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Second time the charm? Clay Aiken announces another bid for Congress

‘American Idol’ runner-up pursues seat in N.C.

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Clay Aiken announces a bid to represent North Carolina's 6th congressional seat. (Photo via YouTube)

Clay Aiken, following an unsuccessful bid to represent North Carolina as a member of Congress in 2014, declared his bid on Monday for another shot in an effort to reverse his state’s “backwards ass policies.”

The singer-turned-politician announced in a video he’d pursue the Democratic nomination for North Carolina’s 6th congressional district, which is being vacated by the retirement of Rep. David Price (D-N.C.).

“For decades, North Carolina was actually the progressive beacon in the South,” Aiken says in the video. “But then things changed, and the progressives lost power, and we started getting backwards ass policies, like the voter suppression bills and the bigoted bathroom bill.”

Aiken became known as the most successful runner-up on “American Idol” after taking second place in the 2003. He came out as gay in 2008.

Taking a knock at other politicians in his own state, Aiken says “the loudest voices in North Carolina politics are white nationalists like this guy” before a clip plays of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) at the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally.

Aiken goes on to denounce homophobes before a clip plays of North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has unapologetically denounced LGBTQ people. Robinson is shown in the middle of a thunderous speech as he questions, “What is the purpose of homosexuality?”

Other images follow of GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), conservative members of Congress who have earned the ire of progressives.

Aiken in 2013 came up short as he pursued a seat in a Republican-leaning district, but may stand a better chance in North Carolina’s 6th congressional district, which encompasses the urban areas of Winston-Salem and Greensboro. According to the Charlotte-based News & Observer, the district shape, however, is subject to change in ongoing court challenges to the maps. Observers are predicting the election will be favorable to Republicans.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Human Rights Watch in new report criticizes Jordanian government

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

Jordan

King Abdullah (Photo courtesy of the Jordanian Embassy in the U.S.)

The government of Jordanian King Abdullah have systematically targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists and coordinated an unlawful crackdown on free expression and assembly around gender and sexuality, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.

In its Dec. 4 report, HRW documented cases in which Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) and the Preventive Security department of the Public Security Directorate interrogated LGBTQ activists about their work, and intimidated them with threats of violence, arrest and prosecution, forcing several activists to shut down their organizations, discontinue their activities and in some cases, flee the country. 

Government officials also smeared LGBTQ rights activists online based on their sexual orientation, and social media users posted photos of LGBTQ rights activists with messages inciting violence against them.

“Jordanian authorities have launched a coordinated attack against LGBT rights activists, aimed at eradicating any discussion around gender and sexuality from the public and private spheres,” said Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces’ intimidation tactics and unlawful interference in LGBT organizing have driven activism further underground and forced civil society leaders into an impossible reality: severe self-censorship or fleeing Jordan.”

Three activists said the Amman governor interrogated them after they preemptively cancelled the screening of a film depicting gay men. Two LGBTQ organization directors said that because of official intimidation, they were forced to close their offices, discontinue their operations in Jordan and flee the country.

One activist said Preventive Security officers made him sign a pledge that he would report all his venue’s activities to the governor. Another activist reported being targeted online while social media users called for him to be burned alive.

One of the few LGBTQ rights activists who has remained in Jordan described her current reality: “Merely existing in Amman has become terrifying. We cannot continue our work as activists, and we are forced to be hyperaware of our surroundings as individuals.”

More recently, in October 2023, an LGBTQ rights activist said he was summoned for investigation by the intelligence agency. During the interrogation, the activist said intelligence officers searched his phone, intimidated him and threatened him with a travel ban, while asking personal questions about his sexual orientation and sexual relations with other men. After three hours of questioning, the activist said the officers told him he could leave.

“They [Jordanian authorities] invest in intimidation to destroy our minds and isolate us,” the activist said. “Their tactic is to target us mentally, leaving no evidence of our torment behind.”

Jordan’s constitution protects the rights to nondiscrimination (article 6), the right to personal freedom (article 7), and the right to freedom of expression and opinion (article 15).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, provides that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. The ICCPR, in its articles 2 and 26, guarantees fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law without discrimination. 

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which interprets the covenant, has made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited in upholding any of the rights protected by the treaty, including freedom of expression, assembly and association.

France

Openly gay French Sen. Hussein Bourgi speaks at a ceremony in Clermont-l’Hérault in the Hérault district he represents. (Photo courtesy of Hussein Bourgi’s Facebook page)

Legislation that was introduced last month by the openly gay Socialist Senator Hussein Bourgi to acknowledge the French state’s responsibility in the criminalization and persecution of gay men between 1945 and 1982 was adopted.

However, the section of bill that called for compensation of the victims of French homophobic laws, in effect during that period by offering them a lump sum of €10,000 ($10,752.75) was not approved.

Speaking with various French media outlets, Bourgi, who authored the bill, said: “It is high time to bring justice to the living victims of legislation which served as the basis for a politics of repression with brutal and punishing social, professional and familial consequences.”

Agence France-Presse reported

Bourgi’s text focuses on a 40-year period following the introduction of legislation that specifically targeted homosexuals under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime. The 1942 law, which was not repealed after the liberation of France, introduced a discriminatory distinction in the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex, setting the former at 13 (raised to 15 at the Liberation) and the latter at 21.

Some 10,000 people — almost exclusively men, most of them working-class — were convicted under the law until its repeal in 1982, according to research by sociologists Régis Schlagdenhauffen and Jérémie Gauthier. More than 90 percent were sentenced to jail. An estimated 50,000 more were convicted under a separate “public indecency” law that was amended in 1960 to introduce an aggravating factor for homosexuals and double the penalty. 

“People tend to think France was protective of gay people compared to, say, Germany or the UK. But when you look at the figures you get a very different picture,” said Schlagdenhaufen, who teaches at the EHESS institute in Paris. 

“France was not this cradle of human rights we like to think of,” he added. “The revolution tried to decriminalise homosexuality, but subsequent regimes found other stratagems to repress gay people. This repression was enshrined in law in 1942 and even more so in 1960.” 

The legislation won the backing of Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti in President Emmanuel Macron’s government. However, Dupond-Moretti agreed with the removal of the compensation provision by the right-wing and center senatorial majority. Dupond-Moretti justified this choice noting concerns over “legal difficulties,” telling French magazine Le Monde that “putting into practice” of this compensation measure “appears extremely complex” due to the difficulty of providing proof of an old conviction and its execution.

The Dupond-Moretti added “It was not the law which was responsible for this harm” but “French society, homophobic in all its components at the time” adding, “This is not the fault of the Republic. The law of memory is enough.”

The bill must now be taken up by the lower house, the National Assembly, to be passed and then adopted.

Scotland

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Photo courtesy of the Scottish government)

The Court of Session in Edinburgh has ruled that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s U.K. government acted within the law by invoking Section 35, which blocked the measure passed by the Scottish Parliament, that would have make it easier for transgender people to change their legally-recognized sex on documents.

The actions by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, with Sunak’s backing kept the act from receiving the signature of King Charles III and becoming law. 

The Gender Recognition Reform bill was introduced by the Scottish government in the country’s Parliament in the spring of 2022 was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before last Christmas. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing trans Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.

In a statement released in January of this year, Jack said:

“After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. 

Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. 

I have not taken this decision lightly. The bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”

The Scottish government sued Westminster in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, arguing that Jack did not have “reasonable grounds” to block the bill. The BBC reported that in her ruling for the UK governments, Judge Lady Haldane dismissed the Scottish government’s appeal and said the block on the legislation was lawful.

Haldance noted that Jack followed correct legal procedures when he made his decision to invoke section 35 and that the Scottish government had failed to show that he had made legal errors.

The judge wrote: “I cannot conclude that he (Mr. Jack) failed in his duty to take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to acquaint himself with material sufficient to permit him to reach the decision that he did.”

Haldane also said that “Section 35 does not, in and of itself, impact on the separation of powers or other fundamental constitutional principle. Rather it is itself part of the constitutional framework.”

Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, expressed its disappointment with Haldane’s ruling in a statement released this past week: 

“We’re disappointed that the Court of Session in Scotland has found in favour of the UK government’s unprecedented decision to use Section 35 to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from Royal Assent. This bill was one of the most debated in the Scottish Parliament’s history and was passed by a resounding majority of MSPs drawn from all major Scottish parties.

This unfortunately means more uncertainty for trans people in Scotland, who will now be waiting once again, to see whether they will be able to have their gender legally recognised through a process that is in line with leading nations like Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.

Whatever happens next in discussions with the UK and Scottish governments on this matter, Stonewall will continue to press all administrations to make progress on LGBTQ+ rights in line with leading international practice.”

UNITED KINGDOM

Labor MP Chris Bryant speaking in the House of Commons. (Screenshot of the British government’s YouTube channel)

Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric used by British Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch during her speech on the floor of the House of Commons on Dec. 6, prompted Labor MP Chris Bryant, an openly gay lawmaker, to rise in opposition and declare her speech left him feeling unsafe. 

The debate was triggered by Badenoch claiming that the UK does not recognize self-ID from overseas countries for trans people, PinkNewsUK reported. In his retort to her statements, Bryant explained: “I feel, as a gay man, less safe than I did three years or five years ago.”

PinkNewsUK also noted that Bryant said: “Why? Sometimes because of the rhetoric that is used, including by herself [Badenoch] in the public debate.” He added that some MPs had cheered for Badenoch’s statements on the trans community, and for statements against gender-affirming care for trans people, which could lead to LGBTQ people feeling even less safe in the UK. 

“Many of us feel less safe today, and when people over there cheer as they just did, it chills me to the bone, it genuinely does,” Bryant said. 

She hit back with force, challenging him to identify which words precisely were so problematic. She later criticized the attempts of trans activists to use emotional blackmail to try to shut down debate.

The UK government has updated the list of countries from which gender-certificates will be accepted.

Replying to Bryant, Badenoch said: “He says that my rhetoric chills him to the bone. I would be really keen to hear exactly what it is I have said in this statement or previously that is so chilling.” She added that the current Tory government had done work on “our HIV action plan” and “around trans healthcare,” as well as “establishing five new community-based clinics for adults in the country.”

“There is a lot that we are doing, so it is wrong to characterize us as not caring about LGBT people,” she said. 

Bryant’s colleague, Ben Bradshaw, also failed to get the better of Badenoch. He complained the UK had recently fallen in a set of international rankings on LGBTQ rights. She calmly pointed out that those rankings reward states that adopt the Stonewall-supported policy of self-ID and punish those who do not. To cheers from the Tory benches, she declared “Stonewall does not decide the law in this country,” referring to Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

Additional reporting from Human Rights Watch, Agence France-Presse, Le Monde, The BBC and PinkNewsUK.

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Maryland

Bomb threat shuts down Takoma Park holiday drag show

MotorKat evacuated when Tara Hoot was performing

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Tara Hoot was performing at MotorKat in Takoma Park, Md., on Dec. 9, 2023, when a bomb threat forced the business' evacuation. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Police cordoned off a popular strip in Takoma Park on Saturday after a bomb threat shut down businesses, including a holiday performance by drag artist Tara Hoot.

MotorKat General Manager Mike Rothman told the Washington Blade that Takoma Park police notified them of a bomb threat to their business around noon.

Tara Hoot was delivering a holiday brunch performance at the MotorKat when the evacuation order came in.

Rothman said they were notified “five minutes into her final performance.” Tara Hoot herself told the audience to leave for their safety.

Police proceeded to tape off the area and evacuated all businesses between Eastern and South Carroll Avenues, including TakomaBevCo, which is co-owned by MotorKat Wine Director Seth Cook.

Cook told the Blade that police brought in “bomb-sniffing dogs” to clear the area before allowing businesses to reopen around 2 p.m.

“The timing is unfortunate as this is one of the busiest weekends before the holidays,” Cook said.

Rothman was also disappointed by the lost revenue due to what ultimately was a false threat, but he was firm that the Takoma Park LGBTQ community is resilient and would continue to thrive despite this setback.

“Takoma Park is a pretty proud and resilient community,” he said. “I don’t expect people to lay down and be scared by this.”

MotorKat and TakomaBevCo reopened for business around 3 p.m.

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Congress

Anti-LGBTQ provisions removed from NDAA

New version omits restriction on gender affirming care, book and drag bans

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Anti-LGBTQ provisions submitted by House Republicans to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have been removed from the defense spending bill, triggering outrage from conservative lawmakers and praise from LGBTQ groups.

The conference version of the bill was released on Thursday.

This week saw the revocation of two measures targeting gender affirming care along with the book ban and drag ban. Language stipulating the list of approved flags that can be flown at military bases was amended such that more flags can be added on a discretionary basis.

“MAGA members of Congress tried to hijack the National Defense Authorization Act to advance their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, attempting to riddle it with discriminatory riders,” Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said in a statement to the Washington Blade.

His statement continued, “They failed and equality won. Anti-LGBTQ+ provisions, including efforts to restrict access to gender affirming care, were rejected. The anti-LGBTQ+ agenda continues to be deeply unpopular across the country and a failing political strategy.”

Wolf thanked U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) for “defending equality and defeating attacks on the community.”

Pledging to vote “no” on the bill, Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said in a post on X, “I was appointed to the NDAA conference committee but NEVER got to work on the final version of the NDAA bc they made the deal behind closed doors and here are the horrible results.”

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