State Department Responds to Ugandan “Kill the Gays” Bill
On Saturday, following a meeting with a bunch of fellow activists the evening before with Ugandan Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, his wife Mary and Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, President of St. Paulâ€™s Foundation for International Reconciliation, we implored our network of friends, activists etc. to write a letter to Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State, Johnnie Carson to speak out loudly and publicly to Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, head of state and head of the Ugandan government, to strongly encourage him to permanently shelve the â€œKill the Gaysâ€ legislation.
Ugandaâ€™s Anti-Homosexuality bill, a draconian piece of legislation that further criminalizes homosexuality by imposing the death penalty on anyone previously convicted of homosexuality, is HIV-positive or engages in sexual acts with people of the same sex, is to be considered by Ugandan Parliament on September 7, 2011.
I would really like to thank everyone who took theÂ time and effortÂ to spread the word and/or contact Secretary Carson. Our urgent drive to ensure a response to our request and provoke action by the State Department. Secretary Carson received copies of the letter from not only the United States, but Britain, Serbia, Sweden,Â SouthÂ Africa and Uganda to name a few. Indeed a veryÂ clearly targeted,Â global effort that produced results.
The following is the State Departmentâ€™s strong, unambiguous, and important response to our request:
Thank you for your email expressing your concern about an anti-homosexual bill that may be introduced shortly in the Ugandan parliament. We too are concerned about the passage of any legislation in Uganda (or anywhere else in Sub- Saharan Africa) that would criminalize or punish homosexual activities between consenting adults.
We believe that gay and lesbian citizens should enjoy the same rights and individual freedoms as other citizens. The Department of State has spoken out clearly and repeatedly against this type of discriminatory legislation in Uganda, and we will continue to do so.
In this regard, I have spoken to the most senior officials in the Ugandan government about this issue, and stand ready to add my voice as required in the future. Our ambassador and embassy in Kampala will continue to monitor any anti-gay and lesbian legislation and we will speak out forcefully to prevent its passage.
I will pass your letter to our ambassador in Kampala, who may provide you with more information on this specific bill. Thank you again for your interest and your concern about this issue.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-â€‹known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoyâ€‹.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, â€œa nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.â€ Feinâ€™s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newmanâ€™s Own First Amendment Award.
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SCOTUS ‘Surprise’ Voting Rights Decision Could – and Did – Have Big Implications for Democrats, Legal Experts Say
It’s being called a “surprise decision,” a “landmark win,” and a “a major victory for the Voting Rights Act (VRA),” but some legal experts are warning that heralding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thursday decision as anything except upholding the status quo is a mistake, and other experts suggest it means the Court’s earlier rulings wrongly threw control of the House of Representatives to Republicans. Some experts say a Democratic-majority House in 2024 is now more likely.
In short, in its 5-4 decision in Allen v. Milligan, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Alabama discriminated against Black voters, which make up a quarter of its population, by drawing congressional maps to exclude them.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who writes about law and the courts, exclaimed, “WHOA!” as he explained: “The Supreme Court’s final decision of the day is a 5–4 ruling that AFFIRMS the Voting Rights Act’s protection against racial vote dilution! Roberts and Kavanaugh join the liberals. This is a HUGE surprise and a major voting rights victory.”
Democracy Docket, the website founded by Marc Elias, the voting rights attorney who won 63 of the 64 court cases Donald Trump and his allies filed to contest the 2020 presidential election, also served up a similar response on social media, calling it “a massive victory for voting rights.”
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On its website, Democracy Docket calls it “an overwhelming win for Alabamians, specifically Black voters, whose voting power was found to be diluted under the current congressional map. Importantly, the conservative Supreme Court did not make the drastic decision to strike down Section 2 of the VRA, leaving an important tool in voting rights litigation in place.”
It adds the Supreme Court’s decision in Allen v. Milligan “leaves Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) intact and, in a landmark win for voters, struck down the state’s congressional map. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, is joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson and joined in part by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.”
Democracy Docket also notes the decision “will have major positive implications for outstanding redistricting lawsuits.”
Stern agrees, writing: “It’s a boon to Democrats’ chances of retaking the House in 2024. The Supreme Court had blocked multiple lower court rulings striking down congressional maps that diluted Black voting power. At least some of those rulings should now be implemented.”
Democracy Docket adds: “The Court’s decision in Allen likely means that litigation challenging Louisiana’s congressional map can move forward and paves the way for a favorable outcome for Louisiana voters. Louisiana’s situation directly mirrors Alabama’s. In both states, voting rights advocates argued that a second majority-Black congressional district is needed to ensure compliance with the VRA. The Supreme Court paused Louisiana’s litigation pending a decision in Allen.”
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Dave Wasserman, U.S. House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report calls the decision “a major surprise,” and says: “This could reverberate to LA, SC and/or GA, forcing creation of 2-4 new Black majority districts and netting Dems 2-4 seats” in the House.
Wasserman, known for his keen knowledge of congressional districts and iconic “I’ve seen enough” early and accurate predictions of House election races, offered this view of how the Court’s decision could impact current districts:
“The Alabama Republicans in most jeopardy owing to the SCOTUS ruling: Reps. Jerry Carl (R) #AL01, Barry Moore (R) #AL02 and Mike Rogers (R) #AL03. Moore could be squeezed the most in any map reconfigured to feature a second Black majority seat.”
University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck, author of a book on the Supreme Court, “The Shadow Docket,” offers up a stinging reminder of how the Court has damaged voting rights and helped Republicans in the process:
“If you assume that additional majority-minority districts in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, & 1–2 other states would’ve been safe Democratic seats, then today’s #SCOTUS ruling strongly suggests that the Court’s 2022 shadow docket stays [decisions/rulings] wrongly gave Republicans control of the House.”
Professor of law Anthony Michael Kreis, pointing to Vladeck’s remarks, adds: “there’s a House majority built on discriminatory lawlessness.”
Also taking note of Thursday’s SCOTUS ruling: House Democrats. Axios’ Andrew Solender reports House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ office is “inviting Dem[ocratic] congressional staff to a Friday briefing on recent Supreme Court cases, including the Alabama congressional map case.”
Meanwhile, the well-known NYU professor of law, Melissa Murray, is stepping in to properly frame reactions to what she sees as the Court’s “weak sauce” decision on the Voting Rights Act.
“Some initial thoughts on Allen v. Milligan,” she writes on Twitter. “Media is trumpeting this as a ‘victory’ for the Voting Rights Act. And it is. And I don’t want to be a turd in the punchbowl… but this is pretty weak sauce from this Court.”
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Professor Murray says, “this doesn’t ‘strengthen’ the VRA. It preserves the status quo. And the status quo is that this Court has done an A+ job of hobbling the VRA over the last 10 years.”
Murray offers up some quick historical background.
“In 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder, it eviscerated the preclearance formula. The preclearance regime required states with a history of voting discrimination to first ‘preclear’ any changes to their voting rules and regs with the DOJ or a three-judge federal court panel.”
“The Court invalidated the preclearance formula on the ground that progress had been made and minorities were voting and blah blah blah,” she notes. “This progress narrative prompted RBG [the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] to note in dissent that throwing out the preclearance formula was like throwing out your umbrella in a rainstorm because you weren’t getting wet. She was right.”
Murray also refers to a number of other cases along the way that weakened voting rights.
“So, yes,” she concludes, “today’s decision is a victory that maintains the status quo for Section 2 of the VRA. But it is cold comfort when one considers the way this Court through its decisions has actively distorted the electoral landscape and made true representative government more elusive.”
The Economist’s Supreme Court reporter Steven Mazie, calls Prof. Murray’s remarks, “Crucial zoomed-out context for today’s Voting Rights Act ruling. The 5-4 is a surprise, and it’s a victory—but after a long string of losses, today’s win amounts to…not losing YET MORE voting protections for people of color.”
The Nation’s justice correspondent, Elie Mystal, offers a bit of a more compact and down-to-earth response: “A way to understand what just happened with Roberts and Kav[anaugh] in the Voting Rights Case is that it’s not going to change much in terms of Alabama’s racist maps. This cost them little,” he says. “The *victory* is that these fools could have straight killed Section 2 of the VRA, but didn’t.”
'DISTURBING SURGE IN VIOLENT THREATS'
Biden Launches Major Initiative to Protect LGBTQ Community Ahead of Massive White House Pride Celebration
The Biden administration is launching a three-pronged plan to protect members of the LGBTQI+ community, including protecting their safety and civil rights, supporting LGBTQI+ children, and protecting students from book bans.
“Over a dozen states have enacted anti-LGBTQI+ laws that violate our most basic values and freedoms as Americans, and are cruel and callous to our kids, our neighbors, and those in our community,” the White House said in a statement Thursday. “The Biden-Harris administration stands with the LGBTQI+ community and has their backs in the face of these attacks.”
The initiative will be announced during President Joe Biden’s Thursday evening Pride event, which Reuters reports will be “the largest White House Pride Month celebration in history.” In a “a deliberate contrast to a cascade of Republican legislation and other attacks targeting LGBTQ+ people,” President Biden will host “thousands” on the White House South Lawn.
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“This year we’re seeing a disturbing surge in violent threats against LGBTQ community organizations,” Biden White House domestic policy advisor Neera Tanden told reporters. “In too many parts of our country, LGBTQ Americans are being targeted for who they are, and that, simply put, is discrimination.”
President Biden has directed three federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to “launch the LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership. The Partnership will work hand-in-hand with LGBTQI+ community organizations to provide critical safety resources to ensure these organizations can remain safe spaces for the community,” the White House says. “In acknowledgement of the mistreatment that LGBTQI+ communities have often faced in interactions with law enforcement, the Partnership will also work to build trust between LGBTQI+ organizations and federal law enforcement agencies.”
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Kristen Clarke, will chair regular meetings with the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s LGBTQI+ Working Group, focused on “issues related to discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community.”
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services on Thursday will “issue a Behavioral Health Care Advisory on Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth to provide evidence-based practices for mental health providers. HHS will also issue a guidance to states and communities on using federal funding to support mental health services for LGBTQI+ youth.”
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The administration points to the disproportionately large number of LGBTQI+ youth in the child welfare system, and notes that “far too often” they “experience trauma, including being exposed to so-called ‘conversion therapy,'” which Biden has spoken out against before. HHS says it “will issue a Behavioral Health Care Advisory on Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth to provide evidence-based practices for mental health providers. HHS will also issue a guidance to states and communities on using federal funding to support mental health services for LGBTQI+ youth.”
The White House also says it is working to “Shield LGBTQI+ kids and families from discrimination,” and “Address LGBTQI+ youth homelessness.” It also points to its efforts on “Protecting Americans from book banning,” and “Uplifting LGBTQI+ communities.”
In December, President Biden signed a law protecting same-sex and interracial marriages.
You can watch the video above or at this link, and read the entire White House announcement on its website.
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House Freedom Caucus Republican: Trump Is Spinning Out of Control
A right-wing GOP lawmaker who has backed Donald Trump through both of his impeachments is sounding the alarm that the former president is becoming increasingly erratic which could put the 2024 general election at risk for his party.
According to a report from Politico, the closer Donald Trump gets to becoming the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee the more some GOP lawmakers are growing worried that not only will they lose their shot at taking back the White House, but he’ll take down-ticket GOP candidates down with him.
The report also notes that the battle between Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis is starting to turn off conservative voters and some are hoping that an alternative will rise from the squabble.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was blunt about the GOP’s prospects as they stand today, telling reporters, “I’m worried about it,” and expressed fears that Trump will keep independent voters at a distance.
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With a wide array of candidates having just appeared over the past weekend in Iowa, Rep. Zach Nunn (R-IA) claimed the infighting is turning voters — even Republicans — off.
“We’ll see if the two titans punching each other fires up the base, or if six months from now people are tired of both and ready for a third way,” Nunn explained before making tha blunt observation, “When you talk to Iowans, s–t-talking other candidates will not get you success. We don’t necessarily pick the winner, but we’re pretty good at smelling bulls–t.”
Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie (R), who has sided with DeSantis, is very worried about the possibility of Trump at the top of the ticket.
“I wish Trump were on Twitter. He’s in an echo chamber right now. And people don’t know how far he’s spun out from where he was,” he said in an interview. “The more visibility that we can help Trump get — when he attacks [his former White House press secretary] Kayleigh McEnany, for instance — the better.”
You can read more here.
Image via Shutterstock
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