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California AG Becerra petitions to join federal trans military ban lawsuit

Longtime LGBT ally seeks to have state intervene as co-plaintiff before Nov. 20 hearing

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Attorney General Xavier Becerra (Official photo)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a longtime LGBT ally, filed a petition in federal court Wednesday asking that California be allowed to intervene as a party plaintiff in the federal lawsuit challenging President Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.

The lawsuit, Stockman v. Trump, was filed Sept. 5 by Equality California and seven individual plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. They are being represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and Latham & Watkins LLP, the law firm from which EQCA executive director Rick Zbur retired as its first openly gay partner before joining equality California.

A hearing in Stockman v. Trump, which seeks to defend the rights of transgender individuals seeking to join, or currently serving openly in, the U.S. military, is scheduled for Nov. 20.

“We must honor the service and sacrifice of all members of our military by fighting for them when their rights are attacked,” Becerra said in a press release. “California will not allow President Trump’s illegal, discriminatory and un-American actions to harm our people or our military. Marginalizing transgender service members or any transgender American who wishes to serve our country faithfully and courageously will not occur on our watch.”

California has a long history of top politicians standing up for LGBT rights, including Gov. Jerry Brown appointing the first two openly gay judges in the nation, Steven Lachs in 1979 and Rand Schrader in 1980. As both Attorney General and later as governor, Brown refused to defend anti-gay marriage Prop 8 in court, as did Attorney General Kamala Harris. Becerra also has a long history of reaching out to the LGBT community since at least 1990 when he ran for the State Assembly.

California has the most active duty and reserve military than any other state  – more than 130,000 active duty military personnel and more than 56,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves. According to an NCLR press release:

“Attorney General Becerra’s motion to intervene is based on several arguments, including that implementing Trump’s transgender military ban would:

· Impede the California National Guard’s ability to recruit and retain members that would protect the State’s natural resources in times of need,
· Force California to violate anti-discrimination laws and discriminate against its own residents in staffing the California National Guard, and
· Threaten the State’s ability to safeguard public institutions of higher learning from discrimination in ROTC programs.

The National Guard has been deployed more than 40,000 times since September 11, 2001, and there are currently 18,000 service members in the California National Guard. The Governor of California is the Commander-in-Chief of the California National Guard and relies on it in times of state emergencies, such as the recent massive wildfires across wine country. In 2014, The Williams Institute estimated that 6,700 transgender Americans were serving in the National Guard across the 50 states and found that transgender Americans were twice as likely to be serving or have served in our nation’s military.”

In addition to requesting intervention as a co-plaintiff in Stockman v Trump, Becerra has joined friend-of-the-court briefs in this case and in lawsuits in Maryland and in the District of Columbia. In the latter case, a judge in the DC District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, pending a final outcome in that case, Doe v. Trump.

“Having the support of California’s Attorney General is invaluable in our fight against this administration’s reckless and dangerous actions,” said Zbur. “This ban is having untold, negative impacts on our transgender service members and those who have taken steps to join the military, and having this support from California’s chief law enforcement official shows us that our state will fight alongside us for justice and equality.”

“The State of California recognizes that Trump’s discriminatory ban harms not only transgender service members and our military, but also those who rely on our National Guard for emergency assistance. This point is particularly critical in California, which has been facing unprecedented wildfire devastation. We need to embrace every qualified person who is willing to serve, not turn people away simply for being transgender,” said Shannon Minter, legal director at NCLR, which is based in San Francisco.

“For the Attorney General to take this step sends a powerful message about the gravity of the harm caused by this ban,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project Director. “We should be embracing the contributions of dedicated, courageous Americans who are serving and want to serve. Blocking qualified transgender Americans from serving makes our military weaker and our nation less safe and less fair.”

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Politics

Anti-trans policies promoted at second GOP presidential debate

The seven Republican hopefuls gathered on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley, California

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The GOP's second presidential primary debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley, California. (Screen capture/Fox News)

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – During the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence pledged their support for a national ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors along with policies requiring schools to forcibly “out” trans students to their parents, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the anti-LGBTQ policies in his state.

They were joined on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion by former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Former President Donald Trump, the party’s frontrunner, was again a no-show- declining to participate, instead campaigning in Michigan meeting with striking UAW autoworkers and other labor leaders.

Responding to debate moderator and Fox News host Dana Perino’s question about Christie’s promise to protect “parental rights” by passage of a federal law, Ramaswamy proclaimed that “transgenderism,” especially in kids, is “a mental health disorder.”

After Perino redirected him back to her question, Ramaswamy said when school officials are aware of cases in which a student may be socially transitioning, they must be obliged to inform parents.

“The very people who say that this increases the risk of suicide by are also the ones saying that parents don’t have the right to know about that increased risk of suicide,” he said, adding, “To affirm a kid’s confusion — that is not compassion, that is cruelty.”

The former biotech executive then promised a federal ban on healthcare interventions for trans youth, relaying an anecdote about meeting two women on the campaign trail who, he says, now regretted the gender affirming surgical procedures they had undergone.

Ramaswamy said the women are now in their 20s but did not specify how old they were when the surgeries — double mastectomies and, in one case, a hysterectomy — were performed.

Genital surgeries are almost never performed on patients younger than 18, per the clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, which are supported and considered medically necessary by every mainstream scientific and medical body with relevant clinical knowledge.

“The fact that we allow that to happen in this country is barbaric,” Ramaswamy said, “so I will ban genital mutilation or chemical castration under the age of 18.”

Perino asked Pence how he would protect the LGBTQ+ community as president, noting the rise and escalation of violent attacks documented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and research showing LGBTQ+ people are nine times likelier to be victims of violent hate crimes.

The former vice president’s description of plans and policies on this front was brief and not terribly detailed. “I’ll stand up for the safety and the civil liberties of every American from every background,” he said before pivoting to affirm his support for rules requiring schools to effectively “out” transgender and gender nonconforming kids to their parents.

“Linn-Marr Community Schools in Iowa had a policy,” Pence said, in which “you had you had to have a permission slip from your parents to get a Tylenol, but you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents.”

“That’s crazy,” he said. “We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents.”

He concluded his answer with a pledge that “we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgery anywhere in the country,” adding, “We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda.”

Some of DeSantis’s remarks also touched on the notion that progressive ideas about gender identity are being pushed on American youth in schools.

The governor defended education policies in his state that have been widely criticized as anti-LGBTQ+ and racist, proclaiming that “Our country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination, denying parents rights,” but “Florida represents the revival of American education.”

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California Politics

Bonta leads 20 States in opposing Indiana anti-transgender law

The law significantly harms trans youth by denying them medically necessary care that protects their physical & psychological health

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaking this past June. (Photo Credit: Office of California Attorney General)

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a multistate coalition of 20 attorneys general in opposing a state law in Indiana that severely blocks the ability of transgender youth to access critical, lifesaving gender-affirming care.

The plaintiffs in K.C. v. Indiana are suing to block Indiana’s Senate Enacted Act (S.E.A.) 480, which prohibits healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth. Today, the coalition, led by Attorney General Bonta, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, stressing the importance of gender-affirming care for the health and well-being of transgender youth.

“Every person deserves equal and comprehensive access to medical care to lead a healthier and happier life,” said Bonta. “As we continue to witness the growing number of attacks against our LGBTQ+ community in California and across the nation, today’s legal action is a testament to our ongoing commitment to ensuring the rights of transgender youth are safeguarded and fully available. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to stand up against any action that targets and compromises the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our most vulnerable communities.”

Many transgender teens suffer from gender dysphoria, which results from the incongruence between their gender identity and sex assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria has been found to cause severe distress and anxiety, depression, fatigue, decreased social functioning, substance misuse, and a poorer quality of life. Among transgender people, suicide attempts are nine times more common than in the overall U.S. population. Those risks are even higher among transgender youth.

Enacted in April 2023, Indiana’s S.E.A. 480 is aimed at blocking transgender minors’ access to medical treatment such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers that help treat gender dysphoria.

In their amicus brief today, the coalition supported the plaintiffs’ lawsuit seeking to block the enforcement of S.E.A. 480, arguing that the law:

  • Significantly harms the health and lives of transgender people by denying them medically necessary care that protects their physical, emotional, and psychological health.
  • Is discriminatory and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by banning medical treatment for transgender youth while permitting the same treatment for cisgender youth.

The Attorney General continues to stress an ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of transgender individuals. Last month, he announced a lawsuit to immediately halt the enforcement of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, which threatens to cause transgender students with mental, emotional, psychological, and potential physical harm.

In August, Bonta led a multistate coalition in filing an amicus brief opposing state laws in Kentucky and Tennessee restricting transgender youths’ access to critical and lifesaving healthcare. In June, the Attorney General issued the “State of Pride Report” highlighting the California Department of Justice’s recent efforts to support, elevate, and defend the rights of LGBTQ+ communities throughout California and beyond.

In May, he led a multistate coalition in supporting a challenge to a Florida rule restricting access to gender-affirming care and joined another multistate coalition defending a Colorado law that prohibits gay and transgender conversion therapy on children and youth. In June, he joined a coalition in support of the Ludlow School Committee’s efforts to create a safe and supportive environment for transgender children and all students.

In filing today’s amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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California Politics

New laws expand access & protections for reproductive health care

“This action builds on California’s nation-leading efforts to safeguard access to reproductive health care and remain a safe haven state”

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California Governor Gavin Newsom. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed nine bills Wednesday – providing stronger protections for providers delivering abortion care, expanding the health care workforce, and protecting patient reproductive health care information.

In a press release a spokesperson for Newsom noted: “This action builds on California’s nation-leading efforts to safeguard access to reproductive health care and remain a safe haven state – including protecting patients, providers, and supporters; expanding access to care and services; and sharing California’s efforts and actions with other states through the Reproductive Freedom Alliance.”

The bill package signed today included:

PROTECTING PEOPLE FROM OTHER STATES’ ABORTION BANS:

  • Senate Bill 345 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley) improves protections for providers against the enforcement of other states’ laws that criminalize or limit reproductive and gender affirming health care services.
  • Senate Bill 487 by Senator Toni Atkins (D–San Diego) provides additional safeguards for California abortion providers to participate in the Medi-Cal program, regardless of enforcement activities in another state, if the conduct is legal under California law.
  • Assembly Bill 1707 by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco (D–Downey) protects health care providers and facilities in California from state licensing actions against them based on the enforcement of hostile laws that restrict abortion and gender affirming care in another state.

“Radical politicians continue their all out assault on women’s health care with dangerous and deadly consequences. The right to an abortion is enshrined in California’s constitution. We will continue to protect women and health care workers who are seeking and providing basic care,” Governor Newsom stated.

PROTECTING REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH INFORMATION: 

  • Assembly Bill 254 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) protects reproductive and sexual health digital data included in personal health tracking applications.
  • Assembly Bill 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) enhances privacy protections for electronic medical records related to abortion, gender affirming care, pregnancy loss, and other sensitive services, closing a major loophole in privacy protections for people traveling to California for abortion and gender affirming care.

PROTECTING PATIENTS & PROVIDERS:

  • Assembly Bill 571 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach) prohibits an insurer from refusing to provide malpractice insurance to a provider on the basis of them offering abortion, contraception, or gender affirming care that is lawful in California but unlawful in another state.
  • Assembly Bill 1720 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) clarifies that ultrasounds and similar medical imaging devices must be offered in licensed facilities or by licensed providers, protecting against unscrupulous uses.

EXPANDING REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE WORKFORCE:

  • Assembly Bill 1646 by Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen (D–Elk Grove) facilitates guest rotations in medical residency programs in California for residents who can no longer receive the proper training due to their program being in a state with restrictions or bans.
  • Signed earlier this month, Senate Bill 385 (Atkins, D – San Diego) allows physician assistants to provide abortion care, after receiving training and in compliance with protocols.

“While California has institutionalized nation-leading protections for women, birthing people, and providers, we cannot become complacent in our work to combat extremists’ outright assaults on women and our reproductive agency. I’m grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for continuing to take action to expand women’s health care and reproductive freedom and for protecting those seeking and providing care. The policies affirmed today are emblematic of California’s ongoing commitment to serve as a safe haven for those seeking reproductive care,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

A complete list of bills signed by Newsom below:

  • AB 254 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) – Confidentiality of Medical Information Act: reproductive or sexual health application information.
  • AB 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) – Health information.
  • AB 571 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach) – Medical malpractice insurance.
  • AB 1646 by Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen (D–Elk Grove) – Physicians and surgeons: postgraduate training: guest rotations.
  • AB 1707 by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco (D–Downey) – Health professionals and facilities: adverse actions based on another state’s law.
  • AB 1720 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) – Clinics: prenatal screening.
  • SB 345 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) – Health care services: legally protected health care activities.
  • SB 487 by Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) – Abortion: provider protections.

People in need of abortion care or support accessing abortion care, regardless of what state they call home, can utilize California’s nation-leading website: Abortion.CA.Gov.

Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Sen. Nancy Skinner said: “As abortions, contraception, and other essential health care continue to be criminalized across the country, California is not backing down. With Governor Newsom’s signing of these groundbreaking new bills authored by members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and sponsored by the California Future of Abortion Council, we have solidified our position as the national leader for reproductive freedom. These bills further strengthen and expand California’s legal protections for patients, doctors, nurses and everyone involved in providing and dispensing reproductive and gender-affirming care.”

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California Politics

LGBTQ+ ally Tony Thurmond announces for his bid for governor

Prior to serving as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Thurmond served in the State Assembly

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Gavin Newsom greets Tony Thurmond during the 2018 statewide political campaigns. (Photo Credit: Tony Thurmond/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and long-time LGBTQ+ community ally Tony Thurmond, announced Tuesday that he is running to be the next Governor of California. 

He is running to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is term limited by state law to two four-year terms. Newsom assumed office on January 7, 2019 and his current term ends on January 4, 2027.

If elected, Thurmond would make history as California’s first Black Governor and the first Latino Governor since 1875.

Thurmond made the following announcement on X, formerly Twitter, Tuesday morning: “I didn’t come from money, power, or influence. I’m running for Governor to be a voice for those who need one — because California may be working for millionaires and billionaires but for the rest of California — we need real change.”

“California should be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed, no matter who you are or where you’re from, and together, we can make that a reality,” he said in his announcement video. 

In addition to his commitment to improving opportunities for all Californians, stabilizing the housing market, and contributing to ending homelessness, Thurmond has shown his continued support for children in LGBTQ+ community.

With several school districts across California passing mandatory outing policies and rules targeting the safety of LGBTQ+ students, Thurmond told The Blade in an interview last week that he has and will continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ children. 

“My position on these actions is that they are misinformed and misguided. They are a blatant attack on LGBTQ+ kids. These are bigoted efforts to harm a group of students…This is purely a bigoted action by extremists, whose real effort is to bring harm upon LGBTQ plus students, and I will not stand for that,” he said.

Thurmond told the Blade about his involvement in creating policies that allowed for safe and gender-inclusive bathrooms in the Chino Hills school district. He also mentioned two bills that he supports: 

SB 760, sponsored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). The bill would require the all-gender restroom to meet certain requirements, including, among other things, that it has signage identifying the bathroom facility as being open to all genders and is unlocked, unobstructed, and easily accessible by any pupil.

The Superintendent also supported AB 1078, sponsored by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), which bans “book bans” in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens California law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools. With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” Governor Gavin Newsom said as he signed the bill last Friday.

“We have an opportunity now to say that every person can be treated with love and respect and dignity, regardless of who they are and how they see themselves and who they love,” said Thurmond.  

“Many times, young people are not in a space where they can talk about how they identify in terms of their gender identities. It is our responsibility to get them resources and to help them, not to attack them. I sponsored legislation to provide more resources and training, and teachings to be able to support students and our LGBTQ+ students. The data shows that when we do this work, we support our LGBTQ+ people, they do better at school. They have better self-esteem and better grades. They are less likely to feel suicidal.”

Thurmond has been elected statewide in the nation’s most populous state twice, in 2018 and most recently in 2022, when he earned 63.7% and 5,681,318 votes.

Prior to serving as California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Thurmond served in the State Assembly and before then on the Richmond City Council and the West Contra Costa School Board. Beyond his service in public office, Thurmond is a public school parent, a former social worker, and a public educator.

“I am grateful that my last 15 years of elective service have all centered around some form of education, formally or informally,” said Thurmond. “I do think education is a great equalizer. It has been for me. I want this to be available to all six million students who are interested to our school system in California.”

(Advert) Tony Thurmond for California Governor: It’s About People:

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California Politics

California bans book bans & textbook censorship in schools

California provides instruction & support to roughly 5.9 million students in more than 1,000 districts & over 10,000 schools

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Governor Newsom and Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO — Building on his Family Agenda to promote educational freedom and success, Governor Gavin Newsom today signed AB 1078 by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), which bans “book bans” in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens California law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools. With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” the governor said as he signed the bill.

“When we restrict access to books in school that properly reflect our nation’s history and unique voices, we eliminate the mirror in which young people see themselves reflected, and we eradicate the window in which young people can comprehend the unique experiences of others,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “In short, book bans harm all children and youth, diminishing communal empathy and serving to further engender intolerance and division across society. We Californians believe all children must have the freedom to learn about the world around them and this new law is a critical step in protecting this right.”

“It is the responsibility of every generation to continue the fight for civil and human rights against those who seek to take them away,” said Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson. “Today, California has met this historical imperative and we will be ready to meet the next one.”

“AB 1078 sends a strong signal to the people of California — but also to every American — that in the Golden State — we don’t ban books — we cherish them,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “This law will serve as a model for the nation that California recognizes and understands the moment we are in – and while some want to roll back the clock on progress, we are doubling down on forward motion. Rather than limiting access to education and flat out banning books like other states, we are embracing and expanding opportunities for knowledge and education, because that’s the California way.”

AB 1078 provides the Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to buy textbooks for students in a school district, recoup costs, and assess a financial penalty if a school board willfully chooses to not provide sufficient standards-aligned instructional materials for students. The law also prohibits school boards from banning instructional materials or library books on the basis that they provide inclusive and diverse perspectives in compliance with state law.
 
While other states ban books, California is making tens of billions of dollars in strategic investments to improve education outcomes and literacy. California outperformed most states — including Florida and Texas — in mitigating learning loss during the pandemic, and through historic levels of school funding, the state is building a cohesive structure of support for educators and students that reflects a focus on equity, inclusion, and academic success.
 
As part of the Governor’s Family Agenda, California is ensuring parents and caregivers have the opportunity to actively participate in their children’s education. Parents in California have a seat at the decision-making table for key budget, programmatic, and curricular decisions, including the creation of Local Control and Accountability Plans. In the past two years, in partnership with the Legislature, Governor Newsom has required schools to make it easier for working parents to participate in school decisions, invested $4.1 billion to convert one in four schools into community schools with deeper parent engagement, and invested another $100 million in the Community Engagement Initiative for more proactive collaboration with parents.
 
California provides instruction and support services to roughly 5.9 million students in grades transitional kindergarten through twelve in more than 1,000 districts and over 10,000 schools throughout the state. Education funding in the state is at a record high, totaling $129.2 billion in the 2023-24 budget.

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HRC ad slams ‘extremist’ GOP’s looming government shutdown

The GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes & have led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign launched an ad campaign on Monday slamming House Republicans for advancing anti-LGBTQ and other “out of touch demands” rather than working to clear must-pass spending bills before the month’s end to avoid a government shutdown.

In the weeks since Congress returned from the summer recess, opportunities to forestall this outcome narrowed with each passing day as small groups of the GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes, led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and added anti-LGBTQ and other far-right amendments to all 12 appropriations bills, effectively dooming the prospects of their passage by the Senate.

HRC’s announcement of plans to run the six-figure blitz “across major national outlets, cable networks and digital streaming services” included a 30-second ad titled “Grind to a Halt,” which accuses House Republicans of “trying to limit the health care you and your family can access, ban books and flags, and block enforcement of civil rights laws.”

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said the conservative lawmakers had “hijacked the appropriations process to attack LGBTQ+ communities rather than doing their jobs,” noting that a shutdown would “interrupt critical government services, hurt working families and endanger our national security.”

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Politics

Books banned in public schools spike upwards 33% in last year

PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 in Texas, 333 in Missouri, 281 in Utah, & 186 book bans in Penn.

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK — The number of public school book bans across the country increased by 33 percent in the 2022-23 school year compared to the 2021-22 school year, according to a new PEN America report.

Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor highlights the disproportionate number of bans occurring in Florida — where over 40 percent of all book bans took place in the 2022-23 school year — and shows how state legislation and coordinated pressure campaigns from local groups and individuals have driven mass restrictions on access to literature.

Since PEN America started tracking public school book bans in July 2021, the organization has recorded nearly 6,000 instances of banned books. This includes 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year, impacting the work of 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators.

There are multiple drivers of these trends. Over the past school year, vaguely-worded state legislation and local and national advocacy groups have converged, pressuring districts to remove more books from student access. Fear of penalties, legal liabilities, and criminal punishments are escalating book bans to new heights.

“The toll of the book banning movement is getting worse. More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids. By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”

This year Florida surpassed Texas as having the most books pulled from shelves. Laws and tactics that emerged in the Sunshine State are also being replicated elsewhere. The language of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law that originated in Florida has been mimicked in Iowa, where vagueness and lack of state guidance similarly led school districts to ban books. Book Looks, a website created by a Moms for Liberty member from Florida to encourage book censorship, has been used widely to ban books, from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

The range of efforts to restrict teaching or intimidate educators also continues to expand. The escalation of book bans — combined with the proliferation of legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics like race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities, as well as the rise in ‘educational intimidation’ mandates that require intrusive monitoring of teachers and librarians — pose a grave threat to the freedom to read and learn in schools across the country. 

PEN America argues these efforts are part of an ongoing nationwide “Ed Scare” — a campaign to foment anxiety and anger with the ultimate goal of suppressing free expression in public education.

Other major findings include:

  • PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 book bans in Pennsylvania. These cases are instances where books were banned from classrooms or libraries, or both, or were banned pending investigation, as per PEN America’s definitions.
  • Over 75 percent of the books banned are young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books — in other words, books specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
  • Of the 3,362 books banned this year, 1,263 were banned from classrooms and school libraries, compared to only 333 books in this category last year. This represents an increase of nearly 400 percent compared to last school year.
  • Nearly half of all book bans (48 percent) during the 2022-23 school year deal with violence or physical abuse, including books that include sexual assault; 30 percent include characters of color and themes of race and racism; 30 percent represent LGBTQ+ identities; and six percent include a transgender character.
  • In the 153 school districts across the country that banned a book during the 2022-23 school year, 124(81 percent) have a chapter or local affiliate nearby of one or more of the three most prominent national groups pushing for book bans — Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education. These districts are where 87percent (2,912) of book bans have occurred.

According to Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director and lead author of the report, “Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric continues to ignite fear over the types of books in schools. And yet, 75 percent of all banned books are specifically written and selected for young audiences. Florida isn’t an anomaly – it’s providing a playbook for other states to follow suit. Students have been using their voices for months in resisting coordinated efforts to suppress teaching and learning about certain stories, identities, and histories; it’s time we follow their lead.”  

One positive trend highlighted in the report is the continued growth in student pushback against book bans across the country. Youth resistance to book bans in numerous school districts has included protests, speaking out at school board meetings, and the establishment of national organizations dedicated to defending access to literature in schools.

This report expands on PEN America’s work documenting the spread of educational censorship in America’s schools, showing the rapid evolution and intensification of book-banning across the country since the April 2023 Banned in the USA report, which documented 1,477 instances of book bans in the first half of the 2022-23 school year.

Author John Green, whose book, Looking for Alaska, was the third most banned in U.S. schools according to the report, said “While I’m encouraged by PEN America’s work to protect free expression and intellectual freedom, it’s disappointing to see such a steep rise in the banning and restriction of books. We should trust our teachers and librarians to do their jobs. If you have a worldview that can be undone by a book, I would submit that the problem is not with the book.”

PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.

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The preceding article was provided to the Los Angeles Blade by PEN America.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Join PEN America in defending the freedom to read by taking action to #FreeTheBooks and making your voice heard.

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California Politics

Newsom signs LGBTQ+ protections but vetoes trans youth bill

“These measures will help protect vulnerable youth, promote acceptance, & create more supportive environments in our schools and communities”

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California Governor Gavin Newsom at a 2022 Pride event at the Governor's mansion in Sacramento. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed several pieces of legislation on Saturday extending protection to the Golden State’s LGBTQ+ community with the exception of a bill he vetoed Friday that would have required courts to consider whether a parent affirms their child’s gender identity when making custody and visitation decisions.

 “California is proud to have some of the most robust laws in the nation when it comes to protecting and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, and we’re committed to the ongoing work to create safer, more inclusive spaces for all Californians,” said Governor Newsom. “These measures will help protect vulnerable youth, promote acceptance, and create more supportive environments in our schools and communities. I thank Senator Eggman and the LGBTQ Caucus for their dedicated leadership and partnership in advancing our state’s values of equality, freedom and acceptance.” 

Among the nine bills signed into law were:

AB 5- The Safe and Supportive Schools Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Los Angeles). This bill sets implementation timelines for required LGBTQ+ cultural competency training by public school teachers and staff.

AB 223- Change of gender and sex identifier, sponsored by Assemblymember Christopher Ward (D-San Diego).

Existing law authorizes a person to file a petition with the superior court seeking a judgment recognizing their change of gender to female, male, or nonbinary, including a person who is under 18 years of age. Existing law authorizes a person to file a single petition to simultaneously change the petitioner’s name and recognize the change to the petitioner’s gender and sex identifier, as specified.

This bill would require any petition for a change of gender and sex identifier or a petition for change of gender, sex identifier, and name filed by a person under 18 years of age, and any papers associated with the proceeding, to be kept confidential by the court. The bill would require the court to limit access to these records to specified individuals, including, among others, the minor, the minor’s parents, and their attorneys.

AB 760– Public postsecondary education: affirmed name and gender identification, sponsored by Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Fairfield).

Commencing with the 2023–24 graduating class, existing law prohibits an institution from requiring a graduating student to provide legal documentation sufficient to demonstrate a legal name or gender change in order to have the student’s chosen name listed on the student’s diploma.

This bill, commencing with the 2023–24 graduating class, instead would prohibit an institution from requiring a graduating student to provide legal documentation sufficient to demonstrate a legal name or gender change in order to have the student’s chosen name be the sole name listed on the student’s diploma. The bill would authorize an institution to use a student’s gender or legal name as indicated in a government-issued identification document only if it is necessary to meet a legally mandated obligation, but would otherwise require the institution to identify the student in accordance with the student’s gender identity and affirmed name, as provided. To the extent that this requirement would impose a new duty on community colleges, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

AB 783– Business licenses: single-user restrooms, sponsored by Assemblymember Philip Ting (D-San Francisco). Requires cities, counties, and cities and counties to notify applicants for a business license or permit in writing of the requirement that single-user toilet facilities must be identified as all-gender toilet facilities.

AB 994– Law enforcement: social media, sponsored by Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley). With respect to an individual who has been arrested for any crime, this bill would require a police department or sheriff’s office, upon posting a booking photo on social media, to use the name and pronouns given by the individual arrested. The bill would authorize a police department or sheriff’s office to use other legal names or known aliases of an individual in limited specified circumstances.

This bill would also require that a police department or sheriff’s office remove any booking photo shared on social media after 14 days unless specified circumstances exist. Because the bill would impose higher duties on local law enforcement, it would impose a state-mandated local program.

SB 372 – Department of Consumer Affairs: licensee and registrant records: name and gender changes, sponsored by Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley/Burbank). The bill would prohibit a board from publishing information relating to the licensee’s or registrant’s former name or gender online. Instead, the bill would require the board to post an online statement directing the public to contact the board for more information. For specified licensees or registrants, the board would be prohibited from posting enforcement records online, but would be required to direct post an online statement stating that the individual was previously subject to an enforcement action and directing the public to contact the board, as prescribed. The bill would provide that all records related to a request to update an individual’s license or registration under these provisions are confidential and not subject to public inspection or disclosure.

SB 407 – Foster care: resource families, sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Existing law generally provides for the placement of foster youth in various placement settings. Existing law provides for the implementation of the resource family approval process and defines a resource family as an individual or family who has successfully met both the home environment assessment standards and permanency assessment criteria, as specified, necessary for providing care for a child placed by a public or private child placement agency by court order, or voluntarily placed by a parent or legal guardian. Under existing law, the resource family permanency standards include a family evaluation, including, but not limited to, interviews of an applicant, as specified, and a risk assessment.

This bill would require a resource family to demonstrate the capacity an ability and willingness to meet the needs of a child, regardless of the child’s sexual orientation or orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, as specified.

SB 760 – School facilities: all-gender restrooms, sponsored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). The bill would require the all-gender restroom to meet certain requirements, including, among other things, that it has signage identifying the bathroom facility as being open to all genders and is unlocked, unobstructed, and easily accessible by any pupil.

SB 857 – Advisory task force: LGBTQ+ pupil needs, sponsored by Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). This bill will establish an advisory task force to identify LGBTQ+ pupil needs statewide and assist in implementing supportive initiatives.

“This year the LGBTQ Caucus took up the important work of protecting our communities in the face of vile anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, discriminatory laws across the country, and hatred. I appreciate the Governor’s partnership in signing some of our priority and endorsed legislation today, and hope we can continue to educate about the harm LGBTQ+ people will continue to face if we fail to act,” said Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. 

“While states across the nation are passing legislation that puts LGBTQ+ people and especially youth at risk, California is sending a clear message today — hate-filled attacks will not be tolerated and we will continue protecting and ensuring the safety of all members of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “We are thankful to our legislative partners for championing these important bills and to Governor Newsom for continuing to be such a strong ally in improving and protecting the wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community as we face growing attacks from far-right extremists.”

Assemblywoman LORI D. WILSON (D -Fairfield). (Photo Credit: Calif. State Assembly)

On Friday, Newsom vetoed AB 957 would have updated California law to clarify that, for the purposes of child custody and visitation decisions, a parent’s affirmation of a child’s gender identity or gender expression is an essential factor that must be considered in determining the best interest of the child by a judge.

That legislation had been sponsored by Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Democrat who introduced the bill and has an adult son who came out as transgender when he was a teenager, criticized the governor’s decision.

“I’ve been disheartened over the last few years as I watched the rising hate and heard the vitriol toward the trans community. My intent with this bill was to give them a voice, particularly in the family court system where a non-affirming parent could have a detrimental impact on the mental health and well-being of a child,” Wilson said in a statement.

“We are disappointed and disheartened by Governor Newsom’s decision to veto AB 957, which would have helped to ensure that the unique needs of transgender and gender non-conforming youth are explicitly considered in child custody and visitation decisions,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang.

“At a time where LGBTQ+ youth, specifically trans youth are facing higher rates of depression and suicide, reassurance and protection from our state is in dire need. Anti-LGBTQ+ extremists targeted this modest and straightforward legislation as part of their coordinated attacks on trans youth in California, and the failure to enact this bill bolsters their dangerous efforts. We are grateful to Assemblymember Lori Wilson for her unwavering commitment to the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming young people. Despite this setback, we will continue working with the Legislature and Governor Newsom to to protect the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

In his veto message, the governor explained:

“I appreciate the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill. I share a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians, an effort that has guided my decisions through many decades in public office.
That said, I urge caution when the Executive and Legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate – in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic – legal standards for the Judicial branch to apply. Other-minded elected officials, in California and other states, could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities.”

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Politics

McBride earns major labor support from flight attendants union

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Sarah McBride speaking to a gathering hosted by the LGBTQ Victory Fund. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

By Joel Lev-Tov | WILMINGTON, Del. – Delaware U.S. House Democratic candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s President Sara Nelson wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike – putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington – including with the White House – and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat – 44% of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online – meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted – and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Association of Flight Attendants’ president Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s State Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Joel Lev-Tov is a student journalist and photographer in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area majoring in journalism and minoring in Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

They were a journalism Fellow at the Washington Blade this past summer & have skills in both photography & A/V systems.

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Politics

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, ardent LGBTQ ally, will not seek re-election

In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office

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U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) (Photo credit: Danica Roem)

LEESBURG, Va. – U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced on Monday she will not seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that the congresswoman described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”

“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”

A member of the Congressional Equality Caucus and co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force, Wexton has been a staunch ally of the LGBTQ community since her first election to Congress in 2018 and during previous five-year tenure in the Virginia State Senate.

“On my lowest days, she’s quite literally been a shoulder to cry on, and on my best days, she was the second person I told about my engagement last year,” Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) told the Washington Blade on Monday.

The congresswoman is “a role model, mentor and genuine public servant whose friendship and advocacy means the world to me,” said Roem, who is the first openly trans representative to serve in any state legislature and will be the first in Virginia’s State Senate if she is elected to the newly drawn 30th district seat next year.

“I spent so many years closeted in part because of the fear and loathing perpetuated by elected officials toward LGBTQ people in Northern Virginia broadly and greater Prince William [County] specifically that made for a hostile, unwelcoming environment,” she said.

“To go from that to having such outspoken, fearless representation from my member of Congress in Rep. Jennifer Wexton hasn’t so much been a breath of fresh air as much as a completely new biosphere,” Roem said.

She added, “I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s done and the example of inclusivity she’s set for her constituents.”

Roem pointed the Blade to an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Jennifer Wexton became the ‘patron saint of the transgender community,’” which details the ways in which LGBTQ rights “with an emphasis on the transgender community” had become Wexton’s “signature issue” just “six months into her first term.”

In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office.

Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, also noted Wexton’s advocacy for the community in a post Monday on X: “Thank you @RepWexton for being a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the General Assembly and in Congress.”

“You’ve made our commonwealth a better place,” the group wrote, adding, “we’re sending our love and strength to you, your family and your entire team.”

“In 2018, this state senator I called my legislative role model and looked up to so much as a first-year delegate, came over for dinner crepes to share her wisdom, humor and guidance,” Roem said on X. “Five years later, Rep. @JenniferWexton is still a mentor, friend and champion for NOVA.”

The Washington Post reported Wexton’s planned departure means her seat representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, as it was held by Republicans for 40 years prior to the congresswoman’s defeat of GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock in 2018.

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