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17 Senate Dems demand answers from State Dept. on Pride flag ban

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Edward Markey, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Edward Markey, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Markey is seeking answers from the State Department on the Pride flag ban. (Photo public domain)

A group of 17 Senate Democrats — including six presidential candidates — are demanding answers from the State Department on its commitment to LGBT human rights in the aftermath of its decision to bar the flying of Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

In a letter dated June 13 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Senate Democrats led by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) asserts that barring the Pride flag from the official flagpole at U.S. embassies “is sending a powerfully negative message to the rest of the world about the U.S. commitment to LGBTI human rights.”

In addition, the Senate Democrats take issue with the absence of a 2019 Pride proclamation from Pompeo. Although Pompeo last year issued a statement recognizing Pride Month, he declined to do so again in 2019. At the State Department event earlier this month in which LGBT employees and foreign services officers celebrated Pride, the 2018 declaration was distributed without any updates for the current year.

“This community requires our moral leadership and support,” the letter says. “But preventing the official flying of rainbow flags and limiting public messages celebrating messages celebrating Pride Month signals to the international community that the United States is abandoning the advancement of LGBTI rights as a foreign policy priority.”

The senators seek answers from the State Department on these issues as well as related to LGBT human rights — such as the continued vacancy of the position of U.S. envoy for international LGBT human rights — by a deadline of June 28:

1. Has the under secretary of management or any other department official denied any requests this year from U.S. embassies to fly the Pride flag on an embassy flagpole? If so, why? Please provide the full list of embassies that made this request and the department’s decision regarding each request.
2. In the past, the department typically defers to chief of mission on whether embassies should fly a Pride flag. However, according to a Washington Post report, this year was different. Why did the department change its past practice of deferring to chiefs of mission? Please provide a copy of the advisory cable that requires embassies to seek approval to fly a rainbow flag.
3. Why did the department decide not to issue a public statement this year for Pride Month?
4. Why did the department decide not to send out a cable detailing options for celebrating Pride Month?
5. When does the department intend to fill the position of LGBTI special envoy?

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the State Department seeking comment on the letter. Previously, State Department spokesperson Monica Ortagus, has defended the policy, asserting Pompeo “has the position that as it relates to the flagpole that only the American flag should be flown there.” Although Trump hasn’t publicly commented on the ban, Vice President Mike Pence has said he supports it.

A group of 50 House Democrats led by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) have signed a companion letter calling on the State Department to reverse its policy against Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

The senators who signed the Senate letter are Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

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Meet the new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee

Sam Alleman joins DNC after work in abortion rights movement

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Sam Alleman joins the DNC after working at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee comes from a background not in LGBTQ advocacy, but in the abortion rights movement, and sees the two as working “hand in hand” for a common cause.

Sam Alleman, who started Monday as LGBTQ coalitions director for the DNC, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that his previous job as political outreach manager for five years at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will inform his LGBTQ work going forward.

“The reproductive rights movement goes hand in hand with what we’ve been fighting for in the LGBTQ equality and equity movement as well,” Alleman said. “There is no being LGBTQ without your ability to have bodily autonomy and to make those same choices.”

The relationship between the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights may be more pronounced in the coming months: A national battle is taking place over a Texas law banning abortion in the state for any woman pregnant for more than six weeks as the U.S. Supreme Court will consider litigation with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. LGBTQ legal advocates, faced with a term at the Supreme Court with no major cases specific to LGBTQ rights, are already turning their focus to the abortion cases.

“I think that the gender equity lens here, as we move toward building out that permanent infrastructure that really brings all of those things together through more of a social justice lens, will be absolutely critical to being successful, particularly speaking to our younger demographics, to making sure trans and queer people feel included in a way that’s actually equitable and just,” Alleman said.

Alleman identified two key priorities for him in his new role at the DNC — turning out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates and building an internal infrastructure for the LGBTQ community — and said his previous work at Planned Parenthood Action Fund working with candidates and coalition groups will help him reach that goal.

“I really plan to use a lot of the lessons that I learned there in building out to making an inclusive campaign, both in programs and in voter contact infrastructure, within the party itself as well,” Alleman said.

Alleman, reiterating he was still in the first days of his job, said the process for building out the LGBTQ community infrastructure at the DNC is still in its initial phases. Alleman said his vision would be not only turning out LGBTQ voters, but finding a way that “allows them to plug in as volunteers and leaders within the party to do the voter contact to hold the events on the ground, to work with our state party partners, and making sure that their voices are represented.”

Key to building out that infrastructure, Alleman said, would be making sure all voices within the LGBTQ community are heard. Alleman made a special point to say queer and transgender people “who have been our partners for so long and deserve a seat at the table” will be an essential part of the infrastructure.

The voice of LGBTQ people, Alleman said, will be increasingly important in elections as the numbers of voters who identify as LGBTQ increase. Pointing to 2020 exit polls showing 7 percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ, Alleman said more LGBTQ people than ever turned out in the presidential election and overwhelmingly backed Biden by 61 percent. (Republicans were also able to claim a small victory, having doubled their share of LGBTQ voters from 14 percent to 28 percent who voted for Donald Trump after the previous election.)

“We know that that demographic is only growing,” Alleman said. “Within under 18 year olds, approximately 16 percent of folks identify as LGBTQ in this country. So really my priorities are building out an infrastructure here at the DNC, that will turn out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates as they become a larger and larger subsection of our voting population.”

Alleman joins the Democratic National Committee days before a Virginia gubernatorial election observers see as a national bellwether for upcoming congressional midterm elections. Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor who said in a interview with the Blade his opponent is the “most homophobic, anti-choice” candidate in Virginia history, is running against Glenn Youngkin, who said recently he continues to oppose same-sex marriage but “will support” the law.

Polls show an exceedingly close race in a state President Biden won handily in the presidential election. An Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll found the race is a dead heat and McAuliffe and Youngkin are tied with 48-48 percent each. The election is Tuesday.

Asked what he sees as his role in the closing days of the Virginia election, Alleman reiterated he was still on Day One of his role at the DNC, but believes Democrats are “doing everything possible to turn out different constituency groups for Terry McAuliffe and Democrats, up and down the ballot in Virginia.”

“My role as I start to step in here is really working to make sure that our national partner organizations are doing everything possible to turn out that book as we head into GOTV, and be a partner to them as they drive their supporters out to make sure that we’re not leaving anything on the table come next Tuesday when we elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia again,” Alleman said.

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the DNC who joined in on the interview with Alleman, said the DNC is working with groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (his former employer) to highlight the records of both Virginia candidates.

“I think what happened last week — Youngkin’s comments on same-sex marriage — are concerning,” Acosta said. “That’s definitely something that we are going to continue to highlight in the closing days of the campaign. That obviously is just a further example why Youngkin is not the moderate he purports to be, but rather a Trump acolyte, who is going to turn back time on rights for a litany of Virginians, including LGBTQ folks.”

Democrats have enjoyed an advantage as a result of the sea change in support in favor of LGBTQ rights. But things may be beginning to shift as LGBTQ issues change and move away from same-sex marriage to other battlegrounds, such as transgender people participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Washington Post columnist James Hohmann reported this week on new data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee finding gender and race issues play out in favor of Republicans among suburban voters, if they’re on terms like critical race theory or concepts like “genderism.” According to the data, 65 percent said “allowing biological males to compete against women in high school and college sports is hugely unfair and will erase many of the gains women have made in athletics over the last 50 years.”

Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which effectively bars transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity, making the Lone Star State the latest state to enact such a measure in defiance of federal laws against discrimination based on sex.

Alleman, asked whether the DNC would change the way it approaches these issues, said he wasn’t aware of the data and questioned whether the conclusion of the data “really makes much sense.”

“I think we’ll at least continue to push forward the message of what we’ve done as Democrats which is fight for these individuals to be treated just the same as everyone else,” Alleman said.

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State Department to issue passports with ‘X’ gender marker

Special LGBTQ rights envoy celebrates ‘significant step’

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(Public domain photo)

The State Department on Wednesday is expected to issue the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender marker.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday told the Washington Blade and the Associated Press during a conference call the State Department will initially issue a gender-neutral passport to one person.

Stern said the State Department will begin “offering the ‘X’ gender marker option to routine passport applicants” in early 2022. A State Department official said the delay is necessary because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget needs to approve “the required form updates.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F'”

People who identify as intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming can choose a gender-neutral gender marker for their passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a document that confirms an American who was born overseas is a U.S. citizen. The new policy that Blinken announced in June no longer requires “medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents.”

“Offering a third gender marker is a significant step towards ensuring that our administrative systems account for the diversity of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,” said Stern during the conference call. “Because people do not always fit within a male or a female designation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have inconsistencies between people and systems.”

Stern added passports with an “X” gender marker will “reflect the true gender of the passport holder and make people safer, hopefully by reducing the likelihood of dehumanizing harassment and mistreatment that so often happens at border crossings when a person’s legal documentation does not correspond with their gender expression.”

“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.

The State Department’s announcement comes a day after it publicly acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day, which commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex rights protect that took place in Boston in 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. The State Department official with whom the Blade spoke on Tuesday declined to say whether Zzyym is the first person who will receive a gender-neutral passport in the U.S.

“The department does not generally comment on individual passport applications due to privacy considerations,” said the official.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House in June named Stern, who had previously been the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy group, to her position. Stern said the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.

“I am proud that the United States seeks to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and this is an excellent example of leading by example,” said Stern.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are among the handful of other countries that issue gender-neutral passports.

The State Department official said their colleagues have “been coordinating with Canada and New Zealand on best practices as we work towards this goal, based on their experiences.” They said the State Department has also “coordinated with several LGBTQI+ organizations, both directly and through the White House Domestic Policy Council, throughout this process.”

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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