Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was likely chosen as a featured speaker at Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign National Dinner because she’s quickly becoming a favorite in the LGBT community among potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.
To recognize her popularity among LGBT people, just find the animated picture of Harris making the rounds on Facebook at the Senate dais brushing her hair back, clasping her hands and blinking her eyes wearily as she’s cut off during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Also check out the widely shared video of her exchange with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his Russian connections, which left the Trump official muttering he felt “nervous” under questioning from the U.S. Senate’s only black female senator.
But a look at her LGBT record reveals one wrinkle on transgender rights that may surprise her followers and that has disappointed some trans people.
To be sure, Harris has a staunchly pro-LGBT record. As California attorney general, she declined to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage Proposition 8 in court. When the U.S. Supreme Court restored marriage equality to California, she officiated at the wedding of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the first same-sex wedding after the ruling, and instructed clerks to marry same-sex couples seeking a license with “no exceptions.”
Also as attorney general, Harris in 2015 refused to certify a “Kill the Gays” ballot initiative proposed in California that would have (unconstitutionally) instituted the death penalty for homosexual acts. Despite a legal challenge, a federal judge agreed to relieve her of duty to prepare a title and summary for the measure before it advanced to the signature-gathering stage.
Harris also co-sponsored a bill in the California Legislature with former Assembly member Susan Bonilla to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in cases of murder or violent crime against LGBT people. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation in 2014, making California, along with Illinois, one of two states in the country to ban the plea.
Upon beginning her term as a U.S. senator this year, Harris continued to advocate for LGBT rights. A co-sponsor of the Equality Act, Harris also demanded answers from the Trump administration on the decision to omit questions in the U.S. Census allowing responders to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Trump administration never provided a direct response.
Harris has signed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing transgender people should be allowed to use the public restroom consistent with their gender identity. As California attorney general, she filed briefs in favor of Obama administration guidance supporting transgender students and against North Carolina’s notoriously anti-LGBT House Bill 2. As a U.S. senator, she signed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm’s case.
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said Harris’ record on LGBT rights in her capacities as attorney general and a U.S. senator are nothing short of “impeccable.”
“We’ve known her since she was the DA in San Francisco, and then of course, when she as attorney general was more engaged than any attorney general has been with us in the LGBTQ community,” Zbur said. “[She] really engaged with us and has a really strong commitment and understanding of our issues.”
On transgender issues in particular, Zbur noted Harris as attorney general appointed last year a transgender woman of color, Mariana Marroquin, to the California Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board.
Harris will likely tout her record on LGBT rights during her remarks at the 21st annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner.
But one part of her record she might avoid is her role as California attorney general in 2015 in arguing on behalf of the state to withhold gender reassignment surgery from two transgender inmates who were prescribed the procedure while serving out their sentences. Advocates have made the case that transgender inmates are entitled to receive the taxpayer-funded procedure because denying them medical treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment — a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
One case involved Shiloh Quine, who’s serving a term of life for first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. The other case involved Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who was serving time in prison in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., for second-degree murder. Both were prescribed gender reassignment surgery, but the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation refused to provide the procedure.
The process of the Norsworthy case was quite public as it proceeded through litigation. Although U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ordered California to grant Norsworthy gender reassignment surgery, Harris in her capacity as attorney general appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and fought to reverse the decision.
One 29-page brief in the case, signed by Harris, urges a stay on the court order for Norsworthy because the hormone treatment the inmate receives is sufficient — at least for the time being.
“The core of Ms. Norsworthy’s complaint is that Defendants have not provided the particular treatment she wants sex-reassignment surgery and unspecified ‘additional treatment,'” Harris writes. “But the Constitution ‘does not guarantee to a prisoner the treatment of his choice.’ The Eighth Amendment requires that an inmate be afforded ‘reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm to her,’ not that she be given the specific care she demands. The ‘essential test is one of medical necessity and not one simply of desirability.'”
Ultimately, both the Norsworthy and Quine cases resulted in settlements. Norsworthy reached an agreement with the state in which she obtained parole. As a result, she was able to obtain surgery through Medi-Cal, a state health care system in California. In the Quine case, the state agreed to grant her gender reassignment surgery as well as clothing and items consistent with her gender identity. The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation also agreed to review and revise its policies writ large for transgender inmates and medical treatment, including gender reassignment surgery.
But Harris’ actions in the Norsworthy case have inspired consternation in the transgender community and on Twitter, including from Chelsea Manning, who fought to receive gender reassignment surgery though litigation during her time in prison after the Army initially denied it to her. (A Washington Blade article on Harris’ brief against the court order is among the paper’s top 10 trafficked stories this year — the only story not from 2017 to hold that distinction.)
Zbur said criticism of Harris’ role in the litigation, however, is “really misplaced” because as attorney general she was compelled to represent the position of her client, which in this case was the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
“As a lawyer for the government, she was constrained in what she could publicly say and do and her client was making decisions, but with us she really working hard to understand the issue, providing information, and I think she was a big part of the resolution, which resulted in the really significant policy changes that were implemented by the Department of Corrections when she was attorney general,” Zbur said.
But the argument Harris was compelled to fight the court order granting gender reassignment surgery to an inmate because that was her responsibility as attorney general raises the question on how she got out of similar duties in an effort to uphold LGBT rights. If Harris could get out of defending Proposition 8 or certifying the “Kill the Gays” initiative, why couldn’t she also opt out of litigation seeking to bar transition-related care to a transgender inmate?
Zbur said the difference between the transgender inmate litigation and the other two situations was that in the former, Harris had a specific client, namely, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
“When you have a client, you basically have ethical duties to represent the client’s interest,” Zbur said. “You take direction from the client. And so, she did really have constraints in terms of what she could do, but I think the bottom line is that during that period of time, she was working hand-in-hand with us on a process that resulted in changing the policies at the Department of Corrections, and that’s a really significant thing.”
At the time Harris engaged in the litigation in 2015, Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the attorney general’s actions were her own choice.
“Even where the decision is made to defend an unconstitutional practice, there’s nothing that dictates the tactics of that defense, particularly once a court has found there are likely ongoing constitutional violations,” Davidson said. “The choice to appeal a preliminary court order and to seek to delay its implementation is just that — a choice. It’s also a very unfortunate one, given that what is at stake here is potentially life-saving treatment that is widely recognized as medically necessary for some people suffering from gender dysphoria.”
It seems the cases weren’t on Harris’ radar, even though her name is on each of the legal briefs, until much later in the process of litigation.
Nathan Barankin, who’s chief of staff for Harris and served as her deputy attorney general, said around 1,100 attorneys are working on cases like these and Harris wasn’t personally aware or involved in the litigation until a later time.
“She did learn about our office’s involvement in this case by reading about it in the newspaper,” Barankin said. “Her reaction to the way the case was being litigated was to work very closely with all of the parties involved to reach what we consider a successful conclusion, which was a permanent change in state prison policy on the treatment of transgender inmates.”
Two years later after the settlements were reached, Lambda Legal struck a different tone on Harris’ handling of the lawsuit.
Peter Renn, a senior attorney in the Western Regional Office of Lambda Legal who works on transgender cases, said the situation changed in the lawsuits as Harris became more involved in the litigation.
“The California AG’s office shifted its handling of these cases significantly after now-Sen. Harris took over,” Renn said. “Initially there was language in briefing for the state that glaringly misunderstood the medical necessity of transition-related medical care and was patently offensive. But then, there was a dramatic change, which seems to have gone along with important policy shifts.”
Supporters of Harris point to the settlements that were reached in the cases as evidence that her role was productive for transgender rights. After all, those agreements created precedent in the state and new policy ensuring transgender people in California prisons can receive gender reassignment surgery.
But not everyone agrees with that assessment.
Amanda Goad, a California attorney who works on transgender issues and identifies as queer, said in a personal capacity calling the settlements in the Quine case an LGBT rights achievement for Harris “does not make sense.”
“Her client CDCR could have updated its policies and made gender-confirming surgery available to incarcerated folks long before it did so under the pressure of a trial court loss in the Quine case,” Goad said. “Harris has done other things that do seem to me to belong under the banner of LGBTQ champion. … Settling a lawsuit that the state was losing — and never should have defended in the first place — just doesn’t fit the bill.”
In her capacity as staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Goad said the policy changes the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation promised aren’t being implemented.
“Recent data shows that of the many prisoners who have applied to undergo gender-confirming surgery under the new policy, zero trans women beyond Shiloh Quine herself have actually undergone surgery. (Two men have undergone top surgery.),” Goad said. “Dozens have been denied, and I get letters every week from women extremely upset about their inability to access surgical care.”
Goad also complained about the state continuing to fight transgender prisoners’ access to clothing consistent with their gender identity as well as harassment, sexual assaults and violence endured by transgender women in prison.
That mistreatment, Goad said, is something Harris could address through encouraging enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and other actions.
“She has a great platform from which to speak out about the broader issues of violence, discrimination, and harassment endured by transgender women of color both inside and outside prison and propose constructive approaches for addressing those problems and their structural causes,” Goad said.
Major transgender rights advocates said the inclusion in Harris’ LGBT record of seeking to deny gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmates was unfortunate — but also urged LGBT people to look at the bigger picture.
Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said Harris’ defense of the state in the litigation contrasts with her otherwise pro-LGBT record.
“Sen. Harris has a positive record as a champion of gay and lesbian rights, and that is commendable,” Weiss said. “It is unfortunate that her record also includes having argued that gender confirmation surgery was not a medical necessity for a transgender woman despite a psychological assessment to the contrary. While some public sentiment leans against providing necessary medical services for transgender people who are incarcerated, our Constitution recognizes that denying such vital health care is cruel and unusual punishment. It is our hope that Sen. Harris will learn more about transgender medicine and its importance to trans people.”
(Harris isn’t the only potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate with an unfriendly record on gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. In a 2012 radio interview, then-U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said when asked about granting the procedure to an inmate in Massachusetts, “I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.” Warren has never corrected that position even as litigation seeking the procedure for the inmate, Michelle Kosilek, proceeded through the courts. Ultimately, the First Circuit ruled against Kosilek, setting binding precedent in that jurisdiction.)
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, took an even more lenient approach to Harris’ action on the lawsuit and said her organization would work with her on issues of transition-related care for transgender prisoners.
“Sen. Harris has long been a friend of LGBT people and our causes,” Keisling said. “Notwithstanding her one-time defense of an indefensible and unconstitutional state prison position on trans healthcare, she is now a senator and is very likely to continue being a vote and voice for trans people in the U.S. Senate. She has shown this recently in support of Gavin Grimm and trans service members. I am certain when I first meet her, we will discuss her position in the prison case, and she will continue to grow and continue to support us better and better.”
Ruben Gallego announces run for Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat
Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation- refusing to abandon the filibuster
WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona announced plans to run for the Senate in 2024, setting up a possible three-way race if newly declared Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema decides to seek reelection for her seat representing the Grand Canyon State next year.
Gallego disclosed his forthcoming senatorial bid on Monday, sharing a video on Twitter in which the congressman accused Sinema of breaking her promises to Arizonans in favor of advancing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions.
A spokesperson for Sinema’s office declined to comment. On Friday, Sinema told Arizona Radio Station KTAR: “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are,” adding, I’m staying focused on the work.”
If elected, Gallego, whose announcement video was recorded in English and Spanish, would become Arizona’s first Latino senator.
Sinema became the first bisexual member and, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the second LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively.
Last year, she was widely credited for her role in the Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, hailed as the most significant pro-LGBTQ legislative achievement since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
However, since her election to the Senate, Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation by refusing to abandon the filibuster and tacking to the right on fiscal issues.
The Arizona Democratic Party executive board voted to censure Sinema last January for voting with Republicans to preserve the filibuster at the expense of a voting rights bill.
On Dec. 9, Sinema announced her decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, pledging not to caucus with Republicans and promising that “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior.”
Sinema has also come under fire during her tenure in the Senate for taking positions seen as favorable to the drug industry and Wall Street, seemingly in exchange for financial backing from these and other affiliated interests.
For instance, in 2021 The Guardian reported that “In the current Congress, Big Pharma appears to have zeroed in on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, as one of their lead obstructionists to help kill or gut the Democrats’ drug pricing plan. In the 2020 election cycle, pharmaceutical political action committees suddenly funneled more money to her than they did the whole six years she served in the US House.”
ACLU: 120 new anti-LGBTQ bills in the first few weeks of 2023
“Across the country, trans people & families are gearing up to fight back- prevent every one of these bills from becoming law”
NEW YORK – Lawmakers across the country have introduced more than 120 anti-LGBTQ bills so far this year, according to a press release issued Thursday by the ACLU, America’s largest and best-known litigation and lobbying group for individual rights and civil liberties.
In a press release announcing the findings, the ACLU introduced a digital dashboard, which summarizes the proposed anti-LGBTQ policies, organizes the bills by category, and tracks their progress through state legislatures.
“These bills represented a coordinated effort to deny transgender people our freedom, our safety, and our dignity,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.
“Across the country, trans people and our families are gearing up to fight back and prevent every one of these bills from becoming law,” he said in the press release.
Last year, the ACLU reports there were a record breaking 278 bills targeting LGBTQ people, of which 20 have become law. The group’s litigation team has fought against “bills across the country restricting access to gender-affirming health care, barring trans people from updating identity documents, and denying transgender students equal access to school facilities and activities, as well as defending inclusive policies from political and legal attacks.”
Additionally, the ACLU has brought lawsuits challenging book bans that target materials with LGBTQ characters or themes and represented parties in litigation over a Texas law that criminalizes parents who facilitate their trans children’s access to guideline directed, medically necessary healthcare treatments and procedures.
The number of new anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals seen in the first few weeks of 2023 is especially remarkable considering that some state legislatures have not yet begun filing new bills.
In a Washington Blade article published Wednesday, activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed said that in addition to the fact that lawmakers are now on track to eclipse last year’s record number of anti-LGBTQ bills, the proposals introduced so far this year have tended to be more extreme and cruel than in years past.
The ACLU has categorized them in seven primary focus areas: healthcare access, schools and education, free speech and expression, access to accurate IDs, Weakening Civil Rights Laws, Public Accommodations, and Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills.
The ACLU’s press release describes each of these types of legislative proposals:
- Health Care Access
- Lawmakers are targeting access to medically-necessary health care for transgender people. Many of these bills ban affirming care for trans youth, and can even create criminal penalties for providing this care. 35 bills target health care access for transgender people.
- Schools & Education
- State lawmakers are trying to prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports, force teachers to out students, and censor in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. 58 bills target LGBTQ rights in schools and educational settings.
- Free Speech & Expression
- Despite the safeguards of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, politicians are fighting to restrict how and when LGBTQ people can be themselves, limiting access to books about them and trying to ban or censor performances like drag shows. 19 bills target freedom of speech and expression for LGBTQ people.
- Access to Accurate IDs
- These bills attempt to limit the ability to update gender information on IDs and records, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. Four bills target the right to accurate identity documents for transgender people.
- Weakening Civil Rights Laws
- These bills attempt to undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses, and even hospitals to turn away LGBTQ people or refuse them equal treatment. Seven bills seek to weaken existing civil rights laws.
- Public Accommodations
- These bills prohibit transgender people from using facilities like public restrooms and locker rooms.
- Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills
- These bills don’t quite fit in any of the other categories, but nonetheless target the rights of LGBTQ people. Examples include restrictions on marriage and bills preempting local nondiscrimination protections. Five bills target LGBTQ people and rights, including proposed amendments to define transgender people out of existence.
Reports indicate George Santos was a drag queen in Brazil
Santos’ alleged financial malfeasance & potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations
WASHINGTON — Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was a drag performer in his native Brazil about 15 years ago, according to a Reuters article published on Wednesday that quoted two former acquaintances.
Despite the online circulation of photos appearing to show the congressman dressed in drag, Santos denied the report on Thursday.
“The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag queen or ‘performed’ as a drag queen is categorically false,” tweeted the New York Republican. “The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.”
“I will not be distracted nor fazed by this,” added Santos.
The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or “performed” as a drag Queen is categorically false.— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 19, 2023
The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.
I will not be distracted nor fazed by this.
Bruna Benevides of Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transsexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA, in a Jan. 1 tweet in response to a New York Times story about Santos said his drag name was Kitara Ravache.
BREAKING: a Brazilian drag performer and others claim George Santos was a drag performer under the name Kitara Ravache. Not confirmed but certainly looks like Santos.— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) January 18, 2023
Important context here that Republican electeds have directed hate and violence towards the drag community. pic.twitter.com/IOvwiHYlUq
Benevides has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment. A source in Rio de Janeiro said she had “never heard” that Santos was a drag queen when he lived in Brazil.
Steven Grattan, a Reuters reporter in São Paulo, on Thursday posted to his Twitter page a video that appears to show Santos in drag in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói.
The drag queen in this video sent to me by an anonymous source appears to be wearing the exact same dress, necklace, and earrings as Kitara Ravache in Brazilian drag queen Eula Rochard’s photos that’s been circulating online, alleging it is U.S Rep. George Santos Santos4Congress pic.twitter.com/0Vr60lRVLf
— Steven Grattan (@sjgrattan) January 19, 2023
Santos has taken a hard-right stance on social issues, keeping company with his most extreme Republican colleagues who have increasingly targeted organizers of all-ages drag events with false accusations that performers are abusing or exploiting children.
In contrast with most House Republicans and the entirety of Republican leadership, these lawmakers have not distanced themselves from Santos amid the scandals that have unfolded over his apparent financial improprieties and compulsive lying about his life, identity, and career.
Several GOP U.S. House members, joined last week by more than a dozen Republican elected officials serving in or near Santos’s 3rd Congressional District in New York, have demanded Santos’s immediate resignation.
The congressman’s alleged financial malfeasance and potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, while Brazilian authorities have revived fraud charges that were brought against him in 2008 over a stolen checkbook.
Also on Wednesday, two military veterans told CNN Santos had set up a GoFundMe to help finance lifesaving surgery for their pitt bull and then absconded with the money.
GoFundMe issued a statement to CNN on the company’s decision to remove the fundraiser from its platform:
“When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer. The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform. GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”
The men said Santos stopped responding to their messages requesting access to the crowdsourced funds. They never received the money, and once the dog’s cancer reached an advanced stage they had to panhandle to afford to euthanize her.
Santos denied the report in a statement to CNN.
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story
Latino Leaders Network honors gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria
Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg
WASHINGTON – Openly gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria became the latest recipient of the Latino Leaders Network’s Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award during the organization’s Tribute to Mayors on Wednesday night.
The biannual event, which was held at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C., was attended by more than 80 mayors – including Eric Adams of New York and Francis Suarez of Miami, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors – along with other elected representatives like Rhode Island Lieutenant Gov. Sabina Matos.
Also in attendance were high profile government officials including Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, as well as Esteban Moctezuma and Batbayar Ulziidelger, ambassadors of Mexico and Mongolia to the U.S.
Upon receiving the award, Gloria expressed gratitude for the “open door policy” with which the Biden-Harris administration has welcomed input from the nation’s mayors, particularly with respect to issues concerning immigration. He said San Diego is a better and more prosperous city by virtue of its close proximity to the southern border.
Gloria also remarked on how “far we’ve come as a community,” noting his identity as an openly gay man with Puerto Rican, Filipino, Native American, and Dutch heritage who learned from his parents – who worked as a gardener and hotel maid – that one should “leave things better than you found them.”
Introducing Gloria was the award’s namesake, Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor and California gubernatorial candidate, who said the latest honoree embodies the principle that, “when we break a glass ceiling and open up the door, we do that because we know we got there on the shoulders of others, and we say, ‘this door is open to all of us.'”
“When we celebrate mayors who bring us together and unite us at a time when the country is so divided, we should really celebrate,” Villaraigosa said.
The Latino Leadership Network presents the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award to “a mayor from a city with a significant Latino population who has exhibited an outstanding commitment to bringing diverse communities together.”
Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)
Matt Schlapp’s accuser files civil action alleging sexual battery
An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union
WASHINGTON – The Republican staffer who went public early this month with allegations of sexual assault against high powered conservative activist Matt Schlapp filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday against Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, for $9 million.
According to the complaint, the couple and “others associated with and acting in concert with them” were engaged in “dishonest efforts” to “discredit Mr. Doe,” thereby causing him to suffer “damages, including and without limitation embarrassment, humiliation, stress, and reputational harm.”
Mr. Doe told NBC on Jan. 5 that when he was working for Herschel Walker’s senatorial campaign last October, Schlapp fondled him while the two were headed back to their hotel from an Atlanta bar.
An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
An attorney representing the Schlapps, Charlie Spies, issued a statement Tuesday denying the allegations in the civil complaint.
The “Schlapp family is suffering unbearable pain and stress due to the false allegation from an anonymous individual,” the statement reads. “No family should ever go through this and the Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counter-lawsuit options.”
Before joining the corporate law firm Dickinson Wright, Spies served as election law counsel to the Republican National Committee and as chief financial officer and counsel to Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2008 presidential campaign.
Quantity, cruelty of anti-LGBTQ state bills raise alarm bells
“We really need to support local LGBTQ organizations- lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those in conservative & rural states”
WASHINGTON – When the Washington Blade connected with activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed on Tuesday to discuss the new anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country, it was just as the news of an especially hateful proposal came across her desk.
Senators in West Virginia had teed up an anti-trans law that would criminalize “displays” that “shall include, but not be limited to, any transvestite and/or transgender exposure, performances, or display to any minor.”
The move recalled anti-LGBTQ laws from the 1960s that criminalized the very existence of transgender and gender non-conforming persons as well as drag performers, while providing pretexts for police raids of LGBTQ establishments like the Stonewall Inn, Reed said.
For example, she said, many states once enforced dress codes that required people to wear at least three articles of clothing consistent with their sex assigned at birth.
Likewise, the West Virginia bill raises alarming questions about whether transgender parents and teachers in the state might be prosecuted, with a potential five-year prison sentence, said Reed, who is herself a transgender parent.
Additionally, the proposed legislation is “unconstitutionally vague,” written so broadly that it would presumably become illegal to screen the film “Mrs. Doubtfire” or perform certain Shakespearen plays for an audience of minors if the measure were to pass, Reed said.
Less than three weeks into 2023, state legislatures have introduced nearly as many anti-LGBTQ bills as were introduced in the entirety of last year – and qualitatively, many of these new bills are more hateful than anything we have seen in decades, Reed said.
“I see an increase in both the number and in the cruelty towards transgender people,” she said.
There are “new pieces of proposed legislation that go further than bills in 2021 and 2022,” such as by “banning gender affirming care through age 26 in Oklahoma,” and others that “target the drag community in ways that haven’t happened in 30 to 40 years.”
Fear and hate mongering over all-ages drag performances has been ratcheted up in the right-wing ecosystem, fueled by conservative media figures like Matt Walsh and Tucker Carlson, as well as social media accounts like Libs of TikTok and extremist militias, Reed said.
According to the ACLU, “As drag reality competitions and drag brunches become increasingly popular, backlash in the form of armed protests and intimidation of drag performers has followed.”
Consequently, Reed said, this year for the first time anti-LGBTQ legislation has included measures targeting drag performances – with, so far, a dozen new bills. And the concern is not just that many of these proposed laws are draconian, like Nebraska’s bill that would prohibit patrons younger than 21 from attending a drag show.
“Whenever I see those [laws] being proposed, I also see militant organizations storming in” to LGBTQ bars, schools, hospitals, and venues that host drag queen story hours, Reed said. “I see people trying to break into drag events and successfully doing so,” disrupting them with violence and intimidation, she said.
“What I read into [the impetus behind these laws] is these legislators want to change the uniform of the people doing the storming,” from militias comprised of far-right citizens to “people wearing badges.”
Making matters worse, Reed said, there are “lots of cases where drag events have asked for local protection and not received any protection whatsoever.”
Last month, organizers of a drag queen story hour-style event in Columbus, Ohio, had to cancel after they said police failed to work with them to protect participants from demonstrators affiliated with far-right groups like the violent neo-fascist Proud Boys. (Police dispute the organizers’ account of events.)
The ACLU notes that, “Amidst this wave of anti-drag legislation and violence, drag performers and host venues across the country are moving to higher security or cancel performances altogether.”
Looking at the slate of new statewide legislative proposals, many are a continuation of similar anti-trans themes that have emerged in recent years, but “we’re seeing scary attempts to escalate things,” Reed said.
For instance, bills that restrict or prohibit guideline-directed healthcare for transgender and gender non-conforming youth were introduced and passed in several states in 2021 and 2022, but new measures proposed this year would target adults as old as 26.
“It makes me wonder what their ultimate goal is,” Reed said. “To ban transitions entirely?”
Every mainstream medical organization with relevant clinical expertise recommends age-directed gender affirming care according to clinical practice guidelines that are supported by a bevy of research and updated regularly to ensure best practices.
Still, right-wing figures have demagogued the issue and characterized responsible medical care as “experimentation” and child abuse.
Reed noted there are some “new wrinkles” in anti-trans healthcare bans that have been proposed this year.
For instance, she said, Indiana proposed folding gender affirming care into practices that would be outlawed under a conversion therapy ban – thereby conflating supportive and medically necessary healthcare with an abusive, ineffective practice that has been rejected by mainstream science and medicine.
Across the board, Reed noted, there is an increasing reliance on executive authority. This was previewed toward the end of last year, she said, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s weaponization of the state medical board and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s weaponization of the Department of Family and Protective Services to, respectively, ban gender affirming care and prosecute parents for child abuse for facilitating their trans children’s access to gender affirming care.
‘The fight is on the state level right now‘
Amid the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation, Reed emphasized the need for coordinated action by the U.S. Congress, the Biden-Harris White House, progressive and pro-equality legal actors, and state legislatures, as well as local and national LGBTQ groups.
She noted that pro-equality interests have focused significant time, attention, and money urging Congress to pass the Equality Act, which is commendable and necessary, while the courts can provide (and, often, have provided) a path toward effectuating pro-equality policy.
At the same time, Reed said, for the foreseeable future federal legislators are unlikely to find a path forward for any major bills impacting LGBTQ people, while relying on the judiciary – particularly with the U.S. Supreme Court as it is currently construed – is far from a safe bet.
By contrast, “at the state level, we’ve seen the GOP focus time and attention and money and efforts on changing state laws,” she said, adding, “it’s important that we do the same.”
Likewise, Reed said, “I also think we really need to support our local LGBT organizations and help lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those located in more conservative and rural states, which largely do not earn commensurate resources and support.
“In places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia, we need to help the people who live there,” Reed said, but also in blue states where significant progress toward LGBTQ equality has been made but there is still room for improvement. “Don’t neglect your own backyard.”
For instance, she said, the gay and trans panic defense is still legal in some progressive states.
“One of the biggest problems for people in some of these states criminalizing [healthcare for trans people] is they don’t have resources to travel out of state,” Reed said, noting that POLITICO has reported on the plights of people who have been forced to flee states with anti-trans laws.
And while “We have to take care of those people,” Reed said, people should not be in a position where they must flee their home states. “We need federal action and federal protections,” she said.
Thankfully, there is some movement on pro-LGBTQ state bills. Reed said she has seen more this year compared to last year, which is “a bit promising.” She highlighted bills such as the proposal to protect gender affirming care in Maryland, access to bathrooms for trans youth in Minnesota, the ability to change information on birth certificates in West Virginia, and adoption by trans parents in Montana.
Texts corroborate sexual assault allegations against Matt Schlapp
Schlapp has close ties to former president Donald Trump, in whose administration his wife served as communications director from 2017 to 2019
WASHINGTON – Contemporaneous text messages shared with CNN appear to corroborate allegations of sexual assault against Republican activist Matt Schlapp, who chairs the organization that hosts the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
In the messages, which were exchanged in October, a GOP strategist who was working for Herschel Walker’s senatorial campaign consulted a friend for guidance on how to proceed after he says he was groped by Schlapp in the car after an outing in a bar in Atlanta.
Schlapp addressed the allegations through an attorney who told CNN: “The attack is false and Mr. Schlapp denies any improper behavior.”
The Republican staffer texted his friend that Schlapp was “pissed I didn’t follow him to his hotel room.”
“I’m so sorry man,” the friend responded. “What a fucking creep.”
“I just don’t know how to say it to my superiors thst heir [sic] surrogate fondled my junk without my consent,” the staffer wrote.
Schlapp has close ties to former president Donald Trump, in whose administration his wife served as communications director from 2017 to 2019 and whose false claims about the 2020 presidential election he has parroted.
The sexual assault allegations were first reported by the Daily Beast. The group that organizes CPAC, the American Conservative Union, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Field of candidates to replace Feinstein in U.S. Senate grows
In an interview with Nicholas Wu, Politico’s Congressional Reporter, Lee said she officially announce “when it’s appropriate”
WASHINGTON – A day after Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter announced her bid to replace California’s octogenarian senior U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, sources close to California U. S. Representative Barbara Lee told Politico that Lee is likely to also mount a challenge for the seat.
On Wednesday Lee informed her colleagues in a closed-door Congressional Black Caucus meeting that she intends to run to two sources familiar with the situation Politico reported Thursday.
Asked later Wednesday about her plans, Lee said in a brief interview with Nicholas Wu, Politico’s Congressional Reporter and Politics reporter, she’d officially announce “when it’s appropriate.”
“Right now, in respect to [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein and the floods and what I’m doing, I’m doing my work. And we’ll let them know when I intend to go to the next step. But now’s the time not to talk about that,” she said.
Porter’s announcement and Lee’s potential run comes on the heels of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank-Hollywood) who had appeared on Los Angeles Fox 11 and told The Issue Is host Elex Michaelson that should Feinstein retire in 2024 he will seriously consider replacing her in a campaign.
Politico also noted that while she lacks the fundraising might of Porter and Schiff, Lee is a revered figure in the Oakland-anchored district she has represented for decades. Her deep Bay Area roots could be an asset given that both Porter and Schiff represent southern California districts.
Feinstein, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is widely expected to retire instead of running for reelection in 2024. In recent years she has faced questions about her mental acuity an fitness for remaining in her Senate seat and over the past year has has stepped back from some official duties.
Nassau County NY GOP demand Santos’s resignation
“He has no place in the Nassau County Republican Committee nor in elected office- We do not consider him one of our congresspeople”
WESTBURY, N.Y. — The Nassau County Republican Committee convened a press conference in New York on Wednesday to demand the immediate resignation of disgraced openly gay freshman GOP Rep. George Santos (Ny.).
“He has no place in the Nassau County Republican Committee nor in elected office,” said Joseph Cairo, chair of the county’s GOP political committee. “We do not consider him one of our congresspeople.”
“I join with you and my colleagues in saying Santos does not have the ability to serve in the House and should resign,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Ny.), addressing the audience virtually from Washington.
The comments were echoed by more than a dozen GOP elected officials who represent constituents in or near New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which is now represented by Santos and comprises much of Nassau County in Long Island along with a small portion of Queens.
Reporting over the past several weeks has revealed Santos had invented virtually every aspect of his biography and identity, while law enforcement agencies are looking into alleged financial malfeasance by the congressman and his campaign.
Cairo and other speakers noted the multiple investigations of Santos reportedly underway by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Santos’s office did not return requests for comment regarding Wednesday’s press conference. Shortly after the event, however, he told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that he would not resign.
Santos then published a brief statement on Twitter: “I was elected to serve the people of #NY03 not the party & politicians, I remain committed to doing that and regret to hear that local officials refuse to work with my office to deliver results to keep our community safe and lower the cost of living. I will NOT resign!”
I was elected to serve the people of #NY03 not the party & politicians, I remain committed to doing that and regret to hear that local officials refuse to work with my office to deliver results to keep our community safe and lower the cost of living.— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 11, 2023
I will NOT resign!
About 150 protestors gathered around Santos’s in-district office on Sunday to demand his resignation, including Robert Zimmerman, his Democratic challenger in the 2022 midterm elections.
On Monday, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint against Santos and his campaign with the Federal Election Commission, while Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman of New York filed a complaint with the House Committee on Ethics Tuesday.
When House Republicans passed a rules package over the weekend that severely weakens the ability of the House Ethics Committee to investigate members of Congress, Santos called the move “fantastic.”
Several speakers on Wednesday admonished Santos for lying about his grandparents having survived The Holocaust, noting how hurtful that was for so many of his constituents who have personal and familial ties to the genocide.
Others lamented the ceaseless news coverage that has revealed more and more information about lies and misrepresentations Santos has made.
Hempstead, Ny Town Supervisor Don Clavin said, “You see a unified voice here. [Santos has] unified the county in their opposition to him. He’s a national joke, he’s an international joke, but this joke has got to go. Not tomorrow, not next week, today.”
“Our vetting process has to go much deeper,” Cairo said, adding that he was personally deceived by Santos, who claimed to have been a volleyball star at Baruch College – an institution where, The New York Times revealed several weeks ago, Santos was never enrolled.
Cairo said he has not spoken about Santos with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), “but all of our elected officials have spoken today and we’re calling for his resignation and we’ll pass that along to the Speaker.”
Charles Moran, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, America’s largest LGBT conservative group, shared a statement with The Washington Blade:
“We are closely following the evolving story on George Santos and are listening to our local Log Cabin membership, the GOP leadership in New York’s 3rd Congressional district, and ultimately, the voters themselves.
It has been widely reported that House GOP leadership will also be holding their own internal conversations about George’s continuing responsibilities in Congress, and we look forward to hearing their response.”
Nassau County GOP officials make an announcement about GOP Rep. George Santos:
Porter announces bid for Feinstein’s Senate seat
Porter’s announcement comes on the heels of Rep. Adam Schiff, who told Fox LA last week he will seriously consider a run to replace Feinstein
IRVINE, Calif. – Rep. Katie Porter, the Democratic former University of California Irvine professor known for her use of a whiteboard in congressional hearings, has announced she is running for the U.S. Senate currently held by trailblazing Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The venerable San Francisco politician, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is widely expected to retire instead of running for reelection in 2024. In recent years the octogenarian lawmaker has faced questions about her mental acuity an fitness for remaining in her Senate seat and over the past year has has stepped back from some official duties.
Porter, the Orange County Register noted recently won reelection to California’s 47th Congressional District, a coastal area that includes Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and part of Huntington Beach.
She had faced a tough challenge from former Republican state Assemblymember Scott Baugh in the midterm this past November.
In her campaign video announcing her run Porter said:
“The threat from so-called leaders like Mitch McConnell has too often made the United States Senate the place where rights get revoked, special interests get rewarded, and our democracy gets rigged.”
Porter’s no-nonsense demeanor in House hearings coupled with a recent Getty Image taken of her on the House floor-fight during the 4 day long balloting over Kevin McCarthy’s accession to Speaker of the House reading a book titled; “The subtle art of not giving a F*ck” has won her support among some political pundits and others.
Katie Porter wins even without a whiteboard pic.twitter.com/9o5IXkhqfK— Tara Dublin (@taradublinrocks) January 7, 2023
Porter’s announcement comes on the heels of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank-Hollywood) who had appeared on Los Angeles Fox 11 last week and told The Issue Is host Elex Michaelson that should Feinstein retire in 2024 he will seriously consider replacing her in a campaign.
California needs a warrior in the Senate—to stand up to special interests, fight the dangerous imbalance in our economy, and hold so-called leaders like Mitch McConnell accountable for rigging our democracy.— Katie Porter (@katieporteroc) January 10, 2023
Today, I'm proud to announce my candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2024. pic.twitter.com/X1CSE8T12B
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