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Arizona LGBTQ leaders call on HRC to end support for Sinema

Angry over the filibuster, activists urge donors to cut funding

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is being criticized for supporting the filibuster. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed development, more than 100 LGBTQ community leaders and allied supporters in Arizona sent a joint letter in January to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights group, demanding that it withdraw its political and financial support for U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) unless and until Sinema ends her support for the Senate filibuster.

The letter points out that by continuing to refuse to join efforts by Senate Democratic leaders to end the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation, Sinema is helping Republicans block progressive legislation already approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, including the Equality Act, the LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill stalled in the Senate.

The LGBTQ leaders, who drafted the letter in partnership with the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, told HRC they will call on HRC’s supporters to stop funding the group unless it backs away from its support for Sinema.

“The toll of Sinema’s obstruction – which HRC continues to tacitly support and thus enable – for your constituents is growing each day,” the letter states, adding, “with the filibuster blocking popular legislation, backed by all or nearly all Democrats, to address the urgent issues of reproductive justice, immigrant rights, gun violence, police reform, workers’ right to organizing, raising the minimum wage, and more.”

In a statement released shortly after sending their Jan. 19 letter to HRC, the Arizona LGBTQ leaders said HRC’s Interim President Joni Madison sent them a letter on Jan. 24 saying that HRC had privately “made it clear” to Sinema’s staff that HRC disagrees with her pro-filibuster positions, especially her vote against temporarily suspending the filibuster to enable the Senate to pass two voting rights bills.

But the statement says Madison’s letter “did not commit to any public statement toward Sinema, to a strong public position in favor of ending the filibuster, or to withdraw support from Sinema if she maintains her obstructionist stance that blocks passage of the Equality Act, critical voting rights legislation, and so much more.”

HRC, along with many other LGBTQ organizations, has supported Sinema since the time of her election in 2018, when she became the nation’s first openly bisexual U.S. senator. At the time of her election, Sinema expressed strong support for the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda. She also signed on as a co-sponsor of the Equality Act and has since said she would vote for the LGBTQ rights measure.

But since 2020, she has stated she supports the filibuster because she, like other supporters of the controversial Senate rule, claim it fosters bipartisanship by requiring both parties to compromise as a means of passing controversial legislation.

Nearly all political observers in Washington believe the Equality Act, which passed in the House last year, is dead in the Senate without the lifting of the filibuster.

A spokesperson for Sinema’s office in Washington did not respond to a request from the Washington Blade for comment and a possible interview with the Arizona senator to obtain her thoughts on the growing opposition to her continued support of the Senate filibuster.

In response to a request from the Blade for comment on the Arizona LGBTQ leaders’ criticism of HRC’s actions toward Sinema, an HRC spokesperson referred the Blade to an updated statement on Sinema that HRC released on Feb. 9, which it attributes to the “HRC staff.”

The statement says HRC strongly supported efforts by Senate Democratic leaders to suspend the filibuster to enable the two voting rights bills to pass, which supporters said were needed to counter the numerous laws enacted by GOP-controlled state legislatures to restrict voting rights of minorities. The statement says HRC was especially troubled that Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined Republicans in voting against the temporary suspension of the filibuster, which resulted in the two voting rights bills dying on the Senate floor.

“We must hold politicians accountable,” the HRC statement says. “We have been working diligently to make sure we hold Senator Sinema accountable now and, in the future,” it says.

“Prior to the vote, HRC directly called on her to enable the Senate to change its rules to allow voting rights reform to pass; and then we directly let her know that we felt betrayed by her actions after the vote,” the statement continues.

The statement says HRC will use the vote by senators on the two voting rights bills, along with votes on other bills, to rate senators in HRC’s Congressional Scorecard, which rates all members of Congress on issues deemed important to the LGBTQ community.

HRC assigned Sinema a rating of 100, its highest possible rating, during the 114th Congress when Sinema served in the U.S. House. It gave her a 94 rating for the 115th Congress while she was also in the House. HRC assigned her a rating of 89 for the 116th Congress during her first two years as a U.S. senator.

To the disappointment of the Arizona LGBTQ leaders, the HRC statement does not commit to publicly denouncing Sinema or ending its political or financial support for the Arizona senator. Instead, the statement says HRC “is structured differently than the organizations that publicly condemned the Senator.”

According to its statement, HRC “endorses candidates, supports them through their election, works with them to pass legislation and policy, and holds them accountable for their commitments and actions.” It notes that with three years left in Sinema’s term in office, “we still have much work to do,” adding that HRC will be working on a wide range of pending legislation and judicial nominations, including the Voting Rights Act and the Equality Act.

“Strategically, we have to consider the long-range view and the impact of the work ahead,” the statement says. “With that in mind, we will continue to work with the current Senate to advance equality for our community in all of our intersecting identities. And as part of that work, we will continue to be honest with those who fall short of their commitments to us and our community,” the statement concludes.

In their joint letter to HRC, the Arizona LGBTQ leaders stated, “[W]e call on Human Rights Campaign to publicly disavow any future endorsement or financial support for Senator Sinema if she does not reverse her position on the filibuster.” The statement adds, “And we call on all donors to HRC to withhold further contributions until this is done.”

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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

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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

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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

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(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 cdc.gov/monkeypox.

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