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Biden renews call to pass LGBTQ Equality Act in State of the Union speech

Pledge to have the backs of trans kids echoed in speech

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President Biden renewed his call to pass the Equality Act in his State of the Union speech. (Screen capture via YouTube)

In a State of the Union address front-loaded with calls to challenge Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, President Biden on Tuesday called for assistance from Congress in enacting his domestic agenda — and renewed his call for passage of the Equality Act to advance LGBTQ rights.

“And for our LGBTQ+ Americans, let’s finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk,” Biden said, making his strongest push yet for legislation that has been pending in the U.S. Senate for nearly a year despite Biden’s campaign promise to sign it into law within his first 100 days in office.

Echoing remarks he made in his speech to Congress last year in support of transgender youth, Biden also denounced anti-transgender bills in state legislatures, many of which seek to restrict access to transition-related care for youth and to keep transgender kids out of school sports.

“The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong,” Biden said. “As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your president, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”

Despite Biden’s renewed call to pass the Equality Act, the legislation is all but dead after the U.S. House passed it in March of last year as opponents have twisted the measure as a threat to sex-segregated spaces for women and the biological definition of gender. Biden’s words, however, coincide with a recently launched campaign from the Human Rights Campaign highlighting the patchwork of legal protections for LGBTQ people in different states.

Biden incorporated the Equality Act in a speech where he included numerous items from his domestic agenda, such as elements of his Build Back Better plan. Among the items Biden ticked off were the ability of Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and expansion of the child care tax credit. The Build Back Better legislation is also dead in Congress, but supporters have held out hope that some components of the package still have a shot.

Also highlighted in Biden’s speech were measures already signed into law, including the bipartisan infrastructure package, which Biden cited as evidence of working across the aisle, and the American Rescue Plan, which Biden credited with boosting the economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. Not everyone in Biden’s audience in the joint session of Congress agreed with him on the latter bill, however, as evidenced by Republicans booing the measure.

Critics have said Biden’s moves have worsened the economy and instigated the continued rise in inflation that has increased the cost of goods from gasoline to groceries. Biden, however, made a point to include inflation in his speech, saying enacting his domestic agenda could alleviate rising prices.

“But with all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth and higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” Biden said. “Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel. I get it. That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control.”

The most prominent component of Biden’s speech, as Russia continues to assault Ukraine, was efforts to contain Russia through economic sanctions, including an announcement the United States would join other countries in refusing to let Russian aircraft enter the United States. Biden also made clear the United States would stick to its obligation to defend allied nations in NATO, pledging to “defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power.”

“In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security,” Biden said. “This is a real test. It’s going to take time. So let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people.”

Seated with Jill Biden in the first lady’s box above the floor of the House was Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, who waved a small blue-and-yellow striped flag of her country when President Biden mentioned her in his address. Many others present in the House chamber brought Ukrainian flags to wave and had pins of Ukraine’s colors on their lapels to show American solidarity with the country under onslaught by Putin.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBTQ group GLAAD, said in a statement after Biden’s speech his words in support of LGBTQ people come at critical time as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared in a recent memo parents who provide transition-related care for their kids would be prosecuted for child abuse.

“President Biden has delivered on commitments to include LGBTQ citizens in the promise of America,” Ellis said. “Every lawmaker at every level of government must commit to do the same, especially for LGBTQ families and children under attack. The state of our union is only as strong as our action and commitment to ensure no marginalized person is left behind. LGBTQ voters are more motivated than ever to hold elected officials accountable in the midterms.”

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Congress

Senate confirms federal judge who fought for marriage equality as a lawyer

Three Republicans voted for Rita Lin’s nomination

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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Wexton, ardent LGBTQ ally, will not seek re-election

Congresswoman diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy

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U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) (Photo courtesy of Danica Roem)

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced on Monday she will not seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that the congresswoman described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”

“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”

A vice-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus who was formerly a co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force, Wexton has been a staunch ally of the LGBTQ community since her first election to Congress in 2018 and during previous five-year tenure in the Virginia State Senate.

“.@RepWexton is a strong ally to LGBTQI+ people,” the Caucus posted on X. “We extend our support to her & her family during this time and thank her for championing LGBTQI+ equality.”

“On my lowest days, she’s quite literally been a shoulder to cry on, and on my best days, she was the second person I told about my engagement last year,” Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) told the Washington Blade on Monday.

The congresswoman is “a role model, mentor and genuine public servant whose friendship and advocacy means the world to me,” said Roem, who is the first openly trans representative to serve in any state legislature and will be the first in Virginia’s State Senate if she is elected to the newly drawn 30th district seat next year.

“I spent so many years closeted in part because of the fear and loathing perpetuated by elected officials toward LGBTQ people in Northern Virginia broadly and greater Prince William [County] specifically that made for a hostile, unwelcoming environment,” she said.

“To go from that to having such outspoken, fearless representation from my member of Congress in Rep. Jennifer Wexton hasn’t so much been a breath of fresh air as much as a completely new biosphere,” Roem said.

She added, “I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s done and the example of inclusivity she’s set for her constituents.”

Roem pointed the Blade to an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Jennifer Wexton became the ‘patron saint of the transgender community,’” which details the ways in which LGBTQ rights “with an emphasis on the transgender community” had become Wexton’s “signature issue” just “six months into her first term.”

In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office.

Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, also noted Wexton’s advocacy for the community in a post Monday on X: “Thank you @RepWexton for being a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the General Assembly and in Congress.”

“You’ve made our commonwealth a better place,” the group wrote, adding, “we’re sending our love and strength to you, your family and your entire team.”

“In 2018, this state senator I called my legislative role model and looked up to so much as a first-year delegate, came over for dinner crepes to share her wisdom, humor and guidance,” Roem said on X. “Five years later, Rep. @JenniferWexton is still a mentor, friend and champion for NOVA.”

The Washington Post reported Wexton’s planned departure means her seat representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, as it was held by Republicans for 40 years prior to the congresswoman’s defeat of GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock in 2018.

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Politics

DeSantis pushing House Republicans toward shutdown

Anti-LGBTQ riders among extremist GOP demands

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (Screenshot/YouTube)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing House Republicans to not back down in negotiations with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over spending bills they have held up by demanding spending cuts and advancing far-right amendments, including riders attacking the LGBTQ community.

Should the Republican conference fail to reach an agreement before the end of September, or unless McCarthy brokers a deal with his Democratic colleagues that would likely lead his GOP colleagues to file a motion to vacate the chair, a government shutdown will be triggered.

News of DeSantis’ involvement was first reported by Politico. The governor and candidate for the Republican nomination for president was a founding member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus when he served in the chamber.

All 12 of the appropriations bills under consideration in the House contain anti-LGBTQ amendments, most targeting the transgender community. They would almost certainly not pass through the U.S. Senate or earn President Joe Biden’s signature.

“Ron DeSantis knows that both parties — including the current and previous administration — are to blame for Washington’s reckless spending spree,” DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo told Politico.

“He is urging congressional Republicans to hold the line in this current spending standoff and end days of rubber stamping multi-trillion dollar spending bills that harm the American people,” Romeo said.

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