Editorial: A new caucus chair and much news to catch up on
by Betsy Ettorre and Fred Kuhr, co-editors
This month we’d like to welcome Bob Vallier as our new Democrats Abroad LGBTQ+ Global Caucus Chair. Bob has been active in DA for a number of years and is currently DA Italy Vice Chair and Chair — Central Italy chapter. We welcome him as chair and look forward to his leadership in this important work for the LGBTQ+ community.
We’d also that to thank Martha McDevitt-Pugh for her service to the Caucus for the past eight years. We are grateful to her for her commitment to building up the DA LGBTQ+ Caucus.
Co-editor Fred Kuhr reports on important LGBTQ+ news including a group of senators urging support for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, more LGBTQ+ appointments in the Biden Administration, and Pete and Chasten Buttigieg’s new babies.
Irene Chriss and Betsy Ettorre worked together on an article about the California recall election and its impact on LGBTQ+ rights. As many of you know, a similar 2003 California recall had a serious impact on our community. So our important work supporting politicians who support our community continues.
by Bob Vallier
I write to you as the newly-appointed caucus chair, with great hope that our next two years will be as rich and strong as the last several.
Before I properly introduce myself, though, I want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Martha McDevitt-Pugh, the outgoing chair. As many of you may know, Martha is one of the founders of this Caucus — DA’s oldest — and has served as its guiding force for the last seven years. Martha helped to create the Caucus at a time when and precisely because our relationships were not considered equal under American law, and at a time when LGBTQ+ members of the military were still required to not ask and not tell. A longtime activist, Martha and other LGBTQ+ leaders in DA saw an opportunity to push the organization to take a stand, to advocate for policies that then-seemed unachievable. Her activism on these issues was born of personal experience — because their relationship had no standing under US immigration law, she could not sponsor her Australian partner Lin for a green card, and left the United States and landed in Amsterdam, where they became each other’s spouse in a marriage that was fully recognized under Dutch law. They founded a group called Love Exiles, which eventually led her to DA and the foundation of the DA LGBT Immigration Task force and the LGBTQ+ Caucus. The rest, as they say, is history — our history — and we owe Martha infinite thanks for the many years of hard work in making this history possible.
A lot has changed for us in the last decade, but the gains we made are hardly secure and there is still much work to be done. The preceding four years reminded us just how tenuous our rights are and underscored that the very lives of our LGBTQ friends and family — both abroad and at home — are still at risk. Perhaps the greatest symbol of this risk at the moment is the stalled Equality Act, which, were it ever to become law, would make it illegal for us to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And trans people, particularly of color, continue to be victims of violent crime, often without consequence or repercussion.
These are the kinds of issues for which we must continue to advocate with a strong voice as the LGBTQ+ Caucus of Democrats Abroad. We will do so as we have always done so — through informational webinars with fellow advocates from partner organizations; through contacting our members of Congress to voice support for legislative initiatives; through the raising of consciousness so that members and leaders of DA, other state parties, and the DNC understand why these issues are important; and through working with other DA caucuses to highlight that LGBTQ+ issues are always intersectional, cutting across age, class, race and gender. Perhaps most significantly, we will work tirelessly to elect more LGBTQ+ leaders and allies to every level of government, from the city council to the state assembly, the U.S House and Senate, and maybe, in the not-too-distant future, even the White House.
But to do this, we need your help! That’s why I am issuing this call for any interested member who wants to be a part of our Steering Committee to contact us. We need your help with this newsletter, with social media, with event planning, with Pride coordination — but most of all we need your ideas and your energy. So if you’re able to commit a few hours a month to helping advance our agenda, please send an email to [email protected] Let us know where you are from and how you’re interested in helping.
And now, a word or two about me. Like Martha, I cut my teeth on LGBTQ+ activism fighting for marriage equality, starting in Chicago when I was a graduate student in philosophy. I managed to get myself arrested in 1994 at a small but loud protest, at a time when marriage equality was on no one’s radar. Graduate work took me to Paris, where I continued to agitate for marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights. I failed to get arrested, but I did get a tooth kicked out by a skin-headed counter-protestor. When I went back to the States at the end of the 1990s, I had a temporary appointment at George Washington University, where I helped to establish an LGBTQ+ studies minor, and then later I did exactly the same curricular work at my graduate alma mater in Chicago, DePaul University, which became the first Catholic university in the United States to have such an academic program. I also made the acquaintance of a young state senator with a funny name and big ears, and worked on his U.S. Senate campaign.
In 2010, the stars aligned and I moved back to Paris, where I joined DA France and served as both the Secretary and the LGBTQ Caucus chair (France had a local caucus before there was a global caucus), and annually organized the Pride Picnic. We didn’t march in the parade, instead we had a large social gathering with much food and wine. Now I’m in Florence, Italy, serving as the DA Italy Vice Chair. Despite my very French sounding name, I am half-Italian and so also a member of the Italian American Democratic Leadership Council Executive Committee. My life journey has brought me to many interesting places — Chicago, Washington, Paris, Florence — but I hail from a very small midwestern town just outside of Flint, Michigan, where I still vote.
Martha has left some very big shoes to fill, and some broad shoulders to sit on, but happily she will not be too far away. In addition to continuing her work as one of DA’s elected representatives to the DNC, she has agreed to serve as Vice Chair of the LGBTQ Caucus, for which I am very grateful. This work could not be done without her. And it could not be done without you! So please, send us your ideas and your concerns, and if interested, please also join us on the Steering Committee.
For more information or to volunteer, email [email protected].
by Fred Kuhr
A group of 14 U.S. Senators — 13 Democrats and one Independent — released a letter last month calling on the U.S. State Department to do more to support LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
In the letter, the senators commended the Biden Administration’s commitment to advancing the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, noting, “The United States has been a beacon of hope for many LGBTQ migrants escaping persecution, including domestic violence, rape, and murder, as well as discrimination in areas like education, employment, housing, and healthcare. … Under your leadership, the Department of State has acted quickly to reestablish U.S. foreign policy positions that meet our commitment to defending the lives of LGBTQ people worldwide.”
The letter was a followup to the State Department’s February announcement that it would “use a broad range of diplomatic and programmatic tools and resources to protect vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers.” The senators are now requesting additional information on the Department’s efforts to “protect and promote the rights of LGBTQ asylum seekers.”
In the letter, the senators ask, “What are the Department’s plans for restoring our former commitments to LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers and expediting resettlement for the most at-risk LGBTQ refugees globally What progress has been made in the Department’s global strategy to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community and to integrate LGBTQ concerns into U.S. foreign policy? In what ways can Congress assist in these efforts, including and beyond the Global Equality Fund (GEF)?”
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar led the effort. The other senators who signed the letter are Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
The complete text of the letter can be found here.
In LGBTQ+ appointment news, the U.S. Senate confirmed two out veterans to top positions at the Pentagon. On July 22, the Senate approved both nominees by voice vote without objection.
As a result, Shawn Graham Skelley, a transgender vet from Virginia, will serve as an assistant secretary of defence. Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian from Texas, is undersecretary of the Air Force.
Skelley, a retired Navy pilot and former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Pacific Command, is now only the second trans person ever to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Ortiz Jones, a former intelligence officer and captain in the U.S. Air Force, is the first woman of color to become the Air Forces’ second in command.
Although there were no public objections to their confirmation, some Republicans reportedly voiced their concerns behind the scenes. Notably, Ted Cruz of Texas said Biden’s nominations are “emasculating” the military and turning it into “pansies.”
Also in July, Biden appointed Chantele Wong — the CFO of the foreign aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation under President Barack Obama — to be the United States director to the Asian Development Bank, which is a post with the rank of ambassador.
This appointment makes Wong the first out lesbian and the first LGBTQ+ person of color to be nominated for an ambassador-level position.
Biden also reappointed Sharon Kleinbaum, a lesbian rabbi, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Kleinbaum, who leads Manhattan’s LGBTQ-friendly synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, is tasked with recommending international policy changes to the Biden Administration, the secretary of state and Congress. She will also monitor global religious freedom issues and compile these findings into the commission’s annual report.
She first served in the same role when she was appointed in 2019 by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
In August, Biden appointed two out advocates to help provide employment for people with disabilities. Of the four appointees to the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, two are LGBTQ+.
Gabe Cazares, who is gay, currently serves as the director of the Houston Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Chai R. Feldblum, a longtime lesbian activist, was a commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 2009 to 2018. She was the first-ever out EEOC commissioner when President Obama nominated her in 2009.
Both will serve five-year terms on AbilityOne, which is “one of the nation’s largest sources of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities,” according to the White House.
Also last month, Biden nominated openly gay philanthropist Scott Miller to be the next ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Miller and his husband, Tim Gill, are among the most prominent donors to pro-LGBTQ+ causes. In fact, Gill is the namesake of the Gill Foundation, which has given over $500 million to such causes as of 2019. Miller is co-chair of the Gill Foundation’s board of directors.
Biden also nominated openly gay Todd Hopper, an expert in financial services policy, as the chair of the National Credit Union Administration.
Among a slew of judicial nominations made last month is Beth Robinson. Currently a justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, Biden nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which includes New York, Connecticut and Vermont). If confirmed, she would become the first openly LGBTQ+ woman to serve on a federal appellate court.
Before being named to Vermont’s highest court, Robinson played a leading role as an attorney in the fight for equal marriage rights in her state. She subsequently served as legal counsel to then-Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, who ultimately appointed her the state’s high court.
Robinson was recommended to Biden by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. In a written statement, Leahy called her “a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mold of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
On a lighter note, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten announced on September 4 that they were now parents of two newborns. Buttigieg is now the first openly gay cabinet secretary to become a parent while in office.
Buttigieg made the announcement on social media, posting a photo of the couple and their two children, adding, “We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family.”
by Irene Chriss and Betsy Ettorre
Attention LGBTQ+ voters: California’s gubernatorial recall election is not just about California! Here are some answers to some very important questions.
Can this recall negatively impact the California LGBTA+ population? YES
The recall’s leading supporters are the same national Republicans who fought to overturn the presidential election and to undermine the right to vote across the country. Spending $100 million on this recall diverts financial support from the Equality Act, LGBTQ+ programs, fighting COVID-19, and those suffering from the devastating fires destroying forests, towns and lives.
Can this recall negatively impact other states’ LGBTQ+ populations? YES
You’ve already seen the attempted coup on January 6 as radicals gather strength and visibility. Replacing Gov. Gavin Newsom with a Trump-minded Republican will help empower the other 19 gubernatorial recall states to follow suit. If you vote in one of the 20 states with a gubernatorial recall election process, California’s recall also affects you! That includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
How can California Democrats Abroad voters help?
√ Vote NO on Question #1.
√ Leave Question #2 Blank. Even if you answer one question and not the other, your ballot will still be counted.
Question #2 has 45 candidates opposing Newsom. If Newsom is recalled, one of these mostly unknown candidates with the most votes can win. It is possible that less than 25 percent of the votes can elect a Republican governor!
One candidate is Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender reality TV star and former Olympian. Being transgender might suggest we’d have an advocate to advance the LGBTQ+ civil rights agenda. You’d be wrong! She has no relevant experience and little knowledge of how the state works. Los Angeles public records show that for the past 20 years, Jenner only voted nine times out of the last 26 California elections! Reaction from the transgender community is clear. "We are horrified," said Suzanne Ford, a trans woman and San Francisco Pride board member. "Make no mistake: we can't wait to elect a trans governor of California," tweeted Equality California, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. But when it comes to Caitlyn Jenner? The group said, "Hard pass."
Being transgender is not the same as being an effective political representative of our community. Recently, Jenner stated one of her priorities would be to refund building “the wall,” and she has refused to definitively answer whether or not Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency. We deserve better than her as our representative.
√ Submit your ballot:
If you are currently in California, vote in person or use a drop box anytime between September 4 and September 14.
If you live outside the United States, mail in your vote electronically no later than September 14. (Go to https://www.votefromabroad.org/elections/CA to vote.)
√ Urge your friends and neighbors to get involved. Go to DA’s page link on the California recall.
What do you stand to lose?
Gov. Newsom has been a champion of LGBTQ+ equality for decades. He put his career on the line by supporting marriage equality ahead of other major American politicians. California has some of the soundest pro-LGBTQ+ laws in the country. This is all at risk if a Republican governor, let alone a Trump Republican, wins the September 14 recall.
As governor, Newsom has signed into law legislation strengthening the protections for LGBTQ+ and all Californians by requiring health care workers and state employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. He initiated a $100 billion California Comeback Plan — the largest economic package in state history to fight homelessness, help struggling families during the pandemic and pay for all of the state’s four-year-olds to attend kindergarten for free.
These achievements, as well as the following may be at risk if he is recalled:
- Prohibiting insurance discrimination against HIV-positive individuals.
- Ending discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ+ young adults faced with registering as sex offenders.
- Ensuring HIV-positive seniors are included in the definition of "greatest social need."
- Collection/reporting of sexual orientation/gender identity data to track the effects of COVID-19 on the community.
Why is this happening?
People feel helpless, fearful and angry as they deal with the pandemic and their grief. They feel confused and pressured by often conflicting stay-at-home orders, mandatory mask-wearing, business closures, job and income losses, shuttered schools, high taxes, increased food and gas prices, water rationing, wildfires, droughts and climate change.
These global events are also occurring on Newsom’s watch. Add to that his self-inflicted wound of being seen unmasked and socializing in a chic restaurant while telling residents to stay at home. This has only reinforced peoples’ overall anger.
If you are a Californian, you may remember the 2003 electricity crisis and increased car registration fees which prompted a successful recall of Gov. Gray Davis and made Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger California’s governor. Schwarzenegger cut HIV budgets back 20 years. To this day, we have not recovered from this.
Unseating Gov. Newsom could energize other states who wish to block LGBTQ+ civil rights, as well as the civil rights of many Americans. We risk losing the majority in the U.S. Senate if a seat opens and a Republican governor makes an appointment that jeopardizes President Joe Biden's agenda.
California Democrats have a 2-1 advantage in registered voters, and a clear majority of these Californians oppose the recall. Democrats assume Newsom will win and, according to NBC News, they are telling pollsters they are less likely to “bother” voting, while Republicans are saying they are more motivated to vote. We can’t permit the United States to be put back in the hands of Trump supporters or far-right extremists.
California Democrats can't afford to be complacent or apathetic in this election. So please, vote on September 14.