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Biden calls Brittney Griner’s wife

Cherrelle Griner has questioned efforts to secure WNBA star’s release

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President Joe Biden speaking on the phone in the Oval Office. (Photo by Adam Schultz/White House)

In a call Wednesday, President Joe Biden along with Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner who is imprisoned by Russian authorities and is currently on trial for alleged drug charges.

The White House indicated in a read-out statement of the president’s call that Biden had assured Cherelle Griner that he and senior administration officials were working towards gaining her wife’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia.

Brittney Griner had sent a letter to Biden which was delivered on Monday.

During the regular press briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the president had read the letter adding “We are going to use every tool that we possibly can to bring Griner home.”

In her letter of which excerpts were made public, the rest of the communique kept private by the communications firm representing the Griner family, the 31-year-old Griner who plays in Russia during the league’s off-season wrote:

“(As) I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever…”

“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” Griner wrote to the president.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

During Wednesday’s call the president read his response to Brittney Griner’s letter to Cherelle Griner. The president offered his support to Cherelle Griner and the Griner family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney Griner home.

Today’s call follows recent calls that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have had with Cherelle Griner in recent weeks and this past weekend. The president directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle Griner and Brittney Griner’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.

On Tuesday National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement:

“The president’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family,” Watson said, adding that and Blinken “have spoken several times with Brittney’s wife in recent weeks and the White House is closely coordinating with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates, and her support network.”

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and other American diplomats attended the first day of Brittney Griner’s trial that began on July 1 in Moscow. Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted. 

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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The White House

VP Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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The White House

Blade joins Vice President Harris at Pride month appearances in NYC

Delivers remarks at Stonewall Inn and a campaign reception

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks near the Stonewall National Monument. (Washington Blade video screen capture by Christopher Kane)

NEW YORK — The Washington Blade joined Vice President Kamala Harris on a trip to New York on Monday, where she made a surprise appearance at the Stonewall Inn and delivered remarks at an LGBTQ campaign reception in support of the Biden Victory Fund.

Her first stop began with a briefing and tour of the Stonewall National Monument by Shirley McKinney, Christopher Street Manhattan Sites Superintendent for the National Park Service. The visit came just ahead of the upcoming 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, which marked the beginning of a nascent movement for LGBTQ civil rights in America.

Harris then proceeded into the bar, where she was joined by its current owner Kurt Kelly and television producer and talk show host Andy Cohen.

Noting how “it was a drag queens fighting on our behalf” to defend patrons against yet another police raid on that fateful summer night in 1969, Kelly asked the vice president, “isn’t that ironic where we are today?”

This year has seen the introduction of a flurry of discriminatory bills in conservative states that target drag performances and performers.

“Yes, I know,” Harris responded. “It’s outrageous.”

“There are over 600 bills that are being proposed or passed, anti-LGBTQ+ bills,” she said. “I was honored to perform some of the first same-sex marriages in our country back in 2004. I look at these young teachers in Florida who are in their 20s, and if they’re in a same-sex relationship, are afraid or fear they might lose their jobs.”

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, signed into law last year by the state’s Republican governor and 2024 presidential contender Ron DeSantis, criminalizes classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Critics say its overly broad language means an LGBTQ teacher’s decision to display a photo of their family could violate the law and result in penalties, including termination.

“So just thinking about the symmetry there, it pains but it also reminds me that we can take nothing for granted in terms of the progress we’ve achieved,” Harris said.

Later, addressing reporters gathered outside the bar, the vice president said, “I’m here because I also understand not only what we celebrate in terms of those fighters who fought for freedom, but understanding that this fight is not over.”

“Anti-LGBTQ book bans. A policy approach that is ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ People in fear for their life. People afraid to be. These are fundamental issues that point to the need for us to all be vigilant, to stand together,” Harris said, adding, “I feel very strongly no one should be made to fight alone.”

Just before departing en route to the Upper East Side, Harris finished her remarks by discussing how working toward a more just country is both noble and necessary. “Fighting with pride is about being a patriot,” she said.

After taking the stage at the 24th Annual LGBTQ+ Leadership Council Gala, a campaign reception supporting the Biden Victory Fund, Harris began her remarks by proclaiming, “Pride is patriotism,” adding, “There is nothing more patriotic than celebrating freedom, which includes the freedom to love who you love and be who you are.”

She then told the crowd about her visit to Stonewall where, she said, “I reflected on the determination and dedication of patriots like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson” along with the late political consultant Jim Rivaldo, who helped elect gay rights icon Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 and then served as campaign manager for Harris when she was first elected to serve as the city’s district attorney in 2004.

“Jim would tell me about the early days of the gay rights movement,” she said, “stories about bringing folks together from the civil rights movement and labor rights movement and women’s rights movement to fight for and to secure freedom.”

Harris then turned to acknowledge another anniversary that was marked on Monday, the eighth year since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

“That progress is not inevitable. It does not just happen. It takes steadfast determination and dedication,” she said, “the kind of determination and dedication possessed by people like Jim Obergefell.”

After thanking Obergefell — who was in the audience, earning a round of applause — Harris said, “it saddens me to think and then talk about aspects of the moment we are in. A moment when LGBTQ+ people and families and freedoms and basic rights are under attack in our country.”

Hours after her remarks, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement marking the High Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling that echoed Harris’s warning:

“Despite the progress that has been made, the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination remains more urgent than ever as right-wing extremists across the nation seek to undermine legal precedent and strip away basic freedoms,” Pelosi said.

Describing the ascendence of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, Harris pointed to the rise in extreme rhetoric, threats, and violence targeting the community, noting the Human Rights Campaign’s proclamation of a state of emergency for LGBTQ people earlier this month.

More evidence of the precarity of the community’s rights and freedoms at this moment, Harris said, comes from the same institution that made equal marriage the law of the land, “the court of Thurgood [Marshall] and RBG,” which “will soon rule in a case that could allow businesses to refuse to serve” LGBTQ Americans. A decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis might come this week.

Extremists on the right, the Vice President warned, are working to claw back rights and freedoms across the board. They “have a plan to push their agenda as far and as wide as they possibly can,” she said, “to attack hard won rights and freedoms state by state. To attack the right to live as your authentic self, to attack the right to vote, to attack the rights of workers to organize, to attack the right to make decisions about one’s own body.”

Harris added, “And by the way, a year after Dobbs, it is clear these extremists also plan to ban abortion nationwide. Nationwide.”

However, she said, in the face of these challenges, thankfully voters have rejected extremism and embraced leaders who “have empathy,” those with “curiosity, concern, and care for the struggles of other people.”

They elected governors who “vetoed bills that would hurt transgender children and who signed bills to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination,” Harris said to raucous applause, pointing to Democratic Govs. Kathy Hochul (N.Y.) and Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.), both in attendance.

President Joe Biden, she said, is this kind of leader — famously unafraid to proclaim his support for marriage equality in 2012 before many others did, and then running on a platform in 2020 that “promised to not only protect but to expand the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people” while “the other side continued their attacks” against them.

In anticipation of the threat posed by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s stated interest in revisiting Obergefell, Biden codified legal protections for same-sex and interracial couples by signing the Respect for Marriage Act in December, Harris said.

Ten years ago this week, after refusing to defend the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as California’s attorney general, “I had the privilege to pronounce my friends Kris Perry and Sandy Stier spouses for life,” Harris said.

A full circle moment came at the signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act, she said, where “Kris and Sandy were there on the White House lawn with their four sons” alongside the “families, people from every background, every walk of life, understanding what it means to have a president, to have an administration, who has their back.”

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GOP is coming for same-sex marriage, Biden warns

Saturday marks a year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe

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President Joe Biden at the Rose Garden of the White House (Screen shot/Independent UK)

President Joe Biden on Friday warned that if Republicans win next year’s elections, they will go after the right to privacy that has provided the basis for legal protections for same-sex marriage and access to contraception.

“These guys are serious, man. I — I said it when the decision came out, and people looked at me like I was exaggerating,” he said. “But they’re not stopping here.” 

Biden delivered the remarks during an event hosted by America’s largest pro-choice organizations in commemoration of the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Americans’ constitutional right to abortion.

Joining the president at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C. were his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Also in attendance were senior administration officials and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who spoke before Biden took the stage.

Repeating his call for Congress to pass legislation restoring the reproductive freedoms that were erased with the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Biden also denounced the abortion restrictions that were since passed in red states.

“They’re not stopping here,” he said. “Make no mistake, this election is about freedom on the ballot.”

Representatives from the abortion rights groups hosting the event — Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America — endorsed Biden’s bid for re-election, likely a signal of his campaign’s confidence that reproductive rights will be a defining feature of the 2024 presidential race.

Also on Friday, the White House issued an Executive Order on Strengthening Access to Contraception along with a fact sheet providing an “update on the work of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access and the administration’s ongoing efforts to defend reproductive rights.”

The executive order delineates a series of actions including plans to improve access to affordable contraception for those with private health insurance; improve access to over-the-counter contraception; support family planning services and supplies across the Medicaid program; improve Medicare coverage of contraception; ensure “robust coverage” of contraception for service members, veterans and federal employees; increase contraception access for federally supported healthcare programs; improve access to affordable contraception provided by employer sponsored health plans and institutions of higher education; and support research documenting gaps and disparities in access to contraception.

The White House’s fact sheet, meanwhile, summarizes the Biden-Harris administration’s work fighting for reproductive rights in the wake of Dobbs. This has also included a series of actions contained in two executive orders along with those in Friday’s.

Among other moves, the administration has worked to ensure access to medication abortion, protect the freedom to travel across state lines for medical care, safeguard the privacy of health information and partner with statewide abortion rights advocates.

On Saturday, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, issued a press release committing the organization to fighting on behalf of reproductive freedom.

“LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected by abortion bans,” according to the press release. “Even prior to the Dobbs decision, lesbian, bisexual, and queer cisgender women reported higher rates of unwanted or mistimed pregnancies relative to heterosexual women, often due to the discrimination that they face in healthcare settings.”

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