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How do you solve the Kyrsten Sinema problem?

Bisexual senator absent from WH Pride reception

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Attendees of the White House reception for Pride month last week included high-profile LGBTQ leaders from activist groups, state legislatures, and the federal government. One lawmaker, however, was conspicuously absent.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the only out bisexual in Congress, didn’t attend the event — an absence that stood out as members of the House LGBTQ Congressional Equality Caucus were there. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sinema’s LGBTQ companion in the Senate, also showed up and was in the front row for President Biden’s remarks.

When the Washington Blade reached out to Sinema’s office to ask why the senator skipped the reception, her staff confirmed she had been invited.

“Kyrsten was invited, but was unable to attend as the Senate had recessed Thursday evening for state work period,” said Hannah Hurley, a Sinema spokesperson.

But the Senate recess didn’t stop Baldwin from attending the Pride reception.

It’s not the only event Sinema has skipped in recent weeks. When Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a dinner at the White House for all women members of the Senate, Sinema was the only Democrat not in attendance.

The absence of Sinema is almost metaphorical as she has become the target of ire for progressives who view her as an obstructionist to their agenda in the Senate.

Sinema, as she articulated in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, has come out in strong defense of the filibuster in the Senate, which has been criticized as a relic of structuralism racism (although she’s not the only Senate Democrat to oppose dropping the filibuster).

“It’s no secret that I oppose eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold,” Sinema writes. “I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018. If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority.”

As a result of her position, Sinema has been accused of holding up key legislation like the Equality Act, which would expand LGBTQ protections under the law. (It should be noted the bill as it stands doesn’t have unanimous support in the Democratic caucus and wouldn’t even pass without the filibuster on a majority vote.)

Also, the dramatic thumbs down she gave on the Senate floor on an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour was interpreted as an insult to progressives pushing for the increase.

The transition for Sinema is remarkable. Starting her political career for the Arizona Legislature as a Green Party candidate who once dressed up in a tutu to oppose the Iraq war, Sinema’s latest incarnation as a conservative Democrat has some of her one-time supporters scratching their heads.

That will make things complicated for LGBTQ advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which have endorsed her efforts to win election, and for Democrats who sold her as the only out bisexual in Congress.

Sinema, after winning election in 2018 to a six-year term, will be in the Senate for a while and won’t face re-election until 2024. But progressives are already clamoring for LGBTQ advocacy groups to take a hard line with her regarding any future support.

Michelangelo Signorile, a progressive activist and Sinema critic, went so far in an email to the Blade as to say LGBTQ groups should withhold their endorsements entirely from Sinema.

“LGBTQ groups definitely shouldn’t be endorsing anyone blocking the Equality Act from being passed. Right now that includes every Republican and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who refuse to eliminate the filibuster,” Signorile said. “So of course they shouldn’t endorse her. How could the Human Rights Campaign or Victory Fund have any credibility while telling the community to invest hard-earned dollars with this politician?”

Sinema has always taken a one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach to her sexual orientation as a political figure. Accepting endorsements from LGBTQ groups, Sinema has attended events after her election hosted by them, such as an event with new LGBTQ members of Congress upon her election to the U.S. House in 2012. But Sinema has dodged questions about her bisexuality, telling the Washington Post in 2013 she doesn’t understand “why it’s big deal.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, for its part, is putting a degree of distance between itself and Sinema in response to inquires from the Blade, but not repudiating its support for her entirely.

Elliot Imse, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said his organization endorsed Sinema when the choice for Arizona voters was between her and “the anti-LGBTQ Republican candidate Martha McSally.”

“She is not currently endorsed by Victory Fund and we won’t be considering 2024 endorsements until summer 2023 – and much will happen between now and then,” Imse said. “As with all our incumbent candidates, the Victory Campaign Board will review her efforts to advance equality while in office as it is a key criteria for our endorsement.”

In response to an inquiry on whether the Victory Fund has reached out to Sinema about her policy positions, Imse said that would be inconsistent with his organization’s mission.

“Victory Fund has a very clear mission and we believe organizations are most successful when they remain laser-focused on that mission – so we do not take positions on specific policy or procedural questions,” Imse said. “We endorse and support LGBTQ candidates who will fight for and advance equality legislation and policies once in office and the LGBTQ members of Congress we’ve helped elect are the most outspoken and passionate voices on the Equality Act and other LGBTQ rights legislation.”

Having that “laser-focus,” however, isn’t true for other LGBTQ political groups, which do both endorsements and lobbying before Congress. Chief among them is the nation’s largest LGBTQ group, the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign, however, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Sinema or any discussions the organization has with her. That silence, however, likely won’t be enough for progressive activists angered with Sinema.

Signorile said Sinema’s absence from the White House should be seen as a red flag for LGBTQ advocacy groups on any future support.

“Sinema, by not attending Pride at the WH, doesn’t even make herself visible there. It’s almost like she wants to distance herself from being part of the community,” Signorile said. “She never talks about being bisexual, doesn’t discuss her coming out story — even if you ask her — and I defy anyone to find me a recent time in which she’s discussed being part of this community.”

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Politics

Pete Buttigieg calls out Tucker Carlson over attack

Fox News host mocked transportation secretary over paternity leave

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Washington Blade file photo)

Appearing remotely on MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s politics program Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called out Fox News host Tucker Carlson for the attack on his parental leave.

“This attack is coming from a guy who has yet to explain his apparent approval for the assassination of Harvey Milk, ” Buttigieg said.

During his Thursday evening program Carlson said, “Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child—paternity leave, they call it—trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went. But now he’s back in office as the transportation secretary and he’s deeply amused, he says, to see that dozens of container ships can’t get into this country.”

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En Espanol

‘Mercenarismo’: El delito que la Seguridad del Estado de Cuba usa para presionar al activista LGBTQ Raúl Soublett

Se realizó la interrogación el 9 de octubre

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Raúl Soublett López ((Foto cortesía de Twitter de María Matienzo)

Tremenda Nota es el socio mediático del Washington Blade en Cuba. Esta nota salió en su sitio web el 9 de octubre.

LA HABANA — El activista LGBTIQ+ Raúl Soublett López fue amenazado este sábado durante una entrevista con la Seguridad del Estado con un proceso penal por “mercenarismo”.

“Cualquier tipo de lucha en #Cuba puede ser criminalizada. A Raúl Soublett López ahora lo quieren procesar por mercenarismo y la notificación se la hace un tipo que tiene tanto miedo que no da ni su nombre real”, denunció la periodista María Matienzo en sus cuentas de Facebook y Twitter.

Según Matienzo, el argumento de la Seguridad del Estado para probar el «mercenarismo» de Raúl Soublett es una serie de videos contra el racismo y la homofobia que produjo el activista.

Al menos uno de esos videos fue publicado por Tremenda Nota.

Camino al Código de las Familias, uno de los videos de Raúl Soublett señalados por la Seguridad del Estado como “mercenarismo”

La Alianza Afro-Cubana, una organización independiente que coordina el propio Soublett, informó este viernes que el activista había sido citado en la mañana del sábado para una entrevista con “agentes de la Seguridad del Estado” en una unidad de policía ubicada en Playa, La Habana.

En coincidencia con la citación, este sábado Raúl Soublett debió asistir a la universidad, donde cursa el último año de una licenciatura en Pedagogía.

María Matienzo advirtió en Facebook que “las citaciones con menos de 72 horas de antelación son ilegales también”.

El mismo día que citaron a Soublett, el presidente Miguel Díaz-Canel se reunió con activistas LGBTIQ+ y funcionarios del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (Cenesex). Malú Cano, la coordinadora de la red TransCuba, que fue una de las invitadas, calificó el encuentro como una evidencia de la “voluntad política de avanzar en el reconocimiento de los derechos de las personas LGBTIQ+”.

Matienzo, que también es lesbiana, observó la coincidencia entre ambos incidentes.

“Ante una comunidad #LGTBIQ que se reúne con el poder en #Cuba, quieren procesar al activista @RaulSoublett”, observó en Twitter.

El propio Soublett posteó en Facebook: “Mientras hay activistas LGBTIQ+ que no se les escuchan, que los acosan, los citan para interrogatorios ilegales, en fin. Esa es la Cuba de ponle corazón. Hipócritas”.

El pasado 25 de febrero, Raúl se reunió con la Seguridad del Estado y acabó autoagrediéndose como resultado de la presión.

“Fue interrogado por más de cuatro horas, según me describe las cuatro horas más horribles de su vida, en la cual usaron los más bajos recursos de intimidación, chantaje, coacción y sobre todo mucha violencia tanto psicológica como verbal”, relató en esa ocasión el periodista Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho.

Según el Código Penal vigente en Cuba, el delito de “mercenarismo” consiste en incorporare “a formaciones militares integradas total o parcialmente por individuos que no son ciudadanos del Estado en cuyo territorio se proponen actuar” a cambio de “un sueldo u otro tipo de retribución material”. 

Las sanciones previstas para estos casos son hasta 20 años de cárcel o muerte. 

Un experto en Derecho consultado por Tremenda Nota, que pidió reservar su identidad, considera que “esta amenaza no pasa de ser un recurso de tortura psicológica”.  “Ese delito es improcedente en este caso y eso sería obvio para cualquiera”, añadió. 

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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