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Has the Weinstein firestorm torched Hollywood’s gay House of Cards?

Will collusion be challenged next?

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Kevin Spacey, gay news, Washington Blade

Kevin Spacey came out as gay this week after actor Anthony Rapp accused him of trying to ‘seduce’ him at age 14. (Photo by Vonora; courtesy Bigstock)

Finally, the victims of sexual harassment and assault are speaking out—and finally people are listening. The latest firestorm exploded Sunday night, Oct. 29, as out actor Anthony Rapp told the world that Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey had tried to “seduced” him when Rapp was 14 years old. The Star Trek: Discovery actor, now 46, told Buzzfeed that he had been inspired to come forward by the stories of all the women leveling accusations of sexual abuse and harassment at one-time powerhouse Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“And not to simply air a grievance,” Rapp told Buzzfeed News, “but to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent. … I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference.”

Anthony Rapp (Photo by vagueonthehow; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Rapp said Spacey, then-26, invited the young Broadway actor to a party at his New York apartment in 1986. Finding himself alone in Spacey’s bedroom after all the other guests had gone, Rapp recalled that Spacey “sort of stood in the doorway, kind of swaying. My impression when he came in the room was that he was drunk.”
Without a word, Rapp recalled, Spacey “picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don’t, like, squirm away initially, because I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then he lays down on top of me.”

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp said. “I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Spacey’s response was immediate. He apologized and came out. “I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years,” Spacey wrote on Twitter.

“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me, and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my own privacy,” Spacey said, adding “I now chose to live as a gay man.”

Spacey was not welcome with open arms. “Nope to Kevin Spacey’s statement. Nope. There’s no amount of drunk or closeted that explains away assaulting a 14 year old child,” Dan Savage wrote on Twitter.

Others were furious that Spacey’s revelation of his sexual orientation seemed designed to distract from the allegation.  

“It is deeply sad and troubling that this is how kevin spacey has chosen to come out. not by standing up as a point of pride – in the light of all his many awards and accomplishments – thus inspiring tens of thousands of struggling LGBTQ kids around the world. but as a calculated manipulation to deflect attention from the very serious accusation that he attempted to molest one,” out actor Zachary Quinto posted on his Twitter page. “victim’s voices are the ones that deserve to be heard,”

In the wake of the Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, the reaction to Spacey has been swift. “Anthony Rapp’s story is deeply troubling. During the time I worked with Kevin Spacey on ‘House of Cards,’ I neither witnessed nor was aware of any inappropriate behavior on set or off. That said, I take reports of such behavior seriously and this is no exception. I feel for Mr. Rapp and I support his courage,” said “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon.

On Monday, Netflix cancelled “House of Cards” after the upcoming sixth season, which is currently filming in Maryland. The decision made prior to the Spacey scandal.

But Hollywood—not just gay Hollywood—has kept this man’s open secret for years, not just that he is gay but that he allegedly is prone to sexual harassment. During a conversation about when the “gay shoe will drop” after the raft of stories about heterosexual sexual harassment, a young straight actress said unprompted: “Oh, you mean Kevin Spacey? I have a lot of friends who’ve been harassed by him.” They haven’t come forward, she said, because they fear retribution, denial of jobs and that they will be labeled within the Hollywood community as “complainers.”

People are starting to come forward now. Victoria Featherstone, artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, was asked if she was aware of Spacey’s conduct when he served as artistic director of the Old Vic in London.

“I think that many people in the theatre and in the creative industries have been aware of many stories of many people over a lot of years, and Kevin Spacey would be one of the people that people have had concerns about, yes,” she told Radio 4 in England.

Nadine West tweeted: “KS groped my young male friend when they were both working at the Old Vic. Was apparently always known as one to avoid. Sadly unsurprised.”

More than two weeks ago, former Boston WCVB-TV news anchor Heather Unruh tweeted about Spacey attacking a friend: “The #weinsteinscandal has emboldened me … I was a Kevin Spacey fan until he assaulted a loved one. Time the dominoes fell.”

Those dominoes might well include not only the powerful but the power brokers, as well. “Managers, agents, publicists—they’re all just pimps,” says the straight young actress who’s taking a break from her career because of sexual harassment.

Out actor/playwright Michael Kearns told the Los Angeles Blade that Hollywood is “a scalding cauldron of collusion,” with scores of players who participate in the straight-gay charade.

“What’s troubling is that a number of Hollywood power brokers treat homosexuality as a ‘sin’ or ‘immoral’ or an ‘abnormality’ that somehow is to be hidden; they categorize it as a career killer which could result in a loss of box office billing or revenue,” he says. “But they have skin in the game (usually financial) so they collude.  They lie, betray, falsify; they are the immoral ones.”

When Spacey was “trolling the halls at Burke Williams, camouflaging himself by putting the hood of his bathrobe up over his head, he was not exactly embracing his gayness,” Kearns said. “And when he got in the massage room, alone with the masseur, Spacey insisted on positioning himself for something other than a ‘legit massage.’ Is that harassment? It occurred enough times, according to my very reliable source, that he was thrown out of the West Hollywood location and relegated to Santa Monica (where there were more issues reported). Even in this case, Spacey was being protected by moving him rather than really confronting this issue. Collusion.”

Collusion to ignore sexual harassment happens in all venues, wherever there are power struggles.

“Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo alleged that fashion designer Gianni Versace sexually harassed him in 1984, specifically because he was a straight “man’s man.” Sorbo said he refused Versace’s advances and the two remained friends. Sorbo continued to model for Versace but he didn’t get a major campaign he’d hoped for. “Casting couches have always been around. I don’t play that game, nor do I care to,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Actor Terry Crews (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Flickr)

African American actor Terry Crews took to Twitter on Oct. 10 to tell his own story of a “high level Hollywood executive” at an entertainment industry event in 2016 who “groped my privates.” He thought about confronting the man, who “grinned like a jerk,” but then the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor thought of the possible headline: “240 lbs. Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho.” He assumed he would go to jail so instead he and his wife just left the party.

The next day, the Hollywood Honcho called to apologize, “but never really explained why he did what he did,” Crews said. “I decided not to take it further because I didn’t want to be ostracized — par for the course when the predator has power and influence.”
Crews continued on Twitter: “I let it go. And I understand why many women who this happens to let it go,” spelling out the scenario: “Who’s going 2 believe you? (few) What r the repercussions?(many) Do u want 2 work again? (Yes) R you prepared 2b ostracized?(No).”
Crews got 43,16043,160 likes and 9,8199,819 Retweets.

The next night, “Dawson’s Creek” star James Van Der Beek, now 40, took to Twitter to announce that he, too, had been sexually harassed. “I’ve had my ass grabbed by older, powerful men, I’ve had them corner me in inappropriate sexual conversations when I was much younger,” Van Der Beek tweeted. “I understand the unwarranted shame, powerlessness & inability to blow the whistle. There’s a power dynamic that feels impossible to overcome.”

Van Der Beek’s last tweet received 12,57312,573 likes and 3,3083,308 Retweets.

The current list of alleged sexual abusers—to which Spacey will be added—contains few names of prominent bi/gay men—other than APA agent Tyler Grasham. Grasham, who was fired on Oct. 20 after allegations from filmmaker Blaise Godbe Lipman that decades ago Grasham “fed” him alcohol and sexually assaulted him. Four other young other men came forward alleging sexual misconduct, as well, prompting important clients to leave the agency. Late Sunday, The Wrap reported that actor Tyler Cornell, 20, filed an LAPD police report Oct. 27, accusing Grasham of sodomizing him earlier this year.

Former 80s child star Corey Feldman has also reemerged with promises of exposing a Hollywood pedophile ring that he says abused him and raped his best friend, actor Corey Haim, when Haim was 11. (Haim died at age 38 in 2010, apparently of an accidental drug overdose.) However, Feldman wants $10 million to fund a film and provide him with security protection before he’ll name names, which Matt Lauer called out during an Oct. 30 interview with Feldman on the “Today” show.

Before Feldman’s appearance, the Washington Post reported  that “Lauer read a statement from Judy Haim (Corey’s mother), who told NBC News that if Feldman decides to expose abusers now ‘for the sake of more victims, I’ll be 100 percent behind that. But if he’s waiting to release the names in the movie, I don’t support that. He doesn’t need $10 million to do it.’

(Screen grab from “An Open Secret”)

During a subsequent interview with Megyn Kelly, Feldman gave up one name—talent manager Marty Weiss. However, Feldman had already talked about Weiss in his 2013 memoir “Coreyography” and Weiss was featured in the documentary “An Open Secret” about alleged pedophilia and ephebophilia in Hollywood. Feldman also “hinted at another person as well, saying it was a man who ran ‘a child’s club in Hollywood’ and now works for the L.A. Dodgers,” the Post reports, without immediate follow up.

“An Open Secret” (now free on Vimeo) is a harrowing and powerful 2015 documentary by Amy Berg that focuses on how male managers, agents, and publicists inflict abuse on young, male clients. Central to the film are the Hollywood power players and the star-crazed boys and young men at the Digital Entertainment Network (DEN) in the Tech-Boom days of the late 1990s.  As an in-depth story in the Hollywood Reporter noted: “a wide swath of gay Hollywood flocked to the 12,616-square-foot Encino mansion that 40-something Marc Collins-Rector shared with Chad Shackley, a Michigan man in his mid-20s who had lived with Collins-Rector since dropping out of high school at 16; and Brock Pierce, a teenage actor who had appeared in Disney’s The Mighty Ducks movies.

Marc Collins-Rector (Screen grab from “An Open Secret”)

Anticipating the day that programming would be delivered online, Collins-Rector was an early Internet mogul with money to spend.”

The DEN party scene was considered an advantage to career advancement. But, Los Angeles Times reporter Dawn C. Chmielewski says in the film, “The power dynamic is tilted. You have an adult who’s preying on the child, who’s manipulating the child. They tell me in interviews they’re afraid of professional reprisals and they’re fearful of never working again” if they complain.

The pressure on children is extraordinary. “Once you are eight, you are responsible for your own career,” casting director Krisha Bullock says in the film.  

In 2011, Chmielewski reported on how casting directors are rarely vetted. “The industry has to recognize we have any number of predators who have insinuated themselves into the world of children. They are dance teachers, drama teachers, gymnastics teachers, coaches — as we have seen at Penn State,” Paul Petersen, a former child actor (“The Donna Reed Show”) who founded A Minor Consideration, a nonprofit advocacy group for young performers, told her. “And no one is doing any checking.”

“There will always be a steady stream of kids who want to be famous,” Occidental College Professor Caroline Heldman says in the film. And “parents who push their children in this industry. If we don’t speak out about it, then we are part of the problem because we are contributing to a culture that normalizes this. And by normalizing something, it becomes invisible as a problem.”

And, says one impacted parent: “It’s Hollywood. People do what they want in Hollywood. And if you’re a big enough star, or big enough director or you making enough money for these people, you can do whatever you want.”

Echoes of “Apprentice” Reality TV star and future President Donald Trump to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in a video released on Oct. 8, 2016 by the Washington Post. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says Bush. “Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

Bryan Singer (Screen grab from “An Open Secret”)

While examining the alleged sexual manipulation by Marc Collins-Rector and his cohorts at DEN, “An Open Secret” also seems to implicate investors in the new tech start-up, including “X-Men” director Bryan Singer; TV executive Garth Ancier; former Disney executive David Neuman, who worked for DEN; and producer Gary Goddard.” Also briefly pictured in the film are mogul investor David Geffen and Michael Huffington, as well as others who attended the parties. Director Randal Kleiser is pictured working on a DEN internet production.

But while experts in the film say the investors and partygoers should have known what was going on at the DEN estate, proximity and guilt by association doesn’t mean actual guilt. The LAPD made no arrests.

Mike Egan (Screen grab from “An Open Secret”)

Nonetheless, 15 years after he claims he was drugged and forced to have sex at age 15 at the Encino estate and in Hawaii, Michael Egan III filed a lawsuit against Singer, Ancier, Neuman and Goddard. All vigorously denied the allegations and Singer produced receipts to show he wasn’t in Hawaii on the dates Egan cited. Egan dropped the suits in June 2015, with his lawyers forced to pay seven figures in a countersuit and issue public apologies.

“I believe that I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations against you,” attorney Jeffrey Herman wrote in a letter to Neuman and Ancier. “Had I known what I learned after filing the lawsuits, I would never have filed these claims against you. I deeply regret the pain, suffering and damages the lawsuits and publicity have caused you, and your family, friends and colleagues.”

Egan dropped his lawsuit against Singer in August 2014 when his two attorneys withdrew.

The publicity surrounding the lawsuits, as with the backlash against Spacey, exacerbates the vampire myth of the gay sexual predator—a staple of anti-LGBT diatribes.

“The term pedophilia is sometimes used to tar everybody with the same brush,” Dr. Jack Drescher, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, tells The LA Blade. “ “Historically, people who are against homosexuality have often associated homosexuality with pedophilia.”

Drescher points to the idea that “a gay teacher would be dangerous to young students because they’re gay. That’s a common belief system among people who don’t know gay people or who are deliberately trying to confuse homosexuality with attraction to young people.”  Anita Bryant’s 1977 crusade to “Save Our Children,” for instance, argued that “gay people are predators, that pedophiles are predators. It’s an easy way to categorize the universe to lump everybody together.”

Drescher notes that pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder so sexual attraction to post-pubescent youth is more of a legal issue. “There was a time when the age of consent was much younger. At the beginning of the 20th century, states began elevating the age of consent. It used to be very young,” he says. “Now we as a culture don’t believe that people under a certain age have the legal right to give consent. So a person who’s an adult above the age of 18 who has sexual relationships with a person who, depending on the state, is below that age is guilty of statutory rape. It’s not that the younger person wasn’t consenting. The state is saying they don’t have a legal right to give consent.”

Age of consent laws vary from state to state, with 30 states setting the age of consent at 16. Hawaii only changed their age of consent law from 14 to 16 in 2001.

While noting that—in the early days of sexual liberation, gay rights pioneer Harry Hay advocated for lowering the age of consent to 14, as he claimed it was in England (for gay men, it was actually 18 in 1994). But, Drescher says, “at this historic moment, the LGBT civil rights movement does not embrace people who are attracted to minors. Part of the legitimization of the movement that has fought for marriage and service in the military is kind of aligning itself with conventional middle class values regarding age of consent. Harry Hay was very much engaged in the sexual revolution of another era. But the gay rights movement is not really about the sexual revolution any more, in my opinion.”

 Several Hollywood insiders say they have never heard of a pedophilia ring in the gay community. However, ephebophilia—adult sexual attraction to post-pubescent youth between the ages of 14 to 18— is another matter.  

But sexual harassment and sexual abuse have more to do with the “economics of consent” as played out in sexual dynamics, especially in Hollywood.

“The things that happen in hotel rooms and board rooms all over the world (and in every industry) between women seeking employment or trying to keep employment and men holding the power to grant it or take it away exist in a gray zone where words like ‘consent’ cannot fully capture the complexity of the encounter,” actress, producer Brit Marling writes in The Atlantic. “Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it. In many cases women do not have that power because their livelihood is in jeopardy and because they are the gender that is oppressed by a daily, invisible war waged against all that is feminine—women and humans who behave or dress or think or feel or look feminine.”

A reckoning may be on the horizon. Sexual harassment has become an issue in the California Senate race in 2018.  Expect to hear the words “complicit” and “collusion” a lot more this coming year.

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Louisiana

Louisiana Legislature passes ‘Don’t Say Gay or trans’ bill  

Horton’s bill also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events

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State Rep. Dodie Horton, (R-Haughton), debates her bill on the House floor. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGE, La. – Discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Louisiana’s K-12 public schools could soon be restricted after the state Senate approved a far-reaching anti-LGBTQ+ bill Thursday. 

Senators sent House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools, to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law. It passed on a 28-7 vote, with Democratic Sens. Katrina Jackson-Andrews of Monroe and Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge joining Republicans in support of the bill.

The Legislature approved the same bill last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed it, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action 

Horton’s bill restricts discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, except for topics in approved curricula. This would allow discussion of a romantic relationship in a book but not mentions of a teacher’s family, for example. Horton said in committee her bill would also block discussion of heterosexuality and cisgender identity. Cisgender refers to anyone whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. 

The measure is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Horton’s proposal is much broader and would apply to K-12 grades, whereas Florida’s law applies only to early-grade students. 

Florida recently settled a lawsuit over the law filed by civil rights activists. As part of the agreement, students and teachers are permitted to discuss gender and sexuality as long as it is not part of classroom instruction. 

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students. 

“Having sexualized personal discussions between educators and students in our classrooms are not appropriate, and they can rob our children of their innocence while imposing suggested influence over their developing young minds,” Horton said when her bill came up in committee. 

When asked whether the bill would have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students, Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who was tasked with carrying the bill in the Senate, said that was not the intent of the proposal. 

“It’s good to have a safe place where parents can have some confidence, for instance, if there is an LGBTQ employee, I think letting parents know ‘OK, I’m fine with that person, because I know they can’t talk to my child about their sexual orientation, no more than I would want a promiscuous male or female teacher to talk to my child about their sexual partners,’” Mizell said. 

Horton’s bill would not just apply to classroom instruction. It also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events, meaning it could potentially hinder student chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance and other LGBTQ+ student organizations. 

The Senate rejected a series of amendments Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, proposed that would have restricted the bill’s limitations to only K-8 grades, defined the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” excluded extracurricular activities, and limited the effect to only classroom instruction rather than discussion between teachers and students. Jackson-Andrews also sided with Republicans in rejecting the amendments. 

A separate proposal, House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, is slated to be discussed by the Senate next week. It prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court allows hold to continue on trans care ban

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd”

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An advocate for the trans community protests outside the Senate Chamber while inside lawmakers debated and passed HB 68 that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and bars transgender kids from participating on sports teams, December 13, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

By Megan Henry | COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Supreme Court of Ohio rejected a request by the state to narrow a temporary restraining order against Ohio’s gender-affirming care ban for trans youth.      

Wednesday’s decision allows the case to continue in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, where a trial is scheduled for July 15. 

“This decision was correct,” Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio’s legal director, said in a statement.

“The state’s request was egregious. The scope of the temporary restraining order was necessary and appropriate to prevent the constitutional violations and other irreparable harm that would immediately occur if HB 68 were permitted to take effect. Our legal battle will continue until this cruel restriction is permanently overturned.”

The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on March 26 against the portion of House Bill 68 that prohibits gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The lawsuit said HB 68 violates four sections of the Ohio Constitution — the single-subject rule, the Health Care provision, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Course of Law provision.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two families whose 12-year-old transgender daughters would lose access to gender-affirming health care. 

Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook issued the temporary restraining order on all of HB 68 on April 16. In addition to preventing transgender youth from starting hormone therapy and puberty blockers, the bill also prevents trans athletes from playing middle and high school sports. 

On April 22, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed an emergency motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to try to stop the restraining order — arguing Holbrook “acted beyond the scope of his powers.” He also said the injunction is illegal since it applies to all of Ohio, not just the two plaintiffs. 

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd,” Harper Seldin, American Civil Liberties Union’s senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

“Far from creating an emergency, the challenged temporary injunction merely maintains the status quo in Ohio – that trans youth be permitted to access life-saving medical care with support from parents and doctors.”

HB 68 was supposed to take effect April 24. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed HB 68, but lawmakers voted to override his veto. 

In two separate concurring opinions, Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine and Democratic Ohio Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner took shots at one another.

“Although we deny the relief requested today, this case raises an important issue: Is it appropriate for one judge in a single county to issue a statewide injunction that goes beyond what is necessary to provide interim relief to the parties in the case,” Justice DeWine questioned.

“The other concurring opinion in this case offers a full-throated defense of universal injunctions and fulminates against this court ever taking up the issue. Unlike the other concurring justice, I will reserve judgment until we are presented with a case that properly presents the issue and we have had the benefit of adversarial briefing. … This court should address the propriety of the issuance of universal injunctions for the purpose of granting interim relief in an appropriate case.”

Justice DeWine was joined by Justices Patrick Fischer and Joseph Deters in his concurrence.

In her own concurrence, Justice Brunner took issue with Justice DeWine’s citation of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“A stay is not an injunction. The Ohio Constitution, unlike the federal Constitution, has a single-subject rule for legislation that results in multi-subject legislative acts being facially unconstitutional,” Brunner wrote. “The very nature of a facial constitutional violation is that the offending law violates the Constitution in every circumstance.”

Brunner wrote that if a law that is facially unconstitutional may not be applied to an individual, then it may not be applied to anyone else.

“Similarly, a temporary restraining order based on a substantial likelihood that a law is facially unconstitutional may not be limited to just the parties in the case. Moreover, when the court hearing such a challenge has jurisdiction over the state as a party-defendant, it has the power to enjoin the state from applying the law, regardless of the law’s subject matter.”

Brunner then explained why she chose to write her own concurrence in the first place.

“My colleague’s concurring opinion is more akin to a political statement than a legal one, which is why I have written this opinion,” Brunner concluded.

Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States. Children’s hospitals across Ohio, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, and the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians all opposed HB 68.

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Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished with permission.

The Ohio Capital Journal is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to connecting Ohioans to their state government and its impact on their lives. The Capital Journal combines Ohio state government coverage with incisive investigative journalism, reporting on the consequences of policy, political insight and principled commentary.

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

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire lawmakers roll back existing trans protections

New Hampshire’s Senate passed HB396, repealing some discrimination protections for transgender people that the state passed in 2018

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New Hampshire State House in Concord. (Photo Credit: State of New Hampshire)

By Erin Reed | CONCORD, N.H. – In 2018, New Hampshire passed a non-discrimination law that included transgender people through an all-Republican legislature. On Wednesday, the state legislature repealed some of those protections, clarifying that such protections do not apply to bathrooms, sports, locker rooms, corrections centers, and mental health treatment centers.

The state is one of the first to roll back existing protections for transgender people and now allows for private bans of transgender people in bathrooms, locker rooms, sports, and more. The bill now heads to Governor Sununu’s desk and is the fourth anti-LGBTQ+ bill passed this year in New Hampshire.

The bill repealing protections is House Bill 396, and it was the subject of a contentious 192-184 vote earlier this year before passing the Senate yesterday. It states that though transgender people are still part of the “law against discrimination,” those protections are removed in “limited circumstances in which classification of persons based on biological sex is proper because such classification serves the compelling state interests of protecting the privacy rights and physical safety of such persons and others,” seemingly arguing that transgender people are inherently unsafe. It then outlines the specific places where discrimination against transgender people is now legal in New Hampshire:

  • Bathrooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Athletic or sporting events
  • Prisons, houses of correction, and juvenile detention centers
  • Mental health hospitals
  • Treatment centers

You can see the full bill here:

Importantly, the bill legalizes this kind of discrimination by private entities, meaning that all bathrooms in New Hampshire, including those run by private businesses, may exclude transgender people at the discretion of whoever is in charge of those bathrooms.

This could create a very confusing landscape for transgender people, who will have to research the policies of every private entity each time they wish to use a bathroom. Other similar bathroom bans have typically only applied to schools or public buildings. While the bill does not mandate that private entities exclude transgender people from bathrooms, it explicitly allows them to do so.

The State of New Hampshire added transgender people to its nondiscrimination law in 2018. Governor Sununu, who signed that law, stated, “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die spirit. If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

At the time, Christian organizations criticized him for “failing to stand by Christian principles.” Shanon McGinley of the state conservative think tank Cornerstone Action said in response to the protections in 2018, “We MUST strengthen the Christian base of the NH legislature to improve our chance of winning critical votes in the next legislative session.”

It would appear that those strategies were successful. Whereas the nondiscrimination protections passed with large majorities in 2018, many of those protections were successfully reversed yesterday. Though it is unclear if Governor Sununu will sign the bill on his desk, he has recently supported anti-trans measures, such as signing a letter opposing President Biden’s Title IX protections.

New Hampshire has been a particularly rough state for transgender people this year when it comes to legislation. Just last week, the state passed three anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including a “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, a sports ban that includes provisions for potential genital inspections, and a ban on surgery and referrals for transgender youth. Likewise, a Medicaid ban on some transgender care is currently pending a final vote in the Senate. Should all four bills be signed into law by the governor, New Hampshire will become one of the riskiest states in the Northeast for transgender people of any age.

Courtney Reed, Policy Advocate at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said of the bill’s passage, “Today is another grim day in New Hampshire. Nobody wins when we try to make discrimination law. HB 396 undermines the right to equal protection under the law for transgender people – and we urge Governor Sununu to veto this dangerous bill once it reaches his desk, keeping in tradition that the Granite State respects the rights of LGBTQ+ people.” 

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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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Texas

Texas AG Ken Paxton sues to stop new gender identity guidelines

Texas Attorney General aims 75th lawsuit at Biden Administration this one to halt compliance of gender identity mandates in the workplace

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Collin County Labor day picnic in Plano on Sept. 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Azul Sordo for the Texas Tribune)

By Nina Banks | AMARILLO, Texas – Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and members of the Biden Administration to contest LGBTQ+ workforce protections.

The guidance, released last month, states that denying an employee accommodations for their gender identity, such as prohibiting an employee to use the bathroom of their gender identity, is unlawful workplace harassment. The guidance isn’t legally enforced and instead it serves to distinguish what constitutes harassment under the EEOC.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday argues that the EEOC specifically targeted Texas with its new guidance, as some Texas employers do not have to comply with federal policies meant to prohibit discrimination. Paxton claims the guidance would force Texas to reevaluate its agencies, causing “irreparable harm” to state finances and sovereignty, and redefine “sex” under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Yet again the Biden Administration is trying to circumvent the democratic process by issuing sweeping mandates from the desks of bureaucrats that would fundamentally reshape American law,” Paxton said in a statement. “Texas will not stand by while Biden ignores court orders forbidding such actions and we will hold the federal government accountable at every turn.”

This is Paxton’s 75th lawsuit against the federal government since Biden was inaugurated in January 2020. Paxton has long portrayed himself as the bulwark against Biden’s agenda and has positioned Texas at the forefront of the largest conservative legal battles of the day.

This lawsuit parallels a motion from October 2022 where Paxton sued the Biden administration over a 2021 EEOC guidance that explained the parameters then for gauging harassment and the Supreme Court’s stance on Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A longtime adversary to gender-affirming policy, Paxton claimed the 2021 guidance forced the Biden Administration’s “political agenda” onto Texas. In that case, the U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of Paxton, concluding that the Biden Administration’s protections for LGBTQ+ employees were too extensive.

Paxton filed this lawsuit, like many of his legal challenges, in Amarillo, where one judge hears nearly all cases—Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump as the first judge appointed directly from a religious liberty law firm. Kacsmaryk previously worked at First Liberty, a Plano-based conservative Christian law firm, where he frequently litigated cases involving abortion, contraception and gender identity.

Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.

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Nina Banks’s staff photo

Nina Banks is the Tribune’s Dallas Press Club Foundation reporting fellow based in Arlington where she is studying communications at Tarrant County College. She is managing editor of the student-run newspaper, The Collegian, and hosts the staff’s podcast, The First Draft. When Nina isn’t hunched over her laptop, you can find her sipping on boba tea.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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Federal Government

National Park Service clarifies uniform policies for all events

National Park Service issued a memo clarifying uniform policies for employees from attending any event.

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Stonewall National Monument NPS park rangers marching in 2021 NYC Pride parade. (Photo Credit: NPS/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

NPS Email outlining the change May 9, 2024

In a follow-up, the park service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that park service participation in Pride “could imply agency support … on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the park service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the park service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

Image
Pride Parade Celebration from the Department of the Interior at Stonewall

One park service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

Park service resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

Image
San Francisco Pride NPS contingent.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain national parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and tribal engagement.) This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy — specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-park service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

 

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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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Colorado

Colorado GOP tells parents the Democrats “turn more kids trans”

In a party-wide mass mailing the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools

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Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Screenshot/YouTube 9News Denver)

DENVER, Colo. – In a party-wide mass mailing Tuesday, the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools because, according to the GOP leadership, “Democrats are using schools to “turn more kids trans.” 

In the email blast, Republicans allege: “Our next policy aims to save Colorado children from progressive Democrats who want to turn more kids trans by requiring teachers to use “pronouns” that do not make any sense and cause gender confusion.”

The email continues with an attack recent legislation signed into law by the state’s openly gay Governor Jared Polis:

“Sadly, with Democrats in the super majority in Denver, Non-Legal Name Changes- House Bill 24-1039, passed and was signed into law by Governor Polis. The bill, sponsored by four far-left progressives, two of whom do not know their own genders and do not have children, requires teachers in public schools to use “pronouns” for kids with gender confusion that do not align with their actual scientific gender, without parental consent.

If your child decides he identifies as a girl because he is angry with you, or all of his friends are doing it, the Colorado government will actively encourage his new fetish by allowing him to identify as “she,” “they,” or whatever nonsensical terms your son’s teachers and peers may dream up…all without notifying you of your child’s disturbing behavior, which should be treated rather then encouraged. 

The goal here is clear; the Colorado legislature seeks to break down the family unit while convincing kids that government knows best.”

Colorado has long been prominent in the culture wars over LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and being ground zero for the Evangelical Christian movement attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans.

Focus on the Family, founded in 1977 in Southern California by James Dobson, and based in Colorado Springs, has been one of the leading major conservative self labeled “family values” groups that has actively battled over same-sex marriage, equality rights, and trans rights.

NBC News affiliate 9News Denver reported:

Colorado Republicans’ 2022 nominee for Governor, Heidi Ganahl, issued a similar call for families to abandon the public education system last year. 

Speaking to the Truth and Liberty Conference in Woodland Park, which mixed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with calls for Christian dominance of government, Ganahl said children should be removed from public schools and placed in church-run schools.

Ganahl said Colorado’s public schools teach “that parents are not to be trusted, that government is God, that sexual deviance is King.” 

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Louisiana

La. library board members launch federal suit over removal

The library board repeatedly refused to limit access to 150 books deemed sexually explicit by critics. Most of the titles have LGBTQ+ themes

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Opponents and a supporter of restrictions on library content talk before a St. Tammany Parish Council meeting Aug. 30, 2023. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | COVINGTON, La. – Three St. Tammany library board members removed after a years-long fight over book content are suing the parish council and one of its district representatives in an attempt to block their removal. 

Their federal lawsuit comes after the parish council voted earlier this month to replace five of the six members of the St. Tammany Library Board of Control, a volunteer body that oversees the parish library system. Their removal culminated months of contentious fights. 

Conservative activists in the parish, led by the far-right St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, attempted to ban more than 150 books it deemed sexually explicit. Most of the titles challenged have LGBTQ+ themes. The library board repeatedly refused to limit access to the books, rejecting arguments that the books were sexually explicit. Their refusal put them crosswise with the new, more conservative parish council that took office earlier this year. 

The three board members — Bill McHugh, Anthony Parr and Rebecca Taylor — are suing the St. Tammany Parish Council and Councilman David Cougle, a founder and attorney for the Accountability Project who led the charge to remove the members. The plaintiffs have asked the court for a temporary restraining order on their removal, which would allow them to stay in their positions while the lawsuit plays out. 

In a statement, the plaintiffs emphasized the lawsuit was undertaken by them as individuals, not as an official action by the library board. They also noted Kelly LaRocca, the parish’s library director, is not involved in the suit. 

Cougle has not yet responded to a request for comment for this report. 

On May 4, the parish council voted to replace five board members, ostensibly because the council had discovered the board was not serving in staggered terms, as required by state law. But rather than staggering the current board members, the council used the opportunity to remove board members that resisted book restrictions. 

That violated the First Amendment rights of the ousted board members, the plaintiffs charge. 

“Plaintiffs were engaged in constitutionally protected activity when they spoke and acted at Library Bord [sic] meetings, as well as when they spoke out on matters of public concern such as the controversy over books with LGBTQ themes and characters, the presence or absence of sexually explicit material in libraries, whether or not certain materials available in libraries is ‘pornography’ or constitutes ‘obscenity,’ and whether and how minors have access to such materials,” the lawsuit reads. 

The lawsuit alleges the concern over staggered terms was an “obvious ploy” used to retaliate against their protected speech and their refusal to restrict access to books.

“Supreme Court precedent has focused “not only on the role of the First Amendment in fostering individual self-expression but also on its role in affording the public access to discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas,” the lawsuit says. “And it has recognized that ‘the State may not, consistently with the spirit of the First Amendment, contract the spectrum of available knowledge.’”

The suit has been filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. If the court opts to grant a temporary restraining order, the existing library board would be allowed to continue serving pending the outcome of the lawsuit, which seeks to permanently block the council’s resolution to remove members. 

“Preventing the Parish Council from engaging in unlawful patronage dismissal will preserve the integrity and independence of the Library Board, rather than leaving it subject to the political whims of the Parish Council,” the lawsuit says. 

The lawsuit also says allowing the members to continue serving would continue to protect the public’s constitutional rights to receive information by maintaining their access to library books. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court declines Maryland anti-LGBTQ+ guidelines suit

Three parents of students in the school district outside of D.C., — none of whom have trans children — filed the lawsuit

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U.S. Supreme Court (Photo: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender non-confirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district in suburban Maryland outside of D.C., — none of whom have trans or gender non-confirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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