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Analysis: Nevada Democratic senator faces attacks on LGBTQ record that defy logic

Masto criticized for defending marriage ban, but GOP opponent Laxalt agreed with her

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From left, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) and former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt. (Photos public domain)

The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Nevada — which may decide control of that chamber of Congress in the upcoming election — is coming down to the wire as polls shows a tight race between Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and the Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. If Republicans get their way, it will have everything to do with Cortez Masto’s defending her state’s ban on same-sex marriage as Nevada attorney general — and nothing at all to do with the long record against LGBTQ rights of her Republican opponent.

Cortez Masto, as Republicans want you to remember, made the decision in 2014 as Nevada attorney general initially to defend her state’s ban on same-sex marriage against a legal challenge in court. It was after the Supreme Court’s ruling against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, which prompted a wave of litigation throughout the country against state bans on same-sex marriage as legal advocates saw a new opportunity to overturn them under the new precedent.

Some other attorneys general at the time came to a different conclusion and determined they didn’t need to defend their state bans in court, making legal conclusions the laws were unconstitutional and thus indefensible. Cortez Masto also had some choice words in her initial legal brief comparing the ban on same-sex marriage to bigamy and incest, which Republicans are now able to pounce on largely thanks to the Washington Blade’s original reporting at the time drawing attention to the language in the brief.

Matt Wolking, vice president of Axiom Strategies, is among the Republican political strategists invoking Cortez Masto’s defense of the marriage ban, rebuking her on Twitter on the basis she opposes gay rights — all while promoting her GOP opponent despite a column he wrote in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s gay ban.

“Laxalt served in our military. Catherine Cortez Masto did not,” Wolking tweeted. “She’s been in government her whole life. 4 years after Laxalt’s column & 3 years after DADT was repealed, Masto defended Nevada’s ban on gay marriage, comparing it to bigamy and incest.”

But what Republicans aren’t telling voters is that Cortez Masto’s legal position on her state’s ban on same-sex marriage didn’t last long. After issuing a statement the next day signaling she was reconsidering her defense of the law, she later announced after the review she would reverse her position and join legal advocates in seeking to overturn the law.

In 2022, Republican efforts to draw attention to Cortez Masto’s record is the latest indication that the issue of same-sex marriage, which years ago was an unpopular idea that sent Democrats running for the hills, has been turned on its head in terms of its political implications. For example, Democrats in the House just this year were eager to bring the floor legislation seeking to codify same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Support for same-sex marriage is so high that one-fourth of the Republican caucus went along with them.

The Nevada race, however, takes public support for same-sex marriage to a whole new level. Now, Republicans are criticizing a Democratic incumbent up for re-election for defending the ban on same-sex marriage and her choice of words in an initial legal brief when Republicans have largely been responsible for enacting the bans in the first place. The latest Republican Party platform from 2016 continues the party’s position in favor of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage form coast-to-coast.

As such, it would be hard for Republicans to assert they are bringing up Cortez Masto’s record out of a genuine concern for same-sex marriage and not simply as a political ploy to disaffect Democrats and suburban women, whose turnout would be necessary for Democrats to retain control of Congress in a mid-term election with a Democratic president.

Consider the alternative: Laxalt is a conservative who is notorious for having an anti-LGBTQ record. Take, for example, the aforementioned op-ed Laxalt wrote for the National Review in 2010 in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when repeal of the ban on openly gay service members was being considered in Congress.

Changing the law, Laxalt wrote, would make “fighting wars harder” on the basis that men “love to have sex” and the military “cannot tolerate the tensions that surround sexual relationships or potential ones” that would come with openly gay service members.

“To those who currently tolerate homosexuals but retain their God‐given right to reject homosexuality as a practiced lifestyle — could you do the above as a leader?” Laxalt wrote. “Even for your country? It is one thing for the military to ask its members to accept
homosexuals, but another for the military to ask its members to accept and live with
homosexuality, the homosexual lifestyle.”

That’s just one part of Laxalt’s longer record, which includes signing a legal brief in favor of allowing a Washington florist to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples based on religious objections and dubbing as “coercive” the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

The real kicker: Laxalt himself said when running for the position of Nevada attorney general he would defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. During a 2014 interview with the Las Vegas Sentinel, Laxalt emphatically made the case the role of attorney general is to defend state law on the marriage ban.

“As attorney general of Nevada, I would follow and uphold the law as passed by the people of Nevada through our constitutional process, and I would vigorously defend that law when challenged,” Laxalt said.

Unlike Cortez Masto, there’s nothing in the public record suggesting that Laxalt ever changed his position on same-sex marriage or otherwise embraced LGBTQ rights (save for accepting the endorsement from Log Cabin Republicans and strong support from Richard Grenell). Meanwhile, Cortez Masto has sponsored the Equality Act, legislation that would expand protections against LGBTQ discrimination under civil rights law, and is now a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which supporters say will come up for a vote in lame duck after the election.

If, at the end of the day, Nevada voters decide to oust Cortez Masto and replace her with Laxalt, they would be replacing a supporter of LGBTQ rights measures before Congress with a voice stridently against them. One wonders if Republicans criticizing Cortez Masto for her short-lived defense of her state’s ban will come back to criticize Laxalt for voting “no” on those measures based on their newfound standards for political candidates.

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride honorees

Nine LGBTQ leaders, Destination DC to be honored

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Iya Dammons is among this year’s Pride honorees. (Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced its selection of nine individuals and one D.C. organization as recipients of its annual honors awards recognizing outstanding service for the LGBTQ community and the cause of LGBTQ equality.

“Each year, the Capital Pride Alliance honors outstanding individuals, leaders, and activists in the National Capital Region who have furthered causes important to the LGBTQ+ community,” the group said in a statement. The statement says the honorees chosen this year “tirelessly contribute to our collective advocacy, outreach, education, and programming in support of our intersectional community.”

The awards were scheduled to be presented to the recipients at a Capital Pride Honors ceremony on Friday, May 31 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A statement released by Capital Pride says the event will be hosted by WUSA9 TV news reporter Lorenzo Hall, with entertainment by special guests, including singer-songwriter Crystal Waters, DJ Honey, and the Black Leaves Dance Company.

The award recipients as released by Capital Pride Alliance include the following:

Hero Award recognizing  “individuals who have furthered the causes important to LGBTQ+ community in the national capital region” and “have brought about positive changes to our lives and our community.”

• Hope Gisselle, nationally recognized author, artist, and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights through organizations she has been a part of, including her founding of a human resources organization called AllowMe and her current role as CEO and Executive Director of the National Trans Visibility March.

• Jamison Henninger, has served as leader of the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, a community-based organization that aids transmasculine individuals in the D.C. metro area, serves on the board of Trans Pride DC, and serves as a consultant for Gender Illumination, a nonprofit group.

• Kenya Hutton, a social justice, equity, HIV prevention, and sexual health advocate who has worked to address issues impacting communities affected by HIV and other health disparities for over 20 years. He currently serves as deputy director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity and is set to become its acting CEO and executive director in August.

• Carol Jameson has worked for more than 35 years in Northern Virginia developing and administering programs that address health care disparities and provide access to health care services, including HIV/AIDS related services. She has served as executive director for NOVAM, a nonprofit group providing HIV prevention and HIV care for adolescents and young adults in Northern Virginia.

• Tula, an esthetician and hair stylist by day, has been a widely recognized drag performer for more than 30 years and host to D.C. cabaret shows. A former title holder and member of the Academy of Washington, D.C. drag organization, “she brings a plethora of stage experience to any show,” according to a Capital Pride writeup.

• Jose Alberto Ucles has been involved with a wide range of LGBTQ supportive events and projects both culturally and politically while working in his day job for the past 23 years as the Hispanic Outreach Spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of his many involvements include past work with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Capital Pride organizing in the 1990s, and currently a member of the Arts & Culture Committee for World Pride 2025 DC.

Breaking Barriers Community Impact Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community and helped eliminate barriers for social, personal or professional growth of the LGBTQ+ community.

• Iya Dammons, a widely recognized transgender and LGBTQ rights advocate is the founding Executive Director of DC Safe Haven and Maryland Safe Haven, the nonprofit organizations credited with providing support and services for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, substance use problems at risk of an overdose, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service acknowledges exemplary contributions to the Capital Pride Alliance and its programs, initiatives or other Pride sponsored activities.

• Bryan Davis is an accomplished Sign Language interpreter trained at D.C.’s Gallaudet University who currently serves as Volunteer Chair with Capital Pride Alliance and previously has served as Executive Producer and Chair for Accessibility and Interpreter Coordinator for Capital Pride.

• William Hawkins has since 2017 been a committed volunteer for Capital Pride as part of its production team and as Executive Producer of Health and Safety and later as Health and Safety Chair. He is credited with helping to form alliances with G.W. Hospital, the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department, and the D.C. Licensing Division.

Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride recognizes outstanding efforts related to programs and initiatives of the annual Capital Pride Alliance or Pride movement.

• Destination DC, a private, nonprofit corporation, serves as the lead organization to successfully manage and market Washington, D.C. as a premier global convention, tourism, and special events destination, with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historical communities. It is credited with generating economic development for the city through visitor spending.

Further details about the Capital Pride honorees and the May 31 event, including availability of admission tickets, can be accessed at their website.

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United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

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District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building

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Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

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