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HRC launches ‘Reality Flag’ campaign to boost Equality Act

Removal of 29 stars symbolizes states that lack LGBTQ protections



(Screen capture via YouTube)

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, announced it is launching a nationwide multimedia campaign to promote the approval by Congress of the LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.

In a Feb. 23 statement HRC says the campaign, among other things, will include a series of “powerful” video ads for social media and TV created by Emmy Award-winning director Joey Soloway that tell stories of how individual LGBTQ people are adversely impacted by discrimination.

At the center of the campaign as depicted in the videos is an American flag with 29 of the 50 stars removed to draw attention to the 29 states that do not have comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people that HRC is calling the “Reality Flag.”

In its official launch of the campaign on Feb. 23 HRC unveiled an 85-foot-long version of the Reality Flag on the outer wall of its headquarters building in D.C. that HRC points out is located just six blocks from the White House.

Human Rights Campaign building. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“The Reality Flag campaign is designed to point out the inequalities LGBTQ+ individuals face every day – in our own voice,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s interim president. “From housing and educational discrimination to denial of government and health services, LGBTQ+ people are confronted by hurdles to simply exist every day,” Madison said in a statement.

“This needs to change,” she said. “The Reality Flag not only calls out the 29 states where basic freedoms are still missing for millions of people but stands as a symbol of hope that communities can rally behind to enact meaningful change.”

HRC’s Reality Flag campaign comes at a time when most political observers unaffiliated with the Equality Act’s staunch supporters and opponents believe the bill has no chance of passing in the U.S. Senate any time soon, even though it passed in the U.S. House in February 2021 by a vote of 224 to 206. In the House vote, only three Republicans joined all 221 Democrats in voting for the measure.

Observers note that although Democrats have a slim majority in the 50 Democrat-50 Republican Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris set to break a tie vote in favor of Democrats, the Senate’s longstanding filibuster rule that Democrats are unable to change means the Equality Act needs a 60-vote majority to pass.

Forty-nine of the 50 Senate Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the Equality Act. Maverick Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia emerged as the sole Senate Democrat saying he cannot support the Equality Act in its current version due, in part, to what Manchin says is its provisions related to transgender nondiscrimination in school sports and school bathroom use.

Sources familiar with the Senate told the Washington Blade last May that even if the filibuster rule is eliminated, other Democratic senators from swing states would likely join Manchin in withholding support for the Equality Act due to efforts by some Republicans to turn transgender rights into an inflammatory wedge issue.

The official congressional website states that the Equality Act calls for prohibiting “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”

The site adds, “The bill prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”

Several moderate GOP senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), have said they support the principle of protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people and would be willing to vote for a revised Equality Act that includes what they call religious rights protections and some changes in the transgender provisions.

Some Republican observers have said enough Republicans would likely join Democrats to reach the needed 60 votes to pass the Equality Act in the Senate if Democrats agree to the changes proposed by the moderate Republicans.

Other Republicans, however, including the national LGBTQ GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, have said the Equality Act should be discarded altogether following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2020 known as Bostock v. Clayton County. The decision declares that Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equality Act supporters have argued that the legislation is still needed to ensure that LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination in other areas such as housing and public accommodations.  

Representatives of both sides have said negotiations have been taking place over possible changes in the Equality Act since at least the beginning of last year, but nothing has emerged from those reported negotiations as of this week.

Many LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including HRC, have said the GOP suggested changes to the Equality Act related to “religious freedom,” which the bill’s supporters say means a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on religious grounds in a nonreligious setting such as a private business open to the public, are unacceptable.

Most LGBTQ advocacy groups have also declared as unacceptable GOP proposals to weaken or remove protections for transgender people in the legislation, saying such proposals are being promoted by people who have been misled or are themselves misleading others to believe cisgender women in sports and in public restrooms as well as in school bathrooms and showers would be adversely impacted by the current version of the legislation.

With both sides in what most Capitol Hill observers consider to be a complete deadlock, Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have not indicated a willingness to bring the Equality Act up for a vote in the Senate this year.

Schumer’s office didn’t reply to an inquiry from the Blade last week asking whether Schumer would consider bringing the Equality Act to the Senate floor for a vote this year or next year if Democrats retain control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

With that as a backdrop, David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director, told the Blade in a Feb. 25 statement that passage of the Equality Act remains a high priority for HRC and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Getting any legislation through the U.S. Senate is not easy,” Stacy said. “In the meantime, support continues growing for the bill, and we believe the Reality Flag campaign will continue to generate the awareness and education needed to continue growing support and pressure for action,” he said.

“We’ve already seen since our launch people coming out saying they had no idea LGBTQ+ people didn’t already have these protections, and that’s what we aim to do here: educate people and inspire them to take action at the grassroots level across the country – call their senators and make it clear that it’s time we need this done,” Stacy said. “Some people may be ready to give up. We are not,” he said.

In its three-page statement announcing the launch of its Reality Flag campaign, HRC says the campaign is being produced in partnership with a team of advertising and public relations agencies affiliated with the international marketing and communications company giant WPP.

“While the campaign seeks to galvanize public support for the Equality Act and driving audiences to take action at, it also underscores the importance of lifting up and showcasing the real stories and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people impacted by discrimination,” the statement continues.

It says the stories about individual LGTQ people will primarily be featured in “video vignettes” created by TV writer and director Joey Soloway, the Emmy Award-winning creator of “Transparent,” an original Amazon Studios streaming television comedy-drama series about a transgender woman and her family. Soloway identifies as non-binary and gender non-conforming.

“These stories … will be amplified through both an advertising campaign, including partnerships with 20 national media platforms, achieving an anticipated 30 million-plus impressions during launch, including TV, print, display, video, audio, cinema, OOH, social, and search,” the HRC statement says.

Access to some of the video ads slated for the HRC Reality Flag campaign can be found at

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The White House

White House: Fla. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is ‘discrimination, plain and simple’

Statute took effect on Friday



White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Joe Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4 holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that ‘Safe Space’ stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives — cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of ‘parents’ rights.’ This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.”

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The White House

Megan Rapinoe among 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

White House ceremony to take place July 7



Megan Rapinoe (Screen capture via U.S. Soccer YouTube)

The White House on Friday released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the U.S., world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona state Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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The White House

U.S. orders 2.5 million more monkeypox vaccine doses

CDC has reported roughly 350 cases



(Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it has ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS, an FDA-licensed vaccine indicated for prevention of smallpox and monkeypox, for use in responding to current or future monkeypox outbreaks and as part of U.S. smallpox preparedness.

Deliveries from this latest order of the Bavarian Nordic‘s Jynneos vaccine will begin arriving at the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) later this year and will continue through early 2023 HHS said in a statement.

“We are working around-the-clock with public health officials in states and large metro areas to provide them with vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This order of additional JYNNEOS vaccine will help us push out more vaccine quickly, knowing that we have more doses on the way in the coming months — and is only possible because of our longstanding investment in smallpox and monkeypox preparedness.”

The order announced today is in addition to the 500,000 doses of government-owned vaccine the company is producing in 2022 for use in the current response to monkeypox in the U.S and brings the total vaccine doses to be delivered in 2022 and 2023 to more than 4 million.

The company will produce these doses in liquid frozen form using vaccine already manufactured in bulk under an existing 10-year contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; that contract was part of ongoing national preparedness efforts against smallpox.

“The medical countermeasures available to help respond to the current outbreak are the result of years of investment and planning made possible through the ongoing work between HHS and private industry,” said Gary Disbrow, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. “We are pleased that we have been able to work with our partners at Bavarian Nordic to accelerate delivery of vaccines that can help keep people safe and stem the spread of the virus.”

BARDA supported the development of JYNNEOS, which is approved by the FDA to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. The U.S. government owns enough smallpox vaccine — JYNNEOS and ACAM2000 — to vaccinate millions of Americans, if needed.

As of June 24, ASPR’s SNS held approximately 65,000 doses of JYNNEOS in immediate inventory with delivery of an additional 300,000 doses in the coming days. On June 28, HHS announced that it would immediately make available 56,000 doses and soon after would make available 240,000 additional doses. The SNS also has more than 100 million doses of ACAM2000 which was developed with SNS support and is approved by FDA for use in preventing smallpox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows use of ACAM2000 for monkeypox.

In addition, the SNS has over 1.7 million treatment courses of the smallpox antiviral drug TPOXX, which was developed with BARDA support and can be used to treat individuals with monkeypox under an appropriate regulatory mechanism. CDC currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows its use for monkeypox.

As of June 29, the CDC has received reports of approximately 350 cases of monkeypox in the U.S., primarily among men who have sex with men.

To learn more about monkeypox, visit

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