Healey launches marriage equality amicus brief campaign

Just weeks after assuming office as America’s first LGBT attorney general, Massachusetts's Maura Healey is ready to help take marriage equality nationwide.

Healey is rallying Massachusetts residents and anyone else to share their stories about the importance of marriage equality and the challenges facing those who live in states that don't recognize same-sex marriage. These testimonials will be combined into an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality as it prepares to address the topic this spring.

“Now for a long time here in Massachusetts, same-sex couples have had marriage equality and we’ve seen how much that has benefited those couples, their children, across the state," Healey said in a video announcing the campaign. "We want your voices to be heard in the Supreme Court."

Anyone interested in submitting their story or video can share their stories through her official Facebook page or via Twitter by tweeting to @MassAGO with the hashtag #MA4Equality.

Healey earned the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund's endorsement in early 2014, months before defeating an establishment-favored candidate in the Democratic primary for attorney general. She won the November general election decisively and took office in January 2015.

Openly gay man named Defense Secretary's chief of staff

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute on Wednesday congratulated Eric Fanning on being named as the chief of staff to newly confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

“Eric’s career of service to his country and the U.S. military has been exemplary, and we are proud that he has accomplished all this as an out gay man," said Denis Dison, interim executive director at the Victory Fund and Institute. "The entire Victory family offers our congratulations as he takes on this important new role."

Fanning previously served as the undersecretary for the Air Force, where he was the highest-ranking LGBT person in the Department of Defense.

“[Fanning] has had a terrific tenure in the Air Force,” said Rebecca Grant, a former Air Force official, in DefenseNews. “He’s really been able to operate across the full range, including being involved in the difficult budget meetings in the Pentagon.”

A former member of the Victory Fund board of directors, Fanning has served in the Navy, the House Armed Services Committee, the Defense Department, and the White House under President Bill Clinton.

Oregon's Brown to become America's first openly bisexual governor

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will become America's first openly bisexual governor on Wednesday, February 18, ascending to the office following the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Because Oregon has no lieutenant governor, the incumbent secretary of state is next in line for the governor's office should that position become vacant. She is the second openly LGBT governor in American history after New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who resigned three months after coming out as gay.

"Kate Brown will make history as the first openly bisexual American to become governor, and that makes us and the entire LGBT community extremely proud," said Victory Fund Interim Executive Director Denis Dison. "More importantly for Oregonians, she's a dedicated, passionate and impressive public servant who's ready for this challenge. We believe in Kate Brown and her ability to lead Oregon through this difficult moment."

Brown was first elected secretary of state in 2008 and reelected in 2012, earning the Victory Fund's endorsement in both campaigns. Upon assuming office in 2009 she became the first openly bisexual statewide elected official in American history. She has presided over several LGBT milestones in Oregon, including the arrival of marriage equality in May of 2014. Most recently, she spoke to participants at the Victory Institute's Candidate & Campaign Training in Portland last June.

Obama hopeful Supreme Court will end "patchwork" of LGBT equality

President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed hope that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of nationwide marriage equality during its current term, putting an end to the "patchwork" of marriage recognition across the country.

“My sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize – having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage – it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system,” Obama told BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith during an interview released Tuesday evening. “It’s time to recognize that under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else.”

The remarks came amid a firestorm of controversy in Alabama, which began Monday when the Supreme Court refused to stay a federal court ruling striking down Alabama’s ban on marriage equality.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore defied the Supreme Court’s direction by ordering probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His move drew comparisons to George Wallace, the former governor who was determined to keep Alabama schools from desegregating in the 1960s.

In the BuzzFeed interview, Obama said the comparison to Wallace is not a “perfect analogy”, but said Moore will similarly need to accept the federal decision. “When federal law is in conflict with state law, federal law wins out,” he said.

Ten Questions for Kathy Webb

Last week a committee of the Arkanasas State Senate advanced Senate Bill 202, a bill that would deny cities the right to pass their own LGBT non-discrimination ordinances. Victory spoke with Little Rock City Director Kathy Webb, who previously served in the state legislature, about the bill and what it means for LGBT Arkansans.

Where were you when you heard that SB 202 cleared the Senate committee?
I had been at the Capitol but had left before the vote, knowing what the outcome would be.

How did you react when you heard?
The outcome was a foregone conclusion, so while it's always disheartening, it was expected. And I'm always ready to take the next step in the fight.

What do you feel is the most damaging consequence of SB 202?
Members of the LGBT community can continue to be fired, evicted, etc with no protections. And municipalities are prohibited from passing ordinances to protect people.  There will be unintended consequences for others not currently protected by the state's civil rights code.

How will SB 202 impact Little Rock, where you serve as City Director?
Little Rock will be prohibited from passing any ordinance to extend protections to the LGBT community. Unfortunately, we will continue to see LGBT citizens fired and evicted just because of who they are, regardless of job performance or ability to pay for housing. It will be harmful to economic growth, because companies like to see diverse, welcoming communities.

As an LGBT Arkansan, this issue is obviously personal to you. Do you think LGBT officials have an obligation to speak out about legislation like this?
I do think LGBT elected officials have a responsibility for speaking out. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot them in Arkansas! It makes a difference.

Tell us about your efforts to make Arkansas a more welcoming place for the LGBT community.
I tried to be a role model for our community while serving in the state legislature. While it's always best to ask others if one were successful at that, I was chosen to be the first woman in state history to co-chair Joint Budget, and I was names the most effective member of the House in 2012. Based on what my colleagues said to me and about me on day one and towards the end of the 6 years, I believe I was a pretty good representative of our community. I was also able to work with my colleagues to kill two anti-LGBT bills while in the House and to pass an anti-bullying bill that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

What do you make of the rise of bills like SB 202 in state legislatures across the country?
The proliferation of these types of bills is due in part to the election of so many far-right Christian evangelical candidates. In Arkansas, candidates ran against President Obama for offices from the U.S. Senate to local offices.

Have you spoken to any of your colleagues about SB 202, and if so, what have you heard from them?
I spoke to many former colleagues last week, and will continue to. With some, it makes a huge difference and can change their votes (even encouraging them to "walk"). Unfortunately, with others, it doesn't matter. I can only hope that by knowing me and other members of our community, and by sharing my own stories, it will make a difference in the years to come.

What can (or should) the public do in response to SB 202 and bills like it?
The public should be outraged, for lots of reasons - it's just plain hate legislation, it's counter to local control that is so popular, it's bad for business, and it prevents municipalities from extending protections to other groups as well. Allies have to stand up and speak out.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about SB 202?
There's a lot of irony that I could oversee a multi billion dollar budget, introduce and vote on bills, but can't be protected from being fired simply because I'm a lesbian! I expect there to be court challenges to SB 202 and a waste of taxpayer dollars fighting the challenge.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Houston's Parker named among world's best mayors

Houston Mayor Annise Parker was named one of 2014's top Mayors of the World this week in an annual contest organized by the City Mayors Foundation, a think tank focused on promoting good local government and urban affairs.

Parker placed seventh in the partially vote-based international competition and was the only mayor from the United States to crack the top 10. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took home top honors.

In its summary explaining their rankings, the World Mayor Jury commended Parker for her adept balancing of social and economic issues, fiscally responsible policies, and efforts to advance human rights in Houston - such as her successful effort to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2014.

“I am humbled that others view this work as worthy of being right up there with the accomplishments of my mayoral colleagues around the world,” Parker said in response to the news.

Having first elected Parker in 2009, Houston remains the largest U.S. city ever to elect an openly gay mayor.

Lawmakers zero in on international LGBT rights

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) last week reintroduced the International Human Rights Defense Act, a bill that would appoint a special envoy within the U.S. Department of State to coordinate efforts to prevent discrimination and advance the rights of LGBT people worldwide.

"When President Obama addressed the nation and committed to defending the human rights of the LGBT community, we made that commitment to the world," Markey said, referring to the State of the Union address last month.

LGBT rights, especially same-sex couples’ rights to marry, gained momentum across the United States in 2014; however, LGBT people remain subject to violence and discrimination in many parts of the world.

In 2013, India re-criminalized homosexuality while Nigeria, Uganda, and Gambia have all passed laws that make homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Other countries, including Russia, have sought to restrict the spread of LGBT "propaganda" and the right of advocates to organize.

"With the rights of the LGBT community under attack around the globe, we must stand hand-in-hand with them in the struggle for recognition and equality everywhere," Markey said.

If signed into law, the legislation would direct the State Department to make international LGBT rights a priority in American foreign policy, prompting the department to devise a global strategy for preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against LGBT people.

Pocan tapped for Senior Whip position in 114th Congress

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on Thursday selected Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan to serve as a Senior Democratic Whip in the 114th Congress, calling the openly gay Congressman a "tireless advocate for working families and a proven leader within the Caucus." 

Pocan's responsibilities as Senior Whip involve collaborating with Hoyer and others to establish legislative priorities and mobilize support for key bills.

“I am honored to serve as Senior Whip and humbled to be selected by Whip Hoyer,” Pocan said in a press release announcing the selection. “Americans want an open and honest conversation in Washington about the issues affecting their communities. In this new leadership position, I want to help pursue the shared goals of growing America’s middle class and moving our country forward.”

Reelected by Second District voters in 2014, Pocan serves in the same district that Sen. Tammy Baldwin represented for over a decade. Upon taking office in 2013, Pocan became the first openly LGBT member of Congress to succeeed another openly LGBT member. During his tenure in Congress, he has focused on leveraging his private and public sector experience to fight for pro-job growth policies.

Victory Announces January 2015 Endorsements

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund this week made endorsements in five races across America, with candidates from Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee among the organization's selections.

"From city hall to the statehouse, each of these candidates reflects our commitment to empowering LGBT leaders where they're needed most," said Torey Carter, Victory's interim executive director. "They're ready to bring their talents and experience to public office, and we are excited to help them get the job done."

Victory's January endorsement slate includes:

  • David Richardson for Florida State Senate, District 35
  • Paula Foster for Nashville, TN City Council, At-Large
  • Sherrie Cohen for Philadelphia, PA City Council, At-Large
  • Paul Steinke for Philadelphia, PA City Council, At-Large
  • Raymond Lopez for Chicago, IL City Council, Ward 15

Should Foster and Richardson win their races this fall, both will become the highest ranking openly LGBT elected officials currently serving in their respective states. Cohen and Steinke, who are running for two of Philadelphia's at-large City Council seats, would both become the body's first out officials. A win in November would make Lopez the first openly LGBT person of color elected to Chicago's City Council.

LGBT rights featured in State of the Union address

President Barack Obama notched another LGBT milestone during his State of the Union remarks Tuesday night, becoming the first president to ever directly reference lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in a State of the Union address.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened," Obama said, adding, "That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

The mention came during a push to expand protections for oppressed minorities, including the LGBT community, around the world.

Obama raised the subject of LGBT equality again later in the speech, referring to the spread of marriage equality that has accelerated dramatically since he took office in 2009.

"I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that 7-in-10 Americans call home," Obama told the audience, which included 6 of the 9 sitting Supreme Court justices.

The address comes less than one week after the Supreme Court decided to consider marriage equality cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, a decision which could ultimately lead to the reversal of marriage equality bans nationwide.

 

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