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White House IDAHOBiT statement acknowledges LGBTQ rights advances, setbacks

World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as mental disorder on May 17, 1990

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President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act at the White House on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

“Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and equality — no matter whom they love, or how they identify,” said President Joe Biden in a statement the White House released. “On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, we reaffirm our commitment to this ongoing work and stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world.”

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

“More than 30 years ago today, thanks to the tireless advocacy of LGBTQI+ activists the World Health Organization took the long overdue step of declassifying ‘homosexuality’ as a mental health disorder,” said Biden. “Since then, we’ve seen real progress — including a powerful movement for LGBTQI+ liberation, more protections for LGBTQI+ people, and more spaces that recognize and affirm that our diversity is our strength. But sadly, we continue to see reminders of how much work remains.”

Biden in his statement notes consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 60 countries around the world. Biden also points out that some governments still consider LGBTQ and intersex people mentally ill and support so-called conversion therapy.

“Right here at home, violent attacks on LGBTQI+ individuals and community spaces have risen dramatically, and more than 600 hateful laws have been introduced this year targeting the LGBTQI+ community, particularly youth,” said Biden. 

“All of us have a responsibility to speak out and stand up against hate and violence in any form,” added Biden. “When the rights of any group or individual are under attack, it endangers our own freedom, and the freedom of people everywhere. So today, let us join together across our country — and around the world — to stand with the LGBTQI+ community. Let us renew our work to combat homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia — and put an end to the harmful violence and discrimination that stems from it.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden in his own IDAHOBiT statement.

“As we mark this year’s IDAHOBiT, the United States reaffirms our commitment to exposing the harm conversion therapy practices cause to LGBTQI+ persons,” said Blinken. “We reaffirm the importance of ensuring access to evidence-based healthcare without discrimination or stigma regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. We recommit to opposing the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status or conduct, which can drive the pathologizing of LGBTQI+ persons and the practice of so-called conversion therapy. We confirm that conversion therapy practices are inconsistent with U.S. nondiscrimination policies and ineligible for support through taxpayer-funded foreign assistance grants and contracts.”

UNAIDS in its IDAHOBiT statement notes criminalization laws “hurt the public health of everyone, costing lives.” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday acknowledged discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace around the world.

“In every corner of the world, LGBTQI+ people continue to face violence, persecution, hate speech, injustice and even outright murder,” said Guterres. “Each assault on LGBTQI+ people is an assault on human rights and the values we hold dear.”

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights, on Wednesday held an event in support of transgender rights. Advocacy groups in the U.S. and around the world also acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

“We stand in solidarity with Afghan LGBTI people; advocating for love, acceptance and equal rights,” said the Afghan LGBT Organization on Instagram. “Let’s keep fighting together for a more inclusive and tolerant world.”

Rightify Ghana in its IDAHOBiT comments noted the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill in the country’s Parliament that would, among other things, fully criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and anyone who advocates for them. 

Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, reported activists organized an IDAHOBiT march in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital. 

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on May 13 organized a march with the theme “socialism yes, homophobia no” in which LGBTQ and intersex activists who do not work with CENESEX or its director, Mariela Castro, did not participate. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras organizers on Wednesday urged Australians to sign a petition that calls upon lawmakers to enact hate crimes laws.

“There are no national laws and at the state level, SA (South Australia), WA (Western Australia) and VIC (Victoria) have no laws protecting the LGBTIQ+ community from hate speech and vilification,” reads the petition. “With attacks on the rise, especially against the trans community, there is urgent need for stronger measures to protect the community.”

Human Rights Campaign Director of Global Partnership Jean Freedberg on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that IDAHOBiT is a day “when we really focus on the situation of LGBTQ+ people around the world and focus on the violence and discrimination that people continue to experience in their daily lives.”

“Every year we join with people in the United States and around the world to raise up our voices, to shine light on the issues that we all face and to look at ways that we can, as a global community, work together to keep striving forward, to protect our community for the future from harm, to lift up who we are and to keep moving forward to ensure dignity and respect for all LGBTQ+ people around the world,” said Freedberg.

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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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Top White House AIDS official talks to the Blade after Pride Month blood drive

FDA in 2023 eased MSM blood donor restrictions

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

Francisco Ruiz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, spoke to the Washington Blade by phone following the first-ever LGBTQ-inclusive Pride Month blood drive hosted on Tuesday by the White House Office of Public Engagement in partnership with the American Red Cross.

“The Biden-Harris administration is really steadfast and committed to advancing the science, and the change in the FDA guidelines is a testament to that,” Ruiz said during the event, referring to the agency’s easing of restrictions last year on blood donation by men who have sex with men.

The policy change is “something that, particularly, the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting for, as well as our allies,” he told the Blade. “I think there’s something to be said about saying, ‘Hey, you matter, and you are a contributor to the health and well being of our country” at a time of escalating legislative and rhetorical attacks against the LGBTQ community alongside a rise in bias-motivated acts of violence.

Ruiz added that Tuesday’s event carried powerful symbolic weight. Within 24 hours, all available slots for volunteer donors were filled, and the blood drive took place in the “beautiful, grand” Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, during Pride Month, with rainbow flags flying and LGBTQ people joining Red Cross staff.

The ONAP director, who just stepped into the role in April, described the coordinated effort to get the word out about the FDA’s new blood donation policy, noting “the policy is only as good as folks knowing about it.”

Public education and awareness campaigns are so important, Ruiz said, “so that we can address some of the blood supply issues — making sure that we have an uptake, an increase, of our community members giving and donating blood.”

“There’s been a lot of effort to make sure that we speak to community,” he said. “FDA has put out a series of communications via their channels, as well as their websites, and then they’ve also been leaning into some of our partners who do this great work, like the American Red Cross.”

Ruiz added, “I know a lot of our LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD and HRC have been also communicating out,” and “I know that the White House shares some communication also with our partners via the Office of Public Engagement.”

Wins like last year’s issuance of the new guidelines should be celebrated, he said, because there are so many other cases in which moves like these — which are supported by the science and focused on inclusion — do not make it over the finish line.

To this end, Ruiz noted, the American Red Cross and other partners are organizing blood drives for Pride events in cities including Los Angeles and Washington.

“The beauty of Pride events around the country is not only to celebrate and live in the joy of who we are and our humanity, but also to be able to give back to our community,” he said. “And so I think having things like this, like blood drives, having HIV testing events as well, having PrEP conversations, PrEP navigators at these events — I think, you know, we need to bring the joy and the excitement, but also talk about how we take care of ourselves, and how can we give back to our community.”

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Biden honors Pride Month, issues LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership resources

New materials address ‘physical security, online safety, targeted violence prevention’

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The White House (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden honored Pride Month with a proclamation on Friday calling out “dangerous and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ laws” while the Biden-Harris administration also debuted new resources via the White House LGBTQ+ Community Safety Partnership.

“Advancing equality for the LGBTQI+ community is a top priority for my administration,” the president said, citing his signage of the Respect for Marriage Act, repeal of the anti-transgender military ban, and issuance of “historic executive orders strengthening civil rights protections for housing, employment, health care, education, and the justice system.”

Biden also noted his administration’s work combatting conversion therapy, the HIV epidemic, and “the disgraceful practice of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice launched a safety partnership to provide critical training and support to the community, including resources to help report hate crimes and better protect festivals, marches, community centers, businesses, and health care providers serving the community,” the president said.

His proclamation came on the heels of a new guide containing key federal resources, which a White House official said will cover “a number of key areas, including physical security, online safety, and targeted violence prevention.”

For example:

  1. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a training, tools, and best practices to inform risk mitigation efforts, as well as resources to improve physical securityprotect infrastructure during public demonstrations, and securely plan mass gatherings or other special events.
  2. CISA offers a catalog of cybersecurity resources for high-risk communities, such the LGBTQI+ Community.  This catalog not only offers customized tools your organizations can use to assess and mitigate cyber risks but provides organizations with access to rapid emergency response and cybersecurity advice free-of-charge.
  3. The FBI has a step-by-step guide for individuals receiving written, visual, verbal, or physical threats. This guide overviews what to do, and not to do, when you or someone you know is a victim of a perceived hate crime.

The official said representatives from the safety partnership, which the White House introduced last year during Pride Month, led a call on Friday with LGBTQ stakeholders to review the new materials and address questions.

Earlier this month, DHS and the FBI released a public service announcement to raise awareness about the potential targeting of LGBTQ events while the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team released a First Responder’s Toolbox containing guidelines designed to “drive community-based relationships through collaborative and inclusive practices.”

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