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Biden nominates Sean Patrick Maloney to ambassadorship

President Joe Biden nominated Maloney to be the next Representative of the U.S. to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

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Former New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney with husband Randy Florke, November 7, 2022. (Photo Credit: Maloney/Facebook)

The White House announced Friday that President Joe Biden has nominated former Democratic New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney to be the next Representative of the U.S. to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the rank of Ambassador.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is an intergovernmental organization with 38 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

He is the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to Congress from New York and the highest ranking openly LGBTQ person ever to serve in the House. He and his husband, Randy Florke, recently celebrated their 30th anniversary together as couple and have raised three children together.

Maloney was elected five times to represent New York’s 18th congressional district in the House and served from 2013 to 2023. While in Congress, Maloney chaired both the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as the Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee

He served additionally as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was elected by his colleagues to House leadership in 2020. He is the author of more than 40 pieces of legislation that became law.

Prior to serving in the House, Maloney served as President Bill Clinton’s White House Staff Secretary, and leaving government service helped found a financial services software company, and worked as a partner at two global law firms.
 
Raised in Hanover, N.H., as the youngest of six siblings, Maloney attended public elementary and high schools before earning undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia. He worked as a volunteer with the Jesuits in rural Peru between college and law school from 1988 to 1989.

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White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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Pride flags fly from an apartment's terrace in Warsaw, Poland, on April 11, 2024. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

The Human Rights Campaign announced advocacy groups in 24 countries that include Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, Estonia, Morocco, and Peru received grants through its Global Small Grants Program. These funds, according to a press release, will allow them to “advance LGBTQ+ equality.”

“This year, the Human Rights Campaign is honored to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by highlighting the powerful impact of the Global Small Grants Program,” sand HRC Global Advocacy Associate Director Andrea Gillespie. “IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for reflection of both the great strides made in our movement and just how far we need to go to achieve equality for all.” 

“As the anti-rights and anti-gender movement seeks to rollback progress on LGBTQ+ rights globally, HRC is proud to stand in solidarity with our partners around the world facing new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies, and redouble our commitments to the important work of HRC’s Global Alumni Network,” added Gillespie. 

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EXCLUSIVE: White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on speaking out and showing up

On the two-year anniversary of her appointment, she says, ‘representation matters’

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Karine Jean-Pierre sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview in her office on Tuesday, a week before the two-year anniversary of her appointment as America’s first Black and first openly queer White House press secretary.

Her history-making tenure has come at an especially fraught time for LGBTQ people.

The Biden-Harris administration has been widely celebrated as the most pro-equality in history. Over the past four years, rights and freedoms were expanded through the passage of landmark legislation and the enactment of bold new policies by federal agencies like the FDA and U.S. Department of Education, while the president elevated record-breaking numbers of LGBTQ appointees to serve in the highest levels of government.

At the same time, conservative Republicans have led an unprecedented legislative assault on queer people, especially transgender and gender-expansive youth, which has been accompanied by an escalation of dangerous fear and hate-mongering rhetoric against the community and spikes in bias-motivated acts of violence as well as depression, anxiety, self-harm behaviors, and deaths by suicide.

On these matters Jean-Pierre has often spoken out, addressing reporters from the lectern in the West Wing’s James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in remarks that have often gone viral and driven news coverage.

Reflecting on her tenure, the 49-year-old press secretary explained why she is uniquely positioned to leverage her influence as the most visible spokesperson for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the administration — at this pivotal moment for LGBTQ people both at home and abroad.

Leadership comes from the top

“Representation matters,” Jean-Pierre said. “And the president was certainly very aware of that, and wanted to make sure that he put together the most diverse administration,” she said, “and he did that.”

About 14 percent of appointees in the Biden-Harris administration identify as LGBTQ, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In his first term, Biden has appointed a record-breaking 11 LGBTQ judges to the federal bench, tying with the number who were confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of eight years.

“I am in this job because the president of the United States believed and wanted me to speak on behalf of him and said, ‘You have my voice, and you know how to speak for me, and this is the role that I want’ — I mean, that’s why he chose me,” she said.

Jean-Pierre stressed that she is able to condemn “these bad bills, these awful bills, these really hateful, prejudiced, anti-LGBTQ+ bills” because of “this president” — and not just by virtue of his appointment of her to the role of press secretary, but also because “he believes it is important to speak out.”

“Silence is complicit,” she said. “You know, that’s something that you hear from this president all the time: We cannot be silent in this moment. We cannot. Not when we see these anti-LGBTQ+ bills” nor when attempts are made to restrict reproductive rights or other freedoms.

When vulnerable queer youth are being targeted, Jean-Pierre said, “we have to do everything that we can — as an administration, as the White House, as the federal government — to protect them, and that’s what I get to do” because “this president allows me to speak out and show up.”

Jean-Pierre also pointed to Biden’s remarks in defense of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups during his State of the Union addresses and other major speeches.

“One of the things that he has said that always touches me is he says, ‘trans kids are some of the most impressive, brave people’ that he has seen,” she said. The president understands that “This is not about politics. This is about the right thing to do. And protecting lives.”

“And I say all of this to say it matters. It matters who sits behind that Resolute Desk. It matters who’s the president of the United States,” Jean-Pierre said.

The press secretary added that Biden’s actions as president affirm his verbal commitments to protect, support, and defend the LGBTQ community.

“The president signed an executive order to make sure that we were lifting up LGBTQ+ rights on the federal level, to make sure that policies that we were putting out there were taking steps toward protecting families, protecting youth, addressing mental health amongst young people, and in the community, and that was something that was really important for the president to do.”

She described a pivotal moment in the White House when, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protections for abortion with a 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), conservative Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his interest in revisiting other cases, including those that established the right to marriage equality.

“So, one of the things that came out of Congress in a bipartisan way was protecting marriage, protecting marriage equality,” Jean-Pierre said, “and I remember when the president signed [the Respect for Marriage Act] in December of 2022, and how beautiful that was knowing that that was protected by law.”

“We have made sure to do what we can on the federal level,” she added, noting that, “Obviously, there’s legislation that we have to continue to push for,” including the Equality Act — which would codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans — “but we do what we can from this side of things.”

The importance of diversity of lived experience

The president also understands the value of narrative storytelling in policymaking and governance, Jean-Pierre said, noting how Biden often talks about economic issues by relating to the struggles of working families with his journey from humble beginnings in Scranton, Pa.

Likewise, Jean-Pierre said that drawing from her lived experiences “helps me understand policy a little bit more and telling stories around policies a little bit more.” For example, she sees the danger of anti-LGBTQ laws targeting youth not just because of her identity as a member of the community — but also as the mother of a nine-year-old.

In February, Jean-Pierre spoke out repeatedly after a nonbinary Oklahoma teen named Nex Benedict died, in what was later ruled a suicide, after enduring months of bullying over their sexual orientation and following their state’s passage of a bill prohibiting trans students from using restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity.

“I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful,” Jean-Pierre said in remarks to reporters during the opening (the “topper”) of her press briefing on Feb. 23.

“Nex Benedict and so many young people are dying by suicide,” she told the Blade. “And that hurts. That’s an incredibly hurtful thing. Because they were bullied, because they were attacked, because they don’t feel free.”

“As a parent, as a mom, I do everything that I can to make sure that [my daughter] is protected,” Jean-Pierre said. “And what I want for my child, I want for every child, so that does hit differently, because it’s very personal.”

The press secretary recalled how she met two mothers at an event last year and, in separate conversations with the women, learned how they planned to leave their respective home states — Texas and Oklahoma — because they had trans children and felt unable to protect them amid the legislative attacks.

“Can you imagine,” she asked, “you’re raising your child in a community that you are familiar with” when suddenly, “there is a piece of legislation that’s going through the state legislature that gets signed by the governor and it is telling you that your child is in danger?”

Jean-Pierre also recognizes how her professional background and experience have equipped her for the briefing room and other duties of her role as White House press secretary.

Prior to joining Biden’s 2020 campaign and then the Biden-Harris administration, she worked as a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, having also served as a senior adviser and national spokesperson for MoveOn, the progressive public policy advocacy group.

Jean-Pierre began her career working on political campaigns and fundraising before joining the faculty of her alma mater, Columbia University, where she was a lecturer in international and public affairs.

“There’s something to growing and experiencing and taking chances and jumping from one thing to another,” she said, “understanding that you’re learning from the last thing and what you’re learning from the last thing you’re going to take to the next experience.”

The president, Jean-Pierre said, “had watched me do TV and watched me in my roles prior, and really believed that I was the person that he wanted” for the press secretary role.

Ultimately, “whether it’s making sure I am empathetic, sympathetic to what people are going through as a mom, as someone that belongs to multiple communities, I get to do that. Whether it’s the media and understanding how the media works, how TV works, how communicating with the press works, I’ve done that, so I’m able to bring that to the podium,” she said.

‘Lifting up issues that matter

In the immediate aftermath of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre noted that LGBTQ advocacy groups and individuals had sought to “get more attention to what happened there,” while the Biden-Harris administration wanted folks to understand “that we’re watching, we’re seeing what is happening, and we’re going to speak” about it.

“We’re not going to be silent, here,” she said. “We were very purposeful about it.”

In hindsight, Jean-Pierre said, her remarks from the podium made a real impact. “It brings coverage; it brings the White House press corps and others to cover what we’re saying. That is why it is so important what we do at the podium; it is so important what we do in this press briefing room — lifting up issues that matter to the American people.”

The press secretary added, “sometimes it’s not even an issue that’s popular. It’s something that needs to be spoken to, because it is something that could lead to a dangerous situation; something that could oppress a community, harm a community — and we get that; this president gets that, this administration gets that.”

Initially, there was very little press coverage of Benedict’s death, Jean-Pierre said, but “we wanted to really lift up what was happening,” because “it wasn’t just Nex Benedict. It was a story of many, many people in that community who were being bullied, who were being attacked. And we needed to speak to that” especially amid the hundreds of bills targeting the rights of queer youth in Oklahoma and across the country.

In another instance recalling her comments from the briefing room, Jean-Pierre stressed how it was important for the administration to “take on the governor” of Florida, Ron DeSantis (R), over his efforts to target the LGBTQ community by banning books, imposing curriculum restrictions, and limiting educators’ ability to be out at work.

Doing what’s right — regardless of the backlash

Jean-Pierre was quick to brush aside the question of whether she considers the risk of incurring backlash from the right when deciding whether to speak out on matters of LGBTQ rights.

Blowback “happens all the time,” she said. “Every day!” So, “I just don’t pay attention to it. We have to do the right thing and we can’t live in fear, here.”

The choice to be silent about a problem is the choice to be complicit, and not only does silence forestall any progress toward addressing the issue at hand, but it also constitutes an abrogation of one’s responsibility as a leader, Jean-Pierre said.

“The president is very clear about that,” she said. With respect to issues like dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation, “you can’t be silent” because “people’s lives are at stake.” Ultimately, “The backlash is going to be the backlash, but we’ve got to do the right thing and history will remember where we stood.”

The Biden-Harris administration believes this principle extends to America’s leadership on the international stage, Jean-Pierre said, in her response to a question about U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R-Mich.) travel to Uganda last year to speak in defense of the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act.

She stressed that the law, which criminalizes homosexuality and imposes the death penalty in some cases, is “dangerous and undermines the rights of all citizens. And the president has been very clear, the Biden-Harris administration has been very clear, that no one should live — and I’ve said this before — in constant fear.”

Rather, Jean-Pierre said, “They should feel safe in their community, they should feel protected, and no one should be subjected to violence and discrimination. It is not what we believe, whether it’s here in this country or abroad.”

Since the legislation was made effective in May 2023, she noted, “we’ve taken several accountability actions, including restricting visa entry to the United States, restricting economic support to the government, and sanctioning officials who abuse human rights.”

Jean-Pierre added that, “we’re also deeply troubled by the copycat anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world,” which is “why it’s important what we do as the United States, because we’re leaders. And when you’re seeing other countries trying to implement and copycat the same thing, you need the United States to stand up and speak out against it. And that’s leadership.”

The administration’s robust response “sends a message around the world, that we do believe in human rights; we do believe that people should be protected; we do believe that violence and discrimination is not OK,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we lead by example.”

Likewise with respect to her comments from the podium, she said. “And [those remarks] went viral, because we spoke to it very loudly, very clearly,” in what was “an important moment for the community here but [also for] the community abroad, to hear from us, [that] we’re not afraid to talk about this because we have to and we understand our role in the world.”

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Jane Rigby awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

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NASA astrophysicist Jane Rigby, the senior project scientist for the space agency's James Webb Space Telescope, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden on May 3, 2024, at the White House. (Photos courtesy of NASA)

Sitting among a diverse and venerable group of Americans from every walk of life on the dais in the East Room of the White House on May 3 was lesbian and NASA astrophysicist Jane Rigby, awaiting her turn to be honored by President Joe Biden who would bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, on her.

Rigby, an astronomer who grew up in Delaware, is the chief scientist of the world’s most powerful telescope who alongside her team operating NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, studies every phase in the history of the universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of the solar system. 

A member of Penn State’s Class of 2000, Rigby graduated with a bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy. She also holds a master’s degree and a PhD in astronomy from at the University of Arizona. Her work as the senior project scientist for NASA’s Webb Telescope includes studies on how galaxies evolve over cosmic time and she has published more than 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Rigby was named to Nature.com’s 2022 list of 10 individuals who shaped science and to the BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women in the same year. Rigby had postdoctoral fellowships at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, Calif., before landing her job at Goddard Space Flight Center. In 2013 Rigby was awarded the Robert H. Goddard Award for Exceptional Achievement for Science.

A founding member of the American Astronomical Society’s Working Group on LGBTQ Equality in January 2012, now called the Committee for Sexual Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy, Rigby serves as its Board Liaison until her term expires this June.

The lesbian astrophysicist in an interview for SGMA’s website spoke about her experiences including coming out:

“I’ve been out since 2000. My story’s simple — I fell in love with a fellow grad student in the department. It was a close-knit department, so hiding would have been ludicrous. Nor did I want to hide the best thing in my life! So, we were out as grad students. I certainly heard people say awful homophobic things at work there. They weren’t directed at me, and they weren’t said by people with power over me. If I recall, I was much less afraid of homophobic discrimination at work, than I was afraid of the two-body problem, and the lack of support we would receive as a same-sex couple in astronomy. That fear turned out to be justified. I’ve seen numerous different-sex couples get a wide range of support in solving the two-body problem, which was never offered to us,” she told the interviewer.

She reflected on American astronaut and physicist Sally Ride, her childhood role model who had an impact on her career:

“One of my biggest role models when I was young was Dr. Sally Ride. A few years ago, on her deathbed, Dr. Ride chose to write in her obituary that her life partner had been a woman. Dr. Ride was the most influential woman scientist when I was growing up — the person that made me say, “I want to do THAT when I grow up.” It was because of her that I realized that astrophysics was a profession, that physics was a subject girls could study, that NASA needed astrophysicists. So I’m so … amused, I suppose, that Sally Ride was this influence on my life’s path, at a time when I was completely unaware that it was even possible to *be gay* — and at the same time, she was gay, in love, and deeply closeted to keep her job.”

The interviewer noted that “for some women being gay is a cause for concern at the work place. Some say they were unsure about how to turn their sexual orientation into a positive aspect of their work persona.” Then asked Rigby what is your view on this?

“My experience is that absolutely I am a *better* astronomer because I’m queer. For a few reasons. First, I see things different than my colleagues. On mission work, as we weigh a decision, my first thought is always the community impact: ‘If we do things this way, who benefits, and who gets left out in the cold?’ Will this policy create inclusion, or marginalization? I think about science in terms of community-building. What team do we need to tackle a given science problem, with skills that are different from mine? Absolutely I think that way because I’m an outsider, because I’ve been marginalized. And because community-building is central to LGBTQ culture,” she said.

Married to Dr. Andrea Leistra, Rigby, her wife and their young child reside in Maryland not far from her workplace at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in suburban Washington and when not studying the universe is often found on the neighboring Chesapeake Bay wind boarding, a favored pastime.

Also honored in the ceremony Friday were a former U.S. vice president, a civil rights worker and martyr, two former Cabinet secretaries — one a former U.S. secretary of state, a speech writer for the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an Olympian and gold medalist, and one of the most powerful woman political leaders and the speaker emeritus of the U.S. House of Representatives, among others, and LGBTQ advocate Judy Shepard.

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