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Biden issues proclamation on 70th anniversary of Lavender Scare

Thousands of gay men and lesbians were fired from U.S. government

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(Photo courtesy of the Washington Historical Society)

President Joe Biden issued a formal proclamation Wednesday on the 70th anniversary of the Lavender Scare, a moral panic that caused investigations and firings of thousands of known or suspected gay men and lesbians who were working for the U.S. government.

“For so many members of the LGBTQI+ community, hate, discrimination, and isolation throughout our country’s history have denied them the full promise of America,” Biden said. “The Lavender Scare epitomized — and institutionalized — this injustice.”

The president said “we must reflect honestly on the darkest chapters of our story” to continue building on the “tremendous progress” that has been made since the Lavender Scare.

At the same time, he said, “the struggle for equal justice is not over” for LGBTQ people in America, noting the “wave of discriminatory laws that target them — especially transgender children — and that echo the hateful stereotypes and stigma” encountered by gay men and lesbians during the Cold War era

Beginning with the State Department’s purge of gay and lesbian employees in 1947, which was codified across the federal government by an executive order from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, the Lavender Scare presaged and then paralleled the anti-communist McCarthyist crusades.

The senator himself was prone to using often-unsubstantiated allegations of homosexuality or communist sympathies to smear political opponents, once proclaiming, “If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you’ve got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker.”

Conflating homosexuality with communism, or with harboring sympathies to communist foreign adversaries, was common at the time. Ultimately, though, a greater number of people would be fired over their known or suspected sexual orientation.

At a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness and most gay and lesbian Americans were closeted, victims of the Lavender Scare often took their own lives after suffering public disgrace and rejection by their families and communities.

However, the homophobic moral panic also helped to spurn a then-nascent movement for LGBTQ civil rights.

After he was fired for being gay and declared ineligible for future employment in the federal government, the late activist Frank Kameny picketed at the White House to demand rights for gay rights and lesbians several years before the Stonewall Riots.

“In 2009,” Biden said, “I was proud to meet Frank Kameny in the Oval Office as President Obama and I officially expanded many Federal benefits to same-sex partners of Government employees.”

Eisenhower’s executive order barring gay men and lesbians from employment in the federal government was not rescinded until 1995, with exemptions carved out for the U.S. Armed Forces that persisted until the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The State Department continued investigations of employees for homosexuality into the 1990s, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) noted in a 2016 letter calling for the agency to apologize.

A few months later, then-Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the Lavender Scare and the agency personnel who were harmed.

“On behalf of the department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTQ community,” Kerry said.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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The White House

Press secretary reaffirms the administration’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights

Karine Jean-Pierre also highlighted mental health efforts

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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The White House

Advocacy groups condemn Biden immigration executive order

Directive ‘catastrophic’ for LGBTQ asylum seekers

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President Joe Biden (X screen capture)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued an executive order that prohibits migrants from asking for asylum in the U.S. if they “unlawfully” cross the Southern border.

Senior administration officials on Tuesday told reporters before Biden announced the directive that it will take effect “when high levels of encounters at the Southern border exceed our ability to deliver timely consequences, as is the case today.” The Associated Press reported this figure is 2,500 “border encounters between ports of entry” a day. 

“Today, I’m announcing actions to bar migrants who cross our Southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum,” said Biden at the White House. “Migrants will be restricted from receiving asylum at our southern border unless they seek it after entering through an established lawful process.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) joined Biden at the White House alongside San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, El Paso (Texas) Mayor Oscar Leeser, Edinberg (Texas) Mayor Ramiro Garza, Harlingen (Texas) Mayor Norma Sepulveda, Laredo (Texas) Victor Treviño, Brownsville (Texas) Mayor John Cowen, Bexar County (Texas) Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Santa Cruz County (Ariz.) Supervisor Manuel Ruiz.

El Paso, Edinberg, Harlingen, Laredo, Brownsville, and Santa Cruz County border Mexico.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) in February unveiled an immigration overhaul bill they described as “the strongest border security package in decades to reassert control of the border, end catch and release, enhance security, fix the asylum system, and support border communities.” Senate Republicans blocked the measure.

“I’m moving past Republican obstruction and using the executive authorities available to me as president to do what I can on my own to address the border,” said Biden.

“Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, because that’s the only way to actually get the kind of system we have now — that’s broken — fixed, to hire more Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers, more judges,” he added. “But Republicans have left me with no choice.” 

Biden stressed migrants who “come to the United States legally … by making an appointment and coming to a port of entry” will still be able to ask for asylum.

“If an individual chooses not to use our legal pathways, if they choose to come without permission and against the law, they’ll be restricted from receiving asylum and staying in the United States,” he said. 

“This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden added. 

Biden further stressed the ban “will remain in place until the number of people trying to enter illegally is reduced to a level that our system can effectively manage.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a statement sharply criticized the executive order.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” said the California Democrat.

The Council for Global Equality said the executive order is “catastrophic for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and other asylum seekers from vulnerable populations — and it’s highly unlikely to help move the electoral needle.” Immigration Equality Director of Law and Policy Bridget Crawford reiterated this point.

“President Biden is playing craven political games with the lives of refugees, including LGBTQ people fleeing persecution, instead of implementing workable solutions,” she said.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexicali and other Mexican cities that border the U.S. 

ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a statement to the Washington Blade said the executive order will harm “LGBTIQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals seeking refuge from persecution.” He also said the directive “will put more LGBTIQ asylum seekers in harm’s way in dangerous Mexican border towns and puts added pressure on refugee-serving organizations throughout Mexico.”

The State Department currently advises Americans not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, because of “crime and kidnapping.” It also recommends Americans to reconsider travel to the country’s Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua states that border California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas respectively. 

“President Biden’s unlawful policy flies in the face of U.S. refugee law and removes the critical protections and paths to safety of these asylum seekers, leaving them vulnerable and with no resources,” Roth told the Blade.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Impact Officer Terra Russell-Slavin noted Biden issued the executive director days after he issued a Pride Month proclamation. Russell-Slavin, like other activists, also referenced the previous administration’s policies they said harmed LGBTQ migrants and asylums seekers.

“The Biden administration cannot have it both ways: They cannot ‘celebrate’ Pride Month while turning their backs on LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking the rights our movement is based on,” said Russell-Slavin. “We strongly condemn this executive order, and urge the president to immediately reverse this harmful action.”

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