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Schumer: Senate vote on marriage bill to happen ‘in the coming weeks’

Idea to include measure in CR appears sidelined

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Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said a vote on the marriage bill would happen "in the coming weeks." (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled on Wednesday a vote on legislation to codify same-sex marriage would happen “in the coming weeks” as supporters express increasing confidence they will have sufficient bipartisan support to pass the measure.

Schumer made the comments under questioning from a reporter on the Respect for Marriage Act and whether 10 Republican votes are present to end a filibuster.

“We all want to pass this quickly,” Schumer said. “Our two leading members on this issue, Sen. [Tammy] Baldwin and [Kyrtsten] Sinema, are working with Republicans to see if there are enough votes to pass the bill. But let me be clear, a vote will happen. A vote on marriage equality will happen on the Senate floor in the coming weeks and I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it. Yes.”

The measure came up during a meeting for Senate Democrats earlier in the day, said Schumer, who added it was “a very good conversation” about same-sex marriage.

Schumer made a point to say the vote was necessary after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which led many to believe same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block.

“Let’s remember why a vote on the Respect for Marriage is necessary,” Schumer said. “Millions upon millions of American women had their right taken away by the extremist MAGA Supreme Court in the Dobbs decision. And in a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas opened the door to the Supreme Court going even further. The MAGA Republicans are taking over the Republican Party and they’ve made it abundantly clear they’re not satisfied with repealing Roe. So when some Republicans say, ‘Oh, a vote’s unnecessary, it won’t happen,’ they said the same thing about Roe and here’s where we are.”

Although Democratic insiders close to Senate leaders had said they were considering including the marriage bill as an amendment to a budget stopgap known as a continuing resolution, Schumer hinted he doesn’t think that would be the way to go.

“We would prefer to do it as a separate bill,” Schumer said. “We hope there are 10 Republicans to help us with that.”

The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t codify same-sex marriage into law per se, but would lift from the books the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The U.S. House approved the measure in July.

Supporters have expressed optimism 10 Republican votes are present. Four Republicans have signaled they would support the bill, at least in some capacity: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). Johnson, however, has changed his tune recently and said an amendment for religious accommodations is necessary.

Baldwin, the first openly lesbian elected to the Senate, has been championing the legislation and told Axios’ Andrew Solender she’s confident 10 Republican votes will be there.

“I think the momentum is going in the right direction,” Baldwin was quoted as saying.

Asked about specific vote timing, Baldwin reportedly said, “I would hope for next week.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in on Wednesday when asked whether the marriage legislation should be included in the continuing resolution, although she said President Biden wants Congress to act “swiftly” on the measure.

“I know there’s a legislative pathway that’s being discussed currently in Congress,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ll let leadership decide how to move forward with that. The president is a proud champion of the right for people to marry. They can choose who they love, and he believes it is non-negotiable, and the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the president’s desk.”

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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Africa

Zambia president reiterates opposition to LGBTQ, intersex rights

Hakainde Hichilema made comments in response to anti-LGBTQ protest

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Dr. Brian Sampa has organized protests against LGBTQ and intersex rights in Zambia. (Photo via Dr. Brian Sampa's Facebook page)

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema on Monday reiterated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

In a video posted to his Facebook page on Monday, Hichilema said Zambia is a country deeply rooted in Christianity and therefore does not support same sex relations. The president’s remarks came after Dr. Brian Sampa on Sept. 15 held an anti-LGBTQ rights protest.

The police stopped Sampa’s protest, which was to have taken place at the State House in Lusaka, the country’s capital. Officers said he did not have the necessary permits and told him and the handful of other protesters to instead approach the country’s Gender Ministry.

“Zambia is a Christian nation it’s clear! We all agree, but sometimes we want to extract sections of our communities and say these are not Christians. Religion in diversity. Churches in diversity but one body of Christ and I want to say it is not right,” said Hichilema in his video. “I have been following what is happening in the country and to say that the new dawn government is promoting lesbian rights or gay rights that is not right. We have said it before in opposition and now in government that we do not support gay, lesbian rights as a government.” 

“The records are there,” he added. “The media houses carry those records from years back but now in the last recent days people are propagating in churches preaching about lesbian rights that is divisive you know, the new dawn government this and that it’s not right let’s focus on unity, let’s focus on materiality, things that matter for this country, our children keeping them in school matters more than the peripheral petty side of a divisive behavior.” 

Sampa, meanwhile, has said he will be leading another anti-LGBTQ protest under the banner #BanNdevupaNdevu (#BanBeardonBeard) on Sept. 28. He said he plans to deliver a letter to the State House pertaining to what he labelled “the rise in unnatural acts like homosexuality.”

“Our fight is non-political. It’s for Zambians regardless of your color, creed, religion or political affiliation,” said Sampa on Facebook. “The president needs to be making it clear to those ambassadors from some countries our stance about homosexuality. Here we chase ambassadors who support homosexuals because it’s criminal under our constitution. The government has got power to end all this, but we are lacking political will against homosexuality. Use the law to the latter.”

“Parents make time to talk to your children and visit them in boarding schools,” he added. “Male boarding schools are no longer safe. The homosexuals are sodomizing children as they initiate them into this bad vice.”

Sampa also posted to Facebook a picture of a bed with what appears to be human feces on sheets. Sampa said it was a result of too much anal sex and cautioned that heterosexuals should be concerned if their partner wants to engage in it.

“Before you join them no matter the amount they will offer you, remember this picture. This is a picture of a bed used by a person with fecal incontinence due to anal sex what you are seeing are feces leaking from the anus because the sphincter muscle is destroyed due to anal sex,” he said. “This is an example of a male-to-male relationship. Don’t be deceived; the anus is not a sexual organ. Would a normal person be happy to dip their penis in feces? Nobody enjoys the smell of feces unless there is some psychological problem.”

“For ladies, how to know that you are dating a homosexual,” added Sampa. “If the guy keeps demanding for anal sex make sure you report him to the police.”

Zambia criminalizes same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

A court in 2019 convicted two gay men of engaging in same-sex sexual activity and sentenced them to 15 years in prison. They received a presidential pardon in 2020 amid international pressure, but reports of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ and intersex Zambians remain commonplace.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Maryland

FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director

Jeremy LaMaster allegedly launched ‘coordinated attack’ on organization’s operations

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Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

FreeState Justice on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against its former executive director who has accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.”

The lawsuit, which FreeState Justice filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, notes the board on Sept. 16 informed Jeremy LaMaster that “they were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“LaMaster abruptly left the meeting early and immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets,” reads the lawsuit. “When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions. LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

The lawsuit alleges that LaMaster “unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts.” 

“They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself,” reads the lawsuit. “In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports,and case notes. LaMaster also changed the password to FreeState’s WordPress account, leaving LaMaster in sole control of FreeState’s website.” 

LaMaster, who uses nonbinary and binary pronouns, in a message they sent from his FreeState Justice email account on Monday announced their resignation after they said the board declined to step down.

“This morning, I requested the FreeState Justice board of directors to submit their immediate resignations due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board,” wrote LaMaster.

LaMaster in their email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

“These are the hallmarks of white supremacist culture: The concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” added LaMaster.

FreeState Justice in response to LaMaster’s allegations said it fired them on Sept. 16 “after prolonged and thoughtful deliberation” and further noted their statement “does not reflect the views or ideals of FreeState Justice’s board and staff.” FreeState Justice has named Phillip Westry as LaMaster’s successor.

The lawsuit alleges LaMaster “has commandeered” Westry’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.” 

“LaMaster also now has unfettered and improper access to employee lists, donor lists, volunteer lists, mailing lists, client lists, and pro bono attorney lists,” reads the lawsuit. 

“Despite FreeState’s insistence that they cease their unlawful activities and restore operations immediately, LaMaster proceeded to upload a defamatory post to FreeState’s website and disseminated it to approximately 43,000 recipients on FreeState’s mailing list, which they accessed without authorization,” it notes. “The post, titled, ‘Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors’ falsely depicts the circumstances surrounding their departure from FreeState by stating that they resigned, without basis alleged that the Board engaged in ethical violations, and likened FreeState’s Board to White Supremacists, claiming they supported white supremacist culture and practices, and were not ‘anti-racist.’ This is false, defamatory, and denigrating of FreeState and its board members, and extraordinarily damaging for a social justice organization.” 

The lawsuit further notes that because “LaMaster did not comply with FreeState’s cease and desist letter, because LaMaster continues to infiltrate FreeState’s systems and accounts, and because LaMaster, after receiving FreeState’s cease and desist letter published a post defaming FreeState, and without authorization, posted it to FreeState’s website, and disseminated it to its mailing list of approximately 43,000 people with his FreeState email address, FreeState has no choice but to seek judicial intervention to prevent further unlawful conduct, and irreparable harm to FreeState.”

“FreeState requests an immediate hearing on this matter,” reads the lawsuit. “It can be reasonably presumed that LaMaster will continue to use FreeState’s proprietary information to interfere with FreeState’s business relations and continue to interfere with FreeState’s possessory interests in its systems and accounts, depriving FreeState personnel of access to the accounts, documents, and files they need to perform their work.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to LaMaster for comment on the lawsuit. 

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