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With Dem filibuster assured, Gorsuch nomination heads to Senate floor

McConnell may invoke ‘nuclear option’ to force confirmation

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Neil Gorsuch, gay news, Washington Blade

Democrats stand ready to filibuster the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Monday the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, although the nomination has hit a significant snag now that Democrats have secured the votes necessary to successfully filibuster his confirmation.

Before the committee approved the Gorsuch nomination on a party-line vote, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) announced during the session he would oppose the nominee and support the Democratic filibuster against him. That made him the 41st vote needed for a successful filibuster.

“I am not ready to end debate on this issue, so I will be voting against cloture, unless we are able as a body to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option and ensure the process to fill the next vacancy on the court is not a narrowly partisan process,” Coons said.

Other top Democrats announcing they would join Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)’s filibuster were Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-N.Y.), who until recently was ranking Democrat.

Feinstein cited during the hearing Republican obstruction of former President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as various decisions Gorsuch reached as a Justice Department official during the Bush administration and a judge on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Our job is to assess whether the nominee will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans, and whether the nominee recognizes the humanity and justice required when evaluating the cases before him,” Feinstein said. “Unfortunately, based on Judge Gorsuch’s record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate and his written questions for the record, I cannot support this nomination.”

Also cited by Feinstein as a concern is the more than $10 million the Koch brothers have declared they intend to spend to support the Gorsuch confirmation as well as ads buys from the National Rifle Association and the Judicial Crisis Network.

With a filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination likely to succeed when the cloture vote for the nominee is held on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to invoke the “nuclear option,” which would eliminate the long-standing ability to filibuster nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McConnell strongly suggested during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he would invoke the “nuclear option” when he declared Gorsuch would be confirmed this week with or without help from Democrats.

“What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said. “How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends, how many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee, never happened before in history, the whole history of the country.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday President Trump would support invoking the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster, but ultimately the decision rests with McConnell.

“There’s literally going to be the first filibuster in modern times on a qualified judge that’s going to end up going on the court,” Spicer said. “We have really come a long way, and I think Democrats are setting a very dangerous precedent when it comes to how they want to do this because this isn’t about voting against somebody or having an issue with them, it is literally trying to stop using the filibuster for something it was never really intended for, nor has it been the principle that we would vote down someone who is qualified.”

LGBT rights supporters have universally opposed the confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, citing as a chief concern his decision on the 11th Circuit in favor of Hobby Lobby being allowed to deny contraception coverage for employees under Obamacare on the basis of “religious freedom” for the corporation. That reasoning, observers say, could lead to religious exemptions for LGBT non-discrimination laws should they be adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, on Twitter declared support for the Democrats’ filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination based on the nominee’s rulings he says could spell trouble for LGBT people.

During his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said he believes marriage equality is “settled law,” but also cited “ongoing litigation about its impact and application right now.”

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Lambda Legal, said Gorsuch’s words hedging the finality of the marriage issue is “a dog-whistle to the religious extremists who funded his nomination.”

“He wouldn’t answer whether he thinks cases concerning marriage equality, abortion, school desegregation, or the right to an attorney were correctly decided and final,” Tiven said. “He disdains the regulations that govern clean air, clean water and safe food. His snide treatment of everyone from the trucker freezing to death by the side of the road to plaintiffs like ours, who count on the courts to see their humanity and fundamental equality, is startling. In short, this is not a person fit to rule on the lives of 315 million Americans.”

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World

Dutch government formally apologies for forced sterilization of trans, intersex people

Gender Change Act was in place from 1985 to 2014

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to transgender and intersex people who were forced to become sterile in order to legally change their gender.

The Gender Change Act, which was also known as the Transgender Act, was in effect in the Netherlands from 1985 until its repeal in 2014.

Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker last year on behalf of the Dutch government apologized to trans and intersex people who had undergone forcible sterilizations. The Dutch government also agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,633.68) to around 2,000 trans people who had sterilization surgeries.

A ceremony did not take place because of the pandemic.

Van Engelshoven issued Saturday’s the formal apology during a meeting with trans and intersex people that took place at the Ridderzaal, a 12th century building in The Hague that the Dutch government uses for speeches from the country’s royal family and other important ceremonial events.

“For decades we have had a law that has harmed transgender and intersex people,” said van Engelshoven. “People have undergone medical treatment that they did not want, or have been forced to postpone becoming themselves. Today, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, I make our deepest apologies. Recognition of and apologies for what has been done to these people and which has caused a lot of grief for those involved is extremely important and is central to this special day in the Ridderzaal.”

Transgender Netwerk Nederland in a press release said the Netherlands is the first country in the world to issue such an apology. The advocacy group notes the Dutch government last month began to compensate trans and intersex people who were forcibly sterilized, but adds the amount of money they will receive remains too low.

“The government has structurally disadvantaged and damaged transgender and intersex people for almost 30 years,” said Willemijn van Kempen, who spearheaded the campaign for the formal apology. “It is important that it now apologizes for that.”

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Botswana Court of Appeals upholds decriminalization ruling

‘Today is a momentous day in history’

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(Public domain photo)

The Botswana Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Five justices unanimously ruled sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalize homosexuality with up to seven years in prison “violated the right to privacy … the right to liberty, security of person and equal protection under the law … and the right to freedom from discrimination” under the country’s constitution.

Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled these provisions were unconstitutional.

The Batswana government appealed the landmark decision. The High Court heard the case last month.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, which challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, applauded Monday’s ruling.

“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” says LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti. “Moreover, a new dawn for better education and awareness about the LGBTIQ issues. I anticipate that more engagement with various arms of government will also set a trajectory towards a more inclusive and diverse nation.”

Pan Africa ILGA in a tweet proclaimed Monday as a “beautiful day” in Botswana. UNAIDS described the ruling as “a great win for human rights.”

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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