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Adam Rippon gets sassy

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 07:31 AM PST

Adam Rippon, gay news, Washington Blade

Gone are the days of figure skaters not coming out until years later a la Brian Boitano. Adam Rippon is making his Olympics debut this year. (Photo courtesy Rippon via Instagram)

Adam Rippon's selection to the United States Olympic Team marks the first time an openly gay American man has qualified for any Winter Olympics. Originally from Clarks Summit, Pa., he has been based in Los Angeles for the past six years. He is coached by Rafael Arutyunyan and trains with Ashley Wagner and rival Nathan Chen.

Rippon had success early on in his career becoming the first junior man to win back-to-back world junior titles in 2008 and 2009. At 28, his skating career has soared since he came out publicly in October, 2015.

The Blade caught up with Rippon before he left on Feb. 5 to represent the United States at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The opening ceremony is tonight (Friday, Feb. 9). The games run through Feb. 25. The men's short and free programs are Feb. 16-17.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Let's start with the beginning of your short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships which also served as the final criteria event for selection to the U.S. Olympic team. You lined up on the side of the rink instead of the middle, struck a bitchy pose and glared at the camera. Johnny Weir called you the sass master.

ADAM RIPPON: I told my choreographer that I needed it to be in your face and fun. I also wanted it to be bitchy which is why I stared right into the camera. I practiced that look in the mirror a thousand times.

BLADE: Halfway through that same short program, you skated up to the judges and held up your finger as if to say, "Hold on, watch this." Bold, ballsy and the crowd loved it. What was the thought process behind that move?

RIPPON: I wanted to do something that my younger competitors would be too intimidated to do and I have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team as the oldest rookie since 1936. I'm super excited.

BLADE: This was your third attempt at qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. What is it like to achieve one of your dreams?

RIPPON: To realize that goal after three attempts is incredible. I considered retiring after not making the team in 2014, but I felt I had more to give as an athlete. I would never know if I didn't try and I have been focused on being my best.

BLADE: You have had your share of injuries including a broken foot one year ago. At Skate America in November, you dislocated your shoulder in your free skate attempting a quad lutz. You stood up, popped your shoulder back in place and landed eight triples to win the silver medal. What the hell?

RIPPON: I have been using the mentality that nothing is going to get in my way. I had dislocated my shoulder in practice a few months before and wanted to cry blood and throw up. Everyone said it wouldn't hurt as much the second time, but they lied. After I moved it back in place I made eye contact with my coach and saw doubt. I thought, if he thinks I might stop then I am absolutely not stopping. I am going to take it one step at a time and keep going — do it three times if I have to and show those bitches.

BLADE: Right before that shoulder incident, you had a little run-in with the referee. She made you clean up bugs off the ice right before you skated. Weirdest thing ever?

RIPPON: That was one of the most bizarre things ever in an international skating competition. I had picked up a huge wasp while I was warming up because I knew if I skated over it, it was going to be crunchy. Right when I was starting my program she blew the whistle at me and called me over like she was Judge Judy. Really, are we really doing this right now? I know she doesn't think I am going to do some rink maintenance.

BLADE: You ended up skating around with a tissue, cleaning up bugs.

RIPPON: I told her I would do it if she gave me an extra 30 seconds. That can't ever happen again. I was trying to focus on my skate. I skated back over to my coach and he shoved me really hard which snapped me back into it. The shoulder happened next.

BLADE: You won your first U.S. national title three months after coming out in October of 2015. Since that time, your skating has been more powerful, consistent and confident. Is there a parallel?

RIPPON: Completely. My success as a skater and coming out go hand in hand. Figure skating is a performance sport and I wear my skating on my sleeve. In years past I didn't really know who I was, so when I came out I felt like I was representing myself. The stories I was reading about other athletes coming out helped me to realize nothing was going to change. You can be an out gay athlete and be successful, even more than before.

BLADE: It's common in elite figure skating to have adoring teenage girls watching your every move. In your case, the LGBT community has also hitched their wagon to your star. What do you think of your status as a gay icon?

RIPPON: Hitch your wagon to a star, it will take you far (laughing). Sometimes we feel unrepresented and I think it's important to stay visible. I follow the careers of other LGBT athletes and I know that it comes with backlash. I am fully embracing all of it. I consider everyone in the community to be my brothers and sisters.

BLADE: Do you feel their presence?

RIPPON: I feel their presence. There have been so many different people coming forward to engage with me and I am comfortable with it. I'm glad that I shared my story and that it is resonating with people.

BLADE: You have said in the past that your skating outfits are an expression of your personality. Your two outfits at U.S. Nationals featured leather, sheer fabric and sparkles. Any surprises for Pyeongchang?

RIPPON: I am getting together with my costume designer, Braden Overett, to make some minor changes and Olympify them. I usually just tell him I want to skate in something slutty. It takes my mind off the competition because I can't believe I am wearing it. It takes a village and he is one of the villagers.

BLADE: You recently shot down the rumors that you wear butt pads during your competitions with the following statement: “There's been a lot questions to whether I compete with butt pads on and I'd like to set the record straight and let it be known that no, it's just my real butt. Thank you for your interest, comments and concern. Love you.”

RIPPON: People were defending me saying the pads helped when I fall. I also heard things like, "What a beautiful performance, are the butt pads really necessary"? I mean c'mon, I'm wearing very thin pants out there. I thought it would be funny if I addressed it directly. Yes, I have the butt necessary to make it to the Olympics.

BLADE: Because of your sport, music must be a big part of your life. What is on your personal music playlist right now?

RIPPON: I love music. It's something I work out to and its part of my sport. On the personal side, I like EDM (electronic dance music) — David Guetta and deadmau5. I also like all the gay staples — Beyoncé, Astrid S, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey.

BLADE: What are you hoping to take from your experience in Pyeongchang?

RIPPON: It has always been my dream to be an Olympian. I can't wait to walk into the opening ceremonies and also to see the Olympic rings on the ice for the first time. Then it's down to business. I'm going to zero in on what needs to be done to have the best skate of my career.

BLADE: Are you ready?

RIPPON: I am ready for this opportunity and grateful for this opportunity. I feel powerful on the inside and the outside.

Puerto Rico mayor: ‘We are American citizens’

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:00 AM PST

Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez spoke with the Washington Blade at her office in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 2, 2018.

PONCE, Puerto Rico — The mayor of the one of Puerto Rico’s largest cities on Feb. 2 said the situation in many parts of the U.S. commonwealth remains dire more than four months after Hurricane Maria.

Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez noted to the Washington Blade during an interview in her office at Ponce City Hall that electricity has not been restored to many parts of rural Puerto Rico. Meléndez also said some people who live in these areas still do not have running water.

“The devastation is in the rural areas,” she said.

Ponce is located on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. Meléndez, a Democrat who is a member of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s New Progressive Party that supports statehood, has been in office since 2009.

Meléndez’s government in 2016 provided psychological support and other assistance to the families of the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., who were from Ponce. Meléndez has also urged the federal government to restore Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act funds that her city used to provide medications and other care to people with HIV/AIDS.

“I work for everyone,” she told the Blade. “Everyone who comes here and asks for help, we will give you the help.”

Electricity largely restored in city’s urban neighborhoods

Ponce is roughly 70 miles west of Puerto Rico’s southeast coast where Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 with 155 mph winds. The hurricane’s eye passed over the municipalities of Yabucoa, San Lorenzo, Caguas, Aguas Buenas, Comerío, Naranjito, Corozal, Morovis, Ciales, Manatí, Florida, Barceloneta and Arecibo before it moved offshore on the island’s northern coast.

Meléndez told the Blade her government removed debris from downtown Ponce less than a month after Maria because it is a center of economic activity.

“I cleaned the city,” she said, noting there are several hotels in the immediate area in which people were able to stay after the hurricane. “I cleaned downtown. I opened places and opened all the roads so people can come here.”

T-shirts for sale at a store in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 2, 2018, have a hashtag that reads “Puerto Rico will rise again.” (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Meléndez said electricity was restored to downtown Ponce roughly a month and a half after Maria.

She told the Blade she did not have electricity at her home, which is a five minute drive from City Hall, for 42 days. Meléndez said 93 percent of the people who live in Ponce’s 12 urban wards have had their power restored.

“That’s good for us,” she said.

Ponce City Hall in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 2, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Meléndez noted to the Blade that Ponce’s port and airport and hotels are open and her city “is doing business.” She said people who live outside of Ponce’s urban wards and in parts of the city that are in the mountains still do not have electricity.

Throwing paper towels at church was ‘very bad’

Meléndez and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz last month attended the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Winter Meeting in D.C. The Latino Leaders Network also honored Meléndez and Cruz for their response to Maria and Hurricane Irma, which brushed Puerto Rico on Sept. 7.

Cruz remains among the most vocal critics of President Trump’s response to Maria.

Trump on Oct. 3 sparked outrage when he threw paper towels into a crowd of people who were gathered at an evangelical church in the wealthy San Juan suburb of Guaynabo where relief supplies were being distributed. Rosselló and Guaynabo Mayor Angel Pérez were with Trump when he was at the church.

Meléndez told the Blade that she, Cruz, Pérez, Bayamón Mayor Ramón Rivera and Arecibo Mayor Carlos Molina met with Trump when he was in Puerto Rico. Meléndez said she did not know Trump, Rosselló and Pérez had gone to the church because she had been in a meeting with then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

“In Puerto Rico they have always distributed help by throwing it to people,” said Meléndez. “It is an old custom that we are getting rid of.”

“The president’s presence was used to participate in this custom and the act was very bad,” she added.

Meléndez told the Blade that she does not “have any problem” with Alejandro de la Campa, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Puerto Rico. She also said FEMA Administrator Brock Long has been “excellent in the states.”

The New York Times on Tuesday reported FEMA awarded a $156 million contract to Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur who has no experience in responding to major disasters, in order to prepare and deliver 30 million packaged meals to Puerto Ricans after Maria. FEMA in October cancelled the contract with Brown after only 50,000 meals were delivered.

Meléndez spoke with the Blade two days after reports surfaced that indicated FEMA would stop distributing food and water in Puerto Rico. Waves Ahead, an organization that has provided assistance to LGBT Puerto Ricans and other vulnerable groups, was bringing food and water to residents of the island of Vieques on Jan. 31 when this report broke.

From left: Wilfred Labiosa and Grissel Bonilla, co-founders of Waves Ahead, an organization that has provided assistance to LGBT Puerto Ricans and people with HIV/AIDS after Hurricane Maria, walk in a neighborhood in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 31, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Trump on Jan. 30 made a brief reference to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which Maria and Irma also devastated, in his State of the Union speech. FEMA later said it would not stop distributing food and water in Puerto Rico.

Meléndez said she wants the federal government to treat Puerto Ricans the same as other U.S. citizens who live in the mainland.

Puerto Ricans are unable to vote in presidential elections. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, but she is unable to vote on bills once they reach the floor.

“We are American citizens,” Meléndez told the Blade. “As an American citizen, treat me equally as the same way that you treat California, that you treat Texas, that you treat Florida, New York.”

Governor is ‘doing an excellent job’

Meléndez also praised Rosselló’s response to Maria.

“The governor of Puerto Rico is doing an excellent job,” said Meléndez. “But he alone cannot make the people of the Congress aware that they have to be conscious of Puerto Rico.”

Meléndez described Rosselló’s decision to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, which is known by the acronym PREPA, after Maria and Irma as “excellent.” Meléndez also told the Blade the process “has to be transparent.”

Whitefish Energy Holdings, which is based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., signed a controversial $300 million contract with PREPA to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure. PREPA in late October cancelled the contract after Rosselló urged it to do so.

Puerto Rico first lady Beatriz Rosselló after Maria launched the Unidos por Puerto Rico fund in order to support the relief efforts.

Her plan to use some of the fund’s money to repair parks and sporting facilities sparked widespread outrage. Beatriz Rosselló last month announced she would withdraw the proposal.

A damaged utility pole and trees remain along the side of a road in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 2, 2018. Adjuntas is located roughly 15 miles north of the city of Ponce in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Court: DOJ to defend new trans military policy after Feb. 21

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 07:22 PM PST

Bilal Ahmed, shooting deaths, gay news, Washington Blade

The Justice Department says it will defend a new transgender military policy in court starting Feb. 21.

The Trump administration is set to unveil a new policy on transgender people in the U.S. armed forces on Feb. 21 that the U.S. Justice Department expects to defend in court, according to a court document.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis, who’s adjudicating the lawsuit against President Trump’s transgender military ban filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, disclosed the Justice Department’s plans in a memo dated Feb. 6 on the process for disclosure in the case. Buzzfeed was first to report the news.

According to the memo, although the ACLU is calling on the Justice Department to comply with an initial disclosure request, the Trump administration is seeking to get out of it because a new policy will soon be on the table.

“Defendants' counsel contend that they cannot now comply because they will not be defending the policy now at issue but will be defending the policy to be disclosed on Feb. 21, 2018,” Garbis writes.

After Trump announced via Twitter in June he’d ban transgender people in the military “in any capacity,” he followed up in August with a directive to the Pentagon on implementing the exclusion of transgender people from the military.

The Feb. 21 date identified in the court memo is consistent with the due date set in the Trump directive for a report from the Pentagon to Trump on transgender military service. The directive designates the report as an “implementation plan” and didn’t say new policy would follow per se.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the nature of any new policy. The White House didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment.

Maj. David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesperson, said he’s “not sure what policy they’re referring to,” but the Pentagon will prepare “recommendations” for the president.

“I know the SECDEF will be making his recommendation to POTUS this month, then POTUS announces the new policy next month, but that’s all I’m tracking,” Eastburn said.

The litigation before Garbis is one of four pending lawsuits challenging Trump’s transgender military ban. Each of the judges in those cases have issued preliminary injunctions blocking enforcement the ban as litigation continues. The Justice Department has given up on appealing those injunctions, focusing instead on defending Trump’s ban in trial court.

Joshua Block, the attorney litigating against the ban on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, said any new policy barring transgender people from service will be challenged in court.

“If the ‘recommendations’ exclude transgender people serving, we will be ready to argue that the allegedly new policy is just a continuation Trump's old ban with window dressing,” Block said.

Sarah McBride, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement any new policy other than allowing transgender people to serve would be discriminatory.

"There are currently thousands of transgender people serving in the U.S. military with many more enlisting and their skills and service are already proving invaluable to our national security,” McBride said. “In their repeated attempts to implement and justify this cruel and unconstitutional policy, the Trump-Pence Administration has been the only source of disruption on this issue."

Puerto Rico governor vetoes religious freedom bill

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 06:59 PM PST

Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Feb. 7, 2018, vetoed a religious freedom bill that critics said would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination. (Image by Nicolas Raymond; courtesy Flickr)

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Wednesday vetoed a religious freedom bill that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth.

Rosselló in a letter to Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz noted his administration “has an unwavering commitment to guarantee and protect the fundamental rights of all of our citizens.”

Rosselló told Rivera “one of the most important rights of our republican system of government is religious liberty.” Rosselló nevertheless acknowledged the bill “has raised serious concerns and distractions that could cause the violation of rights of portions of our society and even limit our population’s access to public services.”

“We promised a government that will serve all the citizens of this land and we will do so,” said Rosselló.

The measure received final approval in the Puerto Rico Senate on Jan. 29. The Puerto Rico House of Representatives passed the bill last year.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, applauded Rosselló for his veto.

“I congratulate and am thankful to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for doing the right thing and vetoing the bill that tried to legalize discrimination against LGBT people,” wrote Serrano on his Twitter page. “Now we must make sure that lawmakers do not override the veto.”

Rosselló vetoed the bill nearly five months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

Hundreds of thousands of people remain without electricity in the U.S. commonwealth. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and others continue to criticize President Trump over his response to Maria.

More than 50 percent of Puerto Rico lost electricity when Hurricane Irma brushed the island on Sept. 7.

Damage from Hurricane Maria remains along the oceanfront in the neighborhood of La Perla in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 29, 2018. The official residence of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is less than a mile away. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Only amnesia can explain new Democratic support for Bush

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 02:08 PM PST

AIDS policy, gay news, Washington Blade

President George W. Bush has found newfound support in the Trump administration. (White House photo by Eric Draper)

After more than a year of President Trump, the administration of George W. Bush is looking better to many Democrats in retrospect — but that might be the result of collective amnesia given the policies of the previous Republican president.

A CNN poll published late month found 61 percent of Americans now have a favorable view of Bush compared to his approval rating of 33 percent at the time he left office.

Much that support is the result of newfound favorability among Democrats. In 2009, the first year former President Obama took office, only 11 percent of Democrats approved of Bush. Now that approval rating stands at 54 percent.

The rise in support among Democrats for Bush seems to overlook that his presidency was marked by a military quagmire in Iraq, an inept response to Hurricane Katrina, a financial collapse in 2008, scheming advisers and Dick Cheney. (A recent “Saturday Night Live” spoof of Bush imitated by Will Ferrell, who impersonated the former president in the early Bush years, reminded viewers he was “like, historically bad.”)

But Bush’s administration also had an anti-gay agenda that compares, if not surpasses, the anti-LGBT policies under the Trump administration.

Forget Trump’s eight words in the State of the Union address expressing a commitment to “religious liberty,” considered code in the context of conservative politics to mean anti-LGBT discrimination. Bush, on multiple occasions, used that platform to advocate for a Federal Marriage Amendment that would have preempted the 2015 Obergefell decision and banned same-sex marriage nationwide.

"Activist judges…have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives," Bush said in 2004. "On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage."

(Those words so enraged Gavin Newsom, then a guest of Nancy Pelosi for Bush’s speech and mayor of San Francisco, that he decided to defy state law and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court would later stop his efforts until marriage equality came to California years later.)

Under campaign adviser Karl Rove, the Bush re-election campaign in 2004 was centered on both the Federal Marriage Amendment and 11 state measures seeking to bar same-sex marriage. All 11 of those amendments would pass that year. Log Cabin Republicans, which endorsed Bush in 2000, refused to do so in 2004 largely over that measure.

On two separate occasions, one in 2004 and 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress would vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment to stop efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. Both times the measure failed to obtain sufficient support for passage.

Joe Solmonese, a former president of the Human Rights Campaign who led efforts to fight the measure the second time around, said the Federal Marriage Amendment was “largely driven” by Bush and Rove.

“Regardless of what people years later have told me about what was genuinely in George Bush's heart with regard to LGBT people, that effort to write discrimination into the Constitution in a permanent way had his fingerprints on it and had his blessing,” Solmonese said.

Although strong support for the Federal Marriage Amendment was the cornerstone of anti-gay initiatives in the Bush years, the presidency was also filled with social conservatives who worked to implement an anti-gay agenda.

As a Bush appointee in the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch refused to investigate claims of sexual-orientation discrimination within the federal government. Additionally, he ordered 12 OSC staffers, including the only two known gay employees, to transfer to distant cities or lose their jobs.

Monica Goodling, a Bush appointee in the Justice Department, was revealed to have violated the law for being engaged in politically motivated firings of seven U.S. attorneys in 2007. The Washington Blade later discovered under her tenure applicants for Justice Department internships and honors programs may have been rejected based on their membership in LGBT groups, such as Immigration Equality and Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

In the lame duck of the Bush administration, the Department of Health & Human Services issued a rule allowing medical practitioners to opt out of performing abortion services, which at the time was also seen as allowing practitioners to refuse service to gay people. The Obama administration rescinded the rule, but the Trump administration has recently proposed putting that back in place, raising similar concerns about denial of medical treatment to LGBT people.

There was no interest in enacting pro-LGBT changes to the law under Bush. Gay service members continued to be discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under an administration and Congress that saw no need to change the law despite majority support even at that time to allow openly gay service.

In an attempt to pass hate crimes protections, the Senate approved the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment in 2006 to major defense policy legislation, but the provision was later removed. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy against the standalone measure, H.R. 1592, indicating Bush might veto the defense bill over the language.

“The administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin,” the statement says. “However, the administration believes that HR 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable. If HR 1592 were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

To his credit, much like Trump kept an Obama-era executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, Bush kept in place a Clinton-era executive order barring anti-gay workplace discrimination within the federal government.

The newfound support among Democrats for Bush, Solmonese said, is more the result of fatigue under the Trump administration as opposed to respect for the 43rd president.

“I think that the way people are feeling about George W. Bush right now has a lot more to do with Donald Trump than it does with George Bush,” Solmonese said. “It just shows you that everything is relative. You think you have it bad until you have it worse."

As Solmonese noted, Bush has never made an effort to correct his anti-gay policies. To the surprise of many, a report emerged in the Boston Globe that he planned to officiate a same-sex marriage for a lesbian couple he knew in Maine, but his office denied that.

"If all these years later, George Bush stepped forward and said that he felt differently or he regretted or he apologized for the actions he took back then, I might feel differently,” Solmonese said.

Instead, Bush seems to have gone the opposite way. In 2016, Bush spoke by video to the World Congress of Families, which was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for supporting anti-gay crackdowns overseas.

But unlike Trump, who is largely silent on HIV/AIDS and has yet to appoint a White House adviser on the issue, Bush has been given credit on both sides of the aisle for an aggressive approach to the epidemic — both domestic and international.

Among the initiatives created by Bush was the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which seeks to provide HIV medications to countries with limited resources. (Trump sought to reduce funding for that by $1 billion, although that proposal was rejected by Congress.)

Bush also sought to repeal the travel ban that prevented foreign nationals with HIV from entering the United States. Congress repealed the ban during the Bush administration, and the policy was completely changed after a rule change in the Obama years.

In 2003, the Bush administration announced approval for widespread use of rapid HIV testing, which was new technology at the time. Previously, testing was only allowed in clinics, but the change permitted testing in mobile sites.

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, said Bush “was a leader” in many respects on HIV/AIDS, but there were challenges in his White House.

“In the beginning, they wouldn’t mention the word ‘condom’ in anything, they wouldn’t mention ‘gay men,’ they stressed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and this was at a time when same-sex couples couldn’t get married, so it really didn’t make sense to the populations that are most impacted by HIV,” Schmid said.

The restrictions on language, Schmid said, is comparable to the Trump administration, which has declined to explicitly identify LGBT people as high-risk groups in statements on HIV/AIDS.

The various policies on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues in the Bush and Trump administrations have lent themselves to considerable debate on which presidency is worse for LGBT people.

Solmonese said Trump is “unquestionably” worse on LGBT issues than his Republican predecessor, citing the transgender military ban and appointment of officials like Betsy DeVos.

“Everything he says is grounded in the language of division, of us versus them,” Solmonese added. “If someone else is getting something it means that it’s being taken from you. He has consistently used dog whistle politics to send coded messages to extremists and white supremacists. That behavior doesn’t just set us back, it puts us in real danger.”

Michelangelo Signorile, a New York-based gay progressive activist and radio host on SiriusXM, declared in an essay in September that Trump as a result of his anti-LGBT policy is “the most anti-LGBTQ president in U.S. history.”

“It's clear, both by his actions and the outcomes of them which will only increase exponentially, that Trump is already the most anti-LGBTQ president in U.S. history,” Signorile said. “That is something we must demand that political reporters, many of whom were duped in 2016 and then duped millions more, begin to focus on. It's a fact that must be stated emphatically beginning right now.”

Given the similarities in anti-LGBT policy, could the Bush presidency afford any lessons learned to LGBT advocates in the Trump administration?

After all, gay rights supporters were able to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment on two occasions despite strong Republican majorities in Congress. The passage of state marriage amendments could also serve as guides even though their victories, and by large margins, devastated gay couples.

Solmonese said a primary lesson should be solidarity of the LGBT movement with other groups facing oppression under the Trump administration, recalling support in the Bush years from the labor, reproductive choice and broader civil rights movement.

“When we think about our position towards the Trump administration and how we engage with the Trump administration, it isn't just on behalf of LGBT people and our issues, but on behalf of the broader progressive coalition in which we stand and with whom we stood when attacks were being lobbed against us,” Solmonese said.

Schmid said being willing to work with all partners is a key lesson from the Bush years — not just media, allies and Capitol Hill, but the White House itself.

“There’s not a lot of people in the AIDS community who are comfortable working with the administration,” Schmid said. “I’m not one of those people. I work with them, but there’s not that many people that do. That’s more of a criticism of the AIDS community that they need to reach out, but there’s a need for the people to be on the outside as well and speak forcibly as well, so you need both.”

Bermuda governor signs marriage repeal bill

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:41 PM PST

Bermuda, gay news, Washington Blade

The governor of Bermuda has signed a bill that rescinds marriage rights for same-sex couples.(Photo by Mike Oropeza; via Wikimedia Commons)

Bermuda Gov. John Rankin on Wednesday signed a bill that rescinds marriage rights for same-sex couples in the British island territory.

The Royal Gazette newspaper reported Rankin approved the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 — which allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships as opposed to get married — “after careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution.”

The Bermuda Parliament approved the bill late last year.

Same-sex couples had been able to marry in Bermuda since Charles-Etta Simmons, a judge on the Bermuda Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the issue in May 2017. Bermuda is the first government in the world outside the U.S. to rescind marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

Tony Brannon, an LGBT rights advocate in Bermuda, told Bernews.com he is “saddened to hear that Bermuda has just become the 1st country in the world to reverse same sex marriage.” Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb in a statement also criticized Rankin.

"This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardizes Bermuda's international reputation and economy,” said Cobb. “Despite this deplorable action, the fight for marriage equality in Bermuda will continue until the day when every Bermudian is afforded the right to marry the person they love."

Trump and his big and little lies

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 12:11 PM PST

Donald Trump lies, gay news, Washington Blade

President Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Donald Trump is a certified liar but his base continues to believe his big and little lies are the truth. A big part of the reason for that is FOX news is more than happy to amplify the lies he tells every day with sleazy personalities like Sean Hannity happy to repeat them as truths.

Beyond that we need to be asking the same thing a recent Slate column did: "Why Are the Times, the Post, and MSNBC on a Conservative Hiring Spree?" They report MSNBC hired Trump apologist Hugh Hewitt in addition to other conservatives like George Will and Greta Van Susteren. We know NBC hired Megyn Kelly and is sticking with her despite her ratings flop. It seems these news outlets are now afraid to be known as liberal. That is part of what Trump has accomplished with his big and little lies.

All the polling we have seen shows Trump has a base of support between 32 and 40 percent depending on news of the day or the tweet of the day. Trump better than any politician before him understands the use of social media and how his tweets get even legitimate mainstream media to repeat his lies even if they go on to debunk them.

The Republican mainstream, which is ceasing to exist, understands that Trump's supporters are some of the most uneducated people in the nation with some of the most racist, sexist and homophobic opinions. They are afraid to go against those people because they need them to win. They are the people who either don't have the intelligence or ability to research the truth, or simply want to believe what Trump says because it coincides perfectly with their own biases and beliefs.

We have seen all this play out in the response to the Nunes memo. Trump tweeted, "This memo totally vindicates "Trump" in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!"

The tweet got a headline in the New York Times printed edition, 'Trump Says Republican Memo Proves his Innocence on Russia' in a column by Emily Cochrane. It was changed in the online edition to be even more accurate: 'Trump Says Republican Memo 'Totally Vindicates' Him.' So the big lie became the headline even though in the column Cochrane reports, "The memo, while trying to paint the origins of the Russia investigation as tainted, did nothing to clear Mr. Trump of either collusion or obstruction."

So I am sure Trump again sees this as a big win when someone reads back to him his big lie in the headline of the nation's leading newspaper; even one that consistently reports the failures of Trump and his lies. The Washington Post fact-checked Trump's State of the Union speech and found nearly every economic 'fact' he claimed was either an outright lie or an exaggeration that could be easily proven false. But for Trump that is not a problem as the speech was directed at his base of support, that 32 to 40 percent of the population who want to believe everything he says.

There may be some debate as to whether Trump is an inveterate or a congenital liar. I leave that to others to decide. One definition of the differences is "An inveterate liar has more of a problem. He can’t stop lying. It’s an addiction to him. Like an inveterate gambler. It doesn’t mean he is essentially good at lying. A congenital liar on the other hand, is so good at lying, it seems that he is born for the job. A congenital thing is something you are born with. Either way, Trump is a master at it and a large part of the American people are clearly believing his lies. The country and the majority of decent people will continue to suffer until we rid ourselves of Trump.


Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui fights back against homophobia on Twitter

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 12:06 PM PST

(Photo via Instagram.)

Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui stood up for the LGBT community against homophobia in a lengthy Twitter conversation on Monday.

Jauregui came out as bisexual in 2016 and ever since has been vocal about her support for the LGBT community including penning an open letter to President Donald Trump.

"I am a bisexual Cuban-American woman and I am so proud of it,” Jauregui wrote. 

On Monday, Jauregui shared a tweet of someone asking what people would do if their son came out as gay. Answers ranged from having him raped by two women to “I’ll kill him.” One user commented “This is why we commit suicide.”

“This is such a disgusting display of toxic masculinity & a deep ignorance of the expression of human sexuality. It is a spectrum that has no shame. It will be painful but it will lead you to your true family. Anyone who can wish this on something they created is deeply troubled,” Jauregui tweeted.

Her response sparked a chain of tweets supporting the LGBT community.


The LGBT side of Carnival in Brazil

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 12:00 PM PST

São Paulo’s 2017 Carnival parade had a large LGBT contingent. LGBT Brazilians are a prominent part of Carnival parades and celebrations throughout the country. (Photo courtesy of Felipe Alface)

SÃO PAULO — Street Carnival in Brazil is visibly LGBT friendly, and celebrations happen throughout the entire month of February — before, during and after the actual Carnival that will be celebrated from Feb. 9-14.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has the most famous and organized street Carnival in Brazil with more than 460 groups. Considered the largest Carnival by the Guinness World Records, Rio de Janeiro has no LGBT-specific street Carnival groups, but the most famous ones are known for being inclusive and friendly, which makes some of them the best gay choices for fun and flirting.

The most traditional group in Rio is "Banda de Ipanema" and that makes it the choice for everyone to get the party started on Feb. 10. Filled with all kinds of people, it's a safe choice for LGBT people looking for a good time. Another big crowd pleaser is the group "Sargento Pimenta" or “Sergeant Pepper.” Known for transforming Beatles songs with samba beats, this group traditionally attracts hipster and modern crowds wherever it goes. Before they take to the streets in Rio on Feb. 12, they take the streets in São Paulo in one of the most anticipated pre-Carnival events in the city that happens traditionally on the Saturday before Carnival week. And their parade literally forms the biggest pre-Carnival crowd in São Paulo, usually forcing the group to take detours in their selected streets due to the never-ending crowds.

São Paulo

One of the most LGBT-friendly cities in Brazil, São Paulo has the most traditional LGBT groups of street Carnival in the country. Most of them are known for their pre-Carnival parades and some of them take a piece of the city to call their own.

Thrown by the Sexual Diversity Museum of São Paulo, the group "Será que é?", which roughly translates as “Is he gay?” has the mission of mixing the joy and fun of Carnival along with the concepts of inclusion and a culture of peace and respect of all LGBT people. 2018 is the second year the museum has taken to the street as a Carnival group. Its parade took place on Feb. 3 on Rua Agusuta, which is one of the most known gay streets of São Paulo.

The most competitive day of street Carnival everywhere is usually the Saturday of Carnival, which is on Feb. 10 this year, when everyone is starved to get the party started and that is the reason the biggest groups take the to the streets all over São Paulo on that day. One of them is "Minhoqueens," a street Carnival group that celebrates drag queens in their parade with a lot of gay divas and pop music coming from its DJs’ pickup trucks. The group is not focused only on Carnival, but in throwing parties and events throughout the whole year with a motto of seeking inclusion and recognition to the LGBT community.

Another group done by and for gay people that will take to the streets on Saturday for the first time is "Gaymada," a group that promotes gay games of dodge ball as a form of taking over some of the most famous parks and public places of the city with fun and color.

The post-Carnival of São Paulo has in "Siga Bem Caminhoneira" one of the most famous lesbian street Carnival groups. Although gay men and everyone else are welcome, the collective has the lesbian visibility as their objective and insists that female empowerment and protagonism is their reason to celebrate Carnival.

The same association that organizes the São Paulo Pride Parade, considered the biggest Parade in the world with more than 5 million people, also throws a fun post-Carnival street event. It happens on Feb. 17 and it wants to take a message against prejudice and the exclusion of LGBT people. The organization of the "Diversity" street group also declares everyone is welcome to take to the streets in their post-Carnival festivities.


Some places, like Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil, have its most famous LGBT street Carnival thrown by "As Travestidas," a collective of cross-dressing artists who promotes parties, theater and performing pieces, shows, debates and many other visibility oriented arts and events, like their famous pre-Carnival that happens every Saturday during January until the beginning of actual Carnival. They don't make their parade about any specific LGBT political issue, but just the fact the group exists and takes thousands of people to the streets to celebrate the pre-Carnival period makes their visibility a true political statement.

2018 Carnival mixes visibility, gay rights

2018 is definitely the year to mix visibility and gay rights with Carnival in Brazil.

For the first time the Brazilian LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism is releasing a Carnival campaign with the slogan: "Carnival is about fun, say no to LGBT phobia." The campaign is also backed up by two of the biggest and most victorious samba schools of São Paulo: Vai-Vai and Império de Casa Verde, this last one also threw a party to launch the campaign and released an LGBT exclusive section in their parade and within the samba school. Vai-Vai, the biggest winner of the samba schools in São Paulo, also held a launch party at a hotel.

According to Brazilian LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Ricardo Gomes, the importance of launching the campaign at Império de Casa Verde headquarters was huge because the samba school’s entire community became involved with the campaign.

"We know that the LGBT community is accepted in the universe of Carnival as headliners, makeup artists, hairdressers, designers and so many other professions that make the samba schools wheels rolling,” said Gomes. “However our intention with this campaign is that LGBT people are accepted more than as Carnival workers or participants, but as people who deserve to be respected in their sexual and gender identities."

LGBT historic site projects continue under Trump

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:44 AM PST

LGBT historic site, gay news, Washington Blade

The National Park Service under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has, so far, continued to include LGBT sites in the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Flickr)

The National Park Service last year approved at least four LGBT-related sites for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places as well as a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Gender and Sexuality Equality that's expected to conduct research on women's and LGBT civil rights issues.

The four LGBT sites – two in Los Angeles and one each in New York City and Louisville, Ky. – were part of a project initiated during the Obama administration to review 130 LGBT-related sites throughout the country for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places or for designation as a National Historic Landmark.

LGBT history advocates said they are pleased that the program so far appears to be continuing under the Trump administration.

The fellowship program, which was in the planning stage during the Obama administration, was approved in June 2017 by National Park Service Acting Director Mike Reynolds, who assumed that position two weeks before the Trump administration took office. He remained as acting director until January of this year, when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appointed him as superintendent of Yosemite National Park in California.

Zinke named longtime National Park Service official Paul Daniel Smith as the new acting director of the NPS.

Smith's views on the fellowship program and efforts to increase the number of LGBT-related sites for federal recognition couldn't immediately be determined. But a press release announcing the official launching of the fellowship program last November says it will be privately funded through a grant of nearly $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It will be carried out by the National Park Foundation, which raises private funds to support national parks.

In addition to approving the four LGBT historic sites and the fellowship program, the National Park Service last month also continued the implementation process begun during the Obama administration of details related to the Stonewall National Monument in New York City's Greenwich Village.

President Obama in June 2016 issued a presidential proclamation establishing the Stonewall Inn gay bar, a park next to the bar, and surrounding streets, which were the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, as a U.S. National Monument, the highest federal designation of a historic site or park.

President Obama in June 2016 issued a proclamation establishing the Stonewall Inn gay bar, a park next to the bar, and surrounding streets, as a U.S. National Monument. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

Park Service officials announced last month that they were seeking public comments on plans for developing a "monument foundation document" to define and explain the historic significance of the Stonewall Inn and the role the 1969 police raid on the bar that triggered several days of rioting by LGBT people has played in launching the modern LGBT rights movement.

"This is a normal part of the process for a new national monument," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

"I think this is a good faith effort, but of course we should all be vigilant to ensure that forces opposed to the message of equality and inclusion that Stonewall stands for, both within and without the administration, do not hijack the process," Berman said.

He said his organization is encouraging members of the LGBT community and allies to submit comments on the National Park Service's draft monument foundation document, which can be accessed through a page on the NPS website.

The deadline for submitting comments is Feb. 18.

The effort during the Obama administration to expand the number of LGBT-related sites recognized by the National Park Service as historic was announced in October 2016 by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. During a ceremony at the Interior Department headquarters, Jewell and then-National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis released a first-of-its-kind National Park Service report entitled "LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History."

The report included recommendations for integrating LGBT history into the Park Service's programs for showcasing American history through national parks and historic sites. It recommends that 130 LGBT-related sites be considered for federal historic designations. According to the report, as of June 2016, there were 10 LGBT sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the D.C. home of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.

Listed below are the four LGBT-related historic sites approved last year by the National Park Service for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places:

Mitchell Camera Building (Studio One/The Factory) – Los Angeles

The Mitchell Camera Building, also known as The Factory Building, became the home of the famous gay disco and nightclub in West Hollywood called Studio One from 1974 to 1994. Lesbian activist Kate Eggert and her wife Krissy Gosney, who wrote the document nominating the building for inclusion in the National Register for Historic Places, report that Studio One in its heyday drew more than 1,000 mostly gay men on weekends and nearly that number on weeknights. "The popularity, prominence and influence of Studio One were pivotal in normalizing LGBTQ existence in the dominant mainstream/heterosexual society," the nomination document says. Among other things, it "influenced gradual social acceptance and self-affirmation of homosexuals in the Los Angeles area," according to the document.

Great Wall of Los Angeles/History of California by Judy Baca – Los Angeles

Artist and community activist Judy Baca is credited with conceiving in the early 1970s what has become the world's largest wall mural. At that time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contacted her to help beautify a near mile-long cement wall the corps built to control flooding in the San Fernando Valley section of L.A. A team of more than 80 youths, 10 artists, and five historians collaborated with Baca, a Chicana rights activist, to begin painting dozens of sections of the wall that depicted different time periods in the history of L.A. The project has continued nearly every year since then, with three LGBT history related sections of the wall painted in 1984. Allison Lyons, an L.A.-based historic sites expert who wrote the nomination document for the wall to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, said the LGBT sections include a general statement of LGBT rights, the story of the 1960s-era lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis, and the first known early gay rights group, Mattachine Society of Los Angeles.

Whiskey Row/LGBTQ Amendment – Louisville, Ky.

A section of Main Street in downtown Louisville has been known since the 19th Century as Whiskey Row because of its reputation for popular saloons and nightspots. In 2010 it was approved for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year the National Park Service approved a request to amend the historic nature of the site to include the history of two gay bars located in the Whiskey Row historic district, The Downtowner, which was in business from 1975 to 1989, and the Beaux Arts Cocktail Lounge, which is believed to have been Louisville's first gay bar. The nomination document for the amended site was prepared by Catherine Fosl, director of the University of Louisville's Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice and Research and the author the Kentucky LGBT Heritage Initiative.

Caffe Cino – New York City

Located in New York's Greenwich Village, Caffe Cino opened in 1958 as a coffeehouse with space for art exhibitions by Joe Cino, an openly gay man. With Cino's support it quickly evolved into a space where experimental theater productions were performed, including productions with gay themes. It has since been recognized as the birthplace of Off-Off Broadway Theater in New York City. "At a time when depicting homosexuality on stage was a crime, many of the Caffe Cino's early productions featured gay characters or subject matter," according to a write up by the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project, which submitted the nomination with the National Park Service to include its building in the National Register of Historic Places. The venue closed in 1968 following Cino's death.