannot confirm an attorney general nominee who doesn’t believe in civil rights to oversee our country’s civil rights protections – it’s worse than letting a fox guard the henhouse,” Maloney said. “Jeff Sessions thinks it’s OK to fire people like me or my husband or even refuse our kids childcare simply because our family looks a little bit different than most families – and we can’t allow someone with those beliefs to be our nation’s highest attorney, charged with protecting the rights of all Americans.”

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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