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Will Trump, gov’t agencies recognize Pride month?

Would be first GOP president to issue such a proclamation

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Chechnya, gay news, Washington Blade

Will President Trump recognize June as Pride month? (C-Span image)

Picture it: President Trump enters the East Room of the White House on a warm D.C. day in June to the sound of cheers from adoring members of the LGBT community holding up their iPhones to document the occasion with videos and photos.

With his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner at his side, Trump welcomes guests and commemorates June as Pride month by recognizing the LGBT community’s accomplishments in recent years.

Having trouble with this image? It could be because of the anti-LGBT positions and actions Trump and his administration have taken or perhaps because such an event would anger anti-LGBT groups that supported his election. It could be because instead of cheering him, LGBT people angered by his policies would boo Trump out of the room.

It might also be because recent reports Trump may have abused executive power or committed obstruction of justice raise questions about whether Trump will even be president in June.

Assuming Trump remains in office, it remains to be seen what steps he’ll take, if any, to recognize June as Pride month. Kelly Love, a White House spokesperson, said via email when asked if Trump would issue a Pride proclamation or host a White House Pride reception, “We will let you know as soon as we announce our June proclamations.”

During the 2016 election, Trump in an interview with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl said he’d “look into” whether he could issue a proclamation as president recognizing June as Pride month, essentially dodging the question.

“I would look into it,” Trump said. “And I feel so badly what happened [in Orlando]. And we have to do something about it.”

President Clinton started the tradition of issuing a proclamation to recognize June as Pride month. Although President George W. Bush discontinued that tradition, it was renewed by President Obama, who also in each of his years in office held a White House reception to celebrate Pride with members of the LGBT community.

If Trump were to continue the recognition of June as Pride month with either a proclamation or a reception, he would be the first Republican president to do so. It would also be consistent with his claims during the presidential campaign that he’s a bigger friend to LGBT people than his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said his group — largely alone among LGBT organizations that support and interact with the Trump administration — has proposed the idea of Trump recognizing Pride, but no commitments were made.

“The suggestion has been formally made to the White House,” Angelo said. “Conversations are ongoing. It’s too soon to comment further.”

Given Trump’s predilection for photo ops — such as the pictures he’s taken with business leaders and presidents of historically black colleges — one possibility for Trump recognizing Pride is a shot of him in the Oval Office with Angelo and high-profile LGBT people who supported him like Peter Thiel, Caitlyn Jenner or Ric Grenell.

It’s not just whether Trump will recognize Pride that remains in question. In years past, the affinity groups for LGBT workers at federal departments hosted Pride celebrations.

Some of those celebrations were newer than others. The Pride celebration at the Pentagon only came about after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010, but celebrations at the U.S. Justice Department occurred even during the Bush administration and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey addressed LGBT employees in 2008. By the end of last year, virtually each of the departments had some kind of celebration.

Under the Obama administration, the heads of the departments were featured speakers at the Pride events and delivered remarks in solidarity with LGBT people. It’s certainly hard to imagine Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressing LGBT employees at the Justice Department.

The Washington Blade reached out to multiple affinity groups for LGBT federal workers, but — perhaps in a sign of fear of reprisal — they were largely silent on plans for Pride celebrations with June just a few weeks away. FedQ, the umbrella organization for the groups, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

John Elias, president of DOJ Pride, was the only head of an LGBT affinity group to respond to the Blade’s request and would say only that plans are underway for some kind of Pride recognition.

“The Department’s LGBT Pride Month Observance Program is in the planning phase,” Elias said. “I expect the format will remain as it has been in recent years.”

Elias didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether that meant Sessions would be invited to speak at the event and if he planned on attending as Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch did under the Obama administration.

UPDATE: After the initial publication of this article, a number of affinity for LGBT federal groups responded to affirm their agencies are set to hold events recognizing June as Pride month.

At the Small Business Administration, spokesperson Mark Gibson said, “Plans are currently underway but nothing is concrete as of yet.”

Rudy Reyns, president of DOD Pride, said an event would take place in Pentagon Center Courtyard on June 12 and Defense Secretary James Mattis has been invited to attend if his schedule allows.

A representative from HUD Glove said the group is planning four events to recognize June as Pride month. The group has invited HUD Secretary Ben Carson to speak, the representative said, although he hasn’t yet confirmed his attendance.

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Virginia

Two anti-LGBTQ bills die in Va. Senate

Democrats maintain 21-19 majority in chamber

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-LGBTQ bills died in the Virginia Senate on Thursday.

A Senate Education subcommittee voted against state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County)’s Senate Bill 20, which would have eliminated the requirement that school districts must implement the Virginia Department of Education’s transgender and non-binary student guidelines.

The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in an 8-7 vote tabled state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 177, a religious freedom measure that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing.

Virginia’s statewide nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Peake’s bill would have removed “the provision of the exemption for religious organizations under the Virginia Fair Housing Law that denies such exemption where the membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or disability.”

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office three days later.

Democrats, who maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill.

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Russia

State Department reiterates concerns over Chechnya human rights record

Anti-LGBTQ crackdown continues to spark outrage

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(Public domain photo)

The State Department on Thursday reiterated its concerns over Chechnya’s human rights record that includes an ongoing anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

“We reject Chechnya Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s baseless attempts to malign human rights defenders and independent journalists and we urge him to end authorities’ targeting of those who dissent, LGBTQI+ persons, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and others, including through reprisals against their family members,” said spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “We call on Russian federal authorities to refrain from enabling repressive acts, including acts of transnational repression, originating in Chechnya and to bring those responsible for continuing egregious human rights violations in Chechnya to justice consistent with the law of the Russian Federation and Russia’s international human rights obligations.”

Price in his statement also said the U.S. “is troubled by continuing reports of abductions and arbitrary detentions carried out by authorities in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, including dozens of reported abductions and arbitrary detentions in recent weeks targeting the relatives of Chechen human rights defenders and dissidents.”

“In addition to cases within Chechnya, there have been numerous instances of individuals being detained in other parts of the Russian Federation and forcibly transferred to Chechnya, such as Zarema Musayeva, the mother of human rights lawyer Abubakar Yangulbayev. Musayeva was taken from Nizhny Novgorod last week,” said Price. “We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained. We are also concerned by reports that Chechen authorities are using such pressure tactics against the relatives in Chechnya of dissidents living outside the Russian Federation. Such acts, which harm entire families, is an especially pernicious form of repression.”

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya continues to spark worldwide outrage.

Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested two brothers, Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev, after they made a series of posts on Osal Nakh 95, a Telegram channel that Kadyrov’s opponents use. Magamadov and Isaev were reportedly forced to make “apology videos” after they were tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network helped the brothers flee Chechnya, but Russian police last February arrested them in Nizhny Novgorod. Chechen authorities brought them back to Chechnya.

Magamadov and Isaev last month reportedly began a hunger strike after a judge denied their request to have another court hear their case. The Crisis Group “North Caucasus SOS” that represents the brothers said the Supreme Court of Chechnya on Wednesday denied their request for a different venue.  

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World

Advocacy group renew calls for U.S. to help LGBTQ Afghans

New report details Taliban abuses

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

Advocacy groups on Wednesday renewed calls for the U.S. and other countries to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain inside Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of it.

A report from OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch that details the plight of LGBTQ Afghans includes a series of recommendations for the U.S. and other “concerned governments.”

– Use any diplomatic leverage to press the Taliban to recognize the rights of everyone in Afghanistan, including LGBT people.

– Recognize that LGBT Afghans face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighboring countries and expedite their applications for evacuation and resettlement.

– Support and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans in need, and support organizations providing humanitarian assistance, including programs specifically designed to assist LGBT Afghans.

– Ensure that support to organizations working in Afghanistan is directed to organizations that commit to gender-sensitive programming, nondiscrimination, and inclusion of LGBT beneficiaries.

– In engagements with formal and informal civil society groups in Afghanistan, including human rights organizations, women’s rights and feminist organizations, and organizations focused on health, education, or youth, raise concerns about abuses against LGBT Afghans and urge such groups to be inclusive of LGBT Afghans.

– Engage with civil society organizations directly or indirectly addressing LGBT issues in Afghanistan, informal groupings of LGBT people, and community leaders who are well networked within LGBT communities to best help them protect their rights.

The report also includes recommendations for countries from which LGBTQ Afghans have asked for asylum.

– Fully respect the rights of Afghan people who are or are perceived to be LGBT to claim asylum where they can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution.

– When considering asylum claims and other requests for protection from LGBT Afghans, fully consider all evidence regarding violations of the rights of LGBT people in Afghanistan, who faced severe discrimination previously and especially since the Taliban takeover.

– When considering asylum claims for LGBT Afghans, take into consideration that LGBT individuals often conform to societal norms, such as entering into different sex marriage, in order to survive. Married status should not be taken as an indication of someone not being LGBT.

The report’s other recommendations include calls for international aid organizations inside Afghanistan to “provide targeted and specialized assistance to LGBT people” and for the Taliban to “urgently end any and all forms of discrimination or violence against anyone based on a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.”

OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released their report less than six months after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

A Taliban judge last July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country. The report notes a Taliban official later said the group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people.”

The report includes interviews with 60 LGBTQ Afghans inside Afghanistan and in five other countries that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch conducted between October and December 2021.

A 20-year-old man with whom the groups spoke said Taliban members “loaded him into a car” at a checkpoint and “took him to another location where four men whipped and then gang raped him over the course of eight hours.” The report notes the man went into hiding, but the Taliban continued to target him and his family.

A lesbian woman with whom OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch spoke said her parents “arranged for a speedy wedding” with a man before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. The report notes her parents beat her when she “tried to refuse to go through with it.”

The woman’s parents, according to the report, paid her husband to take her out of Afghanistan. They now live in another country, and he “beats her nearly every day and will not allow her to leave the house.”

The report also details an incident in which the Taliban beat a transgender woman and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.” She had been living with other trans women in an abandoned youth hostel in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when the Taliban regained control of the country.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Afghanistan, and others who do not conform to rigid gender norms, have faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety and lives since the Taliban took full control of the country on Aug. 15, 2021,” reads the report’s summary.

‘More needs to be done’

Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans that three advocacy groups — Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow — evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. last fall. Some of the dozens of Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.

Rainbow Railroad; the Council for Global Equality; the Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the International Refugee Assistance Project; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration in a letter they sent to President Biden last September called for his administration to “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell on Wednesday during a webinar on the report noted his organization has “had really encouraging conversations with” Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights who was previously OutRight Action International’s executive director, and “her team and with the U.S. government and the Canadian government as well” about the evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans.

“More needs to be done,” said Powell.

Powell added there “are concrete things that we’ve asked to be done within the context of Afghanistan that can be done.”

“It’s encouraging that governments signaled early on that they want to help out Afghans at risk,” he said. “That signaling has led to many folks in Afghanistan who have enough social media to read those messages to ask how (sic) does that look like, including reaching out to us at Rainbow Railroad. And what we’re asking governments to do now is to help us answer that question, help us answer the question as to what we can do to protect people who are still stuck in Afghanistan, help people who are displaced outside of Afghanistan awaiting resettlement and partner with us to do it.”

OutRight Action International Senior Fellow J. Lester Feder echoed Powell.

“Regardless of the identity of the vulnerable people involved, not enough has been done to help vulnerable people,” said Feder during the webinar.

Feder also urged the U.S. government to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans and other vulnerable groups who remain inside the country.

“We know with the amount of support — either with people who had direct connections to the U.S. government or the U.S. military when they left — have been left stranded in Afghanistan,” said Feder.

“People who are supporting and support vulnerable Afghans in the United States need to speak up and show support for the government processing (asylum) cases faster and for more spaces being made available,” he added.

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