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Equality California, NCLR, GLAD file for emergency relief against Trump’s transgender military ban

Motion calls for courts to enjoin ban to stop harms happening now

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Equality California filed Stockman v Trump on Sept. 5, naming President Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and other top military officials as defendants. On Aug. 31, GLAD and NCLR filed the first motion for preliminary injunction and amended their initial complaint, Doe v. Trump, to include two new named plaintiffs and several powerful declarations supporting the motion from top military officials from the Army, Navy, and Air Force about why the ban would irreparably harm transgender servicemembers and their families and undermine national security.Among the declarations was one submitted by out former US Army Sec. Eric Fanning. The NCLR/GLAD lawsuit was the first of four lawsuits filed against the Trump Administration’s transgender military ban across the country.

“Through this Motion, Plaintiffs seek preliminary relief prohibiting Defendants from implementing the ban on military service by transgender individuals as an infringement of Plaintiffs’ rights under the United States Constitution,” the motion says. “The ban inflicts irreparable injuries upon Plaintiffs and Plaintiff Equality California’s members. The ban denies Plaintiffs and their members the equal protection of the laws, their right to liberty and privacy, and their right to freedom of expression in violation of the United States Constitution.”

“As set forth below,” the motion continues, “Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of these claims. Plaintiffs also easily satisfy the other preliminary injunction factors. As the Ninth Circuit has held, the unlawful deprivation of liberty constitutes irreparable harm. Moreover, particularly where transgender people have been serving loyally and with distinction since the ban’s reversal, the balance of hardships and public interest favor an injunction. For these reasons, the Court should grant this Motion and enjoin the implementation of the ban.

Equality California filed Stockman v Trump on Sept. 5, naming President Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and other top military officials as defendants. GLAD and NCLR previously filed an injunction initially on behalf of one defendant. That complaint was amended in August to include two more servicemembers and a student enrolled in ROTC as defendants. They also submitted declarations against the ban from such prominent military experts as out former US Army Sec. Eric Fanning. That lawsuit, Doe v. Trump, was the first of four lawsuits filed against the Trump Administration’s transgender military ban across the country.

“The President’s reckless ban is harming transgender troops in communities all across the country,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director. “Despite their dedicated service, the President has thrown the lives of thousands of military servicemembers and their families into chaos, devastating their livelihoods and dreams, and harming our country. We must use every tool in our power to fight this ban immediately, here in California and throughout the country.”

Stockman v. Trump claims the ban unlawfully discriminates against transgender people on the basis of their gender identity; impinges upon transgender people’s fundamental rights by penalizing and stigmatizing them for expressing a fundamental aspect of their personal identity; and unfairly punishes transgender people who came out in the military in reliance on the government’s assurances that they could serve openly, the three groups say in a press release.

“California is home both to the nation’s largest population of LGBTQ people and to the largest number of servicemembers,” says Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “With his unnecessary and unjust ban, President Trump has attacked American heroes who simply want to serve their country. This ban will tear apart lives and livelihoods, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and deprive the military of loyal, talented service members –it will not stand.”

Equality California has 500,000 members, the concentration of which is in California, but a number of members are scattered throughout the United States since the battle over Prop 8 in 2008. That’s one of the reasons EQCA is seeking a nationwide injunction against the trans ban, Zbur told the Los Angeles Blade.

“I was in eighth grade when I first told my mother I dreamed of joining the military. During my junior year of high school, I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test to prepare for a future in the Air Force that I have continued to plan for and work toward. The moment I learned of President Trump’s tweets, I was crushed. Right now, I work at a grocery store for minimum wage, and my store is shutting down. I live paycheck to paycheck. In the military, I would have access to training, a steady income, and career opportunities. If the ban were lifted today, I would go to a recruiter to discuss enlisting in the Air Force as soon as I could. Transgender individuals are just as qualified and capable to serve our country as any of our peers and many of us are eager to do so,” says 20 year-old plaintiff Aiden Stockman from Yucca Valley, California, after whom the lawsuit is named.

“When I read President Trump’s tweets, my heart sank. I feared that I would never be permitted to fulfill my longtime dream of military service. Small towns like Lisbon, Ohio—where I live—do not have many job opportunities. I am actively searching for a job where I can support myself and my grandmother who is unwell,” says 23 year-old plaintiff Nicolas Talbott for whom Trump’s tweeted policy change was more than just bias. “Enlisting in the military provides a stable job, steady income, health benefits, and the pride of serving my country. If the ban were lifted today, I would immediately enlist in the United States Military. No one could be more dedicated and committed to wanting to serve,”

“Thousands of transgender Americans serving around the globe have committed their lives and planned their futures around military service. The President’s ban is putting them and others around them in harm’s way,” says Jennifer Levi, Director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, in the press release. “This cruel, unfounded reversal of policy undermines the strength of our Armed Forces and threatens the safety of our nation. We cannot let it move forward.”

Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis, who has made it clear he opposes Trump’s change in personnel policy, says the open service policy is still operational until a panel of experts recommends to him how to conform to the President’s directive without disrupting military readiness. On Sep. 26, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the told Senate Armed Services Committee that he advised the White House that he does not believe gender identity is a sufficient reason to discharge service members, especially those who have served “with honor and value.”

“I would say that I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” Dunford said.

Meanwhile, trans servicemembers and possible recruits are in limbo about their job status—issues which the lawsuits address. Members of the panel that will study the issue and give recommendations to Sec. Mattis have not been named yet, nor is there any indication of a trans service member, currently serving or retired, will have a seat at that table. Nor is there any indication what might happen should the panel agree with the organization filing suit, that the ban is biased, targeting one group, and is thus unconstitutional and unworkable. What might President Trump do if Sec. Mattis says the experts recommend NO to Trump’s trans service ban before the courts rule?

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New York

WABC’s Up Close | Stonewall Inn’s revival & NYC’s equity efforts

WABC-TV Channel 7 is showcasing stories of Pride with a special edition of the Up Close podcast with host Bill Ritter

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WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli & co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly. (Screenshot WABC)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As the 55th anniversary of the queer uprising at the Stonewall Inn in West Greenwich Village, WABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter interviews Ronald Porcelli, the director of the NYC Unity Project, Mayor’s Office of Equity & Racial Justice, and the co-owners of the Stonewall Inn, Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly.

According to Ritter on his podcast WABC Up Close, Lentz and Kelly share the stories of what inspired them to buy the Stonewall Inn 18 years ago, what the process of reviving it entailed, the challenges they face and what the future holds for this institution, while sharing their own stories of embracing their identities and living their truths.

Porcelli gives listeners and viewers a rare look into how City Hall is working with diverse communities to make New York a more equitable and fair place for all of its people during a time of heightened societal polarization.

Watch:

For readers & viewers in the Tri-State area watch Up Close on Sunday mornings at 11:00 on Channel 7, WABC-TV.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

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A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

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Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

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

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Georgia

A Georgia Pride Executive Director arrested on drug & gun charges

“We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time”

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Photo Credit: Columbus, Georgia Police Department

COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus Georgia Police Department announced on Wednesday that following a months-long investigation, the Columbus Police Department’s Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant at a residence in the 4200 block of 16th Avenue. Jeremy Hobbs, 49, was taken into custody without incident.

Hobbs, the Executive Director of the Debra Smith Wellness Center Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, was charged with:

  • • Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of VGCSA Schedule I Drug with Intent to Distribute
  • • Possession of Drug-Related Objects
  • • Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime

According to Columbus Police, during the search, officers found and seized the following items:

  • 5.4 grams of crack cocaine
  • • 20.7 grams of methamphetamine
  • • 23.8 grams of liquid GHB
  • • An INA .38 revolver

A statement released by Harry Underwood, Vice President of Communications, Colgay Pride and the board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc. in response to Hobbs’ arrest noted:

“The board of the Debra Smith Wellness Center, Inc., doing business as Colgay Pride, expresses our utmost concern and regret regarding the arrest and charges facing our Executive Director, Jeremy Hobbs. The charges which have been filed against him are serious. The board does not condone the alleged actions and we will cooperate with law enforcement in the coming investigations regarding our operations and finances.

We believe that all persons are innocent until proven guilty, including Mr. Hobbs. We offer our support to Mr. Hobbs’ family at this time.

Our organization will meet to discuss our next steps, including a transition in leadership and strategy in the interim period. Our events and operations are on hold until further notice. With humility, we ask for the understanding and solidarity of the local community in this period. We apologize to our allies, colleagues and partners for the distress caused by these developments.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

Related

The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

ACLU of Indiana sues City of Loogootee for blocking Pride

The First Amendment lawsuit calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024

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Photo Credit: Loogootee Pride 2024

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The ACLU of Indiana filed suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the City of Loogootee, a community of about 2,600 in the southwestern part of the state, on behalf of the sponsors of PrideFest 2024.

After initially approving a permit for PrideFest 2024 to take place on September 7, the Loogootee City Council has since passed two new ordinances changing the application process for using city property, rescinded its prior approval of PrideFest 2024, and failed to vote on the new application the sponsors properly submitted in February 2024.

The first Loogootee Pride Festival was successfully held in June 2023 at the Public Square, in the center of town. where numerous community events have been held over the years. About 200 people attended the 2023 festival, and organizers had no reason to suspect that the town’s leadership would not approve a permit for a festival in 2024.

Since submitting a new application for PrideFest 2024 in February, the organizers of PrideFest, Patoka Valley AIDS Community Action Group, have attended each subsequent Loogootee City Council meeting.

The PrideFest application has been on the Council’s meeting agenda but Council members never discussed or voted on it. On June 10th, the Council passed the most recently revised ordinance setting up numerous roadblocks to PrideFest.

Another event, Summer Fest, is scheduled to be held in the Public Square next week, apparently without the organizers of that event even applying for a permit.

The First Amendment lawsuit filed today calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024 at the Public Square on September 7, 2024.
 
ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director Ken Falk said:
 
“The City of Loogootee’s revocation of its November 2023 permission to hold PrideFest 2024 and its actions since that time violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest city special events ordinance is unconstitutional in many ways. It, and the actions of the City Council, clearly indicate that Councilmembers are trying to deny our plaintiffs the ability to hold their event because they disagree with a celebration of the LGBTQ community..

The complaint can be found here.

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Delaware

Sarah McBride poised to become first trans member of Congress

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters

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Del. State Senator Sarah McBride (D-1st District) (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

By Joe Reberkenny | WILMINGTON, Del. – Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride has become the Democratic frontrunner for Congress after her primary opponent dropped out of the race. This sets up McBride to possibly become the first transgender member of Congress if elected in November. 

Eugene Young announced on Wednesday he suspended his campaign for Delaware’s At-Large congressional district, leaving McBride as the only Democratic candidate running for the seat. Young’s announcement leaves Republican challenger Donyale Hall as McBride’s only obstacle to the House of Representatives.

As the new Democratic frontrunner, McBride is slated to win the strongly Democratic state’s sole House seat, which is currently held by Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt Rochester is leaving the House to run for Thomas Carper’s seat in the Senate who will be retiring at the end of the year. 

According to McBride’s campaign, she has raised more than $2 million and does not appear to be slowing down. Not only could McBride become the historic first trans member of Congress, but her campaign has raised record-breaking amounts — more than any candidate for an open congressional seat in state history.

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters.

LPAC, an organization that works to get LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary candidates elected to public office, has endorsed McBride’s run for Congress as well as her past campaigns. LPAC’s Executive Director Janelle Perez released a statement regarding McBride’s path to the House.

“LPAC is thrilled that Sarah McBride has cleared the Democratic field and is on a clear path to making history in November as the first out trans person ever elected to the U.S. Congress,” Perez wrote in her statement. “This did not happen by accident: Sarah has actively cleared the field by building an undeniably formidable campaign, connecting deeply with voters and out-raising every candidate in the field by a longshot.”

Other candidates have until July 8 to enter the race, although that is unlikely given McBride’s fundraising advantage and growing momentum. 

“It is no surprise to me that Sarah has reached this point — she is a compassionate leader who truly cares for her community and has a tangible impact on everyone around her,” Perez added. “This is a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation in our country and I know that Sarah McBride will make an incredible member of Congress.”

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Joseph Reberkenny, is a recent graduate of American University and the Blade Foundation’s seventh recipient of the Elkins fellowship. Reberkenny will cover Delaware politics for the Washington Blade in this summer, 2024.

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Florida

Pulse, a reflection: Eight years ago 49 lives were stolen

Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor who now serves as national spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, called for a safer future

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Pulse Nightclub Memorial & mass-shooting site in Orlando, Florida. (Los Angeles Blade/Brody Levesque file photo)

By Jay Waagmeester | ORLANDO, Fla. – Eight years have passed since 49 people were killed and 53 were wounded in a shooting at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando.

To mark that anniversary on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state and national flags flown at half-staff as a “mark of respect for victims, their families, and the many affected by this tragedy.”

DeSantis has made the order each year since taking office and former Gov. Rick Scott did the same in 2017 and 2018. Both are Republicans.

The shooter, who pledged his loyalty to ISIS, opened fire as the gay nightclub in Orlando hosted a Latin night on June 12, 2016.

Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents the area that included Pulse, posted the names and photos of all 49 people who were killed.

The National Democratic Party released a statement criticizing Republicans’ efforts to stop gun reform, including by the NRA, and praised President Joe Biden’s efforts toward gun safety, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“This Pride month, as we celebrate love, equality, and inclusion, this anniversary reminds us of the work left to ensure all LGBTQ+ Americans can live their lives without fear of harassment, discrimination, and violence,” the statement reads.

Vice President Kamala Harris posted about the shooting Wednesday.

Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the shooting who now serves as national spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, posted to X calling for a safer future in which young people “know they are loved and valued exactly as they are.”

national memorial was approved by Congress to honor the club in 2021, although work on a physical structure is still in progress. The City of Orlando is filling seats on the newly created Pulse Memorial Advisory Committee after a private effort to build a permanent memorial failed.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former member of the Florida House and Democratic candidate for the Florida Senate, posted to X that there is a need for a memorial for the shooting.

“This year’s remembrance has me reflecting on the need to create a respectful Orlando memorial for the 49, and to continue our fight to #HonorThemWithAction by creating a world they’d be proud of — a world where love conquers hate and we can all live free from gun violence.”

Florida Republican state Rep. Randy Fine took to X with the hashtag, “BombsAway.”

The mass shootings in Orlando and Parkland were a moment of change for gun law in Florida. In 2018, the Legislature approved a law to expand background checks, ban types of guns, and impose a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases. It included “red flag” language allowing authorities to remove firearms from people deemed dangerous.

Editor’s note from the Los Angeles Blade:

Community leaders, first responders and the families of the victims and survivors of the Pulse tragedy gathered together for an annual remembrance ceremony hosted by the City of Orlando. The Remembrance Ceremony allows the Orlando community to come together every year on the evening of June 12 to honor and remember the 49 angels taken, their families, the survivors, first responders, trauma teams and all those impacted by the tragedy.    

The 2024 family and survivor-focused ceremony was held at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts with doors opening at 6 p.m. and the program beginning at 7 p.m. 

On X (formerly Twitter) Former Arizona State Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr., himself a survivor of another American mass shooting on January 8, 2011, that gravely injured then Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others who were shot during a constituent meeting held in a Safeway supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, in the Tucson metropolitan area, posted about remarks in remembrance of Pulse at a Pride event hosted in Washington D.C. Wednesday evening by Vice-President Kamala Harris.

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Jay Waagmeester

Jay covers education for the Florida Phoenix. He previously worked for the Iowa Capital Dispatch and the Iowa State Daily. He grew up in Iowa and is a graduate of Iowa State University.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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

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Maryland

Beloved gay neighbor remembered by a Maryland neighborhood

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

By Sean Koperek | SILVER SPRING, Md. – Residents of Silver Spring Maryland’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood, in suburban Washington D.C., have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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Sean Koperek is a senior at Westfield State University in Massachusetts and is majoring in communications. He is interning with the Washington Blade as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Vermont

Pride flag goes missing at a Vermont union middle/high school

The school is securing a replacement flag and will once again raise it through the month of June as approved by the HUUSD school board

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The Pride flag flies on the flagpole at Harwood Union Middle/High School on Saturday, June 8. (Photo by Lisa Scagliotti/Waterbury Roundabout)

By Lisa Scagliotti | DUXBURY, Vt. – The Pride flag flying for the past three weeks on the flagpole in front of Harwood Union Middle/High School was stolen over the weekend, Harwood administrators announced on Tuesday.

In a letter to school students, staff and families, Superintendent Mike Leichliter along with Co-Principals Megan McDonough and Laurie Greenberg shared the news of the theft and promised to replace the flag which was to fly through the end of June in observance of Pride Month.

Based on reviewing security camera footage, school officials said they determined that “at 11:57 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, 2024, two unidentified individuals lowered the United States flag and Pride flag from the flagpole at Harwood Union High School. The individuals then immediately raised the U.S. flag again and stole the Pride flag,” school officials said in their communication.

Leichliter said the people involved were wearing clothing with hoods and they could not be identified from the footage. School leaders ask that anyone with information about the incident contact the school administration. The incident also has been reported to Vermont State Police, Leichliter said. The Vermont State Police also has an anonymous tipline where the public may submit information to assist with an investigation.

This is the third year that a Pride flag has flown at Harwood during June in observance of National Pride Month.

The Pride flag flies below the U.S. flag as graduates, family, friends and school staff gather in front of Harwood following Saturday’s commencement.
(Photo by Gordon Miller/Waterbury Roundabout)

“June is Pride Month and dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride. Since 2022 Harwood students have shown overwhelming support in asking the HUUSD School Board to raise the Pride flag at Harwood to support our LGBTQ+ students as well as in commemoration of the larger LGBTQ+ community,” the letter from the administrators explains.

“The school is securing a replacement flag and will once again raise it through the month of June as approved by the HUUSD school board,” school leaders said.

The Harwood Unified Union School Board last month approved a request from the Harwood High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance club to fly the LGBTQIA+ community pride flag starting May 17 through the end of June.

This year’s request asked that the flag be raised in May to coincide with an event the school club was hosting on May 18, the Outright Vermont Queer & Allied Youth Summit. In reviewing the flag request, the school board also looked over data from a student survey. The district flag policy asks that requests to fly a flag other than the U.S. or Vermont state flag be accompanied by a survey to gauge support in the school community.

This year, the Pride flag request had a survey with 250 responses — 62% in favor and 38% opposed to flying the pride flag. In 2023, a similar survey received 297 responses but found 78% favored the request. School board member Life LeGeros of Duxbury, who chairs the board’s Equity Committee, at the time called the drop in support for the flag display “a very troubling trend.”

On Tuesday, the school co-principals and superintendent expressed disappointment in the hostile act. “It is disappointing to know that individuals in our community would display an openly hostile attitude and disrespect the voice of our student body. These actions are unacceptable and do not represent the values and character of our schools,” they wrote.

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Lisa Scagliotti is an experienced Vermont journalist and editor. She has worked at daily newspapers in Vermont, Alaska, New York and Pennsylvania, including the Burlington Free Press and the Anchorage Daily News. She has reported on local and state government, politics, business and aviation. She worked as managing editor at The Shelburne News and The Citizen weekly newspapers in Chittenden County prior to helping launch the University of Vermont’s Community News Service journalism internship program where Waterbury Roundabout was created in spring 2020.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Waterbury Roundabout and is republished with permission

Waterbury Roundabout is an online news site launched in May 2020. Our mission is to provide readers with news about local government, schools, businesses, community organizations, events and the people who live, work and play in and around the Waterbury region.

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Pennsylvania

Shooter in murder of gay journalist Josh Kruger gets 15-30 in prison

Robert Davis, 20, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain with Philadelphia prosecutors

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Josh Kruger/Facebook

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – The man responsible for murder of openly gay journalist Josh Kruger, 39, in October of last year was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison on Monday.

Robert Davis, 20, who lived the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses in a plea bargain worked out with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office prosecutors.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Davis’ guilty plea before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara A. McDermott also included counts of aggravated assault and illegal gun possession for firing a gun at someone on a SEPTA platform in late September.

Davis’ lawyer Andrea Konow could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner acknowledged Davis’ sentencing, but declined further comment.

Lt. Hamilton Marshmond of the Philadelphia police Homicide Unit at the time of the shooting told reporters that the 39-year-old Josh Kruger, was found lying in the street outside his Point Breeze home suffering from seven gunshot wounds. Responding officers rushed Kruger to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Davis’ older brother Jaylin Reason, told the Inquirer his brother appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was acting erratically. While trying to calm Davis down, Reason said, they got into a fight. He realized, he said, that the best assistance he could offer his brother was helping him surrender to police.

“I didn’t want him to keep living outside and going around and doing something to put himself in a deeper hole,” he added. Reason told the paper that he calmed Davis down, and then asked his other brother to call the police. Together, they went outside, sat on the steps, and waited for 17th District officers to arrive. Davis surrendered and was taken into custody.

In a series of interviews in early October with the Inquirer, Davis’ family told the paper that a years-long sexual relationship involving drugs factored into the murder. Davis’ mother and older brother are alleging Kruger commenced a sexual and drug relationship with the teenager four years ago when Davis was 15.

Robert Davis, 20, booking photo. (Photo Credit: Philadelphia Police Department)

Kruger wrote for publications like The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Philly Voice about LGBT rights, addiction, AIDS, and homelessness. He worked for the city of Philadelphia including the Office of Homeless Services, for five years.

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