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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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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks White House to test questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

Data would be included in annual American Community Survey

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U.S. Census Bureau (Photo credit: GSA)

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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Congress

Senate confirms federal judge who fought for marriage equality as a lawyer

Three Republicans voted for Rita Lin’s nomination

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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Federal Government

Pentagon to restore honor to veterans kicked out over their sexual orientation

Legislation seeks accountability for DoD

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (screen capture/YouTube/CNN)

The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to restore honor to service members who were kicked out of the military over their sexual orientation, the agency announced on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient,” he said, adding, “in the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all service members and veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.”

The move follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination,” including biased language in the discharge papers of LGBTQ veterans.

CBS News has investigated the Pentagon’s handling of service records of veterans who were kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation, revealing the broad scope of discrimination experienced by these LGBTQ veterans — finding, for instance, that more than 29,000 were denied honorable discharges.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) re-introduced a bill that would establish “a commission to investigate the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies on LGBTQ service members and veterans.”

“This commission would study the impact of these bigoted rules” barring LGBTQ troops from serving “and forge a more welcoming future in the military and at the VA,” said Takano, who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“Our country has never made amends for official discriminatory policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the transgender military ban – and that failure still haunts today’s service members and veterans,” said Jacobs.

“That’s why I’m so proud to co-lead this bicameral legislation that will right these historic wrongs, investigate the past and present impact of anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and help us move forward to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive, strong, and welcoming military.”  

“This commission would be an important step to understand the full scope of the harms caused by policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to ensure a more equitable future for all who serve our country in uniform,” Blumenthal said.

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