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Elizabeth Warren voted to confirm Ben Carson?

‘I have no idea what she was thinking’

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Ben Carson, gay news, Washington Blade
Ben Carson, gay news, Washington Blade

Donald Trump has selected Dr. Ben Carson as HUD secretary. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Some LGBT advocates are criticizing Senate Democrats for joining Republicans to vote unanimously in favor of Ben Carson as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, despite his characterization of LGBT rights as “extra rights” during his confirmation hearing and his history of anti-LGBT views.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs approved Carson on Tuesday unanimously by voice vote, which means the 11 Democrats on the committee agreed to his confirmation, including progressive champions like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Deborah Shields, executive director of MassEquality, said she was perplexed over why Warren would vote in favor of Carson given the nominee’s record.

“We don’t usually get involved, per se, in national politics in that way, but I have to admit we’re very shocked given that she’s been such as advocate of economic justice and civil rights and his record belies that,” Shields said. “So, I have no idea what she was thinking. And yes, we do strongly object and given what a champion she’s been, it’s really quite shocking.”

During his confirmation hearing, Carson derided LGBT rights as “extra rights” when asked by Sen. Brown for assurance HUD would have a duty to promote equal access opportunities to LGBT people.

“If confirmed in this position, of course I would enforce all the laws of the land, and I believe that all Americans regardless of any of the things that you mentioned should be protected by the law,” Carson said. “What I mentioned in the past is the fact no one gets extra rights. Extra rights means you get to redefine everything for everybody else. That, to me, doesn’t seem to be very democratic.”

The remarks from Carson, who has called the LGBT community “a few people who perhaps are abnormal” and undeserving of equal protection under the law, are consistent with his political career of attacking LGBT rights.

During his presidential campaign, Carson opposed same-sex marriage and backed a constitutional amendment against the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality.

Most notably, Carson landed in hot water when, as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, he compared LGBT advocates to pedophiles during an interview on Fox News. Outcry over the remarks led him to apologize “if anybody was offended” and cancel plans to give the commencement address for the medical school.

Carson’s views on LGBT rights raise questions about how he’d handle his role as HUD secretary. Among other things, he’d have authority to rescind a rule prohibiting government-funded housing from discriminating against LGBT people, or institute a religious exemption for that rule that could substantially limit its reach. Carson could undo the extension of that rule prohibiting homeless shelters from turning away transgender people based on their gender identity.

In a statement, Brown said Carson is “not the nominee I would have chosen to lead HUD” and has made “often troubling public statements over the last three years,” but voted for him because of commitments the nominee made.

“This includes Dr. Carson’s promises to address the scourge of lead hazards that threaten the health and futures of children in Ohio and nationwide; uphold the Fair Housing Act and the housing rights of LGBTQ individuals; and advocate for rental assistance, investment to end homelessness, and including housing in the president’s infrastructure plan,” Brown added. “I will do everything in my power to hold Dr. Carson accountable for making good on his promises.”

Explaining her vote on Facebook amid discontent among progressive grassroots activists, Warren said in a post beginning with “OK, let’s talk about Dr. Ben Carson” she voted for the nominee even though she disagrees with “many of the outrageous things” he said because he made commitments to manage HUD fairly to all Americans in written responses to her questions.

“Can we count on Dr. Carson to keep those promises?” Warren wrote. “I don’t know. People are right to be skeptical; I am. But a man who makes written promises gives us a toehold on accountability. If President Trump goes to his second choice, I don’t think we will get another HUD nominee who will even make these promises – much less follow through on them.”

In his response to written questions from Brown, Carson clarified his reference to LGBT rights as “extra rights” and rejects any notion he would remove LGBT protections during his tenure at HUD.

Asked whether he could think of any instances of protecting equal housing opportunities for LGBT people as “extra rights,” Carson replied, “I can not.” Asked if he thinks HUD institutes “extra rights” for LGBT people that should be withdrawn, Carson replied, “I do not.”

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In addition to Warren and Brown, other Democrats who voted in favor of Carson were Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) as well as newly seated Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

Christian Fuscarino, executive director of the New Jersey-based Garden State Equality, said his organization objected to Menendez’s vote in favor of Carson.

“I think it’s important for all lawmakers to consider those most vulnerable who will be impacted by Carson’s lack of education in housing needs and issues,” Fuscarino said.

The office for Menendez didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to respond to Garden State Equality about his vote.

Patrick Paschall, executive director of the Maryland-based FreeState Justice, said Van Hollen’s vote for Carson in committee is “disappointing” based on Carson’s remarks against LGBT people.

“We have deep concerns about many of Trump’s nominees, including Dr. Ben Carson,” Paschall said. “He’s said some overtly anti-transgender things in the past that target the transgender community for discrimination and exclusion, and we’re certainly very concerned about his nomination to run a department he himself has said he’s not qualified to run and knows nothing about.”

Bridgett Frey, a Van Hollen spokesperson, pointed to her boss’ comments about concern over the nominee in response to the criticism.

“Sen. Van Hollen raised serious concerns at the Banking Committee confirmation hearing on Dr. Carson, and looks forward to the full floor debate on his nomination,” Frey said.

It’s unknown when Carson’s nomination could come up for a vote on the Senate floor, although it should happen soon now that the committee has approved the nomination. Under Senate rules, only a bare majority is required for confirmation.

The Human Rights Campaign in response to the committee vote said the position of the nation’s largest LGBT group, which has previously opposed Carson, remains unchanged.

In response to a question about whether the Human Rights Campaign would include the vote on Carson in its congressional scorecard, a spokesperson for the organization said those scoring decisions are made at the end of the congressional session. The spokesperson declined to comment on individual senators like Brown and Warren voting for Carson in committee.

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Botswana government to abide by decriminalization ruling

Mokgweetsi Masisi met with LGBTQ activists on Monday

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(Public domain photo)

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Monday said his government will abide by a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country.

Masisi said he would implement the Botswana High Court’s 2019 ruling against sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality.

The Batswana government appealed the High Court ruling. The Botswana Court of Appeals last November upheld it.

Agence France-Presse reported Masisi invited representatives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), a Batswana LGBTQ rights group that challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, to meet with him at his office in Gaborone, the Batswana capital.

“We demand and expect anybody to respect the decisions of our court,” Masisi told LEGABIBO members, according to Agence France-Presse.

Botswana remains one of only a handful of countries that have decriminalized homosexuality.

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World

Global Equality Caucus hires former El Salvador National Assembly candidate

Erick Iván Ortiz received more than 10,000 votes in 2021

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Erick Iván Ortiz (Foto cortesía de Erick Iván Ortiz)

A group of LGBTQ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has hired an openly gay man who ran for the El Salvador National Assembly last year.

Erick Iván Ortiz will oversee the Global Equality Caucus’ work throughout Latin America.

This work will specifically focus on Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. Two events that are scheduled to take place in Mexico City in April and Buenos Aires in May will mark the official launch of the Global Equality Caucus’ efforts in the region.

“The idea at the end of the day is to confront the threats from anti-rights groups that can be identified,” Ortiz told the Washington Blade during a recent interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Ortiz, who is a member of Nuestro Tiempo, a new Salvadoran political party, received 10,615 votes when he ran for National Assembly in 2021. Ortiz would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.

Editor’s note: The Blade on Monday published a Spanish version of this story that El Salvador Correspondent Ernesto Valle wrote.

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Election in India’s most popular state seen as crucial LGBTQ rights test

Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party currently governs Uttar Pradesh

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(Bigstock photo)

India’s most populous state and a battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the election in seven phases in February as the Election Commission of India has announced.

The Uttar Pradesh election is the key prize in India’s parliamentary election as the state holds 80 parliamentary seats, the most in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people from across the country have been eyeing this election because it can play a crucial role in policy changes for the community in India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing nationalist party, is ruling Uttar Pradesh. The party is also ruling the country under Modi, but it has not been supportive of same-sex marriage.

“We are not a minority anymore. The community is thriving in the state,” said Lovpreet, a Lucknow-based activist who works for transgender rights in Uttar Pradesh. “If the current government is not going to give us the right for same-sex marriage, we should remove the government in this election.”

The ruling party is yet to release its election manifesto, but the party is not considering listing LGBTQ issues in it.

A newly married same-sex couple from New York last year applied for an OCI (overseas citizen of India) Card, which would have allowed them multiple entries and a multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, but the country did not recognize them as legally married and refused to issue it to them.

The couple filed a petition in Delhi High Court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is the central government’s legal representative, stated in response to the petition that marriage is permissible between a “biological male” and “biological female” and the government therefore cannot issue an OCI Card to their spouse.

Although India struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in 2018, there is still no law for same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community has been demanding for years that political parties legalize same-sex marriage, but the issue is yet to appear in any party’s manifesto.

Lovpreet, who lives in Uttar Pradesh, believes that BJP is doing some good, like forming a trans advisory board last September.

“BJP is slowly moving towards being LGBTQ friendly, and if given the time and opportunity, it can do some good in the future,” said Lovpreet.

The Indian National Congress (INC), a leading central left-wing party, is also fielding its candidate in the state election, but the party does not see LGBTQ issues as important.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP and chair of All India Professionals Congress, the INC’s professional wing, refused multiple requests to speak on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The INC last week released its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh election, but there were no promises for the LGBTQ community.

Former Defense Minister Jitendra Singh, an INC member who will set the party’s agenda ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election, also refused to speak about the legalization of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues in the state and the country.

Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the left-wing socialist Samajwadi Party and the head of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), the upper house of the Indian Parliament, in 2013 while speaking with the media explicitly said that homosexuality is “unethical and immoral.” But the Samajwadi Party has recently changed its tone regarding the community.

“With every aspect, whether it is farmers, whether it is women, whether it is children or the LGBTQ community, there will be continuous policy measures of the party that are progressive and liberal,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari. “When the government is progressive and not bounded by dogma, then every issue related to any community has to be looked at in a manner that gives equal opportunity and be empathetic towards them. The more vulnerable the community is, the greater government needs to do,” he added further. 

The Mayawati Prabhu Das-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a national party that is running in the Uttar Pradesh election, has emerged as an LGBTQ ally. The party, however, has not released its election manifesto and it is yet to be seen if it will include LGBTQ issues.

There is no political party in Uttar Pradesh or the country with significant LGBTQ representation.

Tiwari in a statement to the Washington Blade said there is no plan yet for the Samajwadi Party to field candidates from the community in the upcoming election, but the party can consider it for the upcoming parliamentary election.

“The central government is not decriminalizing same-sex marriage. They are looking at the conservative vote bank,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Aam Admi Party is a national party in the country. The party had fielded candidates in previous Uttar Pradesh elections but had no significant luck.

“To appease conservative voters, the ruling party, the BJP, is not taking steps to legalize same-sex marriage,” Menon added further.

The Aam Aadmi Party in the previous parliamentary election had a trans candidate from Uttar Pradesh. The party has expressed its desire to field other candidates in the state’s election from the community.

The BJP is ruling both the country and the Uttar Pradesh with no intention to support or address LGBTQ issues.

Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar from the state of Maharashtra last year made several homophobic comments in Parliament. The party did not punish him, nor did other political parties condemn his statements.

It is yet to be seen how this election impacts policies of different political parties for the LGBTQ community in the upcoming parliamentary election of the country.

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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