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U.S. agencies to celebrate Pride month, but without Cabinet secretaries

White House silent on whether Trump will issue Pride proclamation

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and HUD Secretary Ben Carson aren’t attending Pride celebrations hosted by their agencies. (Washington Blade photos of Pompeo and Carson by Michael Key; photo of Mattis public domain)

With Pride month approaching, many U.S. agencies in the second year of the Trump administration are continuing plans to hold celebrations for their LGBT workers, although Cabinet leaders will be absent and some annual events are in question.

The absence of Cabinet leaders at these events stands in contrast to the Obama years when they were featured speakers at the celebrations, wished LGBT federal workers a happy Pride and reflected on the significance of the annual event.

Meanwhile, President Trump has an opportunity to reverse his decision last year to ignore the occasion and issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month, which was the custom of former Presidents Obama and Clinton. Obama also each year in office hosted a reception at the White House with LGBT leaders to commemorate Pride.

Any Trump Pride proclamation would stand out and raise questions after a year of LGBT rollbacks in his administration since last June that include a transgender military ban, the Justice Department’s decision to exclude LGBT people from protections under federal civil rights law and “religious freedom” executive actions that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

The White House didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Blade in the past two weeks to comment on whether Trump would recognize Pride either with a proclamation or a reception, nor would White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders call on the Blade during her regular news conference in that time period, which has been her custom since taking on the role.

A handful of U.S. departments and agencies already have plans in place for events recognizing June as Pride month, despite rollbacks in those departments on LGBT rights.

Most prominent is an event DOD Pride is hosting June 11 at the Pentagon Center Courtyard. The event is consistent with Pride celebrations at the Pentagon that started in the Obama years and continued in the first year of the Trump administration, but it’s the first one that takes place after Trump instituted his transgender military ban, which he first announced on Twitter in July 2017.

Although federal courts have blocked the Defense Department from enforcing the ban as litigation against it moves forward, since those rulings Defense Secretary James Mattis has issued recommendations affirming transgender people should be excluded from the armed forces with few exceptions. Any appearance by him at a Pride celebration would contradict that sentiment.

Asked if Mattis will attend, a member of DOD Pride said the organization instead invited Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, but he’s unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. Invitations to the rest of Pentagon leadership were set to go out Monday, the DOD Pride member said.

At the State Department, the LGBT affinity group for foreign service officers, GLIFAA, has coordinated with the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights and will host an internal event for employees on June 5, where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) are scheduled to speak.

But in the aftermath of Senate confirmation of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, GLIFAA has also opted to invite a different official. As a member of the U.S. House representing Kansas, Pompeo built an anti-LGBT record and once suggested homosexuality is a “perversion” — a topic on which Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) grilled the secretary of state during his confirmation hearing.

David Glietz, president of GLIFAA, said the organization opted to invite Sullivan as opposed to Pompeo because Pompeo’s confirmation was uncertain at the time the event was planned.

“The event was planned prior to Secretary Pompeo’s confirmation and at the time we were unsure when he would be confirmed and arrive in the department,” Glietz said. “Therefore, we opted to request the Deputy attend as the most senior department official at the time of planning.”

At the Department of Housing & Urban Development, HUD Pride is holding two events. One event on June 6 is on the legal landscape of LGBT access to housing and shelter, and a panel discussion on June 20 on the same topic.

Much like the other affinity groups, HUD Pride is coordinating to have the deputy secretary speak as opposed to the Cabinet member. A HUD Pride official said the main event would be the June 20 panel, but HUD Secretary Ben Carson won’t attend because he’s already scheduled for travel that week. Instead, HUD Pride has invited Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude and is hoping for confirmation soon.

Had Carson attended, it would have been months after he expressed concerns about allowing transgender people access to homeless shelters consistent with their gender identity — the very topic the panel is set to discuss. During a congressional hearing in March, Carson said the issue is “complex,” citing concerns by women whom he said don’t want to use bathroom facilities with “somebody who had a very different anatomy.”

At the Education Department, an email from LGBTQ & Allied Employees at ED was sent out highlighting two events recognizing Pride. One discussion set for June 19 is titled “Highlighting Difference with Children.” Another event in July is set to discuss Supreme Court cases related to LGBT issues and will feature speakers from the Education Department’s Office of the General Counsel.

An Education Department employee said Secretary Betsy DeVos was invited to attend, but there’s “not a chance” she’d make an appearance. DeVos’ participation in the event on children would stand in contrast to her decision not to take up complaints from transgender kids whose schools have blocked their bathroom access, while taking part in the panel discussion on the Supreme Court would be noteworthy after she said she wouldn’t reverse that policy until the Supreme Court or Congress acts on the issue.

Pride celebrations at other U.S. agencies are in question altogether. The Commerce Department in the first year of the Trump administration held an event recognizing Pride, although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross didn’t attend. Months after Ross issued an equal employment statement that excluded LGBT workers — then corrected it — a Commerce Department official told the Blade the department has no plans to host a similar event this year.

At the Justice Department, the situation is similar. A DOJ Pride member said he’s “not at liberty to comment” on whether the Justice Department would hold a Pride celebration. The DOJ Pride member referred the Blade to the Justice Department’s public affairs office, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.

No Pride events at the Justice Department would be a change. DOJ Pride has coordinated Pride celebrations in the Great Hall of the Justice Department even during the George W. Bush administration. Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke during the last year of the Bush administration, and U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch addressed DOJ Pride during the Obama years.

Last year, a Pride celebration took place in the Great Hall under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, although the event wasn’t confirmed until June, Sessions didn’t attend and the Blade was kicked out when attempting to cover the event. Over the course of the Trump administration, Sessions has spearheaded the legal framework for LGBT rollbacks, including “religious freedom” guidance that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

At the Department of Health & Human Services, a member of One HHS, the affinity group for the HHS LGBT employees, said independent of the organization the department’s equal employment opportunity office is planning a Pride event.

It’s unclear whether HHS Secretary Alex Azar, whose department established a Religious Freedom & Conscience Division enabling medical practitioners to refuse service to transgender people, would take part. The HHS public affairs office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

One agency scheduled to host a Pride event is the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is coming off a controversy after deleting material for LGBT businesses from its website at the start of the Trump administration. The material wasn’t restored until last week after complaints from House Democrats and LGBT small business leaders.

Blade Editor Kevin Naff was the keynote speaker at the SBA Pride event last year. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon wasn’t there, but an SBA official read a statement from her expressing support for Pride month. This year, a notice was sent out the event will take place either June 14 or June 19 and would be titled, “Remember the Past, Create the Future.”

Carol Wilkerson, an SBA spokesperson, said SBA is hosting the event and that it would include participation from the local LGBT Chamber of Commerce, although the time isn’t yet set. Asked if Administrator McMahon will make an appearance, Wilkerson replied, “Once the date is confirmed we will know more.”

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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South America

Argentina’s former special envoy for LGBTQ rights criticizes new government

Alba Rueda resigned before President Javier Milei took office

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Alba Rueda (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)

Argentina’s former Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade discussed recent setbacks in LGBTQ rights in the country. 

Alba Rueda, a transgender woman who held the position in former President Alberto Fernández’s administration, revealed the challenges and risks faced by the queer community in the South American country in which 57.4 percent of the population lives in poverty, which is the highest rate in 20 years. The Catholic University of Argentina’s Observatory of Social Debt also notes Argentina began 2024 with a 20.6 percent inflation rate; this figure is 254.2 percent from year-to-year.

President Javier Milei took office in December.

“We received a request from our president at the time, Alberto Fernández, that we submit our resignation as part of the team that integrates the presidency,” Rueda told the Washington Blade.

Rueda explained she “resigned on Nov. 28, a few days before, to make it effective on Dec. 10 with the new government and since then, since Milei, the presidency and the chancellor, Daniela Elena Mondino, took office, (her post) was eliminated. It was already foreseeable according to Milei’s statements about closing the offices on gender perspective.”

“Our special representation was closed. My colleagues were redirected to other areas,” Rueda explained. “The person who accompanied me in political terms resigned with me, so the two of us left on Dec. 10, and the rest of the technical staff was relocated within the Foreign Ministry.” 

The former ambassador described how the closure of her position and the elimination of the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry represent a significant setback in the protection of LGBTQ rights in Argentina. She stressed that while the country was a pioneer in passing progressive laws for the LGBTQ community, the lack of effective implementation and declining government commitment are jeopardizing these advances. 

“We argued that it had been a long time since very significant laws were passed in our country and that they had to be translated into national and local public policies,” she explained. “LGBTIQ+ people not only have to be protected formally in the law, but we have to change and modify the living conditions of our community that has experienced discrimination, violence and persecution for many years.”

She added “to change that culture, there needs to be not only a formal framework, but functioning democratic institutions” 

“This elimination has a direct affectation to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people,” said Rueda.

The interview revealed how Milei’s government has dismantled institutions and policies designed to protect queer people. 

“We created, for example, a program that was the first program at the national level that was an assistance program for trans people,” Rueda said. “This program of accompaniment for the protection of their rights was in the sub-secretariat and provided economic support and was working on solving all the procedures related to access to education, health, employment, issues related to substantive issues.”

Rueda highlighted that recent political decisions are not only curtailing LGBTQ rights, but are also directly affecting the community, especially those who are economically vulnerable. The elimination of assistance programs and lack of legal protections are leaving many LGBTQ people in a vulnerable position.

“Economic rights have been affected, as is the inflationary process and the inflationary decisions of this last month are directly affecting the middle class, lower middle class and the most impoverished sectors,” said Rueda. “It directly affects not only economic rights of the LGBTIQ+ population that belongs to these classes, but also affects rights that are not being worked within the framework or promoted within public policies.”

Rueda also raised concerns about a possible increase in violence towards LGBTQ people in Argentina, comparable to what has been observed in other countries under hostile political leadership. Rueda stated incidents of violence have already been recorded and that the current political climate is fueling discrimination and hatred towards the LGBTQ community.

“It started during the campaign, and I think that during the whole last year we saw how effectively, punctually in social networks and in the public space there was a whole attack on LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “Let’s not forget during the campaign that the main candidates who are the president, the vice president and the chancellor expressed themselves in the wrong way, generating with their ignorance a completely wrong message in the media, amplifying these messages that directly affect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Rueda recalled the vice president “expressed in her campaign that for her it was not necessary to call marriage a union of people of the same sex … that was the civil union and saying that marriage was a figure associated with religious aspects.”

While Milei “in an interview also during the presidential campaign, said that he did not care if people want to have sex with other people of the same sex or with animals, such as elephants, equating and putting on the same level the consensual relations of people of the same sex over 18 as zoophilia.”

The situation has reached the point that different WhatsApp groups created to seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic became active again because of the interruption of the National Social Protection Plan and changes to an employment program that made vulnerable trans people in Argentina more at-risk.

“We are in a bad moment for the rights and quality of life of LGBTQ+ people,” Rueda said.

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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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