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EXCLUSIVE: 64 members of Congress urge US to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans

Chris Pappas spearheaded letter to Antony Blinken

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 60 members of Congress on Tuesday urged the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from their country after the Taliban regained control of it.

The letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) spearheaded notes LGBTQ+ Afghans face an “existential threat” under Taliban rule. Pappas and the 63 other members of Congress who signed the letter asked the State Department to allow LGBTQ+ Afghans to access the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  

The letter notes the State Department on Aug. 2 announced a “Priority 2 (P-2 designation” that grants “eligible Afghan nationals and their family members access to the USRAP for Afghans looking to flee Taliban rule but who aren’t eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).”

“The P-2 designation is made at the discretion of the Department of State and is typically used for ‘groups of special concern’ the department determines ‘as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances’,” it reads.

“We have a moral obligation to uphold our values and utilize every tool at our disposal to protect the LGBTQ+ Afghan community,” adds the letter. “In the spirit of upholding our values and leading by example, we urge you to expand the Department of State’s P-2 designation granting USRAP access for Afghan nationals to explicitly include LGBTQ+ Afghans.”

“We further implore you to work with the Department of Defense to ensure that charter flights receive uninterrupted access to the (Kabul) airport, as charter flights will likely provide the best opportunity for priority refugees to escape,” stressed the members of Congress.

The Taliban on Aug. 15 entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and toppled the country’s government. The U.S. has subsequently evacuated more than 80,000 people from Kabul’s airport.

President Biden on Tuesday reiterated the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to end. The previous White House in 2020 brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal.

A Taliban judge last month said the group would execute gay people if it were to once again return to power in Afghanistan. Canada thus far is the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“With the Taliban’s takeover of the country, LGBTQ+ Afghans face the prospect of violent death. Sharia law, cemented in Afghanistan’s constitution, prohibits all forms of same-sex activity, and makes same-sex activity punishable by death,” reads the letter to Blinken. “Just as it was for ISIS in Iraq, Sharia law is the Taliban’s guiding compass as it establishes its rule over Afghanistan’s government and society. During its campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS frequently executed LGBTQ+ individuals by stoning them to death, castrating and hanging them in public squares, and throwing them off buildings.”

“Under Taliban rule, LGBTQ+ Afghans will suffer a similar fate,” it adds.

The letter notes President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

The lawmakers acknowledge “the situation in Afghanistan is fluid,” but stress Blinken has “the power to protect the lives of countless LGBTQ+ Afghans from the horrors they face living under a regime that threatens their very existence.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Trevor Project, Lambda Legal, PFLAG, Athlete Ally and the National Equality Action Team support the lawmakers’ call for the U.S. to offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“The Human Rights Campaign recognizes that those LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing Taliban rule deserve unique attention as they are particularly vulnerable and fear imminent violence and death following the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and this particular vulnerability requires expedited redress by the Department of State,” said HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release that Pappas’ office sent exclusively to the Washington Blade.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley stressed “time is running out and the lives of LGBTQI Afghans are at extreme risk.”

“As a country, we can do more to evacuate the LGBTQI community and to provide LGBTQI-affirming support for their successful resettlement here in the United States,” he said in the press release.

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Biden recognizes 10th anniversary of end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Pete Buttigieg, Gina Ortiz Jones named in White House statement

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President Biden recognized in a statement on Monday the tenth anniversary of the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that once discharged service members from the military for being openly gay or bisexual.

“Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members,” Biden said. “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.”

Biden recognized high-profile openly gay appointees in his administrations who are also veterans, naming Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Biden also names Shawn Skelly, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, who would have been discharged from the military under President Trump’s transgender military ban.

“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden said. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”

Technically speaking, the anniversary of Obama signing repeal legislation was in December. Today is the anniversary of defense officials certifying the military is ready, which put an end to the policy.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Tenth Anniversary of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do. And, it showed once again that America is at its best when we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

Despite serving with extraordinary honor and courage throughout our history, more than 100,000 American service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—including some 14,000 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Many of these veterans received what are known as “other than honorable” discharges, excluding them and their families from the vitally important services and benefits they had sacrificed so much to earn.

As a U.S. Senator, I supported allowing service members to serve openly, and as Vice President, I was proud to champion the repeal of this policy and to stand beside President Obama as he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act into law. As President, I am honored to be Commander-in-Chief of the strongest and most inclusive military in our nation’s history. Today, our military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ service members—it is led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans, including Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, who served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I was gratified to appoint the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and Afghanistan veteran who joined the military under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. And during my first week in office, I proudly delivered on my pledge to repeal the discriminatory ban on open service by patriotic transgender service members.

On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation. We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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