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White House hails Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling as religious liberty win

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders hailed the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling as
a win for religious freedom. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders hailed Tuesday as a win for religious freedom the narrow ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to serve a custom-made wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

“When it comes to the bakers, we were pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision,” Sanders said. “The First Amendment prohibits government discriminating on the basis of religious beliefs, and the Supreme Court rightly concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to show tolerance and respect for his religious beliefs.”

Sanders also alluded to support in the lawsuit for Masterpiece Cakeshop by the Trump administration. The U.S. Justice Department submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips and U.S. Solicitor General Neil Francisco argued before the Supreme Court on his behalf.

“In this case and others, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defend the free speech and religious freedom First Amendment rights,” Sanders said.

The Supreme Court vacated the decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission against Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullin in 2012 out of religious objections, on the basis of comments a commissioner made in hearing the case perceived as anti-religion.

Although the Supreme Court handed Phillips a narrow win that applies only to this one incident and doesn’t set up a sweeping rule enabling anti-LGBT discrimination, anti-LGBT groups have hailed the decision as a major win for religious freedom. Pro-LGBT groups have had mixed reactions, but pointed to language in the decision stressing the importance of non-discrimination laws.

Sanders made the remarks after staying silent on the day of the ruling in the context of a question posed to her from NBC News’ Peter Alexander on why the Trump administration would support the freedom of expression of the Colorado baker, but not athletes speaking out against racism by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

Alexander asked the question after President Trump revoked an invite from the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House after the waved on plans to attend. Trump cited his opposition to football players taking a knee during the anthem in his announcement rescinding the invite.

When Sanders responded with the straightforward answer about support for the Supreme Court ruling, Alexanders pressed her by repeated the question. Sanders, however, drew a distinction between the two issues.

“The president doesn’t think that this is an issue simply of free speech,” Sanders said. “He thinks it’s about respecting the men and women of our military. It’s about respecting our National Anthem. And it’s about standing out of pride for that.”

That prompted Alexander to ask if the president would “deal with the underlying issue of police-involved shootings” by holding a roundtable on the issue. Sanders responded by saying she’d ask Trump about the issue and tried to move to another reporter.

But Alexander wouldn’t let up and asked Sanders if the president hasn’t discussed the issue or see as an opportunity to unify the country.

“Certainly, we look at ways every single day to unify our country,” Sanders said. “The President has worked actively and tirelessly to be the President of all Americans. I think you can see that reflected in the policies that he’s put forth.”

Sanders cited economic growth during the Trump administration, alluding to record-low unemployment for black Americans, as evidence of the president’s commitment.

“And one of the greatest equalizers that we can have is to provide a level playing field, and the President has worked increasingly hard to make sure that that happens,” Sanders said.

Watch the video here via NBC News:

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South America

Chilean government launches LGBTQ, intersex rights campaign

Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo spoke exclusively with the Blade

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Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo has participated in the Chilean government's LGBTIQA+ Roundtable. (Photo courtesy of Chile's Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Gabriel Boric on Wednesday launched his government’s first LGBTQ and intersex rights campaign that seeks to reduce discrimination against the country’s queer community. 

According to the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh), a Chilean LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, hate crimes against the community have increased this year by 66 percent. Five people have also been murdered because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.

Boric during his campaign against José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, pledged to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights and policies during his administration. The #LivingWithPride campaign is part of these efforts.

Boric’s first gesture towards the queer community was to appoint Marco Antonio Avila, a gay man, as his government’s education minister and Alexandra Benado Vergara, a lesbian woman, as Chile’s next sports minister. Ávila and Benado arrived at La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, with Boric on March 11 when he took office. 

“President Gabriel Boric Font’s government has implemented a series of measures that seek to advance in safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ people,” Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview after the government launched the #LivingWithPride (#VivirConOrgullo in Spanish) campaign.

Vidal said “one of the relevant lines of work that the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity has developed since we took office … seeks to highlight the structural difficulties experienced by people of the LGBTIQA+ community, move towards state representation, since there is currently no institutionality that welcomes this community.”

“This is why we have taken the mandate to welcome this population, within the legal possibilities that govern the ministry,” Vidal emphasized to the Blade.

Vidal said “the gender mainstreaming network that has been reactivated with our government has opened a door to the organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community in all portfolios.” 

“The advisors in charge of gender mainstreaming do not understand gender in a binary way, they have the conviction that we must also develop public policies for the LGBTIQA+ community.” she told the Blade.

Boric directed the Women and Gender Equity Ministry and his administration’s sociocultural coordinator to create and lead an “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable,” which includes organizations, activists and members of the LGBTQ Congressional Caucus to work to implement their demands because Chile thus far does not have a government institution that specifically addresses queer rights. 

“The roundtable’s objective is to generate and prioritize, together with the LGBTIQA+ community, guidelines for the development of public policies on the matter, from an intersectoral perspective,” said Vidal. “More than 35 civil society organizations from all over the country, representatives of the Legislative Branch and different (Executive Branch) portfolios have participated.” 

Vidal stressed “this space of constant linkage with social organizations has allowed us to know the reality that social organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community live when linking with State agencies.” She also noted “the experience has been successful, being a valuable space that will allow us to build a work path for the design of gender equality public policies relevant to the LGBTIQA+ community, to improve their lives and eradicate gender-based violence and hate crimes against the community.”

The roundtable has been meeting once a month since May. It’s last 2022 meeting will take place this month, and it will resume its work next year.

Vidal told the Blade that transgender women can now use her ministry’s public policies.

“We consider trans women as part of the diversity of women, which implies that they can access the different benefits of the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SernamEG), which is the executing body of the ministry’s programs,” she said. 

Another initiative Vidal highlighted is the incorporation of a “social name” section in the public employment pages for those who have not yet legally changed their name. This option allows people to identify themselves as trans or nonbinary.

The Education Ministry “has developed a participatory process for the design of the Bill on National Policy on Education on Affectivity and Comprehensive Sexuality. It has also made it possible for students, mothers, fathers, parents, guardians and education workers to participate in what Vidal described as “non-sexist” education workshops.

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Energy Department official charged with second luggage theft

Sam Brinton placed on administrative leave after first allegation

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Sam Brinton (Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton)

Sam Brinton, the first openly genderfluid person appointed to a senior government post, was served with a felony arrest warrant Friday following a second incident in which they were accused of stealing luggage from an airport.

New charges accuse Brinton of grand larceny of property valued between $1,200 and $5,000, for stealing luggage at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. They were previously charged with a felony for lifting a suitcase from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Brinton joined the U.S. Department of Energy this year as deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition. The New York Post reported they were put on leave following the first incident.

“The Department of Energy takes criminal charges against DOE employees and clearance holders very seriously,” a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Sam Brinton, a career civil servant, is on administrative leave. The department is limited by law on what it can disclose on personnel matters, such as an employee’s clearance status. Generally, as the department has previously stated, if a DOE clearance holder is charged with a crime, the case would be immediately considered by DOE personnel security officials, and depending on the circumstances, that review could result in suspension or revocation of the clearance.”

On Dec. 7, a group of 16 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including far-right Congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to demand Brinton’s resignation.

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Congress

Sen. Sinema changes party affiliation from Democrat to independent

Lawmaker made history in 2018, becoming first bi member to serve in Senate

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said during an interview with POLITICO on Friday that she will switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent but pledged not to change the way she has voted over the past four years in the Senate.

Sinema’s announcement comes just two days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia prevailed in a runoff election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, widening Democrats’ razor thin majority in the upper chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema told POLITICO. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on her decision:

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sinema’s reputation as an iconoclast has occasionally frustrated her Democratic colleagues in the chamber as well as progressives more broadly. Critics were puzzled by what they saw as the Arizona Senator’s fealty to multinational pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds, and venture capital firms.

More recently, however, Sinema was credited for her instrumental work earning her GOP colleagues’ support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which earned a filibuster proof majority and is now on its way to be signed into law.

Sinema made history with her election to the Senate in 2018, becoming the first bisexual and second LGBTQ person (behind Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to serve in the upper chamber.

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