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Trump nominee refuses to say foreign laws criminalizing gays unjustified

Brownback nominated as U.S. ambassador for int’l religious freedom



Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), nominated as U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, speaks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 4, 2017. (Screen capture public domain)

President Trump’s pick as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom faced tough questioning Wednesday over his anti-LGBT record during which he refused to say laws in foreign countries criminalizing LGBT status were always unjustified.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whom Trump nominated in July to become U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, was non-committal on opposition to these foreign laws, which in some cases penalize homosexuality with death, under questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Seeking to connect the issue of anti-LGBT discrimination to religious freedom, Kaine asked Brownback if he’s aware that countries have laws punishing homosexuality with imprisonment or death.

When Brownback replied, “I believe that’s correct,” Kaine pointed out the justification for these draconian anti-gay laws is religious reasons.

In response, Brownback said the day before his confirmation hearing, he had a “lengthy conversation” with Randy Berry, who continues to serve during the Trump administration as U.S. envoy for the State Department for international LGBT human rights issues, and how he worked with the Obama administration’s U.S. ambassador for religious freedom David Saperstein.

“We had a good conversation about how these two offices work together,” Brownback said. “I don’t see doing anything any different than what they worked together.”

Kaine started to reply, “That wasn’t really my question,” but Brownback responded, “But that really is the point.”

Seeking to get back on topic, Kaine asked the nominee if there’s any situation in which religious freedom could be used to justify laws imprisoning or executing people for being LGBT, but Brownback didn’t directly answer.

“I agree with what Randy Berry did around the world on that topic,” Brownback said. “I’m not fully briefed on the various specifics of what he basically did and described to me yesterday and the work he did back and forth with ambassador Saperstein, I wouldn’t see changing.”

With his question unanswered, Kaine asked again if there’s any circumstance in which criminalizing homosexuality for religious reasons is justified, but Brownback again declined to directly answer.

“I don’t know what that would be and what circumstance, but I would continue the policies that had been done in the prior administration in work on these international issues,” he said.

Kaine wasn’t satisfied: “I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that, but my time is up.”

Brownback refused to say outright laws criminalizing homosexuality are always unjustified days after the Trump administration faced criticism for voting against a U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for homosexuality. The Trump administration defended that action by saying the resolution was about the death penalty in general, not specific to gays, and previous administrations declined to support similar resolutions.

The choice of Brownback as ambassador for religious freedom overseas has inspired consternation among LGBT rights supporters since Trump announced his choice based on the Kansas governor’s anti-LGBT record, which was explored during the hearing.

Brownback also faced tough questions from Kaine about rescinding as governor an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination in the state workforce.

Referencing Brownback’s decision in 2015 to reverse the order established by his Democratic predecessor Kathleen Sebelius, Kaine asked the nominee to defend his actions.

“That was an order that created a right by the executive branch that wasn’t available to other people and it wasn’t passed by the legislative branch,” Brownback replied. “I believe those sorts of issues should be passed a legislative branch.”

But Kaine wouldn’t have Brownback’s explanation the protections should be left the legislature, asking the nominee, “Isn’t that kind of the point to an executive order?”

“You issue an executive order on something that the legislature doesn’t pass,” Kaine added. “If it was clearly in statute, you wouldn’t need to issue an executive order.”

But Brownback said an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination would be inappropriate because it was “a foundational issue that you were creating a right for state employees that wasn’t available to the rest of the people in the state.”

When Kaine replied “was it bad” to give state employees a course of action under anti-LGBT discrimination, Brownback insisted the state legislature should be responsible for those protections.

Kaine asked Brownback a series of questions on whether as Kansas governor he appoints Cabinet secretaries and agency heads, and the nominee more or less affirmed that was the case. When Kaine asked Brownback if he applies a high standard to state employees, Brownback replied “yes.”

Kaine’s follow up: Why then, as Kansas governor, could he also not protect LGBT state employees through executive order?

“If you’re hiring for honesty, if you’re hiring for competence, wouldn’t that be an appropriate thing that the governor as a chief of state personnel operation would want to know about leaders in state government,” Kaine said.

Brownback’s defense: “I think that would be a rational thing. I just don’t think it’s a right the executive branch should create without the legislative branch.”

Reversing the executive order isn’t the only anti-LGBT action Brownback took as governor. Last year, he signed into law a “religious freedom” bill allowing student groups at taxpayer-funded public universities in Kansas to deny membership to LGBT students.

As a member of Congress — first as U.S. House member, then as U.S. senator — Brownback built a significant anti-LGBT reputation. Among other things, Brownback championed a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Kaine recalled during his tenure as Virginia governor issuing an executive order against anti-gay discrimination in state employment, saying that was the first action he took as governor even though he faced resistance from then-Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell over the legislature not having acted on the issue.

“Can’t you see that the retraction of an executive order like this that had been in place for eight years sends a message that that is not a value, non-discrimination against folks on the grounds of sexual orientation, that’s not a value that you share?”

Brownback disagreed and insisted for the role at hand as ambassador for religious freedom, he wouldn’t engage in any kind of discrimination.

“I look forward to working with people, working with everybody regardless of their ideas or views on how we can advance the agenda of religious freedom,” Brownback said.

Also questioning Brownback on LGBT rights was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who after raising the issue of Indonesian refugees in her state facing deportation asked Brownback if he’s willing to work with civil society groups working not just on religious freedom, but LGBT and women’s rights.

In response, Brownback insisted his focus will be religious freedom to maintain bipartisan support for that role.

“I will work with anybody that I can on the topic of religious freedom and not veer out of that lane because I think if you start to veer out of that lane, you get pulled to other topics that other people are charged with doing, you’re going to lose bipartisan support for the position, which is critical to have,” Brownback said.

Coming to Brownback’s defense was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was chairing the hearing and said his colleagues were asking him about topics other than religious freedom.

“If there is persecution on the basis of religion, or oppression on the basis of religion, or the denial of liberty on the basis of religion, your job would be to advocate for that freedom for them to practice in peace religion in peace,” Rubio said. “That is the scope of the job that you’d been nominated to, is that correct, not to litigation theological points or policy differences beyond the scope of that liberty?”

Brownback affirmed that view and repeated his response that bipartisan support for his role is important, adding a distraction into other issues would make the position “less effective if effective at all.”

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs, said after the hearing his organization remains “deeply concerned” about Brownback’s nomination.

“Brownback’s long history of anti-LGBTQ actions in Congress and as governor was reflected in his refusal at his hearing today to unequivocally condemn the inhumane treatment, including execution, of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Stacy said. “While he expressed some support for the LGBTQ human rights work at the State Department, his other responses give us every reason to believe that Brownback will continue to use his own narrow view of ‘religious freedom’ as permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

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Comings & Goings



Troy Cline, gay news, Washington Blade
The 'Comings & Goings' column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Shin Inouye, gay news, Washington Blade
Steven McCarty

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on being named president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. He said, “I’m honored to be installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. and to be able to shepherd our programs and volunteers to impact youth where they are needed most. Our club’s new partnership with SMYAL has already turned a portion of their Youth Center in Southeast D.C. into the first Clinical Services Department in the District that offers free and affirming mental healthcare to LGBTQ Youth. As an openly gay man, I’m proud to further our club’s mission with radical empathy and inclusion.” McCarty has also recently been awarded Kiwanis’ highest honor, the George Hixson award.

McCarty is a Technical Program Specialist at stac labs in D.C. He is also founder and campaign manager at Abolish Racism 2020. He worked as a Senior Customer Success Manager,  Crowdskout. He was a workplace equality intern at Human Rights Campaign and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, in Lansing, Mich. 

McCarty earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Communications Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Congratulations also to Shin Inouye on his appointment as Executive Vice President of Communications, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights, The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund said, “We are thrilled Shin Inouye will be taking on even greater responsibilities on our senior leadership team. His incredible talent and commitment to this organization and our work are truly outstanding, and his strategic leadership will no doubt continue moving us forward in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights.”

Inouye has held a number of positions with the organization including Managing Director of Communications. Inouye also held a number of high-level positions in the Obama administration, including Press Secretary and Acting Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Executive Office of the President; White House Office of Communications: Director of Specialty Media; and served as an authorized spokesperson for the Obama Inaugural Committee, with a focus on specialty media outlets, including LGBTQ, AAPI, Native American, Youth/College, Faith, and Jewish press. Prior to that Inouye was Communications Director in the Office of Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and has also worked for the ACLU and as a summer intern with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. 

Inouye received a number of honors including being named One of 25 “LGBTI next generation leaders to watch” by Out in National Security and the Atlantic Council; and One of “40 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders” by New America and the Diversity in National Security Network.

Shin Inouye
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Petition urges White House to develop plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of country on Aug. 15



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

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that urges the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; the Council for Global Equality; Immigration Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday presented to the White House the petition that urges the administration to adopt “a 10-point action plan … to expedite and ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQI Afghans.”

The same six groups last month urged the Biden administration to adopt a plan that would “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.” The groups, among other things, asked the White House to “speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. Some of the 50 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 are LGBTQ.

“We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the 10-point policy plan which will expedite and ease the refugee process for LGBTQI Afghans,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release. “The 10,000+ people who signed our petition have demonstrated that they want the United States, long a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, to take action to protect LGBTQI Afghans—a vulnerable group who risk oppression, even death, simply for who they are or who they love. Now is the time for action.”

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VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights



(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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