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California reckoning: Kevin de León is challenging Dianne Feinstein’s Senate re-election

With whom will the LGBT community side?

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California State Sen. Kevin de León. (Photo courtesy Equality California)

Kevin de León, the progressive president pro-tem of the California State Senate, made it official on Sunday, Oct. 15—he’s challenging 25-year incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the June 5, 2018 Democratic primary. LGBT loyalties are about to be tested.

California Democrats are just starting to settle after the bruising battle by ‘Berniecrats’ over the election of out gay Eric Bauman as Chair of the California Democratic Party to succeed longtime Chair John Burton. For 17 years, Bauman worked as a powerful statewide strategist and organizer, electing Democrats to federal, state and local seats as chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, representing over 2.4 million registered Democrats. Last week, on Oct 12, the LACDC elected Bauman’s pick— young gay politico Mark Gonzales—to lead them into the critical 2018 elections.

The CDP election denotes a longed-for political power shift from Northern to Southern California, which may give de León a good fighting chance against the rich, well-connected Feinstein. Though California has a population of 39.25 million, the state’s two US Senators have come from the San Francisco area since Republicans Pete Wilson and John Seymour, from the San Diego and Inland Empire areas, respectively, were elected in the early 1990s. And while, Los Angeles is essentially the ATM for the national Democratic Party, the last LA-based US Senator was actor George Murphy, a Republican elected in 1964.

De León, 50, announced his candidacy in an email to supporters and an online video six days after Feinstein, 84, announced she was running for a fifth full term. The contest is a dramatic playing out of the annoyed cry by younger congressional Democrats that it’s time for the torch to be passed to a new generation.

De León presents himself as a leader of that new activist generation. Having cut his political teeth fighting Wilson’s anti-immigrant Prop 187, he is the author of the once-unimaginable “sanctuary state” bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation is seen by many as a powerful middle finger of resistance to the anti-immigrant policies of President Donald J. Trump.

“We now stand at the front lines of a historic struggle for the very soul of America, against a president without one,” de León wrote in an email to supporters. “Every day, his administration wages war on our people and our progress. He disregards our voices. Demonizes our diversity. Attacks our civil rights, our clean air, our health access and our public safety. We can lead the fight against his administration, but only if we jump into the arena together.”

Though he didn’t mention Feinstein in his announcement video that focuses on his biography and the need for jobs to escape poverty, De León is calling out the more conservative Democrat for suggesting that Americans should exhibit “patience” with Trump, that he might still become “good president.”

“He cannot be a good president, at all, whatsoever” de León told the Sacramento Bee. “His values are antithetical to the values of the state of California.”

Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime campaign strategist, told The Bee that de León’s progressive positions are “counterfeit.”

“He’s making himself sound like he’s been a leader of the progressive movement in California and that he’s out front in a direct appeal to Bernie Sanders voters,” Carrick said. “But the truth of the matter is he never supported Bernie Sanders. I don’t see a record of somebody being out on the cutting edge on a lot of issues.”

Democracy for America disagrees. The progressive group with nearly 300,000 California members issued an immediate endorsement of de León, citing in particular his work on behalf of undocumented immigrants and single-payer healthcare.

De León “didn’t ask people to sit back and wait, hoping maybe Trump would someday turn out OK,” DFA Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said. “He immediately began working to pass policies that would help the people most immediately affected by Trump’s bigoted, greedy policies.”

The contest may prove to be a trial for LGBT voters. Feinstein was the San Francisco Supervisor who found the body of her colleague Harvey Milk and announced the assassination to the world. But as mayor, she also vetoed a domestic partnership bill that many LGBT voters remembered when she ran for governor against Pete Wilson in 1990. However, as a highly regarded conservative senator, Feinstein’s very strong voice opposing the anti-gay Prop 8 in 2008 was critical and deeply appreciated. She said she changed her mind about marriage equality because of her out deputy, Trevor Daley, who used to represent Feinstein at LGBT functions.  She has also fought on behalf of binational couples and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

On the other hand, de León is close with many LGBT activists and politicos, having fought for intersectional issues for a long time. He is an accessible and ubiquitous presence at LGBT events. He is of the new generation where the LGBT community is automatically included in his strategic thinking, not one on a list of constituencies.

Age, race, region, progressive-vs-conservative—all will play a part in the thinking of LGBT voters. But LGBT people also tend to be very loyal and that loyalty, earned for an emotional reason, may play an important role in who gets their vote next year.

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U.S. Federal Courts

L.A. County Fire Dept. Lifeguard Capt. sues over Pride flags

Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ the suit claims led to threats of his dismissal & is a form of religious discrimination

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Towers 17 & 18 in Will Rogers Beach, more affectionately known as "Ginger Rogers" Beach, were unveiled last June to help celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and Pride Month. The towers have been painted with the colors of the Progress Pride Flag. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lifeguard Division)

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County Fire Department-Lifeguard Division Captain has sued the LACFD-LGD and LA county over the county’s policy regarding display of the LGBTQ+ ‘Progress Pride Flag’ at his workplace. In the suit claiming that requiring him to raise the Pride Flag constitutes religious discrimination as he describes himself as a devout evangelical Christian.

The lawsuit, filed on May 24, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, LACFD-LGD Captain Jeffrey Little, a 22 year veteran, who is represented by the anti-LGBTQ+ law firm, Thomas More Society, is alleging that Little’s refusal to raise the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ which he claims has led to threats of his dismissal, is a form of religious discrimination.

According to the suit, the Fire Department is violating Little’s rights under the First Amendment, federal, and state law. “Little’s sincere and deeply held religious beliefs prohibit his participation in raising the Progress Pride Flag. For that, he has suffered religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation at the hands of the Los Angeles County Fire Department,” his attorney’s claim.

In March 2023, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requiring that all county-operated facilities fly the Progress Pride Flag during the month of June. According to Little’s attorneys, in June 2023, Little requested a religious accommodation that would exempt him from personally participating in the required raising of the Progress Pride Flag in accordance with the county board’s resolution. On June 19, 2023, the Los Angeles County Fire Department initially granted Little’s request and promised him that he would neither have to raise the Progress Pride Flag himself, nor personally ensure that the flag is raised at his station. Little’s religious accommodation was rescinded two days later on June 21, 2023.

According to Little’s attorneys, almost immediately after the accommodation was revoked, Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel engaged in illegal retaliation and harassment against Little. His supervising officers—particularly Little’s division and section chiefs—ordered him to raise the Progress Pride Flag. In issuing a direct order to Little on June 22, 2023, Division Chief Fernando Boiteux told him, “You are an LA County employee, that’s the only thing that matters,” and, “Your religious beliefs do not matter.”

In the suit it states that Little was subsequently removed from his Fire Department role on the background investigation unit.

The suit also alleges the LACFD-LGD then revealed to unauthorized persons that Little had requested a religious accommodation. Following that disclosure, Little received a death threat that also targeted his daughters.

In a statement, Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said:

Captain Jeffrey Little is an upstanding American, a devout Christian father, and a public servant who has honorably served the Los Angeles County Fire Department for over 22 years. He courageously stood on principle and asked for a simple religious accommodation—which he is rightfully and legally due—only to be first denied, then threatened, harassed, discriminated and retaliated against for his widely shared Christian religious beliefs. In our great country, Americans can’t even be forced to salute the American flag as a condition of government employment. Yet, in this case, the L.A. County Fire Department seeks to force Captain Little to personally raise the Progress Pride Flag in violation of his sincere and deeply held religious beliefs—or face termination. The L.A. County Fire Department’s actions are not only deeply un-American, but also flagrantly illegal. We’ve filed this federal lawsuit to vindicate Captain Little’s religious liberty rights and to firmly establish that this sort of blatant religious discrimination has no place in our public life.”

A spokesperson for the L.A. County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguards, said the department cannot comment on personnel issues or any ongoing litigation.

Read the lawsuit filing here: (Link)

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Southern California

Triple A: Finally, some SoCal cities drop below $5 a gallon

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.09, which is six cents lower than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Six straight weeks of price drops at Southern California gas stations have pushed average prices below $5 a gallon in a few cities, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.09, which is six cents lower than a week ago. The average national price is $3.56, which is four cents lower than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.05 per gallon, which is six cents less than last week and 12 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.07, which is six cents lower than last week and 17 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.10, which is six cents lower than last week and 21 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $4.96, which is six cents lower than last week and 13 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.12 average price is five cents less than last week and 29 cents higher than a year ago today.

“Oil Price Information Service reports that wholesale Los Angeles gasoline prices are continuing to drop because of increased availability of imported gasoline and reportedly lower levels of demand compared to last year,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Those factors should help pump price drops to continue for now.”

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on May 30, averages are:

socal blue gas chart May 30

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The White House

US sanctions Uganda parliament speaker

Anita Among slams ‘politically motivated’ decision

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Uganda Parliament Speaker Anita Among (Screen capture via UBC Television Uganda YouTube)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday announced sanctions Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among and other officials for “significant corruption or gross violations of human rights.”

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller in a press release notes Among “is designated due to involvement in significant corruption tied to her leadership of Uganda’s Parliament.” The press release further indicates the U.S. has sanctioned former Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu, former Karamoja State Affairs Minister Agnes Nandutu, and former State Finance Minister Amos Lugolobi “due to their involvement in significant corruption related to conduct that misused public resources and diverted materials from Uganda’s neediest communities.”  

“All four officials abused their public positions for their personal benefit at the expense of Ugandans,” said Miller.

The press release also notes the U.S. has sanctioned Peter Elwelu, the former deputy chief of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces, because of “his involvement in gross violations of human rights” that include extrajudicial killings.

“As a result of these actions, the designated Ugandan officials are generally ineligible for entry into the United States,” said Miller.

Miller said the State Department is “also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on multiple other Ugandan officials for undermining the democratic process and repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations in Uganda.” 

“These individuals are responsible for, or complicit in, the repression of Ugandan members of political opposition groups, civil society organizers, and vulnerable communities in Uganda,” he said.

Wednesday marked a year since Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. has previously sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed April’s Constitutional Court ruling that refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”

The State Department press release does not specifically mention the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and the Washington Blade has reached out for additional comment. The press release does, however, say the U.S. “stands with Ugandans advocating for democratic principles, a government that delivers for all its citizens, and accountability for actions committed by those who abuse their position through corruption and gross violations of human rights.” 

“Impunity allows corrupt officials to stay in power, slows the pace of development, facilitates crime, and causes unequal distribution of resources, which can affect underrepresented and underserved populations disproportionally,” reads the press release. “Today’s actions reaffirm the U.S. commitment to support transparency in Uganda’s democratic processes, counter corruption globally, and address the broader culture of impunity that prevents all Ugandans from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The British government in April sanctioned Among, Kitutu, and Nandutu.

Ugandan media reports note Among has described the sanctions as “politically motivated” because she supports the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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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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Politics

Anti-trans Democrat loses Texas primary to queer woman

Incumbent Democrat Shawn Thierry, who cast a vote to ban gender affirming care in Texas, lost to Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer woman

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Shawn Thierry, from a public feed, Texas House of Representatives & Lauren Ashley Simmons, LGBTQ+ victory fund

By Erin Reed | HOUSTON, Texas – Houston Democratic Texas House of Representatives incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday.

Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so.

After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: she resoundingly won 65%-35%.

On May 12, Representative Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling transgender girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria.

She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause transgender youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate 87%-13%, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ+ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Representative Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ+ organizations, endorsed her.

She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-transgender politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations.

When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on transgender rights.

In the United States, however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

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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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Latin America

Latin America elections challenges, opportunities for LGBTQ people

Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of LGBTQ+ rights

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Richelle Briceño was a candidate for the Venezuelan National Assembly in the country's last elections. (Photo courtesy of Richelle Briceño)

By Esteban Rioseco | CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists throughout the region agree the elections offer a crucial opportunity to advance the inclusion and protection of the rights of their community amid far-right advances.

Venezuela’s presidential election will take place on July 28, while Brazil’s municipal elections will happen on Oct. 6. Regional and municipal elections will take place in Chile on Oct. 27. Uruguay’s congressional elections are slated to occur on the same day.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales in Chile, emphasized the importance of having LGBTQ representation in politics. 

“It is fundamental because LGBTQ+ people tend to support laws or public policies aimed at protecting the community,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade. “In that sense, it is important that the voices of these people are heard because, obviously, they know the reality more closely and many times they have lived it.” 

Cumplido noted “LGBTQ+ representation has grown notoriously in recent years, so much so that today there is an LGBTQ+ caucus in Congress.” 

“That is good news,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzún, president of Organizado Trans Diversidades (Organizing Trans Diversities or OTD), also from Chile, highlighted the observation and registration work the Trans Voting Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean has done. Oyarzún also noted the promotion of transgender candidates as a way to combat misinformation a promote respect for the community’s political rights.

“We monitor the situation of the political rights of our communities in the region and establish guidelines through which we encourage respect for the right to elect representatives and to be elected,” said Oyarzún. “We also maintain initiatives that have to do with the dissemination of trans candidacies and news that go against the disinformation established through false news that have begun to circulate through the various social and political media.”

Collette Spinetti, president of the Colectivo Trans del Uruguay, pointed out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in politics, especially trans people.

“The biggest challenge is to achieve trustworthiness especially towards gender-dissident people in their ability to be able to hold public office,” said Spinetti.

Professor Collete Spinetti has dedicated many years of her life to improving living conditions for LGBTQ people in Uruguay (Photo courtesy of Collete Spinetti)

“In Uruguay politics is still quite macho, especially in the so-called traditional and right-wing parties where there is no political representation of members of the LGBTIQ+ community,” Spinetti further explained. “On the left, although there is, thanks to internal work, female representation, there is still a lack of work.”

“In this sense the scarce LGBTIQ+ representation is present through gay men,” added Spinetti. “There is still no representation of publicly lesbian people and only one representation in the interior of the country of a trans woman.” 

In Brazil, Keila Simpson, president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals or ANTRA), highlighted the diversity of LGBTQ representation in the country’s politics. Simpson nevertheless recognized the importance of mandates that go beyond identity and address a wide range of issues that benefit the entire community.

“The challenges for LGBTQIA people when it comes to applying for positions in Brazil are many,” she said. “The first one is the way Brazilian society sees this stigmatized and completely stereotyped population. If we think about the trans population, this violence is even greater, since in addition to being smaller in number, the discrimination is even greater because this population is commonly associated with eroticism and hypersexualization of their bodies, and these are the main problems these people face. they are associated when they run for prominent positions or leaders, even in the partisan political arena.” 

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In Venezuela, Richelle Briceño, a trans woman and former congressional candidate, on the other hand, lamented the lack of presidential candidacies that explicitly defend LGBTQ rights. She noted the country still faces fundamental challenges that prevent a serious debate on these issues.

“There are candidates who have expressed themselves against non-discrimination, but that’s as far as it goes,” Briceño recounted. “There are no specific candidates that I can tell you who even handle what the definition of the word queer is and how it is understood, let’s say, within LGBTQ+ activism.”

Briceño said María Corina Machado, an opposition leader who President Nicolás Maduro’s government has barred from running for office, has “come out in favor of issues such as equal civil marriage and the issue of recognition of trans identities.” Briceño noted to the Blade that Edmundo González Urrutia, who is running as her surrogate, did not meet with LGBTQ activists until last week.

“These activists exposed their points of view, however, the current candidate leading the polls has not made a public statement regarding his position or what his position will be on the issues of LGBT rights in Venezuela,” said Briceño.

Briceño further stressed that Venezuela “is still in a cave.” 

“Here the country is in the basics, the country is in not losing electricity, in having water and in seeing how people eat daily,” she said. “The political and economic crisis that we have lived through for two decades, and with more depth in the last decade, has not allowed for a serious debate on the issues of the 21st century, including the rights of sexual diversity populations or the LGBT population and women”.

José Rodríguez, a Venezuelan psychologist who, like many of his compatriots had to leave his country, said that “as a young Venezuelan exiled in Chile for eight years, today I feel the tranquility of living in a society where a governmental interest in the welfare of my community is appreciated, expressed by a legal framework that although it could be better; compared to the overwhelming setbacks that have occurred in recent weeks in neighboring countries and the constant lethargy of Venezuela in terms of advancing the LGBTQIA+ agenda, is deeply painful and worrying.”

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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Los Angeles County

New survey: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic”

In the Lived Experiences in LA County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute

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East Los Angeles Library presents Mariachi Arcoiris during Hispanic Heritage Month. On National Coming Out Day, the first LGBT mariachi in the world performs and discusses the sensitive topic that is very taboo in the Hispanic community. (Mayra B. Vasquez/Los Angeles County)

LOS ANGELES – A new survey of LGBTQ adults in Los Angeles County by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds LGBTQ people provide many of the things that give LA County its unique identity and make it an attractive place to live and visit.

In the words of a cisgender gay white man in his 30s: “Without LGBTQ people, LA would just be traffic.”

In the Lived Experiences in Los Angeles County (LELAC) Survey, researchers asked about 500 participants what, if anything, LGBTQ people contribute to the broader LA community and culture. Responses ranged from offering values of acceptance, support, love, and resilience to enriching diversity, helping others, and contributing to all parts of the local economy.

“Despite the challenges they face, LGBTQ Angelenos are proud of the many contributions they make to LA County,” said lead author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “LGBTQ contributions make the County unique, a better place to live for everyone, and a model of equality, diversity, and pride for other parts of the United States.”

Positive values and characteristics

More than 40% of LGBTQ respondents identified positive values and characteristics, including acceptance, inclusivity, empathy, love, vibrancy, joy, and support.

As one cisgender bisexual white man in his 60s said, “LGBT people contribute intelligence, strength, passion, generosity of spirit, and courage to the broader community and culture of LA County.”

Enriching diversity

About one-third (31%) of respondents said that LGBTQ people and communities added to LA County’s rich diversity. They mentioned that by living their lives openly and with pride, LGBTQ inspire everyone to accept themselves and live openly as their authentic selves.

A cisgender bisexual Black woman in her 40s said, “The desire and expectation to live their authentic lives openly and honestly is the contribution … [It’s] the reminder to live authentically.”

Culture, arts, and creativity

About one-third (31%) of respondents noted how LGBTQ people’s creativity contributes to the arts, culture, and entertainment in Los Angeles.

One nonbinary white person in their 80s said, “[We have] a different way to experience life and the world. A new approach to problems derived from living a life contrary to what is forced upon us. A vibrant art expressing our different beliefs and lives.”

Community leadership and service

More than one in five (22%) respondents described how LGBTQ people give back to LA County by supporting marginalized communities, volunteering, and participating in the political process.

A cisgender bisexual Latina in her 30s said, “Without queer people, so many societal developments would still be stalled … LA County LGBTQ people have carved out a safe haven for those who need a home and community.”

Economic contributions

About one in ten (11%) LGBTQ respondents emphasized the economic contributions of the LGBTQ community to LA County to industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and education, by being entrepreneurs and promoting tourism.

As one cisgender Asian lesbian in her 20s said, “Gay tourism stimulates the economy due to LA’s reputation as a hotspot for LGBT people.”

“LGBTQ people feel they make significant and unique contributions to the Los Angeles County community,” said co-author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “These contributions are often grounded in how LGBTQ people differ from non-LGBTQ people, including their lived experiences of being closeted, bullied, and discriminated against.”

Read the report

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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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