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LGBTQ groups commemorate Juneteenth

Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865

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LGBTQ activists in New York commemorate Juneteenth. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna)

President Biden last year signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” into law, officially designating June 19 as a federal holiday. This legislation was passed after years of advocacy — spearheaded by 95-year-old Opal Lee — pushing for federal recognition of the day in 1865 when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to Galveston, Texas, freeing the last remaining enslaved people. 

The Juneteenth holiday has been recognized in Texas since 1980, but it made its way to the federal level in 2021 in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement and a national reckoning over police violence, slavery’s legacy and the ongoing toll of racism. 

Although June was designated as LGBTQ Pride Month long after the events of Juneteenth in 1865, the two holidays are more than just coincidentally related. 

The Stonewall riots — which kickstarted the gay rights movement just over 100 years after Juneteenth — involved mainly Black and brown patrons of the Stonewall Inn. Drag performer and gay rights activist Stormé DeLarverie is even rumored to have thrown the first punch. In the days of protests that followed, queer Black women like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin Gracey became crucial leaders in the movement for LGBTQ rights. 

To honor this intersectional history, LGBTQ organizations in D.C. and beyond are observing the country’s newest federal holiday with a mix of festivity and on-the-ground activism.

In celebration of Juneteenth, New York City Pride kicked off the weekend with a brunch highlighting the stories and culinary expertise of six Black LGBTQ chefs. The event highlighted queer Black folks making waves in the business sector and is part of a larger slate of events being hosted as part of New York City Pride.

Cathy Renna, communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that the organization does its best work using an intersectional approach that lasts far beyond the month of June.

“We look at our work through the intersectional lens of, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, race, class, ability. All of those are things we take into account, and if you look at the work that we do you can see it — not just during the month of Pride,” Renna said. “Whether it’s looking at what could be potentially happening with the Roe v. Wade decision since the leaked draft came out a little over a month ago, we have been trying to help people in the community understand how this could be so impactful for trans and queer folks and for Black and brown communities. We did a joint partnership project with TransLash, which told the stories of trans people of color whose lives were impacted because of either access or lack of access to reproductive healthcare. So, [intersectionality] is always a top priority — it’s in the DNA of what we do in the Task Force.”

At the National Black Justice Coalition, intersectionality is also part of their DNA: The organization seeks to empower the Black LGBTQ community through “coalition building, federal policy change, research, and education.”

National Black Justice Coalition Deputy Executive Director Victoria Kirby York highlighted several ways that NBJC is commemorating Juneteenth with activism and grassroots organizing. 

“We’ve been celebrating Juneteenth through our policy agenda, which includes passing HR 40 or getting an executive order signed from President Biden to establish a commission on reparations. [On June 16] we joined other civil and human rights organizations to install flowers that look like the Pan-African flag right in front of the White House, to call on President Biden to sign an executive order that would help do this,” York said. “A commission on reparations would help to really detail the federal government’s roles and others’ roles in the institution of slavery and the many anti-Black policies that followed the emancipation of those who were enslaved.”

As Biden said in a statement marking the one-year anniversary of Juneteenth’s designation as a federal holiday, Juneteenth is as much a promise of continual improvement as it is a recognition of past emancipation.

In his statement, Biden wrote “it’s not enough to just commemorate Juneteenth. Emancipation marked the beginning, not the end, of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we must not rest until we deliver the promise of America for all Americans.”

For York, one way that LGBTQ groups can help to deliver on this promise is by throwing their support behind the black community and returning the favor of intersectional allyship.

“There are organizations that are partnering with existing Juneteenth events, so instead of LGBTQ groups creating their own activities for Juneteenth, using it as an opportunity to support and send your members to existing Juneteenth events, some of which have been going on for decades,” York said. “There are still a number of Black community members who feel like our community as a whole was pushed to be supportive and to stand up for the LGBTQ community around marriage and a whole host of other things, and [the LGBTQ] community doesn’t always return the favor very well. So, in some ways the best thing to do is to show up — to show up at that community Juneteenth festival that is being held to mark the holiday.”

“Go ahead and show that we are visible at Juneteenth events in the same way that we want the black community to be welcomed at Pride events,” added York.

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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows Biden administration to end MPP

Trump-era policy placed LGBTQ asylum seekers at increased risk

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling said the Biden administration can end a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019.

The Biden administration suspended MPP enrollment shortly after it took office in January 2021. The program was to have ended six months later, but a federal judge in Texas ordered MPP’s reinstatement after the state and Missouri filed suit against the Biden administration.

Thursday’s ruling sends the Texas and Missouri case back to lower courts.

“As Secretary Mayorkas concluded in October 2021 after a thorough review, the prior administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” said the Department of Homeland Security in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision affirming that the Secretary has the discretionary authority to terminate the program, and we will continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible.” 

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.”

Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo on Thursday told the Washington Blade the Supreme Court ruling “will certainly impact our community in a positive way.”

“We know that people who have to remain in Mexico to wait continue to be victims of violence,” said Salcedo. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and we’re grateful that this happened in this way.”

Emilio Vicente, communications and policy director of Familia: TQLM, an organization that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants, echoed Salcedo.

“We’re glad to finally have some good news from the Supreme Court after horrible rulings on abortions, climate change, Native American rights,” said Vicente. “Ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ will allow LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who face increased discrimination and abuse during the journey to the U.S., to be able to seek asylum here.” 

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán is a South Texas-based immigration attorney and human rights law and policy expert who the LGBTQ+ Bar in 2021 recognized as one of its 40 best LGBTQ lawyers who are under 40.

He told the Blade on Thursday the Supreme Court ruling is “a victory we must celebrate.” Echevarría-Cabán also said MPP placed LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers at increased risk. 

“Refugees in general, but especially LGBT refugees, are extremely vulnerable to other type of harms such as kidnappings by cartel members, extortion, physical and psychological abuses from Mexican law enforcement authorities and third parties given the high levels of discrimination for LGBT refugees in Mexico,” said Echevarría-Cabán.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling a day after the Justice Department filed charges against four people in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in the back of a tractor trailer truck in San Antonio.

The Biden administration in April announced its plans to terminate Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Title 42 was to have ended on May 23, but a federal judge ruled against the White House.

“This decision isn’t the end of the fight for ensuring that people seeking asylum get asylum but it’s an important step in protecting vulnerable people,” Vicente told the Blade after Thursday’s ruling. “President Biden must follow through on his commitment to end MPP and protect all asylum seekers.”

Salcedo noted to the Blade the “system, as it is, particularly when it comes to trans women, needs to be completely changed so that we can be at a better place as a community.” Padilla in his statement urged the Biden administration “to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all.”

“Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system,” he said. “We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

The Department of Homeland Security in its statement notes Title 42 remains in place.

“The department also continues to enforce our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully, and will continue the court-mandated enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order,” it reads.

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Politics

Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black woman Supreme Court justice

Roe v. Wade struck down last Friday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a welcome change on the bench for progressives who are still outraged after the decision last week overturning the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade.

Jackson, who’s now the first Black woman to serve on the high court, has replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is retiring upon the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Breyer announced his forthcoming departure months ago as progressives urged him to stop to ensure a replacement appointed a Democratic president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.

The briefing swearing-in was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office for Brown before a small gathering of Jackson’s family, including her two daughters, according to a report in the New York Times.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement the beginning of Jackson’s tenure on the Supreme Court “will bring long-needed representation to the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, and after the court’s disastrous term dismantling personal liberty.”

“It bears repeating the obvious that women, people of color and LGBTQ people are Americans deserving of equal protection under law,” Ellis said. “Justice Jackson will be a visible and inspiring presence on a court currently dominated by extremists, reminding all that America should always be moving forward to expand freedom.”

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