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Democrats urge bipartisan cooperation, condemn new House Speaker’s extremism

Some say House GOP members in vulnerable districts will suffer political consequences

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Following Wednesday’s election of the new Republican House Speaker, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), President Joe Biden and the top Democrats of both chambers pledged to work with him in good faith, noting the appropriations bills that must be passed before Nov. 17 to avoid a government shutdown and shore up America’s national security interests.

Meanwhile, other elected Democrats, along with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and advocacy groups closely tied to the party, responded by flagging Johnson’s far-right conservative record, particularly with respect to LGBTQ and reproductive rights – arguing, in many cases, that his election is proof of the Republican Party’s embrace of extremism.  

“Mike Johnson is Jim Jordan in a sports coat,” DCCC Spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement to the Washington Blade, comparing the lesser-known Republican leader with the outspoken, bomb-throwing hardline congressman from Ohio (who is often seen without a jacket).  

He continued, “Electing him as Speaker sends a clear signal that the so-called moderate House Republicans have completely fallen in line with his repellent, discriminatory attacks on the LGBTQ community. From introducing a federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill to propelling openly homophobic commentary before Congress, Johnson has consistently attacked the LGBTQ community with hate and ignorance.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ candidates to public office, told the Blade that House Republicans’ choice of Johnson for speaker will jeopardize the seats of GOP members in vulnerable districts.

“Mike Johnson prides himself on discrimination and hatred for LGBTQ+ people, dedicating most of his career to opposing our basic rights. He introduced a federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is the current sponsor of three national abortion bans, is against marriage equality and wants to ban lifesaving gender-affirming care,” the group said in a statement.

The group’s statement continues, “By casting their ballots for Rep. Johnson, representatives like Ken Calvert, Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Mike Lawler have made their anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice views very clear. Polling shows voters favor pro-equality and pro-choice legislation – these extremist votes will undoubtedly have consequences on Election Day.”

In a post Wednesday pinned to her page on X, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.), the chamber’s second highest-ranking Democrat, said, “House Republicans have learned nothing from their three-week civil war. Mike Johnson wants to criminalize abortion everywhere and degrade democracy for everyone. They reject reasonable bipartisanship and celebrate MAGA fealty.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus released a statement from its Chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who said “Today, the House had the opportunity to elect a Speaker of the House who could lead in a bipartisan manner to move America forward. Instead, extreme MAGA Republicans elected a Speaker who has dedicated his career to attacking LGBTQI+ people and pushing an anti-equality agenda.”

“The House has already taken more than 10 anti-equality votes this Congress,” Pocan said. “By electing Mike Johnson—a vehement opponent of LGBTQI+ equality—as Speaker, his supporters have signaled they want these attacks against our community to continue.”

Six of the Equality Caucus’s eight co-chairs, all of whom are LGBTQ, condemned Johnson’s election in separate statements or posts on X: Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), Robert Garcia (Calif.), Sharice Davids (Kan.) Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.).

Stalled for weeks by House GOP’s failure to choose a speaker, leading Democrats urge bipartisanship

In a statement congratulating Johnson, Biden said that while House Republicans spent the last 22 days trying to unite around a new leader, he was working on a funding package addressing national security needs, the border, and other investments on behalf of the American people:

“Jill and I congratulate Speaker Johnson on his election.

“As I said when this process began, whoever the Speaker is, I will seek to work with them in good faith on behalf of the American people. That’s a principle I have always held to, and that I’ve acted on – delivering major bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, outcompeting China, gun reform, and veterans care.

“I restated my willingness to continue working across the aisle after Republicans won the majority in the House last year. By the same token, the American people have made clear that they expect House Republicans to work with me and with Senate Democrats to govern across the aisle – to protect our urgent national security interests and grow our economy for the middle class.

“While House Republicans spent the last 22 days determining who would lead their conference, I have worked on those pressing issues, proposing a historic supplemental funding package that advances our bipartisan national security interests in Israel and Ukraine, secures our border, and invests in the American people.  These priorities have been endorsed by leaders in both parties.

“We need to move swiftly to address our national security needs and to avoid a shutdown in 22 days. Even though we have real disagreements about important issues, there should be mutual effort to find common ground wherever we can. This is a time for all of us to act responsibly, and to put the good of the American people and the everyday priorities of American families above any partisanship.”

According to a White House pool report Wednesday from The Guardian’s Washington bureau chief David Smith, Biden called Johnson to congratulate him and “expressed that he looks forward to working together to find common ground on behalf of the American people.”

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment addressing fears and concerns among the LGBTQ community over Johnson’s election.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) posted a clip on X from his floor speech in which he calls for bipartisan cooperation.

Likewise, in a statement on X, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said, “I look forward to meeting with Speaker Johnson soon to discuss the path forward to avoid a shutdown. I’ll convey that bipartisanship is the only way we can deliver results. The only way to avoid a shutdown, pass critical funding, deliver common-sense investments is bipartisanship.”

LGBTQ groups highlight Johnson’s extremism

The Human Rights Campaign issued a press release headlined: “As  Extreme as It Gets: Supposed ‘Moderates’ in GOP Conference Choose as Speaker an Election Denier Who Called LGBTQ+ People a ‘Deviant Group’.

“The MAGA House majority has selected the most anti-equality Speaker in U.S. history by elevating Mike Johnson,” the organization’s President Kelley Robinson said in a statement, “a choice that will be a stain on the record of everyone who voted for him.”

“Johnson is someone who doesn’t hesitate to express his disdain for the LGTBQ+ community from the rooftops and then introduces legislation that seeks to erase us from society,” she wrote, adding, “Just like Jim Jordan, Mike Johnson is an election-denying, anti-LGBTQ+ extremist, and the lawmakers who appeared to stand on principle in opposing Jordan’s bid have revealed themselves to be just as out-of-touch as their new leader.”

After Robinson’s comments, HRC’s press release goes on to highlight Johnson’s “Appalling History of Attacking LGBTQ+ Rights.”

On X, GLAAD linked to the congressman’s GLAAD Accountability Project page, which contains details on his record, writing in the post that Johnson “has a long anti-LGBTQ history, including authoring a federal “Don’t Say LGBTQ” bill last year, working as senior attorney and spokesperson for the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom.”

Brian K. Bond, president of PFLAG National, said the organization “welcomes an end to the constitutional crisis caused by the vacancy in the second in line to the presidency. To be clear, Speaker Johnson has a history of working to deny freedom to LGBTQ+ people and families in the U.S., to deny the legitimacy of the federal election, and to deny access to safe and legal abortion.”

“The role of Speaker requires that he works to preserve the rights and freedoms of all Americans, no matter their race, where they are from, their gender, or their ability,” he said, “and PFLAG is watching and willing to hold him accountable—because the lives and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones depend on it.”

“I would be hard-pressed to think of a worse member to be elected speaker of the house, not simply for LGBTQ communities, but for the American people,” National LGBTQ Task Force Director Allen Morris said in an emailed statement.

“Many of my family members have resided in the 4th Congressional district of Louisiana for decades so I know from personal experience his track record on civil rights and minority issues is clear and stark as our community continues to find itself under attack,” he said.
 
“Americans should consider his track record on the preservation and maintenance of our very democracy as one that should concern us all,” Morris said. “This entire process of choosing a new speaker of the house has only served to expose even more how MAGA extremism continues to degrade our ability to allow Congress to reconcile the important issues impacting us.”

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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Markey bill would offer additional support to LGBTQ elders

Measure would create Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within HHS

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U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce a bill on Friday to support LGBTQ elders and older adults living with HIV by establishing an Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among other responsibilities, the office would advocate, coordinate activities, issue policy recommendations, and oversee the collection of data from these communities.

A major piece of the work to improve health equity at HHS under the leadership of Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been data collection initiatives for LGBTQ and other populations that can encounter barriers accessing care.

The Elder Pride Act will also “establish a rural grants program to serve the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ older adults, including through education and training, community outreach and creation of community spaces, and improved cultural competency,” according to a press release announcing the legislation, which the senator’s office previewed exclusively with the Washington Blade.

“After years of exclusion and discrimination from health care settings, workplaces, and their local communities, LGBTQ+ older Americans deserve the protections their neighbors are afforded,” Markey said.

“Queer and trans elders should be able to age with dignity, grace, and surrounded by community,” he added. “The Elder Pride Act will ensure that all older adults are able to have access to the care and services they need.”  

Cosponsoring senators include Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D- Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The legislation’s provisions were included in a pair of bills introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus’s Aging Issues Task Force.

The press release from Markey’s office also highlights several of the challenges faced by LGBTQ older adults vis-a-vis their cisgender and heterosexual peers: Fewer sources of support. higher poverty rates, poorer healthcare, poorer health access, and poorer health outcomes.

At the city and county level, older adults are served by local area agencies on aging (AAAs), which receive services and activities from HHS. Fewer than half of these organizations report that they will be able to provide LGBTQ-specific activities by the time the population of LGBTQ elders reaches 7 million, which is expected by 2030.

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Garcia slams effort to ban drag shows as GOP passes NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

Equality Caucus denounces anti-LGBTQ amendments

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”
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Merkley, joined by Advocates for Trans Equality, makes Equality Act push

Ore. senator said ‘our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year’

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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