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Dina Titus introduces bill to require U.S. to promote LGBTQ, intersex rights abroad

White House reconsidering aid to Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act

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U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada) (Screen capture via Dina Titus YouTube)

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, ORAM (Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration), Outright International, Rainbow Railroad and the Trevor Project are among the organizations that support the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate. 

Titus on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview the bill, among other things, would endorse the selective use of existing sanctions to punish those responsible for murders and other human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex people. She also said the measure would require the State Department to allow LGBTQ and intersex people to choose their gender marker on passports and other travel documents.

“It’s a way of putting into action our attempts to be a leader in the area of LGBTQ+ rights and to be a leader, not just at home, but around the world,” said Titus.

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy.

Jessica Stern has been the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights since 2021. She told the Blade in a previous interview the White House’s continued support of LGBTQ and intersex rights includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The State Department last year began to offer passports with an “X” gender marker. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has delivered millions of doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield in March chaired a U.N. meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Biden, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) others, have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The National Security Council has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications in terms of U.S. aid to the country.

Titus is among the lawmakers who have previously introduced bills that are similar to the GLOBE Act. 

She noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act when she spoke with the Blade. Titus also discussed Republican-led efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights in Florida and other states.

“It’s harder, certainly, to get Republicans on board, but I’m optimistic,” she said when asked if she expects any Republicans will co-sponsor his bill. “The more they hear from their constituents and the more they see the backlash to what some state legislatures are doing and the more they hear from members of their own families, I think that we may get some to join us in this.”

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Congress

Senate confirms federal judge who fought for marriage equality as a lawyer

Three Republicans voted for Rita Lin’s nomination

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Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

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Romney to retire from the Senate

Utah Republican has mixed LGBTQ rights record

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U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection next year, telling the Washington Post now is the time for a new generation to “step up” and “shape the world they’re going to live in.”

The announcement means Romney’s first term in the Senate will likely bookend his 20-year political career, which included a four-year term as governor of Massachusetts and two presidential campaigns, the latter as the Republican nominee.

During his time in Congress, the 76-year-old often clashed with members of his own party because he rarely shied away from publicly criticizing former President Donald Trump as other members of the GOP conference aired their grievances only privately.

Romney said he had decided a second term would be less productive and “less satisfying” — citing, according to the Post, “the disarray he sees among House Republicans” along with “his own lack of confidence in the leadership of President Biden and Trump.”

The lower chamber is in turmoil now as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) seeks to unite his caucus while far-right members demand that the party move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and advance anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ amendments to appropriations spending bills that would almost certainly languish in the Senate.

Romney’s independent streak extended to LGBTQ rights

In 1994, Romney ran unsuccessfully for the Senate seat occupied by the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was vying for a sixth term. At the time, the Boy Scouts of America was embroiled in controversy over its policy of excluding gay scouts from participating.

During a televised debate against Kennedy, Romney, who was serving on the organization’s National Executive Board, said, “I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“His campaign distributed at the gay Pride parade pink flyers that asserted that he would be a better and a stronger advocate than Ted Kennedy,” lobbyist Arlene Isaacson told NPR in 2012.

A decade later, Romney reaffirmed his position on the Boy Scouts issue.

More ambiguous, however, were his positions on marriage equality.

Massachusetts recognized same-sex marriage pursuant to a decision by its Supreme Judicial Court in 2003. Though he had previously said he believes the issue should be left up to each state to decide and opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Romney would subsequently advocate for Congress to back an amendment defining marriage as unions between one man and one woman.

And then last year, Romney was one of only 12 Senate Republicans to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified protections for married same-sex couples into law.

During a confirmation hearing for Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Romney spoke out against allowing transgender woman and girls to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

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EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Blumenthal defends Kids Online Safety Act

Blackburn comment on ‘trans influence’ raises alarms

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Responding to criticism from some in the LGBTQ community about the Kids Online Safety Act, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) defended the legislation and reiterated his strong support for queer youth.

“I would never put my name on any bill that targets or disparages or harms the trans or LGBTQ community,” Blumenthal told the Washington Blade on Friday.

“There have been a lot of eyes” on the Kids Online Safety Act, he said. “A lot of very smart and careful people have reviewed its language, and they and I have worked to make it as rigorous and tight as possible.”

The proposed legislation, introduced by Blumenthal and Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), would address harms experienced by children and their families at the hands of dominant social media and tech platform companies. It enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

Critics took issue with previous iterations of the bill, however, raising alarms that conservative state attorneys general tasked with enforcing its provisions might treat positive or tonally neutral LGBTQ content as harmful to children under the statute.

A coalition of organizations issued a letter last year warning Congress that “online services would face substantial pressure to over-moderate,” at a time in which “books with LGBTQ+ themes are being banned” and “people providing healthcare to trans children are being falsely accused of ‘grooming.'”

Blumenthal told the Blade changes to the 2023 version in areas including the duty of care, which were made in consultation with a bevy of LGBTQ groups and individual advocates, have changed these organizations’ positions on the legislation.

“We have tightened the statute – tightened and clarified the statute – as much as we can to try to make it as rigorous as possible to avoid both the misuse and potential chilling effect,” the senator said.

He also highlighted some reasons for the urgent need for passage.

“The real devastating harms done to children by the bullying,” along with toxic content promoting eating disorders and suicide, “largely as a result of black-box algorithms, is the kind of evil that I have fought throughout my career,” he said.

The senator has fought for accountability from these companies for decades, combatting child predation on Myspace and Facebook as attorney general of Connecticut in the early aughts and, in Congress, championing antitrust reforms targeting Big Tech that have come to the fore in recent years.

He has also been a staunch pro-equality ally for the LGBTQ community, earning a perfect 100 on the Congressional Scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.

“I care deeply about that community as is evidenced by a lifetime of work in this area, as attorney general and now as the U.S. senator,” he said.

“The Kids Online Safety Act is designed to give children and their parents tools to protect themselves,” Blumenthal said, “and also to impose accountability on those companies that are profiteering; achieve more transparency about those algorithms; and give parents reporting mechanisms and other means, in effect, to take back control and [also for] children to take back control.”

The proposed bill would require covered platforms to “take reasonable measures” to “prevent and mitigate” harms to youth such as “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal behaviors,” along with “patterns of use that indicate or encourage addiction-like behaviors” and “physical violence, online bullying, and harassment of the minor.” 

LGBTQ youth are affected by these challenges and harms, too, and in many cases, disproportionately.

“Take bullying, for example,” Blumenthal told the Blade. No longer relegated to the school yard, this behavior follows victims home, he said, adding, “the addictive quality of social media is so powerful that it can be all consuming.”

During an interview Thursday on the Rated LGBT Radio program, attorney Laura Marquez-Garrett noted how LGBTQ youth will turn to social media platforms searching for affirmation about their sexual orientation or gender identity only to find “this really harmful experience that is causing, in many cases, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.”

Marquez-Garrett, a litigator who left her law practice in 2020 to join the Social Media Law Center, explained the Kids Online Safety Act includes a carve-out, “added in the last couple months, which says that a covered platform has no duty to prevent or preclude any minor under 17 from deliberately and independently searching for or specifically requesting content.”

Still, concerns persisted after Blackburn noted, in March, efforts toward “protecting minor children from the transgender [sic] in this culture and that influence” before talking about the Kids Online Safety Act.

Her legislative director later clarified that, “KOSA will not — nor was it designed to — target or censor any individual or community.”

Addressing these matters, Blumenthal told the Blade, “whatever anyone including Senator Blackburn may say about their personal beliefs, I know what the bill does and that’s what’s important here.”

“My goal,” he said, is to remedy the problems caused by social media and online platforms, problems that in too many cases are fatal for young people, while avoiding “any of the unintended consequences” because “it’s not enough to have good motives.”

Blumenthal said that while “my colleagues on the Republican side and I may differ in certain beliefs about a wide variety of issues” and “Senator Blackburn and I vote together a small minority of times, where we’re united, we try to work together.”

“And we’re united on preventing the harms that are so egregiously crippling and killing,” he added.

So, Blumenthal said, “looking at it substantively, putting aside who’s for it and who’s against it, I think on the merits, it holds up. The merits and the substance and the actual words of the proposed statute really refute those arguments that the tech companies have sought to make.”

Asked whether he believes the dominant tech platforms and social media companies might be behind efforts to sow doubt and distrust with respect to the Kids Online Safety Act among LGBTQ and other communities, the senator noted, “they have no compunction about distorting or misrepresenting the facts and trying to twist and deceive about specific provisions of legislation.”

“They resort to any and every means,” he said, “And they will try to exploit communities that may be susceptible to their misrepresentation.”

Additionally, Blumenthal said, the “tech and social media companies have – I don’t know how to put it politely – but they’ve essentially tried to ignore the important changes that we have made” including “the narrowing of the duty of care provisions” and “the broadening of support services.”

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