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Incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson warns: ‘They are coming for us’

Urges intersectionality, unity as best ways to fight back

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Incoming HRC President Kelley Robinson in her office on Nov. 10, 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kelley Robinson convened a press briefing on Monday with representatives from local and national LGBTQ advocacy groups and gun violence prevention organizations to discuss the deadly shooting over the weekend at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.

“We are, of course, having this call under the worst of circumstances,” Robinson said, expressing her heartbreak and outrage in personal terms “as a wife, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community.”

Around the same time, news outlets reported that hate crime charges were filed against the suspected gunman who killed five people and injured at least 19 others when he opened fire with an assault style rifle in Club Q late Saturday night.

Just a couple of weeks ago, when Robinson sat down for an interview with the Washington Blade, she was smiling for much of the conversation. For one thing, she was looking forward to the official start of her tenure as president of the Human Rights Campaign . On Nov. 28, she will become the first Black queer woman to serve in that role leading the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization.

The interview also came on the heels of a midterm election cycle that had seen record turnout among LGBTQ voters and historic firsts for LGBTQ candidates. Additionally, by then it had become clear that by the year’s end Congress would likely pass the landmark Respect for Marriage Act, which carries significant legal protections for same-sex couples.  

Tone and tenor aside, however, there was little daylight between Robinson’s words and actions following the mass shooting and her comments during that Nov. 10 interview, during which she pledged to lead HRC with an intersectional approach to the work, in a manner consistent with her prior leadership as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and professional background as a community organizer.

On Monday, Robinson – along with the other speakers – urged collective, decisive action to stem the escalating tides of hateful rhetoric, online misinformation and disinformation, and violence and threats of violence directed at LGBTQ people. They focused their comments on how these factors work together to raise the likelihood of violent attacks like that which happened on Saturday.

Likewise, they said solutions must involve a diverse array of stakeholders: lawmakers and social media companies tasked with fighting online hate, misinformation, and disinformation; law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing existing gun laws; and groups representing vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted, like trans women of color and LGBTQ youth.

“What we saw this past year is that our opposition gets intersectionality,” Robinson told the Blade. “They are coming for us, for all of us,” she said, citing as examples the Supreme Court’s decision revoking Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, the hateful rhetoric of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and recent spate of statewide anti-LGBTQ bills.

“They are launching an intersectional attack against us and trying to divide our power,” she said. “And we are going to fight back together, because ultimately we are stronger together.”

From her vantage point as a queer Black woman, Robinson said intersectionality is not just a theory relegated to academia but rather a fact of life. It also happens to also be exceptionally effective in engendering concrete change through movement building and coalition building, she said.  

For these reasons, Robinson said HRC is focused on political advocacy at the federal, state, local, and grassroots levels. And the organization is expanding its programs in other areas that are designed to, for example, make schools more welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth, empower trans people in the workplace, and hold employers as well as municipalities to account for their policies concerning treatment of, respectively, LGBTQ employees, residents, and visitors.

Likewise, with respect to the organization’s impact litigation work, intersectionality is front and center, Robinson said. HRC’s attorneys are working with other legal actors and entities in the movement ecosystem on cases involving everything from protecting the rights of the incarcerated to fighting back against anti-LGBTQ state laws, she said.

Still, Robinson said she is realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. Asked what keeps her up at night, she said it’s how high the stakes are: “This is truly a matter of life and death for so many people,” she said.

“People are hurting right now. We may be in a different phase of the pandemic, but it’s not over for people. The impact that it’s had for people’s work lives, the impact it’s had for our mental health, all of that lingers and is present…I can’t tell you the number of people that have come up to me in tears about their kids, worrying about their kids, worrying about their trans kids who are getting kicked out of sports and told they’re different when they’re five, six, seven, eight years old. They’re worried about their gay kids and if they’ll be able to love the people that they choose to love and still live in the states that they call home.”

However, Robinson said, “there’s a unique opportunity for us to do something about it right now. We’ve built the political power. We have the organization. We’re so close to having the political leadership that we need in office to get some stuff done. So, this is one of those moments where it just feels like there’s so much on the line, there’s such a sense of urgency. But the hope and optimism is coming from the fact that we’re not done.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but “that doesn’t happen by accident,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to pull it and push it and prod it, and I’m proud to be part of that struggle and that legacy fighting for freedom; fighting for change.”

HRC President Kelley Robinson takes the stage at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Oct. 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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The White House

White House debuts action plan targeting pollutants in drinking water

Same-sex couples face higher risk from environmental hazards

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following an Earth Day event on April 22, 2024 (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

Headlining an Earth Day event in Northern Virginia’s Prince William Forrest on Monday, President Joe Biden announced the disbursement of $7 billion in new grants for solar projects and warned of his Republican opponent’s plans to roll back the progress his administration has made toward addressing the harms of climate change.

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution and extreme weather events.

In a statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “President Biden is leading the most ambitious climate, conservation, and environmental justice agenda in history – and that means working toward a future where all people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community.”

“This Earth Week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in disadvantaged communities while creating hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, which are being made more accessible by the American Climate Corps,” she said. “President Biden is delivering on his promise to help protect all communities from the impacts of climate change – including the LGBTQI+ community – and that we leave no community behind as we build an equitable and inclusive clean energy economy for all.”

Recent milestones in the administration’s climate policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance on April 10 of legally enforceable standard for detecting and treating drinking water contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“This rule sets health safeguards and will require public water systems to monitor and reduce the levels of PFAS in our nation’s drinking water, and notify the public of any exceedances of those levels,” according to a White House fact sheet. “The rule sets drinking water limits for five individual PFAS, including the most frequently found PFOA and PFOS.”

The move is expected to protect 100 million Americans from exposure to the “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to severe health problems including cancers, liver and heart damage, and developmental impacts in children.

An interactive dashboard from the United States Geological Survey shows the concentrations of polyfluoroalkyl substances in tapwater are highest in urban areas with dense populations, including cities like New York and Los Angeles.

During Biden’s tenure, the federal government has launched more than 500 programs that are geared toward investing in the communities most impacted by climate change, whether the harms may arise from chemical pollutants, extreme weather events, or other causes.

New research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that because LGBTQ Americans are likelier to live in coastal areas and densely populated cities, households with same-sex couples are likelier to experience the adverse effects of climate change.

The report notes that previous research, including a study that used “national Census data on same-sex households by census tract combined with data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the National Air Toxics Assessment” to model “the relationship between same-sex households and risk of cancer and respiratory illness” found “that higher prevalence of same-sex households is associated with higher risks for these diseases.”

“Climate change action plans at federal, state, and local levels, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must be inclusive and address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBT people,” the Williams Institute wrote.

With respect to polyfluoroalkyl substances, the EPA’s adoption of new standards follows other federal actions undertaken during the Biden-Harris administration to protect firefighters and healthcare workers, test for and clean up pollution, and phase out or reduce use of the chemicals in fire suppressants, food packaging, and federal procurement.

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Maine

Maine governor signs transgender, abortion sanctuary bill into law

Bomb threats made against lawmakers before measure’s passage

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills congratulates members of Maine Women's Basketball. In March the team won the America East championship. (Photo courtesy of Mills’s office)

BY ERIN REED | On Tuesday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 227, a sanctuary bill that protects transgender and abortion providers and patients from out-of-state prosecution, into law.

With this action, Maine becomes the 16th state to explicitly protect trans and abortion care in state law from prosecution. This follows several bomb threats targeting state legislators after social media attacks from far-right anti-trans influencers such as Riley Gaines and Chaya Raichik of Libs of TikTok.

An earlier version of the bill failed in committee after similar attacks in January. Undeterred, Democrats reconvened and added additional protections to the bill before it was passed into law.

The law is extensive. It asserts that gender-affirming care and reproductive health care are “legal rights” in Maine. It states that criminal and civil actions against providers and patients are not enforceable if the provision or access to that care occurred within Maine’s borders, asserting jurisdiction over those matters.

It bars cooperation with out-of-state subpoenas and arrest warrants for gender-affirming care and abortion that happen within the state. It even protects doctors who provide gender-affirming care and abortion from certain adverse actions by medical boards, malpractice insurance, and other regulating entities, shielding those providers from attempts to economically harm them through out-of-state legislation designed to dissuade them from providing care.

You can see the findings section of the bill here:

The bill also explicitly enshrines the World Professional Association of Transgender Health’s Standards of Care, which have been the target of right-wing disinformation campaigns, into state law for the coverage of trans healthcare:

The bill is said to be necessary due to attempts to prosecute doctors and seek information from patients across state lines. In recent months, attorneys general in other states have attempted to obtain health care data on trans patients who traveled to obtain care. According to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, attorneys general in Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas attempted to obtain detailed medical records “to terrorize transgender teens in their states … opening the door to criminalizing women’s private reproductive health care choices.”

The most blatant of these attempts was from the attorney general of Texas, who, according to the Senate Finance Committee, “sent demands to at least two non-Texas entities.” One of these entities was Seattle Children’s Hospital, which received a letter threatening administrators with arrest unless they sent data on Texas patients traveling to Seattle to obtain gender-affirming care.

Seattle Children’s Hospital settled that case out of court this week, agreeing to withdraw its Texas business registration in return for Texas dropping its investigation. This likely will have no impact on Seattle Children’s Hospital, which has stated it did not treat any youth via telemedicine or in person in Texas; the hospital will be able to continue treating Texas youth who travel outside of Texas to obtain their care. That settlement was likely compelling due to a nearly identical law in Washington that barred out-of-state investigations on trans care obtained solely in the state of Washington.

The bill has faced a rocky road to passage. A similar bill was debated in January, but after coming under intense attack from anti-trans activists who misleadingly called it a “transgender trafficking bill,” the bill was voluntarily withdrawn by its sponsor.

When LD 227 was introduced, it faced even more attacks from Gaines and Libs of TikTok. These attacks were followed by bomb threats that forced the evacuation of the legislature, promising “death to pedophiles” and stating that a bomb would detonate within a few hours in the capitol building.

Despite these threats, legislators strengthened both the abortion and gender-affirming care provisions and pressed forward, passing the bill into law. Provisions found in the new bill include protecting people who “aid and assist” gender-affirming care and abortion, protections against court orders from other states for care obtained in Maine, and even protections against adverse actions by health insurance and malpractice insurance providers, which have been recent targets of out-of-state legislation aimed at financially discouraging doctors from providing gender-affirming care and abortion care even in states where it is legal.

See a few of the extensive health insurance and malpractice provisions here:

Speaking about the bill, Gia Drew, executive director of Equality Maine, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to see LD 227, the shield bill, be signed into law by Gov. Mills. Thanks to our pro equality and pro reproductive choice elected officials who refused to back down in the face of disinformation. This bill couldn’t come into effect at a better time, as more than 40 percent of states across the country have either banned or attempted to block access to reproductive care, which includes abortions, as well as transgender healthcare for minors. Thanks to our coalition partners who worked tirelessly to phone bank, lobby, and get this bill over the finish line to protect community health.” 

Related

Destie Hohman Sprague of the Maine Women’s Lobby celebrated the passage of the bill despite threats of violence, saying in a statement, “A gender-just Maine ensures that all Mainers have access to quality health care that supports their mental and physical wellbeing and bodily autonomy, including comprehensive reproductive and gender-affirming care. We celebrate the passage of LD 227, which helps us meet that goal. Still, the patterns of violence and disinformation ahead of the vote reflected the growing connections between misogyny, extremism, and anti-democratic threats and actions. We must continue to advocate for policies that protect bodily autonomy, and push back against extremist rhetoric that threatens our states’ rights and our citizens’ freedoms.”

The decision to pass the legislation comes as the Biden administration released updated HIPAA protections that protect “reproductive health care” from out-of-state prosecutions and investigations.

Although the definition of “reproductive health care” is broad in the new HIPAA regulations, it is uncertain whether they will include gender-affirming care. For at least 16 states, though, gender-affirming care is now explicitly protected by state law and shielded from out-of-state legislation, providing trans people and those seeking abortions with protections as the fight increasingly crosses state lines.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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State Department

State Department releases annual human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The full report can be read here.

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