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Anticipation builds amid delay: Will Biden name LGBTQ ambassadors?

United States has never had lesbian woman, trans person as envoy

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Biden administration, gay news, Washington Blade

More than 100 days into his presidency, President Biden has yet to name picks for a multitude of ambassadorial positions in a delay unusual for a presidency at this stage, raising questions about whether he’ll miss an opportunity to exhibit America’s LGBTQ community overseas through the appointment of the first-ever lesbian and transgender person as ambassadors.

Many of these ambassadorial vacancies, which complement the diplomatic corps of the U.S. government to serve as a representation of American diversity overseas, are in key positions. Nearly 90 ambassadorial positions, including sought-after posts in Israel, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy and China, remain vacant according to an April article in USA Today.

The delay in ambassadorial appointments appears to come from pressure on Biden to refrain from the traditional practice of naming donors who bundled for his presidential campaign to the prestigious posts as opposed to foreign policy experts. Biden declined during his campaign to commit to refusing to reward donors with ambassadorial appointments, but the issue has taken hold in progressive circles.

On the other hand, many donors and bundlers for Biden’s presidential campaign were LGBTQ people, who would reasonably expect an ambassadorial appointment as a reward for helping get Biden to the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade on Tuesday on whether Biden is missing an opportunity to name lesbian and transgender ambassadors in historic firsts, urged patience.

“Given we haven’t named many ambassadors quite yet — and we hope to soon; stay tuned — certainly the president looks to ensuring that the people representing him, not just in the United States, but around the world, represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community,” Psaki said.

Asked to clarify her definition of “soon” in this context — whether it means days, weeks, or months — Psaki declined to provide a more definite timeline.

“I think it depends on when the president makes some decisions,” Psaki said. “And he’ll continue to consider a range of options for a lot of the positions that are out there and still remain vacant.”

At the same time, Psaki made a point to commend the work of Foreign Service officers at the State Department with whom Biden has sought to restore trust after years of scorn from former President Trump.

“I will say, having served at the State Department for a couple of years, there are incredible career service employees who are serving in these embassies around the world who are representing the United States and our values.” Psaki said. “That continues to be the case, but, of course, we’re eager to have ambassadors in place and confirmed to represent the president and the vice president and the United States.”

The appointment of members of the LGBTQ community to ambassadorships has a significant place in the movement’s history. In 1998, Jim Hormel became the first openly gay person to serve as U.S. ambassador after being named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. But the victory came after a struggle when anti-gay senators, including the late Jesse Helms, refused to confirm Hormel explicitly because he’s gay. President Clint0n ended up appointing Hormel as an ambassador through a recess appointment, which averted the need for Senate confirmation.

Presidents regardless of party have achieved historic firsts with the appointment of openly gay men as ambassadors. Michael Guest in the George W. Bush administration was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Romania, making him the first openly gay person to obtain Senate confirmation for an ambassadorship. Former President Obama over the course of two terms appointed a record seven openly gay men as ambassadors, including John Berry as U.S. ambassador to Australia and Daniel Baer as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Richard Grenell, named by President Trump as U.S. ambassador to Germany, currently has the distinction of being the openly gay person with the most prestigious ambassadorial appointment. Consistent with his reputation as a firebrand on social media, Grenell hit Germany hard as ambassador to compel the G-5 country to meet its military spending obligations as a NATO partner. Grenell has something to show for his efforts: The country began to spend closer to 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

And yet for all these appointments, no president has ever named an open lesbian or trans woman for a position as U.S. ambassador, an oversight that stands out after the rapid progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years. At a time when transgender rights are in focus amid anti-trans attacks in state legislatures, the appointment of an openly transgender ambassador would also send a signal of solidarity with the transgender community.

There’s no indication Biden won’t appoint an LGBTQ person for a position as U.S. ambassador, which could be an easy achievement from him with the LGBTQ community, but the delay raises questions on whether or not they will happen, in addition to keeping the diplomatic corps from being fully staffed and functional.

Moreover, the position of LGBTQ international liaison at the State Department, a position Biden campaigned on filling after Trump let the position remain vacant, remains unfilled. During the Obama years, Randy Berry served in that role and travelled internationally to work with LGBTQ groups overseas and demonstrate U.S. solidarity with them.

It’s unclear why the international LGBTQ liaison position continues to remain vacant within the Biden administration. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade on Wednesday back to the White House on potential LGBTQ ambassadorial appointments or the international LGBTQ liaison role.

To be sure, Biden has made several key LGBTQ appointments in the limited time in his presidency. Among them are Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the first-ever openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, which made her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any presidential appointment.

In the past few weeks alone, Biden has signaled he’d name openly lesbian and transgender people to high-ranking civilian positions at the Defense Department. Brenda Sue Fulton, a lesbian activist who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban, got the nod as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, while Shawn Skelly, a transgender national security expert who served in the Air Force for 20 years as a Naval Flight Officer, obtained the nod to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness. Meanwhile, Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian Iraq war veteran who twice ran to represent Texas’ 23rd congressional district, was nominated to become Air Force under secretary.

Even the State Department itself has a person from the LGBTQ community serving as its public face. Ned Price, who conducts daily briefings with the media as State Department spokesperson, is the first openly gay person to serve in that prominent position.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which at the start of the Biden administration had signaled the appointment of a lesbian, transgender person and LGBTQ person of color as U.S. ambassadors were among its goals, expressed confidence Biden would name these appointments in due time.

“President Biden will roll out his picks for ambassadorships over the next few months and it presents an incredible opportunity to choose diverse and groundbreaking LGBTQ nominees,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “As President Biden has already made history with the number of LGBTQ women and transgender people he has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions, we predict this commitment to LGBTQ diversity will continue when ambassadors are nominated. The impact of our first LGBTQ women ambassadors, first LGBTQ ambassadors of color and first trans ambassadors would be enormous – an impact not lost on the Biden administration.”

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World

Canadian government introduces bill to ban conversion therapy

Prime minister says discredited practice as ‘discriminatory and degrading’

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health disparities, gay news, Washington Blade
(Public domain photo)

The Canadian government on Monday introduced a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in the country.

The bill that Attorney General David Lametti and Women and Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marci Ien introduced would amend Canada’s Criminal Code to specifically ban:

  • Causing another person to undergo conversion therapy
  • Removing a minor from Canada to subject them to conversion therapy abroad
  • Profiting from providing conversion therapy
  • Advertising or promoting conversion therapy

A press release the Canadian government issued said the bill would allow courts “to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order their removal from computer systems or the internet.”

“The pain and trauma caused by conversion therapy practices continue to have a devastating impact on LGBTQ2 communities across Canada,” said Ien. “Our government is focused on promoting equality rights and tackling discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit people. Criminalizing this practice upholds basic human rights, while also ensuring that every Canadian is free to live their authentic lives.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a tweet said conversion therapy “is discriminatory and degrading, and has had devastating impacts on LGBTQ2 Canadians.”

“It has no place in our country,” he said.

Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, who previously advised Trudeau on LGBTQ issues, also applauded the bill’s introduction.

“Conversion ‘therapy’ is akin to torture,” said Boissonnault. “I encourage all of my colleagues in the House (of Commons), to support this bill that will move to criminalize conversion therapy in Canada once and for all.”

Canada would join Malta and a handful of countries that ban conversion therapy.

Trudeau, who won re-election in September, has previously called for a prohibition of the widely discredited practice. The Canadian Senate earlier this year tabled a separate conversion therapy ban bill.

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Local

D.C. area LGBTQ bars, eateries receive $100K COVID-19 relief grant

Pitchers, League of Her Own received NGLCC, Grubhub funds

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indoor dining, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. LGBTQ sports bar Pitchers and League of Her Own, its adjoining lesbian bar, are among the nation’s first LGBTQ bars that serve food as well as alcoholic beverages to receive a $100,000 COVID-19 relief grant under a $2 million Community Impact Grant Program.

The program, aimed at supporting LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-allied small businesses struggling from the pandemic, was launched in September as a joint project of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which goes by the initials NGLCC, and the global online food delivery company Grubhub.

In a Tuesday announcement, NGLCC and Grubhub said Pitchers and League of Her Own, which operate as one business in adjoining buildings in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, are among the first three recipients of $100,000 grants under the Community Impact Grant Program. The other two recipients are FOODE + Mercantile of Fredericksburg, Va., and Café Gabriela of Oakland, Calif.

“Following this initial round of recipients, more grants will be issued in late 2021 and early 2022,” the announcement by the two groups says. In an earlier announcement, the groups said the application period for the grants program took place from September through Oct. 12, and the grants would range in amounts from $5,000 to $100,000.

“The impact of COVID-19 has been debilitating for countless restaurant and bar owners, including the many LGBTQ+-owned restaurants across the country who have persisted through lockdowns, operational changes and labor supply shortages,” said NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson. “We’re grateful to have partnered with Grubhub to offer real lifelines to support businesses throughout the nation,” Nelson said.

“Building community in a fun and safe place has been our mission since the very beginning,” said David Perruzza, the owner of Pitchers and League of Her Own. “We’re relieved and thankful for these funds, and are looking forward to more stable days ahead,” Perruzza said.

“As a trans masculine and queer immigrant person of color, I’ve worked hard and put all my love and energy into building a beautiful and welcoming space in Café Gabriela,” said owner Penny Baldado. “I’ve remained resilient through COVID, and this grant is the injection of funds that we need to continue along our journey to full recovery,” Baldado said.

The statement announcing the first three grant recipient says funds for the $2 million grant program were generated by Grubhub’s “Donate the Change” program of which NGLCC became a partner in June. Grubhub says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub “to round out their order and donate the difference” to the charitable fund.

“COVID has turned the restaurant industry on its head the last 18 months, and at Grubhub, we’ve been working hard every day to support our restaurant partners across the country,” said Amy Healy, Grubhub’s vice president of government relations. “As the world starts to return to a new normal, we’re proud to partner with the NGLCC and provide these grants to LGBTQ+-owned and LGBTQ+ ally-owned restaurants across the country that are pillars of their communities.”

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Politics

Biden recognizes LGBTQ survivors in World AIDS Day statement

In contrast, Trump consistently omitted sexual minorities

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President Biden recognized LGBTQ people as among the survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Tuesday in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day, marking a departure from consistent omissions of the LGBTQ community under the Trump administration.

“Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden said. “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination. No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.”

Biden, as the world recognizes World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, enumerates LGBTQ people as survivors in a paragraph acknowledging the coronavirus pandemic has presented new obstacles in efforts to beat HIV/AIDS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV,” Biden said. “The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.”

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day stands in contrast to statements from President Trump, who consistently declined to mention the LGBTQ community in each of his statements. The consistent omissions took place even though top health officials under the Trump administration started the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Last year, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked by the Washington Blade why the LGBTQ community was missing from the 2020 statement, responded with a false statement Trump was the first to observe World AIDS Day by adorning the White House with a large red AIDS ribbon. In fact, the practice began under President George W. Bush and had continued through Obama and Trump administrations.

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in Biden’s World AIDS Day statement is consistent with former President Obama mentioning LGBTQ people as among the survivors of HIV/AIDS in his final World AIDS Day statement. In 2016, Obama acknowledged “gay and bisexual men, transgender people, youth, black and Latino Americans, people living in the Southern United States, and people who inject drugs are at a disproportionate risk” of the disease.

Biden in his World AIDS Day statement says his administration “remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic,” ticking off policies his administration has pursued, including a budget request of $670 million to fight HIV/AIDS domestically and support for global initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS, which he said has save more than 21 million lives.

“This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity,” Biden said.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2021
 
– – – – – – –
 
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION
For decades, World AIDS Day has been recognized as an opportunity for people around the world to stand together in the fight against HIV.  This year on World AIDS Day, we are focused on addressing health inequities and inequalities and ensuring that the voices of people with HIV are at the center of our work to end the HIV epidemic globally.

While we have made remarkable progress in the 40 years since the first-known reported case of AIDS, this disease remains a serious public health challenge — and we join the international community to honor and remember the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, who have tragically died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the epidemic.  We also renew our commitment to stand with the nearly 38 million people living with HIV around the world as we pursue our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV.  The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.

My Administration remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, confront systems and policies that perpetuate entrenched health inequities, and build a healthier world for all people. Earlier this year, I reinstated the White House Office of National AIDS Policy to coordinate our efforts to reduce the number of HIV infections across our Nation.  This week, my Administration is releasing an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy to decrease health inequities in new diagnoses and improve access to comprehensive, evidence-based HIV-prevention tools. This updated strategy will make equity a cornerstone of our response and bring a whole-of-government approach to fighting HIV.

My budget request includes $670 million to support the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative — to reduce HIV diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths.  My Administration has also strengthened the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS by adding members from diverse backgrounds who bring the knowledge and expertise needed to further our Nation’s HIV response. 

My Administration is committed to helping the world end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.  Through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we have saved more than 21 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and supported at least 20 countries around the world to reach epidemic control of HIV or achieve their ambitious HIV treatment targets.  This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity.  Now, together with partner governments and communities, my Administration is setting a bold vision for achieving sustained epidemic control of HIV by supporting equitable health services and solutions, contributing to improved health for all in PEPFAR-supported countries, and working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; UNAIDS; and other regional and local partners toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic everywhere.

Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work.  On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination.  No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.  We must innovate and explore new ways to help address HIV/AIDS in communities here at home and around the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2021, as World AIDS Day.  I urge the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to those living with HIV.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
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