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Trump’s voter-data collection efforts could be disastrous for LGBT voters

LGBT people are still haunted by archaic, criminalizing laws

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Alex Padilla is the Secretary of State for California. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was among the first secretaries of state in the country to refuse to comply with the Trump administration’s demand to turn over voter data to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach, was created by President Trump after he narrowly won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton because, he claims, “between 3 million and 5 million” votes were cast illegally—an assertion for which Trump provided no evidence and which has been repeatedly discredited.

In a June 28 letter sent to the nation’s secretaries of states, Kobach asked for voter roll data, “including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”

So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia say they are unwilling or unable to provide all the information requested by the Voter Fraud commission.

But even the release of publicly available information could be disastrous and terrifying for LGBT voters. Would name-change requests by transgender voters be considered voter fraud by biased, over-eager commission staffers? Would uncorrected dishonorable discharges under the gay military ban and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell result in an LGBT voter being deemed unworthy to vote and be scrubbed from the rolls? Anti-gay sodomy laws were overturned in Texas and 14 other states under Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, but some states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books. Additionally, now-archaic anti-gay laws were often handled by biased prosecutors as felonious sex offenses that landed the accused on the sex offender registry, a lifelong stain.

In many states, a person convicted of a felony is prohibited from voting.

Even California has some cleaning up to do: being HIV positive and having unprotected sex without telling your partner your status is still a felony in California, despite taking medications and having an undetectable viral load. And there are still gay men on the sex offender registry convicted of felonies when homosexuality was a crime. Two bills to correct these issues by out state Sen. Scott Wiener and Equality California passed the Senate and are making their way through the Assembly.

One of the reasons cited by Padilla as part of his principled stance against the commission’s request is the susceptibility of the massive data collection to hackers, not just Russian or Chinese but scam artists and blackmailers, the fear of which could result in suppression LGBT voters from registering and turning out to vote.

In response to a recent Trump tweet complaining about states balking—“What are they trying to hide?”—Padilla was forceful.

“I’m not trying to hide – I’m trying to protect,” Padilla, the co-chair of the national secretaries of state’ elections committee, which is meeting in Indianapolis on Thursday, told POLITICO on Wednesday.  ‘I’m trying to protect people’s privacy and their personal information, and the integrity of the election,” he said, calling the request “a hacker’s dream come true.”

“One of the main points of why we’re safe now is because the elections are very decentralized. Right now, there is no nationalized centralized voter registration database,” Padilla told Politico. The administration’s request makes clear that what it is proposing is “not a secure site … and their plan was to make all the information publicly available.”

“So at a minimum, it’s a gift to anyone who wants to wreak havoc on the elections,” Padilla said. “If you want to do Vladimir Putin a favor, put it all in one location.”

In addition to his ‘Just Say No’ posture toward the Trump administration’s voter suppression efforts, Padilla has been touting his plans to enhance voter participation, especially approaching the incredibly important 2018 mid-term elections. But, the Los Angeles Blade asked Padilla at a recent Stonewall Democratic Club meeting in West Hollywood, how could any voter trust the voting process these days, with both left and right claiming the “system is rigged?”

“I’m hopeful and optimistic,” Padilla told the Blade. “If you recall, it was as early as last year, August, when Donald Trump started stoking the fears of the potential for the election to be rigged. And we didn’t know who he was referring to—he probably had inside information.

“But we had record turnout in California, record voter registration and record turnout so that attempt didn’t work,” Padilla said. “But as time goes on, as he continues and others continue to allege that there’s voter fraud, massive voter fraud, millions of illegal votes, my big concern is two fold: that it gets into people minds that maybe it won’t matter so why should I turn out the next time. That’s voter suppression 101. Number two—that in future elections, they’re creating an environment for elections for both Congress and the president where they can roll back the clock on voters rights, as I see it—change the law, change policies, change how we conduct elections that has the net effects of making it more difficult for people who are eligible to register and to vote. And that, frankly, is just un-American, un-democratic.”

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Maryland

A year after Safe Harbor in Maryland, TurnAround & sex trafficking

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be

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The staff at TurnAround Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of TurnAround Inc.)

By CJ Higgins | BALTIMORE, Md. -In 2023, the law in Maryland dictated the following: If a child was discovered to be sex trafficked during a sting operation, they were to be arrested, handcuffed, and then incarcerated as a “child prostitute.” One survivor testified to Maryland lawmakers that after being trafficked throughout College Park from ages 12 to 15, it was their ‘rescue’ by law enforcement that was the most traumatizing part of their experience.

In 40 states and in federal law, the sex trafficking of minors was already understood to be a crime committed against children, and not a crime committed by children. When Gov. Wes Moore signed the Safe Harbor law on May 16th of last year, prohibiting the criminal prosecution of sex-trafficked minors, he brought Maryland out of a legal dark age.

How do things look in Maryland a year later? The Washington Blade got in touch with TurnAround Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, to find out. TurnAround is Maryland’s first provider of comprehensive services to survivors of sexual trafficking, Baltimore’s rape crisis center, and a support center for victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Perhaps the most striking thing about TurnAround is how large of an operation it is — how large of an operation it needs to be. The organization fielded more than 10,000 calls on their hotline in 2022, conducted almost 4,000 counseling sessions, and placed 337 clients in safe shelter: nearly one for every day of the year. But the staff at TurnAround is relieved to see these numbers so high. During the pandemic, there was a steep decrease in reports of sex trafficking. 

“[COVID] had a very chilling effect on the number of trafficking survivors that were getting access to services,” said Amanda Rodriguez, executive director of TurnAround. Many of the avenues through which cases were referred to TurnAround simply shut down. The hospitals were inundated with COVID cases, and so weren’t referring anyone; the schools were closed down, and so weren’t referring anyone; and State Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting low-level crimes, which had the unintended consequence of limiting the opportunities law enforcement had to identify youth at risk of trafficking.

In 2020, TurnAround moved into a new office in downtown Baltimore, and it is cavernous — half the floor of a skyscraper. When you walk in, you could mistake the headquarters for a dentist’s office for how calmly the front desk attendant answers the phone. A few lines here and there give away the seriousness of their work: “Is it OK for us to leave a voicemail?” Not every caller’s phone is a safe place.

The office is flanked by a hallway of therapists on one side of the building, who focus on the inner lives of their clients, and a hallway of advocates on the other side, who focus on their outer lives: support in court, government benefits, direct outreach on the streets of Baltimore. At the center are a host of services one would think spread across the whole of the city: a computer center, a clothing donation center, storage for the goods and products needed to survive while in shelter, a kitchen for group meals, and a place to wash and dry your clothes. But the most sobering part of the office is the play center full of toys, for the children that TurnAround serves. “We have clients as young as three years old,” said Jean Henningsen, senior director of strategic initiatives. Some of these children come in as the dependents of adult survivors, but they are sometimes the victims of sexual violence themselves.

“When we were creating Safe Harbor, we looked to see how many kids had been arrested and charged by law enforcement in every county in the state,” Amanda said. “Baltimore City had the highest number at the time. This has changed since then, and is actually getting much better.” The majority of these trafficked kids were trans girls living in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore — a situation that would surprise many Baltimore residents. Charles Village has a reputation for being one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. It is the neighborhood of Johns Hopkins University, which has, in an effort to assuage the concerned parents of its undergraduates, stationed security officers on many of the surrounding street corners. Despite criticism, the university recently partnered with the Baltimore Police Department to create its own police force, and has started recruiting and training officers as of this spring.

“It’s historically been a safer neighborhood for the LGBTQ community in general,” Amanda said. “I don’t know what spurred more nefarious individuals coming in and exploiting people, other than opportunity. Traffickers are just such master manipulators. They will figure out for anybody what their vulnerability is.” But these nefarious individuals are not part of some transnational crime organization. They are sometimes trans women themselves, trafficking these girls to serve their own needs in the home. Often rejected by their families and in search of community,  trans girls find this community among other trans women, and then get manipulated into sexual service.

The procedure for dealing with suspected child sex trafficking in Maryland begins with what are called “Regional Navigators,” a role established by the Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019. Law enforcement agents and local departments of Social Services will notify the county’s Regional Navigator of a suspected trafficking case, and then this Regional Navigator will put together a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. The MDT consists of all agents and departments that are involved in or have some stake in the case, including Child Protective Services, Juvenile Services, law enforcement, therapists, and schools. These stakeholders will compare notes on what the youth has told them, since they will often have provided different agents and departments with competing descriptions of what’s going on. 

While the MDT procedure is highly effective for inter-departmental coordination on a given case, Stephanie Gonzalez, the Acting Regional Navigator for Howard County, explained that the system has some way to go when it comes to LGBTQ youth. “When we get referrals in general, a lot of times, it’s not mentioned how they identify,” she said. As a consequence, their data on how many LGBTQ youth are being trafficked isn’t always accurate, and these youth sometimes aren’t being handled in ways consonant with their sexual or gender identity. And even when these youth are appropriately identified, they aren’t always able to access the appropriate resources.

“We had a transgender female come to us from another state, and she had been trafficked,” Stephanie said. “We had her in a hotel while we looked for other housing options. We could not find trans-friendly housing options.” The women’s shelters they approached didn’t have the requisite training or resources. They would ask insensitive and irrelevant questions about any surgeries the girl had undergone as part of her transition, or require that she be isolated from other women for their safety. “Why are they trying to make it seem like I’m going to hurt someone,” she would ask.

But that situation is changing. TurnAround has partnered with the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County to open up a safe house with the resources needed to support any child survivor of sex trafficking. “It’s built!” Jean said. “TurnAround will be staffing it and running it 24/7. Right now there are no children in the facility. We’re still waiting on the final licensing paperwork from the state.”

The project is expensive, with an estimated running cost of $1.5 million each year. TurnAround has partnered with Femi Ayanbadejo, a former Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens, to help coordinate fundraising. Ayanbadejo advocates for TurnAround with a deep enthusiasm—hearing him talk on the work they do, it could easily be a field-side interview in the final quarter of a game. “If we can reach five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty thousand people that we wouldn’t have with [the Blade’s] reach, maybe there’s one or two foundations that would give five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, maybe a million dollars. Who knows?”

To learn more about TurnAround’s work, visit their website at turnaroundinc.org. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, TurnAround has offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County. All three offices can be reached via 410-377-8111.

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CJ Higgins by Sam Jeong

CJ Higgins is a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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Arizona

Trying to avoid LGBTQ+ issues, schools denying basic sex-ed

Superintendents pointed to anti-LGBTQ+ culture wars and fear of repercussions as reasons why kids are not being taught sex-ed

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Los Angeles Blade/NJ Gov. file photo

By Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT | PHOENIX, Ariz. – A LOOKOUT investigation shows that tens of thousands of youth attending the state’s public schools are not receiving nationally recommended sexual education studies, specifically in regards to gender, sexuality, and consent. Educators have used the heated politics around LGBTQ+ issues as an excuse for denying students the curriculum.

Out of 18 public school districts across Arizona in rural, suburban, and urban areas that LOOKOUT analyzed, eight districts—representing at least 37,000 school-aged children in suburban and rural parts of the state—responded and said they do not offer any kind of sex education, currently.

Those districts are: Duncan, Heber-Overgaard, Gila Bend, Ganado, Parker, Nogales, Kingman and Scottsdale.

The number of students not receiving proper sex education illustrates the effect of how schools are grappling with the politics of the time, and failing to give youth lessons about their bodies and prevent disease.

But even in urban areas where sex education is offered, such as parts of Maricopa and Pima counties, instead of offering the courses themselves, schools have turned to third-party groups to provide the education. But advocates and experts interviewed said that discussions have been limited because of both state regulations and school districts’ fears of finding themselves the focus of far-right critics who have provoked harassment of employees at school board meetings or on school grounds.

As a result, queer students—which some estimates list Arizona’s LGBTQ+ youth population at 44,000, including as many as 20,000 trans and nonbinary people under 24 years old in the state—are most at risk.

“Arizona sex education needs to change because sexual health disparities are pretty grave in our state,” said Courtney Waters, an assistant research professor at the University of Arizona. “Sexual health outcomes are bad across the state for youth, but we see it specifically among LGBTQ+ youth.”

What we found

There are 261 school districts in Arizona, ranging from the most populous, Mesa Public Schools, to the Young Public School District that serves roughly 50 students a year.

Districts that choose to teach sexual education have to go through a bureaucratic process that involves district meetings, public forums, parental guidance, and administrative oversight. LOOKOUT reported this year that those processes are marred with confusion and allows districts to forgo teaching sex education if they believe the “community interest” doesn’t align.

The result is tens of thousands of students who aren’t educated on preventative sexual health tools while HIV, syphilis, and unintended pregnancy rates locally continue to rise above the national average. LGBTQ+ students, specifically, are also more at risk of unintended pregnancySTI transmission, and domestic abuse.

Of the schools LOOKOUT found that teach sex education, not all of them offer inclusive or comprehensive sexual health studies. Instead, they only focus on puberty and body changes, along with STI education without a focus on prevention or treatment.

Educational and youth organizations that focus on LGBTQ+ students have pointed to the state’s repeal of its “No Promo Homo” law, which catapulted a local conservative movement to restrict how students could learn about sexual health.

Arizona’s law—which was similar to Florida’s current law that advocates refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—was repealed with bipartisan support in 2019. But far-right lawmakers and lobbying groups successfully pushed for stricter scrutiny of what could be taught in schools in regards to sexual material, including in biology and health classes.

Nate Rhoton, CEO of the LGBTQ+ youth advocacy nonprofit One∙n∙Ten, said that since the law’s repeal school districts haven’t been equipped to handle what he called “the storm or frenzy” from “‘concerned parents’ about teaching affirming and inclusive sexual health education.”

As a result, he said, school districts have “walked away” from providing classes.

In an example, Parker Unified School District, which is located just south of Lake Havasu City, decided not to offer sex education in the past because they didn’t have a certified health teacher to lead the class.

“Instead of trusting that information to a substitute teacher just off the street, we did not do it,” according to Superintendent Brad Sale.

By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students. – Nate Rhoton, CEO of One∙n∙Ten

But more recently, conservative arguments around gender, sex, and LGBTQ+ youth have chilled any movement on offering a curriculum, Sale said: “That was several years ago, and because of the political climate with that, we as a district have decided not to offer it.”

Southern Arizona sex educator Hannah Woelke explained that this is a common refrain: “Everyone knows it’s a problem. Parents know, teachers know,” Woelke said. “But nobody has the stomach to really do anything about it because it’s such a fight.”

An Arizona problem

Maricopa County has a higher incidence rate of sexually transmitted infections compared to the nation by more than 30%, according to the Arizona Department of Healthcare Service’s online data portal.

And younger people in the region are most at risk. Data from the portal showed STI cases are most common for Arizona women aged 15-24 (including trans women) and men aged 20-29 (including trans men).

The same pattern appears in rural areas such as Navajo County, where LOOKOUT identified at least one school district without a sex education curriculum. Residents there had a 37.6% higher STI rate than the state average. Most new STI cases among residents were those aged 15-24, according to the state health department.

People living there also experience a 65% higher rate of unintended pregnancies among youth than the national average, according to research from Making Action Possible by the University of Arizona.

Arizona also has the sixth highest rates of contracting syphilis in the country according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2022 breakdown.

Public health experts interviewed said that many of the problems the state faces with youth and sexually transmitted disease as well as unintended pregnancies could be solved in part by proper education in schools. But since the state pushes those decisions to local school districts, they said, the end result is a patchwork of classes and curriculum that is determined by the social politics of an area.

In a state report, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States said that Arizona’s “local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive.”

SIECUS said that Arizona’s policy of ceding sex education from the state also “allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ youth.”

Rural school districts such as in Duncan and Parker and larger districts in Scottsdale and Nogales have gone since at least 2015 without letting students and families opt in to sex education.

Superintendents listed reasons such as lack of interest from the community in offering sex ed, but went on to list secondary reasons such as navigating the changing laws and the desire to avoid additional stress to teachers’ workload amid a teaching shortage and pressure to shut down discussions on gender and sexuality.

And in the process of avoiding LGBTQ+ topics, the result is all students being left behind, Rhoton with One∙n∙Ten said: “By simply ignoring our community through education, you’re doing a lot more harm to all students.”

Who’s helping?

In metropolitan areas, there are organizations that try to fill gaps in the state’s health education.

In the Phoenix area, One∙n∙Ten offers monthly sexual health classes for LGBTQ+ youth and their families called “SexFYI.” The program divides people up between older teens and young adults between 18 and 24 years old to discuss consent, gender identity, internet safety, and building healthy relationships.

SexFYI is run in partnership with Affirm—formerly Arizona Family Health Partnership—and the Maricopa County Health Department. It’s only offered outside of schools.

In Pima and Maricopa counties, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women collaborates with Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and El Rio Health to offer a program called “Spectrum+.” The program’s website claims it offers “culturally-driven comprehensive sexuality education,” including topics on HIV, hepatitis C, substance use, and LGBTQ+ care.

Those programs are also offered outside of schools.

SIROW Assistant Research Professor Courtney Waters explained that these programs often exist outside of a school setting because, “there’s a lot of rules at the public schools about having sex education. The legislation is rather unclear and there’s just a lot of fear around what they can and can’t do.”

“Education is such a key piece of reducing those disparities and our state has had really conservative rules around sex ed for decades and it doesn’t really seem to be serving anyone,” Waters said. “We see much better outcomes in other states that have more inclusive and comprehensive sex ed.”

SIROW receives $500,000 annually for five years from a federal grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They work alongside groups such as the Family Pride Initiative, which also received a $425,000 federal grant from the same agency to offer counseling to queer youth, education on LGBTQ+ health, and train caregivers outside of schools.

Within schools, though, Arizona Youth Partnership has provided sex and relationship education in the state for three decades. Last year over 3,000 students participated in two of their programs aimed at healthy relationships or sexual violence.

But just because those programs exist inside school districts does not necessarily mean that youth are given the best tools for understanding their bodies, especially LGBTQ+ students.

Development and Communications Director at Arizona Youth Project Jetzabel Ramos said that getting schools to partner with them has been made more difficult after the pandemic and with the rise of the parental rights movement.

And Division Director Sara Sherman said state regulations bar them from discussing same-sex relationships in the classroom or answering questions about same-sex relationships if they arise: “We can tell them to go to a trusted adult, but not all students have a trusted adult in their life.”

These restrictions, sources said, have raised concerns that in the absence of evidence-based, medically accurate, inclusive sex education children have turned to the internet for information.

Sherman said she has seen this play out in the classroom, “When we read these questions that we’re getting from students, it’s shocking the misinformation that they’re getting from the digital space.”

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Shelby Rae Wills/LOOKOUT

Shelby Rae Wills moved to Phoenix in 2022 to pursue their Master’s degree in Investigative Journalism. They taught English in California and in Eastern Europe through the Peace Corps.

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This article was originally published by LOOKOUT, a nonprofit queer-focused news organization covering Arizona’s LGBTQ+ communities. Sign up for their free newsletter. Republished from the Arizona Mirror with permission.

The Arizona Mirror is amplifying the voices of Arizonans whose stories are unheard; shining a light on the relationships between people, power and policy; and holding public officials to account.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

NH federal court strikes down ‘banned concepts’ curriculum law

The “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it’s too vague for them to follow the judge ruled

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The Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Ken Gallager)

By Ethan DeWitt | CONCORD, N.H. – Patrick Keefe says he just wanted to teach Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

The high school English teacher has long included the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery in his curriculum at Litchfield’s Campbell High School. And in the past, he had questioned students about whether Morrison’s themes about the legacy of slavery applied to the present.

But after a state law passed in 2021 that regulated how teachers may talk about race and other concepts to students, Keefe became more cautious, he testified in a deposition last year. Any student-led discussion about structural racism might lead to a complaint under the new law, and might cause Keefe to lose his teaching license, he feared.

On Tuesday, a federal judge cited Keefe and other teachers’ examples in an order striking down the law, siding with teachers unions and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and ruling that the law is unconstitutionally vague. 

In his decision, Judge Paul Barbadoro held that the law, known by opponents as the “divisive concepts” or “banned concepts” law, violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights because it is too vague for them to follow. 

“The Amendments are viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that do not provide either fair warning to educators of what they prohibit or sufficient standards for law enforcement to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” Barbadoro wrote, referring to the statutory changes passed by the law. 

The law prohibits K-12 public school staff from any instruction that advocates for four concepts: that a person of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic is inherently “superior” to another; that any individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive against another for any characteristic; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment for any characteristic; and that people of one characteristic “cannot and should not attempt to treat others without regard to” one of their characteristics.

The characteristics covered by the law are a person’s “age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.” 

The law, which was in part modeled after an executive order by President Donald Trump that applied to federal employees and was repealed by President Joe Biden, was presented by Republican lawmakers as an anti-discrimination statute meant to ensure that all students were treated equally. It came as Republican lawmakers raised concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts implemented in public schools, and argued that teachers were espousing “critical race theory” in classrooms.

The law allowed parents to bring complaints to the state’s Commission for Human Rights against teachers and school staff who they believed violated the new anti-discrimination statute. And it gave the State Board of Education the power to revoke educators’ teaching licenses if they were found by the commission to be in violation. 

But teachers unions and others raised concerns that the prohibited concepts were too unclear to follow and would result in educators self-censoring instruction around certain topics such as race or gender for fear of losing their teaching credentials.

In his order Tuesday, Barbadoro sided with the state’s two teachers unions – the National Education Association of New Hampshire (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire (AFT) – who had argued that the law violated their 14th Amendment rights because it did not provide clear guidance of what teachers should or shouldn’t teach. 

Barbadoro’s ruling grants “declaratory relief” to plaintiffs, meaning he is ruling that the law is unconstitutional, but it does not grant “injunctive relief” – a stricter ruling that would have stopped the state from carrying out the law. In his order, Barbadoro wrote that he didn’t believe he needed the latter relief because he believed the state would respect the ruling and stop enforcing the law.

The ruling was a setback for the state, which had argued that the Attorney General’s Office had given teachers sufficient guidance in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document released in 2021 that outlined scenarios in which teachers would violate or not violate the law.

There are no known cases of New Hampshire teachers who have been found by the Commission for Human Rights to have violated the law. 

But Barbadoro said there were a number of scenarios that the FAQs did not address. One such unanswered question centered on Keefe’s attempts to teach “Beloved.” 

According to his deposition, Keefe had asked for clarity from his school’s administration but “was told there was none available other than the Attorney General’s Frequently Asked Questions,” Barbadoro noted. 

Barbadoro also noted the example of Jennifer Given, a former high school social studies teacher at the Hollis Brookline High School who “felt the need to significantly modify her teaching methods ‘out of fear that [she] would be accused of’ violating the Amendments, regardless of whether she was actually doing so.”

And he argued that the uncertainty applied to extracurricular activities as well, citing the testimony of Ryan Richman, a high school history teacher at Timberlane Regional High School. Richman said as a faculty adviser for the school’s Model United Nations team, he felt the law hampered his ability to help students for their competition in fear of saying something that might be seen as a violation. 

Barbadoro used the examples to bolster his larger conclusion. 

“The Amendments are vague not because they subject teachers to severe professional sanctions, but because they fail to provide teachers with sufficient notice of what is prohibited and raise the specter of arbitrary and discretionary enforcement,” he ruled.

He also said that the vagueness would allow state officials to apply their own arbitrary interpretations to enforcement. 

“… Because the Amendments fail to establish ‘minimal guidelines to govern [their] enforcement,’ officials are free to ‘pursue their personal predilections’ when applying the law,” Barbadoro wrote.

The decision was hailed by the plaintiffs; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, called it “a victory for academic freedom and an inclusive education for all New Hampshire students.” 

“New Hampshire’s ‘banned concepts’ law stifled New Hampshire teachers’ efforts to provide a true and honest education,” agreed NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle in a statement. “Students, families, and educators should rejoice over this court ruling which restores the teaching of truth and the right to learn for all Granite State students.”

And it was cheered on by Democrats, including the two lead Democratic candidates for governor. Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig praised the plaintiffs who “fought this unconstitutional law.” In her own statement, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington said, “Teachers should be free to teach – the truth – and students should be free to learn.” 

Republicans said they would redouble efforts to pass the bill. In a statement, former state Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican candidate for governor who had helped push for the law in the Senate, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision but vowed to press on.

“As Governor, I will work tirelessly with lawmakers, educators, and community leaders to draft and pass a stronger bill that addresses the court’s concerns while keeping our fundamental goal intact: to prevent the dissemination of any materials that promote racial superiority or inferiority,” Morse said.

In a post on X, State Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican, wrote: “Judge Barbadoro just put stopping Critical Race Theory back on the ballot in November.”

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Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Hampshire Bulletin and is republished with permission.

The independent, nonprofit New Hampshire Bulletin is guided by these words from our state constitution: “Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.” We will work tirelessly every day to make sure elected officials and state agencies are held to that standard.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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National

Target employees flag concerns over Pride merchandise decisions

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride was slashed by the time the collection was launched, & then again by nearly 50%

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Target store (Photo by Jonathan Weiss)

MINNEAPOLIS — When Target Corp. was hit with an unprecedented wave of hate over its 2023 LGBTQ Pride month merchandise last summer, plans for the 2024 collection were already underway and team members were looking to leadership for guidance. 

Target employees with knowledge of the matter, who spoke with the Washington Blade on the condition of anonymity, said the process leading up to Target’s announcement a few weeks ago of plans to dramatically cut back its Pride collection was haphazard and reactive from the start. 

They said that the company’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ guests and employees feels hollow, considering leadership’s failure to move toward strategies for selling gender-affirming apparel and merchandise year-round along with decisions to curtail internal Pride month celebrations. 

First introduced in 2013, Target’s Pride collection quickly grew to become a profitable example of the company’s heritage moments offerings, collections that are sold each year to mark observances like Black History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Even as the COVID pandemic surged in the summer of 2020, demand remained high, the employees noted, “a real indication” of the sales potential for Pride apparel and merchandise irrespective of whether parades, gatherings, and in-store shopping are happening. 

However, Target planned for just $5 million in sales this year for Pride month, about a tenth of that which might be forecast based on precedent.

Amid reports last summer of an online boycott campaign and in-store incidents in which employees were allegedly made to feel unsafe by negative guest reactions to the 2023 Pride collection, Target announced it would move the merchandise to the back of some stores located in the southeastern U.S. 

The employees agreed the move “didn’t feel great,” but the team accepted the company’s decision as a temporary solution to get through the chaos — while communicating the need for “our leaders to be really clear with us [about] what we can and cannot do” in 2024 “so that we can deliver the best profitable strategy possible.” 

Around this time, they said, communication became siloed. Requests for more information about in-store confrontations were denied over privacy and safety concerns, while some employees and other social media users flagged that many of the videos purporting to show guests’ outrage over LGBTQ-themed merchandise were several years old. 

Staff asked for details in the first place, the employees said, because “We were like, ‘OK, well, let us segment around these places that are perceived as dangerous’” to make nuanced and narrowly tailored decisions about when and where to make cuts. 

Ultimately, the number of products offered for Pride in 2023 was slashed by the time the collection was launched, and then again by nearly 50 percent, they said. 

Target organized a town hall event in July. Invited to speak were Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington and Executive Vice President and Chief Food, Essentials and Beauty Officer Rick Gomez, both of whom are LGBTQ. 

One employee said they were left with the impression that staff should make peace with the decisions to cut Pride merchandise because the meeting was led by the company’s senior LGBTQ leadership, who announced “they were going to pull back on all heritage moments.” A second employee who was not in attendance agreed this was the message relayed to them. 

Leading into next year, the employees said teams informed leadership that they would “segment the hell out of this 2024 assortment to get the right things in the right stores, if [the company is saying] that there’s a subset of stores that need to serve a different function or guest need” — just as decisions are made to, for example, feature more swimwear items in Miami than in Seattle. 

Folks were broadly in agreement over this strategy, the employees said, but “cut to 2024, we’re sending [the Pride collection] to half the stores” — a decision that was reached “a couple of months ago when product had to be committed to stores.” 

Target announced that the decision was based on historical sales, in a statement that also reaffirmed the company’s commitments to supporting the LGBTQ community year-round. 

According to the employees, however, the move did not accurately reflect “guest demand” for Pride apparel and merchandise. 

Going back to 2023, one source said, apparel and accessories leaders initially provided direction to reduce the planned sales by approximately 19 percent to reflect what was happening elsewhere in the apparel business.

The team agreed the figure was “really close to where we need to be” and sought to build a strategy to maximize sales, learning from past mistakes that were made “in all of our heritage moments — and we saw this in Black History Month last year — of spreading the goods out too equally everywhere” rather than in the stores where it was selling out.  

The employees said the team responsible for the Black History Month collection introduced the idea of segmenting product between that which is designed for the intended audience versus that which could be worn by everyone, allies included, which feels noticeably absent from the 2024 Pride collection that is available in select stores and online today. 

With respect to the in-store experience, a similar approach would apply, they said. 

For instance, the original idea for this year’s Pride collection was “a four-tier strategy,” which built upon established precedent for heritage moments merchandise. 

On one end of the spectrum is a “full-blown experience, that kind of delivers and addresses all audiences.” And then a more narrowly tailored assortment would be offered for stores that may have space constraints or less foot traffic, along with another that might be “the most ally-friendly, or the most conventional,” and “versions for what we call our small-format stores.” 

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Missouri

Missouri AG targets health care professionals over trans care

Health care professionals and parents of transgender youth are raising concerns about use of private medical records in the statewide probe

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A group of over 200 protesting MU Health's cancelation of transgender minors' prescriptions approaches Columbia City Hall Sept. 15. MU Health backed out of gender-affirming care for minors after the passage of a new state law including broad medical malpractice provisions (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

By Annelise Hanshaw | ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A state investigation of the Washington University Transgender Center in St. Louis expanded to include therapists and social workers across the state who work with minors seeking gender-affirming care.

Documents made public as part of various lawsuits show that Attorney General Andrew Bailey has obtained a collection of unredacted and loosely redacted records of transgender children, including a list of patients that received care at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

 Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks Jan. 20 to the Missouri chapter of the Federalist Society on the Missouri House of Representatives dais (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

He is also seeking untethered access to the university’s digital medical records system.

The attorney general’s use of private medical records, and the targeting of therapists and counselors, has interrupted the health care of LGBTQ Missourians and has families worrying about their children’s privacy.

Katy Erker-Lynch, executive director for Missouri LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, told The Independent she fears that the pressure will drive health care providers out of the state, especially impacting rural Missourians.

“The attorney general has created a hostile environment for medical providers where they are afraid to stay and practice medicine,” she said. 

The saga began last year when Bailey launched an investigation based on an affidavit from Washington University whistleblower Jamie Reed. Bailey is using the affidavit to question other gender-affirming-care providers like Planned Parenthood, which he has said he hopes to “eradicate.”

The probe involves the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, which oversees medical licensing in the state. According to records obtained by The Independent, the agency interviewed 57 health professionals as part of the inquiry and had 16 cases open as of early May.

While Bailey announced the division would assist in the investigation when he first announced it, therapists did not expect to be included — or have their license to practice put at risk. 

The division’s chief legal counsel, Sarah Ledgerwood, told The Independent that the division and its boards can’t join other officials’ investigations. When asked about Bailey’s investigation, she said the boards “can only complete investigations based on receipt of a complaint.”

Division Director Sheila Solon said last year that she anticipated complaints as part of the attorney general’s investigation.

Kelly Storck, a licensed clinical social worker with a focus on LGBTQ-positive therapy, was interviewed last year and expressed grave concerns about unredacted medical records of minors being in the hands of a state official who has repeatedly opposed gender-affirming care.

When the division contacted Storck for an interview, she hired a lawyer before meeting with the investigator.

During the meeting, she says the investigator had a small stack of unredacted letters Storck had sent the Transgender Center to recommend clients for gender-affirming care.

Storck recalled senior investigator Nick McBroom telling her he wasn’t fully sure what he was doing, saying she was taking the interview more seriously than it was. He questioned why she had a lawyer.

McBroom asked about the process of writing letters of support, Storck said, opening a file with just a portion of the letters she had sent to the Transgender Center. She said she noticed the documents had green underlines added and asked McBroom if they were his edits. He didn’t seem to know the source of the underlines.

After a 30-45 minute interview, McBroom asked her to write up her process. Through her attorney, she declined, and her case was closed soon after.

McBroom declined to speak to The Independent about the case.

“I still have a lot of distrust about who initiated it,” Storck said, “and who was in my documents.” 

Parents of transgender children told The Independent they have heard whispers of other therapists facing investigation.

Multiple providers declined to be interviewed about the investigation out of fear of retaliation. Storck, though, had already faced the attorney general as one of the plaintiffs attempting to block an emergency rule targeting transgender care filed by Bailey last year.

A fight for patient privacy

 The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has received national attention since a whistleblower’s affidavit went public last year (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

A legal battle between Washington University and the attorney general’s office shows the records used in the interviews may have directly come from the university itself.

In the attorney general’s office’s response to the litigation, a timeline is laid out of the university turning over three sets of documents. In its second document production, Washington University gave the attorney general a list of patients in a spreadsheet.

“The supplemental production included a spreadsheet titled ‘Transgender Patient data,’” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Which included various workbooks chronicling patient names, encounters and medications, among other information.”

The attorney general’s office has declined to comment about the scope of the investigation and the source of investigative documents. Washington University also declined comment. 

People who have received care at the Transgender Center have asked to be notified if their health records are accessed, but many assume some of their information is already in the attorney general’s hands.

The Independent asked Reed if she provided any of the documents to the attorney general. 

“I cannot definitively say what the therapists are being handed (or) where it came from,” she said. “We just don’t really know where those things directly came from. The one thing I will add is that any documents that were provided to the attorney general’s office from me were redacted.”

Reed said she did not give any documents that would be stored in the electronic health records software Epic. When asked where else the records could come from, she said, “email or shared drive.”

The records investigators had of Storck’s patients included names, something Reed said she redacted before providing to the attorney general.

Becky Hormuth and her 17-year-old son Levi, who was a patient at the Transgender Center, have been hearing about the scope of Bailey’s investigation for months.

They learned that the attorney general’s office had been looking into Levi’s psychologist’s records and heard about other providers that had interviews related to their support for gender-affirming care.

Levi said the attorney general’s work seemed like “complete government overreach.”

Bailey’s actions, like a tip line about gender-affirming care and an emergency rule that sought to limit access to certain procedures and prescriptions, prompted Hormuth to prepare to move out of state.

“It is very invasive, what he’s doing,” she told The Independent. “The state has already basically disrupted our lives. They’ve disrupted our families, our children’s lives with the legislation that has passed. Then for him to continue going on is even more invasive and damaging.”

When lawmakers passed a ban on gender-affirming care for minors that included a provision that allowed broad medical malpractice claims, the Transgender Center stopped providing Levi’s medication.

Hormuth learned from other parents to make her son’s medication stretch, just in case it would be a long time before a refill.

She had requested an appointment with a provider in Illinois prior to the law’s passage, and Levi was on a waiting list. The center told her at the time that they weren’t taking new out-of-state patients because there was already a large influx from multiple states.

But eventually, Hormuth got a call that they were ready to take out-of-state patients. So, she and Levi make periodic trips to Chicago to go to the doctor.

Levi is old enough to receive hormone-replacement therapy at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region’s clinics, which accept transgender patients 16 and up for gender-affirming care.

But Hormuth wanted to take her son someplace outside of Bailey’s reach.

“I was absolutely dead set against going to Planned Parenthood locally because I knew that as soon as we would establish ourselves at Planned Parenthood… that (Bailey) was going to come there and start digging through those papers and those personal records,” she said. “I absolutely was not going to give him the chance at any other aspect of our family’s life.”

Both branches of Planned Parenthood in Missouri are also subjects of Bailey’s investigation, according to court filings, despite the attorney general’s office only publicly announcing an investigation into the Transgender Center.

The attorney general is not allowed to investigate medical malpractice claims, but it can look into false advertising under the state’s consumer protection law, known as the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. 

Bailey used that law to file an emergency rule, which he later rescinded before a court case could decide its bounds, and he is utilizing it again to dig into gender-affirming-care providers.

In a case in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Bailey’s office admits the investigation into the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has multiple subjects.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains filed a lawsuit to avoid the attorney general’s civil investigative demands which it argued sought sweeping information about its practice and patients.

In court documents, Solicitor General Josh Divine wrote that the civil investigative demand was looking into the organization and others in addition to the Transgender Center.

“The attorney general is investigating (the Transgender Center) and ‘others in the state’ who ‘may have used deception, fraud, false promises, misrepresentation, unfair practices, and/or the concealment, suppression, or omission of material facts within the scope of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act,’” Divine wrote. “The attorney general has already made unequivocally clear that (Planned Parenthood) is under investigation.”

Similar arguments are on display in a case between the Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis and the attorney general’s office.

“(Bailey’s) request encompasses hundreds, if not thousands, of patient records concerning treatment decisions, discussions with physicians, mental health assessments and prescription information, among other areas,” Planned Parenthood’s attorney wrote in its lawsuit.

Judges ruled in favor of the attorney general’s office in both cases, which have been recently appealed.

A case filed by Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City against Bailey’s investigative demands also went in favor of the attorney general.

Washington University’s case against the attorney general’s office is yet to be decided.

This fall, the attorney general’s office will defend the state in a case that seeks to reverse a ban on gender-affirming care for minors passed last legislative session.

Storck said the inquiry has compounded anxieties about access to gender-affirming care that patients have following the passage of the ban.

“I really was so afraid that some of my clients were going to be in absolute emergent situations and really struggle to get access to health care,” she said. “My patients have connected with what they need, but it is now an all-day or multiple-day event to get medical care. Previously, they could have gotten it (within two hours).”

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Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Missouri Independent and is republished with permission.

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to relentless investigative journalism and daily reporting that sheds light on state government and its impact on the lives of Missourians. This service is free to readers and other news outlets.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Minnesota

Minnesota bans Gay & Trans Panic Defense

“Gay and trans panic defenses are based on irrational fears and prejudice and they imply that violence against LGBTQ+ people is acceptable”

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Minnesota Governor Tim Walz speaking at Twin-Cities Pride in 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | St. PAUL, Minn. – On Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed into law HF5216, a judiciary, public safety, and corrections supplemental budget bill that includes a ban on the gay and trans panic defense.

The law, which narrowly passed the Senate on a party-line 34-33 vote, prohibits individuals who commit violence against gay or trans people from using their surprise at the victim’s identity as a justifiable reason for their actions. This defense has been used at least 351 times in homicide trials, according to researchers, and has often led to reduced sentences. Now, Minnesota becomes the 19th state to bar such defenses.

The bill states that the use of force against a person in reaction to their sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. It also specifies that it is not a defense to any crime that the defendant acted “based on the discovery of, knowledge about, or disclosure of” a victim’s LGBTQ+ status. Such defenses have been used previously to justify violence against transgender people who do not disclose their gender identity to an intimate partner, romantic partner, or even during mere flirtation.

You can see the applicable provisions in the new law here:

The transgender panic defense, according to one study, has been used at least 351 times. W. Carsten Andresen, a professor who has tracked instances where the gay and trans panic defenses have been used, states that the defense has been effective. In 32% of cases, murder charges have been reduced in sentence when the defense is used, and 5% of people who use the defense are acquitted entirely. Andresen notes that this is notable given that these murders often “involve incredible violence.”

The defense has been implicated in high-profile cases. In 2013, James Dixon killed Islan Nettles, a Black transgender woman, in Harlem after his friends mocked him for flirting with her. He informed police that he had “flown into a fury” after discovering her gender identity. Ultimately, he received only 12 years in prison, with activists and family members saying that the sentence was made more lenient due to justifications that implicate the transgender panic defense.

In recent years, there has been a push to outlaw such defenses. New Hampshire and Delaware outlawed the defense in 2023, and New Mexico banned it in 2022. Efforts to outlaw the defense have failed, however, in more conservative states such as Montana, where transgender legislator Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s bill was defeated 11-8, with Republicans voting against the bill while Democrats voted in favor. Similar bills failed in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin this year, with Michigan’s bill pending action but not yet passed.

You can see a map of the legal status of panic defenses here:

Movement Advancement Project. “Equality Maps: Panic Defense Bans.” https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/panic_defense_bans.

In the Minnesota Senate, the bill passed 34-33 on party lines. “Gay and trans Minnesotans deserve the same protections under the law as all our neighbors receive,” said Demcoratic Senator Westlin after the bill’s passage, adding, “Gay and trans panic defenses are based on irrational fears and prejudice toward LGBTQ+ people, and they imply that violence against LGBTQ+ people is acceptable under certain conditions. I am proud to see our state continue to protect LGBTQ+ Minnesotans, especially when they are victims of violent crime.”

The new law will go into effect August 1st, 2024.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge may delay Alabama’s trans medical care ban trial

The law makes it a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison, for physicians to prescribe puberty blockers or HRT to trans youth under age 19

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The Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

By Jemma Stephenson | HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A federal judge this past Thursday weighed arguments on whether to move to a trial over Alabama’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for individuals under the age of 19. 

During a roughly three-and-half-hour hearing Thursday, attorneys for the state and for transgender children and their families suing over the law considered the merits of moving forward while circuit courts around the country consider similar laws with different conclusions, and whether a trial over Alabama’s law could move forward as planned or be delayed.

Alabama’s 2022 law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for physicians to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to transgender youth under the age of 19. SB 184, sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, also banned reconstructive surgery and genital surgeries on minors, which providers have stressed do not happen in Alabama.

The families that filed suit said the ban would jeopardize the physical and psychological health of their children. The state repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the treatments. 

Following a two-day hearing in 2022, U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke issued a preliminary injunction against the law, ruling that it interfered with parental rights.

The state appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a federal panel reversed the injunction. U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, whose ruling cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision overturning federal abortion rights, wrote that earlier rulings did “not establish that parents have a derivative fundamental right to obtain a particular medical treatment for their children as long as a critical mass of medical professionals approve.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case moved for an en banc hearing where the entire 11th Circuit would hear the case. The full circuit had not ruled on the motion as of Thursday afternoon.

In Burke’s court on Thursday, Jeff Doss, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the decision to go to trial was a “purely discretionary” one for the court. The attorney said the full 11th Circuit — covering Alabama, Georgia and Florida — may not have the votes for the en banc hearing but said the court might not want “active machinery” until “we see there are further developments.”

The motion for the stay filed by the plaintiffs on May 3 also referenced waiting to see if pending cases in Tennessee and Kentucky were taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Burke told Doss to be trial ready for a regular track, but told Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour, arguing for the state, that Doss’s statements were persuasive.

LaCour said they had “done a lot of work over the past two years.”

“We need a decision right away,” he said.

LaCour told Burke that it has become a “playbook” for the United States to enter the cases and ask for trust from doctors rather than lawmakers.

LaCour also referenced sealed evidence that the state had and said they had created a “very robust record.”

Burke said that they were “reading tea leaves,” and they did not know what would happen. He said he did not see the harm in waiting three months and that it is “certainly possible I could be reversed twice.”

LaCour told Burke that he could rule on a summary judgment, or a judgment entered without a full trial. 

Burke told LaCour that the state could enforce the law now, but LaCour replied that they had spent a lot of time on the case. 

“At some point, when is it our turn to finally get justice?” he said.

Burke said he was sympathetic to LaCour’s statements that one plaintiff has already aged out, and they might need new experts.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was in attendance Thursday but did not present any of the state’s arguments.

Burke told the court that he was going to think more, but he checked around the room for major conflicts for Oct. 27, which no one objected to.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs have faced accusations of judge-shopping after they dismissed and refiled the case in 2022, prior to the two-day hearing. Burke clarified with one attorney Thursday that judge shopping is prohibited under the 11th Circuit.

Burke spent over an hour meeting with the attorneys – and their attorneys – in separate meetings Thursday on the format for hearings in the matter. While they met, the attorneys went around speaking in small groups amongst themselves. 

“Think we’ve got a plan,” Burke said at the end, saying that he would be open to attorneys taking the lead on discussion, or doing that himself. 

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Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Florida

St. Petersburg Fla. Rainbow street mural vandalized by two drivers

It’s going to cost the City of St. Petersburg $1100 to restore. The City aims to have the mural repainted in time for Pride month festivities

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Volunteers refresh painting the Progressive Pride Street Mural, St. Petersburg, Florida in May of 2022. The mural was originally installed in 2020. (Photo Credit: stpete.org/Facebook)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Progressive Pride Street Mural at the 2500 Central Avenue roundabout in the Grand Central District was defaced and damaged in two separate incidents earlier this month. The St. Petersburg Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance to facilitate the arrest of the drivers of the vehicles involved.

The first occurred on May 17th at 9:36 a.m. when a truck accelerated through the mural. The second incident happened on May 22nd at 2:41 a.m. involving a blue two-door vehicle doing doughnuts on the mural.

WTVT FOX 13 Tampa Bay reported that Lee Manuel, the owner of Cocktail St. Pete, a bar just down the street from the mural, said just a few days later, someone did donuts on the mural, damaging it more. A bar across the street from the mural seemed to capture it early Wednesday morning around 2:45 a.m.

Investigators have no reason to believe the incidents are related.

It’s going to cost the City of St. Petersburg $1100 to restore. The City aims to have the mural repainted in time for Pride month festivities.

Anyone with information on the blue vehicle pictured in the video [see Fox 13 report], please contact the St. Petersburg Police at 727-893-7780 or text SPPD + your tip to TIP411.

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The White House

Biden delivers Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery

In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington National Cemetery

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President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Screenshot/YouTube White House Livestream)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Under grey clouds and occasional rainfall, President Joe Biden accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

After the wreath laying the President, introduced by Secretary Austin delivered his Memorial Day address in the amphitheater. In his remarks Biden began by noting that 160 years ago the first soldier was buried at Arlington. He then said: “Everyone has lost and loved someone in the service of our country.”

“I know how hard it can be. It can reopen that black wound in your chest. … I know.  … This week marks nine years since I lost my son Beau.”

He noted his loss wasn’t the same those who lost someone in combat as Beau died of cancer. He repeated his belief the cancer was from burn pits in Iraq. 

WATCH:

Full text of President Biden’s address:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
AT THE 156TH NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
One hundred and sixty years ago this month, in the midst of the Civil War, the first American soldier was laid to rest at these hallowed grounds.  Private William Christman, a farmworker from Pennsylvania, had enlisted just seven weeks before.  There was no formal ceremony to consecrate this new sanctuary, no fanfare.  

It came at a turning point in the war.  As fighting shifted east, the casualties quickly mounted in the bloody, grinding campaign.

Over the next year, William would be joined in death, as he was in life, by his brother-in-arms in this final resting place.  And these hills around us would be transformed from a former slave plantation into a national strine — shine for those American heroes who died for freedom, who died for us.

My fellow Americans, Jill, Vice President Harris, the Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Austin, General Brown; most importantly, the veterans and service members, families, and survivors — we gather at this sacred place at this solemn moment to remember, to honor — honor the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who’ve given their lives for this nation.  

Each one, literally, a chain in the link — a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days.  Each one bound by common commitment — not to a place, not to a person, not to a President, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America.   

Today, we bear witness to the price they paid.  Every white stone across these hills, in every military cemetery and churchyard across America: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a neighbor — an American.

To everyone who has lost and loved someone in the service of our country, to everyone with a loved one still missing or unaccounted for, I know how hard it can be.  It can reopen that black hole in the middle of your chest, bringing you back to the exact moment you got that phone call, heard that knock on the door, or held the hand when the last breath was taken.  I know it hurts.  The hurt is still real, still raw.

This week marks nine years since I lost my son, Beau.  Our losses are not the same.  He didn’t perish on the battlefield.  He was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the Army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit — a major in the U.S.  National — Army National Guard, living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit.  

And as it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you — still sharp, still clear.  But so is the pride I feel in his service, as if I can still hear him saying, “It’s my duty, Dad.  It’s my duty.”  

Duty.  That was the code of — my son lived by and the creed all of you live by, the creed that generations of service members have followed into battle.  

On the grounds around us lie fallen heroes from every major conflict in history to defend our independence, to preserve our Union, to defeat fascism; built powerful alliances, forged in fires of two world wars.  

Members of the Greatest Generation, who 80 years ago next week, took to the beaches of Normandy and liberated a continent and literally saved the world.  

Others who stood against communism in Korea and Vietnam.  

And not far from here, in Section 60, lie over a thousand — a thousand — 7,054 women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, who signed up to defeat terrorists, protect our homeland after 9/11.   

Decade after decade, tour after tour, these warriors fought for our freedom and the freedom of others, because freedom has never been guaranteed.  Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many.  It matters.  

Our democracy is more than just a system of government.  It’s the very soul of America.  It’s how we’ve been able to constantly adapt through the centuries.  It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge stronger than we went in.  And it’s how we come together as one nation united.  

And just as our fallen heroes have kept the ultimate faith with our country and our democracy, we must keep faith with them.

I’ve long said we have many obligations as a nation.  But we only have one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into battle and to pr- — take care of them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.  

Since I took office, I’ve signed over 30 bipartisan laws supporting servicemen, veterans and their families and caregivers, and survivors.  

Last year, the VA delivered more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history.  And the PACT Act, which I was proud to have signed, has already guaranteed one million claims helping veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service — one million.  

For too long, after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right healthcare, to get the benefits they had earned.  Not anymore.  

Our nation came together to ensure the burden is no longer on them to prove their illness was service-related, whether it was Agent Orange or toxic waste, to ensure they protected them — they just have to protect the United States — because it’s assumed that their death was a consequence of the exposure. 

On this day, we came together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future they fought for — a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity, and equality.  Not just for some, but for all.

America is the only country in the world founded on an idea — an idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.  

We’ve never fully lived up to that, but we’ve never, ever, ever walked away from it.  Every generation, our fallen heroes have brought us closer.   

Today, we’re not just fortunate heirs of their legacy.  We have a responsibility to be the keepers of their mission.  That — that truest memorial of their lives: the actions we take every day to ensure that our democracy endures, the very idea of America endures.

Ladies and gentlemen, 160 years ago, the first American solider was laid to rest on these hallowed grounds.  There were no big ceremonies, no big speeches, no family mour- — family members to mourn their loss, just the quiet grief of the rolling green hills surrounding them.  

Today, we join that grief with gratitude: gratitude to our fallen heroes, gratitude to the families left behind, and gratitude to the brave souls who continue to uphold the flame of liberty all across our country and around the world.

Because of them, all of them, that we stand here today.  We will never forget that.  We will never, ever, ever stop working for — to make a more perfect Union, which they lived and which they died for.  

That was their promise.  That’s our promise — our promise today to them.  That’s our promise always.  

God bless the fallen.  May God bless their families.  And may God protect our troops.

Thank you.  
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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty plea in Grindr cyberstalking, sextortion & id theft of gay men

He targeted young gay men on Grindr to obtain their sexually explicit photographs & videos consensually & used them to extort money or sex

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Joseph P. Kinneary United States Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio is home to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo Credit: The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Omoruyi O. Uwadiae, 28, of Chicago, offered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, May 22 to cyberstalking, sextortion and identity theft crimes. His scheme involved dozens of victims in multiple states, including Ohio, Colorado and Washington.

According to his plea documents, Uwadiae admitted to obtaining sexually explicit photographs and videos from potential victims and then using the content to threaten them. Uwadiae threatened to distribute the explicit material widely on the internet and specifically to victims’ friends, family members, employers and others.

The defendant demanded money from some victims. From others, he demanded they meet him, have sex with him, or make damaging admissions such as admissions that they were racist. On multiple occasions, Uwadiae carried through with his threats. He sent sexually explicit photographs and videos to the victims’ friends, family members (including at least one victim’s mother, at least one victim’s brother, and at least one victim’s sister), employers and acquaintances, and also posted sexually explicit photographs and videos widely on the internet.

Multiple victims had not publicly disclosed their sexual orientation, which Uwadiae’s actions disclosed, contrary to their wishes. The defendant also used victims’ identifications to create false accounts on social media and post personal information about the victims online.

Uwadiae targeted young gay men on Grindr and other online sites. He would obtain their sexually explicit photographs and videos consensually and then use them to extort. In some cases, he posted their nude images on Male General without their consent and then demanded money or other things of value to take down the images. Male General is a blog marketed to gay men containing, among other things, boards where users can post images and text.

For example, one victim was a student at The Ohio State University who communicated with Uwadiae on Grindr. Uwadiae ultimately demanded that the victim either pay him $200 or have sex with him. When the victim did not comply, Uwadiae created false social media accounts using true photos of the victim, stating, “this guy is gay, see pics for evidence.” The victim had not disclosed his sexual orientation to his family and had told Uwadiae he was concerned that his family would react negatively if they learned he was bisexual.

Uwadiae was charged in the Southern District of Ohio in April.

As part of his plea, Uwadiae pleaded guilty to 22 total counts. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of cyberstalking (punishable by up to five years in prison), seven counts of making interstate communications with the intent to extort (up to two years in prison) and seven counts of unlawfully using a means of identification (up to five years in prison).

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the guilty plea offered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Columbus, Ohio Police Department.

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