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Speaker Ryan becomes latest Republican to announce retirement

Leaves a mostly anti-LGBT record, despite praise from Log Cabin

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Janesville City Council, gay news, Washington Blade
Janesville City Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Speaker Ryan has announced he won’t seek re-election to the U.S. House. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With Republicans fretting about losing control of Congress in the mid-term elections, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has announced he won’t seek re-election, leaving an uneven record on LGBT rights and the door open for another Republican to take his place as leader of his caucus.

The 10-term member of Congress, who has served as speaker since 2015, announced during a news conference Wednesday he wouldn’t seek re-election to represent Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district in order to spend more time with his family, confirming news reports about his intended plan earlier in the day.

“There are other things in life that can be fleeting as well, namely your time as a husband and a dad, which is the other great honor of my life.” Ryan said. “That’s why today, I am announcing this year will be my last one as a member of the House.”

Ryan clarified he wouldn’t resign immediately as either a member of Congress or House speaker and would continue to serve in his roles until January after a new Congress is elected in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Touting tax reform and increased military spending as his major achievements, Ryan often clashed with President Trump on a range of issues, including bombastic and offensive statements Trump has made, as well as policy issues such as tariffs.

Under questioning from reporters, Ryan denied his announcement was related to expectations that Democrats would win control of the House in the mid-terms, nor does he think his move would contribute to that outcome.

“I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person’s individual race for Congress,” Ryan said. “I really don’t think a person’s race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan is speaker or not, so I really don’t think it affects it. Look, if we do our jobs, which we are, we’re going to be fine as a majority.”

As speaker of the House at a time of Republican majorities in Congress, Ryan was no champion of LGBT rights. Still, Ryan’s record is different from that of his Republican predecessors, who held multiple votes in opposition to same-sex marriage or constitutional amendments that would have banned it nationwide, or even that of former House Speaker John Boehner, who took it upon the House to defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court and held votes on amendments reiterating support for the law.

No such votes on marriage took place under Ryan. In fact, the most comparable measure in recent years — the First Amendment Defense Act, an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” measure that seeks to prevent the federal government from penalizing opponents of same-sex marriage — saw no vote either in committee or the House floor when Ryan was speaker.

But Ryan’s tenure isn’t free from anti-LGBT votes. Last year, he allowed Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) to hold a floor vote on an amendment that sought to bar the U.S. military from making payments for transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, for transgender people on the U.S. military’s health care system. The amendment narrowly failed in a surprise defeat on the House floor thanks to opposition from a united Democratic caucus and 24 Republicans.

In the aftermath of the vote, Ryan said he shares the views of House members about the U.S. military paying for gender reassignment surgery, but would defer to the Defense Department on the issue more generally of transgender military service.

“The concern here in the House was whether or not the military will be forced to pay for these surgical procedures,” Ryan said. “I share those concerns.”

President Trump followed up with an all-out ban on transgender military service that included a prohibition on military payments for gender reassignment surgery. Trump recently reaffirmed that ban after recommendations from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender service, but the policy remains blocked as a result of litigation filed by LGBT legal groups.

Ryan’s tenure also had an indirect anti-LGBT impact in another way. After Republicans in 2016 passed as part of major defense policy legislation an amendment from Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) that would have undermined former President Obama’s 2014 executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, Democrats led by gay Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) sought to hold votes on amendments that would have upheld the directive.

The first vote on his amendment was poised to succeed until seven Republicans changed their votes at the last minute, leading to the amendment’s defeat. In a subsequent vote the next week, the amendment was approved, although the overriding legislation was rejected on the House floor.

Ryan changed House policy after these attempts at ensuring LGBT non-discrimination in the workplace to preclude non-germane amendments on the floor. Although the policy change wasn’t explicitly directed at Maloney’s amendments, it was seen as an attempt to bar any more from coming to the House floor.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a fellow Wisconsite who’s seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate this year, had a measured approach in a statement evaluating Ryan’s tenure as speaker.

“Before I was elected to the Senate I served with Paul Ryan in the House and have spent many years working with him on behalf of the people of Wisconsin,” Baldwin said. “We know each other well and while we have different views on policy, I consider him a friend and have a lot of respect for him as a person and a public servant. This was a difficult decision to make, and I wish Paul and his family all the best in the future.”

Looking at Ryan’s tenure in the U.S. House as a whole, one act that might be considered pro-gay stands out: Being one of 35 Republicans to vote in 2007 in favor of a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (However, Ryan also voted in favor of a motion to recommit that would have killed the legislation.)

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, pointed to Ryan’s vote in favor of ENDA as evidence the Wisconsin Republican supported the LGBT rights goals of the organization.

“The door was always open to Log Cabin Republicans at Paul Ryan’s office — one of my first meetings five years ago shortly after becoming the head of LCR National was a meeting with the man himself to discuss LGBT non-discrimination strategy in Congress,” Angelo said. “As someone who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the last time it was before the House of Representatives, Speaker Ryan was always sympathetic to the struggles of LGBT Americans.”

But Ryan’s vote on ENDA was an exception. Early in his tenure, Ryan voted in 2006 in favor of a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide and precluded the U.S. Supreme Court from ruling in favor of marriage equality. In the early years of the Obama administration when Democrats controlled Congress and were advancing pro-LGBT bills, Ryan also voted against hate crimes protection legislation and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, gave Ryan a thumbs-down when asked to evaluate the totality of the Wisconsin Republican’s record on LGBT rights.

“At almost every turn, Paul Ryan has opposed fairness and equality for LGBTQ people and their families,” Stacy said. “From voting to ban marriage equality in every state to voting against the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, Ryan has stood on the wrong side of history far too many times. Ryan could have used his speakership to move his caucus to reflect the views of the vast majority of Americans who are committed to advancing equality for every American — including LGBTQ people. He didn’t.”

With Ryan heading for the exit, the search will be underway soon for another Republican to take his place as head of the caucus regardless of whether or not his party retains control of Congress after the mid-term elections.

The most obvious choice would be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), although Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has been mentioned as a possible replacement. Neither has been favorable to LGBT rights, although the latter has a particularly anti-LGBT record and has had backing from anti-LGBT Family Research Council— in addition to having addressed a group with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

At a time when LGBT rights face continued threats in the name of “religious freedom” Angelo said the next speaker should be able to navigate between the two ideas.

“We are at a moment in history where it would behoove people of all political persuasions to be open to a speaker seeking to strike a balance between religious freedom and LGBT equality,” Angelo said.

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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Family code bill to be introduced in Cuban Parliament in July

CENESEX made announcement during May 4 press conference

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Mariela Castro at a CENESEX press conference

 

Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story was published on May 6.

HAVANA — The National Center for Sexual Education on May 4 during a press conference in which it unveiled the program for the 14th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia events in Cuba announced a bill to amend the family code will be introduced in Parliament in July.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro Espín said during a meeting with official and foreign media outlets at the International Press Center that this year’s events are part of the process of amending the family code.

She added that this legal change will reflect several rights guaranteed in the constitution, which is why it is necessary to sensitize and educate the Cuban population to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference.

The official referred to the results of the National Survey on Gender Equality in Cuba, conducted in 2016 and published in 2019. According to this official study, 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74-years-old said that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people should have the same rights as any other citizen.

CENESEX’s director, however, did not use this information in the 2018 parliamentary debates sparked by Article 68 of the bill to amend the constitution. The idea that it was not the appropriate time to implement same-gender marriage in Cuba eventually won out.

Mariela Castro told Tremenda Nota a few days before the referendum in which Cuban voters approved the current constitution that she was aware of the survey, but she did not explain why she did not use the data it revealed as an argument (in favor of marriage equality.)

“It was a wasted tool that now we can only use in the next referendum,” then-MP Luis Ángel Adán Roble told Tremenda Nota during a February 2019 interview, as did Mariela Castro.

The moment that Adán Roble mentioned has arrived.

It became known during the May 4 press conference that the family code will be introduced in the scheduled parliamentary session in July. The Council of State on March 22 appointed a commission that will be in charge of preparing the bill, but the list of its members was not made public until April 30. None of them are openly LGBTI+.

Activists over the last few weeks have demanded that Parliament reveal the identities of those who make up the commission and the deadline they have to prevent the Family Code. The May 4 press conference resolved the last outstanding point.

The Cuban IDAHOBiT program

Mariela Castro and CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido explained that numerous activities with the goal of making visible and fighting against all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will virtually take place from May 4 through May 30.

The IDAHOBiT events in Cuba have a program that includes academic dialogue, social activism and artistic presentations from virtual spaces.

Forum debates are among the activities. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper will host the first one with the theme “Deconstructing myths around same-sex families and partners” and Cubadebate will hold the second called “Constitution and Sexual Rights in Cuba: Progress and Main challenges.”

They also announced at the press conference the books “Paquito el de Cuba: A Decade of Online Activism” and “Non-Heteronormative Sexualities and Gender Identities. Tensions and Challenges for Human Rights” will be presented.

There will be virtual panels titled “Diverse Families: Histories of Non-Hegemonic Lives,” “National Program for the Advancement of Women: Opportunities to Confront Homophobia and Transphobia,” “Keys for Inclusive Communication” and “Sexual Rights and Religious Fundamentalisms.”

Castro Espín explained that CENESEX will use its social media accounts to promote the program, contribute to the sexual education of Cubans and the recognition of rights for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

A show against homophobia and transphobia that will officially end the events will be broadcast on social media and on television.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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