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Washington Blade reporter ejected from DOJ Pride event

Similar celebrations open to media during Obama years

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Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson was ejected from the DOJ Pride event at the Justice Department.

A Washington Blade reporter was ejected from an event Wednesday at the U.S. Justice Department observing June as Pride month — among the last of the events hosted by LGBT affinity groups for federal workers. Similar celebrations under the Obama administration were open to the media.

Dozens of employees — among them LGBT attorneys within the Justice Department and federal law enforcement officials — attended the event, which was titled “Solidarity through Pride” and held in the Great Hall of the Justice Department building.

Representing the Justice Department was acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, an Obama administration hold-over who also serves as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Whatever an individual’s background, Americans come together to support one another,” Boente said. “In this country, we know that our unity makes us stronger. We’re united in our respect for the rule of law and the preservation of the freedoms of all of us. Americans understand that in this country liberty means liberty for all. Freedom belongs not to any one race, gender or orientation.”

Boente also invoked the shooting at the congressional baseball practice earlier this month in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was severely wounded. Lesbian Capitol Police officer Crystal Griner, who was on the scene and helped take down the attacker but was wounded herself, is a hero, Boente said.

“Officer Griner is rightly a hero of the LGBT community; she is also a hero for the entire country,” Boente said.

Under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Boente said a top priority would be “combatting the rise of violent crime” and the Justice Department was already taking steps to pursue that goal.

At about that point in Boente’s remarks, a Justice Department official approached and said the Blade had to be escorted out because the DOJ Pride event was closed to the press. The Blade complied.

The closed-press rule for the event is unusual. The Blade attended and covered DOJ Pride events as a member of the press numerous times during the Obama administration — under both former U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.

The Blade was also allowed under the Trump administration to cover a Pride event for LGBT service members and civilians at the Pentagon with full cooperation of officials. Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff delivered the keynote address last week at the Small Business Administration’s Pride event.

Naff criticized the decision to close the event to media outlets.

“These events have historically been open to the media and this action at DOJ today is an unfortunate break with tradition,” Naff said. “Holding Pride celebrations behind closed doors violates the very spirit of such events and we urge all government agencies to let the sun shine in.”

A Justice Department official responded to Blade inquiries about the DOJ Pride event via email shortly before it began and said the event would be closed to press, but by that time — less than 30 minutes before the event was set to begin — the Blade was already entering the event after being informed second-hand the event was cleared by public affairs. The email was unseen until after the Blade was escorted out.

As Buzzfeed reported, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke positively about the DOJ Pride event on video when an intern asked him about it last week during another event.

“We are going to have a pride group, in this very room, I think next week, I believe it is, and so that’s perfectly appropriate, and we will protect and defend and celebrate that — and protect the rights of all transgender persons,” Sessions said.

Sessions has a long anti-LGBT history as a U.S. senator from Alabama. Along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he revoked guidance to schools assuring transgender students have access to the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Set to deliver keynote addresses at the DOJ Pride event — and unseen by the Blade — were Michelle Benecke, executive director for management integration for the Immediate Office of the Undersecretary for Management at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Sultan Shakir, executive director of the D.C.-based youth group SMYAL, or Supporting & Mentoring Youth Advocates & Leaders.

Set to deliver the closing remarks was Granette Trent, assistant director for affirmative employment on the Equal Employment Opportunity Staff at the Justice Management Division.

Attending in person to receive the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award — and with a newly dyed green streak in his hair — was Gavin Grimm, the transgender student suing his Gloucester County high school for not allowing him to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity.

Attorneys at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were set to the receive the James R. Douglass Award for litigation started under the Obama administration in favor of transgender rights.

One recipient of the award was the Civil Rights Division team that challenged North Carolina anti-LGBT House Bill 2 (which has since been withdrawn under Sessions after Gov. Roy Cooper replaced HB2 with a different law LGBT advocates say is still discriminatory). The other was the Civil Rights Division team that sued Southeastern Oklahoma State University for allegedly discriminating against a transgender professor.

Singing the National Anthem at the event was Garrick Jordan, a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. The emcee was Robert Koch, vice president of DOJ Pride and attorney for the appellate section of the Civil Rights Division.

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Biden administration announces global LGBTQ rights priorities

Homosexuality remains criminalized in upwards of 70 countries

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Cuba, Pride flag, gay news, U.S. Embassy, Washington Blade
The U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016 flew the Pride flag in commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14, 2021, discussed the Biden administration's global LGBTQ rights priorities. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba).

 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14 said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

“The United States over the course of years has made some progress, but neither I, nor I think any objective observer should be satisfied with where we are,” Price told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more work to do.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Price told the Blade the decriminalization of homosexuality is “one of the many reasons why” the White House issued it.

“It is one of the many reasons why Secretary Blinken is so focused on this issue as well,” said Price.

Homosexuality remains criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries that impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Bhutan and Gabon are among the nations that have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.

The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a decriminalization initiative. Price declined to tell the Blade whether he feels the campaign was effective.

“Across the board I generally have a posture of not characterizing the last administration,” said Price. “I’ll leave them to speak to their record.”

Migration mitigation efforts must be ‘holistic’

Price told the Blade the Biden administration will also work to protect LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers.

“When it comes to the (issue of) irregular migration, this is not just a challenge at our border,” he said. “This is fundamentally a challenge that starts in the region and if we are to address the migrant flows that reach our borders, we’re going to have to start in the region and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”

Activists in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries with whom the Blade has spoken say violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation are among the factors that prompt LGBTQ people to flee their homes and travel to the U.S.

Price did not say whether any of the $4 billion in aid the Biden administration has pledged to spend in order to help mitigate the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle will specifically go to LGBTQ rights groups or HIV/AIDS service organizations. Vice President Kamala Harris late last month announced an additional $310 million in aid to “address” what Price described as “the root causes of irregular migration and to provide people with the confidence that they need not undertake the very dangerous journey north to the United States and that they can be confident in their lives in their home countries.”

“Oftentimes that is about economic opportunity, but there are cases in which it has more to do with discrimination and persecution,” Price told the Blade. “And so, we recognize that our approach to addressing those underlying drivers has to be holistic, given there are a range of factors and that’s why we’re working with a variety of groups on the ground and also understanding that marginalized communities, including the LGBTQI community, in the region, that there needs to be meaningful partnership there as well.”

“USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) is deeply engaged in this work, the State Department is engaged in this work as well and will continue to be, knowing that if we’re going to make progress, if we’re going to address the underlying root causes of irregular migration, we need to attempt to address all of them,” he added.

Price told the Blade the administration’s three other global LGBTQ rights priorities are funding efforts “to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world,” respond to anti-LGBTQ human rights abuses and “building coalitions and engaging international organizations in the fight against this discrimination.”

“We have said across the board that one of the pillars of our foreign policy is the recognition that, yes, the United States is the most powerful country on the face of the Earth,” said Price. “We have tremendous sway and influence the world over, but we also recognize that in every challenge in virtually every arena, we will be able to do more, we will be able to be more effective, we’ll be able to be more persuasive and act more decisively when we bring our allies and partners along with us and this administration has put a great deal of emphasis on our alliances, our partnerships, but also those like-minded, as we call them, partners.”

Price added the U.S. recognizes “the values we share with our closest partners in the world are incredibly important.”

“They provide us with a similar framework and a set of priorities on which to act and of course working together to protect, but also to promote the rights of LGBTQ populations around the world,” he told the Blade. “It is a core tenet of what we share with our like-minded allies and partners. You will see us doing this on a bilateral basis. You will see us doing this on a multilateral basis, within blocks and groupings, and also at the U.N. as well. We will seek to press this case in all of those contexts.”

Blinken issues IDAHOBiT statement

Price spoke with the Blade three days before the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Blinken on Sunday in a statement acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

“The message of ‘Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!’ is especially poignant as this year’s IDAHOTB theme,” said Blinken. “Ending hatred and violence against LGBTQI+ persons requires collaborative action from us all.”

“The United States is doing its part,” he added. “Within the first weeks of his administration, President Biden issued a memorandum instructing all U.S. federal agencies working abroad to ‘ensure that U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.’ And that important work is well underway.”

Blinken in his IDAHOBiT statement also referenced the same five priorities that Price discussed with the Blade.

“Working together, we can create a world that respects and celebrates the dignity of all individuals,” said Blinken. “It is in partnership that we will achieve our goal of a rights-respecting, inclusive society where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”

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

Blinken in March announced the State Department has disbanded the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a human rights advisory committee his predecessor created that LGBTQ activists sharply criticized.

He announced last month the State Department will once again allow U.S. diplomatic installations to fly the Pride flag. The position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has remained vacant since 2017, but Blinken has pledged to make it an ambassador level post.

The Trump administration in 2018 withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in recent years has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights around the world. Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.

Price is the first openly gay State Department spokesperson.

“I know that every time I say something I am speaking on behalf of the Department of State, on behalf of Secretary Blinken, on behalf of the U.S. government, sometimes on behalf of President Biden,” he told the Blade. “I’m not sure what I fully appreciated before actually coming into this job is that I’m actually speaking to the LGBTQ community around the world.”

Price said he received emails and tweets from around the world after the Biden transition team announced his appointment. Price told the Blade that some people were “seemingly in shock,” while others had “some degree of delight that a member of the LGBTQ community would be put in such a public facing role in an American administration.”

“I understand this work is not about me,” Price told the Blade. “I’m never offering my personal opinion, but I think that I’ve come to understand that there is meaning in having an openly gay man in a role like this. There is meaning for the LGBTQ community at home, but especially in this role there is meaning and value attached to having that be the case around the world, and especially around the world where members of the community are routinely and often times systematically persecuted.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price

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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 civil rights division 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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University student becomes first non-binary mayor in Wales

‘Coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made’

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Owen J. Hurcum (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

 

The small city in Gwynedd in northwest Wales holds the distinction of being the oldest city in Wales. Now, it has earned itself a pair of new accolades, the first city in Wales to elect its youngest mayor and in fact to have the first elected non-binary gender queer mayor in the world.

Owen J. Hurcum, a 23-year-old university student, was chosen by their fellow councilors on the city’s governing council to become the mayor. The post, which is mainly ceremonial, acts as a goodwill ambassador for city in Wales and the greater U.K. as well as overseas.

Hurcum, who identifies as genderqueer or agender, told BBC Radio Wales Wednesday it “wasn’t a huge shock” when they were chosen to take up the reins, having served as a Bangor councilor for five years, including one term as the city’s deputy mayor. But they said it was a shock when they were initially asked to put their name forward because fellow councilors felt they would be a good representative for the city.

 

 

Their election to the office has created considerable controversy in some quarters with hateful vitriol being directed at both them and their fellow councilors. On Thursday the mayor tweeted;

“I would quickly like to point out that whilst I do indeed receive regular amounts of hate online, coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made and if you are thinking of doing it yourself, I promise there will be loved ones around to support you”

According to the BBC, they thanked fellow councilors for their support when facing online abuse. Noting that the city may be viewed as hardly the place one would expect to be a bastion of tolerance, they told the BBC;

 
“There was a trepidation because, obviously, local government has this unfair reputation of possibly being old and backwards, and I was worried that those views may come from fellow councilors. But I have had the exact opposite. Every single councilor has been extremely supportive, and the previous mayor has called me when he has seen that I have been getting hate online, and he has said he is there if I need him. It has been really nice.”
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