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Troubling signs for LGBT people from Supreme Court in cakeshop arguments

Justice Kennedy: “Tolerance is essential in a free society. Tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.”



Supporters of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips gather in front of the United States Supreme Court on Dec. 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded arguments Tuesday in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case with no clear indication of how it would rule as swing-vote Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed skepticism of the Colorado non-discrimination law, but also sent conflicting messages.

As the American Civil Liberties Union’s national legal director David Cole argued before the bench, Kennedy remarked the attorney’s claim the baker, Jack Phillips, denied a wedding cake to the same-sex couple based on their identity, rather than objections to same-sex marriage, was “just too facile.”

Kennedy also maintained “tolerance is essential” in society and accused the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of being “neither tolerant, nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs,” noting a line in the commission’s ruling calling the baker “despicable.” Kennedy also mentioned “other good bakery shops that were available.”

But Kennedy also questioned whether the denial of a wedding cake compromised the dignity of the couple — a principle of significant importance to the justice — and questioned why selling ready-made cake to the couple wouldn’t be speech as opposed to a custom cake. Kennedy also envisioned after a ruling in favor of the baker religious groups sending messages to bakeries to “not make cakes for gay weddings.”

In the aftermath of the hearing, reporters in the Supreme Court press room speculated the court could remand the case to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission with instructions to be more tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs. Another possibility was a ruling specifically crafted to apply to Colorado’s non-discrimination law without nationwide implications.

The petitioner in the case, Phillips, argues that making a wedding cake is inherently an artistic act of expression protected under the First Amendment, therefore he should be able to deny wedding cakes out of religious objections to same-sex couples like Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who sought to buy a cake for their wedding in 2012.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined Phillips’ denial of service to the couple amounted to unlawful anti-gay discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. Although state courts have affirmed that ruling, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case earlier this year.

U.S. Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the Obama-appointed justices, made the strongest case for the Colorado non-discrimination law and at times were seemingly trying to coax Kennedy, who has a long history of ruling in favor of gay rights, to side with the same-sex couple.

When Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of U.S. advocacy for the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, approached the issue of dignity by saying “in this case, dignity cuts both ways” and the Colorado law is demeaning to Phillips, Sotomayor shot back that wasn’t the case.

“It’s not denigrating someone by saying, as I mentioned earlier, to say: If you choose to participate in our community in a public way, your choice, you can choose to sell cakes or not,” Sotomayor said. “You can choose to sell cupcakes or not, whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone.”

Asserting society has “competing beliefs,” Sotomayor recognized LGBT people “have been humiliated, disrespected, treated unequally” and enumerated the history of discrimination against them, such as LGBT people being denied medical treatment. That history, Sotomoyor said, justifies a non-discrimination law in public accommodations.

“We’ve always said in our public accommodations law we can’t change your private beliefs, we can’t compel you to like these people, we can’t compel you to bring them into your home, but if you want to be a part of our community, of our civic community, there’s certain behavior, conduct you can’t engage in,” Sotomayor said. “And that includes not selling products that you sell to everyone else to people simply because of their either race, religion, national origin, gender, and in this case sexual orientation.”

Kagan peppered Waggoner with questions on why wedding cake would be considered inherent, but not other wedding services such as a jeweler or a hairstylist. Waggoner said neither of those cases would be the same as a wedding cake because they’re not speech.

“I’m quite serious, actually, about this, because, you know, a makeup artist, I think, might feel exactly as your client does, that they’re doing something that’s of great aesthetic importance to the wedding and that there’s a lot of skill and artistic vision that goes into making a somebody look beautiful,” Kagan said.

In one telling moment when Kagan enumerated other professions and brought up chef, Waggoner denied a chef at a wedding was engaged in expressive speech, prompting her to exclaim “woah” in disbelief.

“The test that this court has used in the past to determine whether speech is engaged in is to ask if it is communicating something, and if whatever is being communicated, the medium used is similar to other mediums that this court has protected,” Waggoner replied.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was sympathetic to the baker’s claims, had his own hypothetical question that he posed both to Cole and Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger: Could a Christian legal group be forced under Colorado law to represent a client in support of same-sex marriage? Both Cole and Yarger said the answer would be “yes.”

“It’s clearly covered by Colorado’s law,” Roberts said. “It’s not primarily religious. It’s primarily legal. It’s provided to all faiths. And there’s nothing in the law that I can see that says it’s limited to for-profit organizations.”

Sotomayor sought to cast doubt on whether Phillips was seeking to deny same-sex couples only wedding cakes because they’re inherently an act of expression, referencing an incident when he refused to sell cupcakes to a lesbian couple. Waggoner said that alleged incident was never included in the initial complaint, the formal charges against Phillips or the resolution against him.

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop speaks to reporters in front of the United States Supreme Court on Dec. 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Representing the Trump administration during arguments was U.S. Solicitor General Neil Francisco, who solicited and obtained time to argue on behalf of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It was the first time since his confirmation he argued before the Supreme Court during oral arguments.

Francisco made the case the First Amendment allows an individual to deny a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, but not for an interracial or black couple because that act would be based on identity, not the act of same-sex marriage.

“I think pretty much everything but race would fall in the same category, but as this court made clear in the Bob Jones case, the IRS could withdraw tax-exempt status from a school that discriminated on the basis of interracial marriage, but I’m not at all sure that it would reach the same result if it were dealing with a Catholic school that limited married student housing to opposite-sex couples only,” Francisco said.

When Kagan asked whether denying a wedding cake to a couple was an affront to the LGBT community, Francisco conceded dignity issues were at stake, but sometimes there’s “dignity interest on the other side.”

Both Francisco and Waggoner made heavy use of the Supreme Court precedent in the case of Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, a 1995 decision which held the state can’t compel individuals in a public demonstration to include groups who impart a message the organizers don’t want in their demonstration.

Francisco called the decision against Masterpiece Cakeshop the “flipside of Hurley” because in this case Colorado was essentially forcing Phillips to take part in the metaphorical parade of supporting same-sex marriage.

U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch tried to steer the court toward instituting an abstract rule that could guide businesses on whether they could deny service to customers under the First Amendment, bringing up Jackson Pollock as the kind of artist who would be able to deny service because his art is inherently expressive.

The Trump-appointed justice also questioned why the punishment for Phillips, being forced to undergo training with his employees, shouldn’t be considered compelled speech.

“Why isn’t that compelled speech and possibly in violation of his free-exercise rights?” Gorsuch said. “Because presumably he has to tell his staff, including his family members, that his Christian beliefs are discriminatory.”

In addition, Gorsuch echoed Kennedy’s concerns about the Colorado Civil Rights Commission being disrespectful of Phillips, pointing to a second commissioner who suggested if he doesn’t like the law, he could change his religious beliefs.

There was little time for attorneys to make their cases before the Supreme Court without interruption as justices continually peppered them with inquiries and challenges, but on occasion were able to make the points they had prepared.

Cole, representing the American Civil Liberties Union and the same-sex couple, emphasized the far-reaching implications of a ruling in favor of being allowed to deny wedding cakes to LGBT people.

“We don’t doubt the sincerity of Mr. Phillips’s convictions, but to accept his argument leads to unacceptable consequences,” Cole said. “A bakery could refuse to sell a birthday cake to a black family if it objected to celebrating black lives. A corporate photography studio could refuse to take pictures of female CEOs if it believed that a woman’s place is in the home. And a florist could put a sign up on her storefront saying we don’t do gay funerals, if she objected to memorializing gay people.”

Waggoner said forcing Phillips to make wedding cakes contrary to his beliefs would be the “gravest offense to the First Amendment.”

“A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips’ religious convictions,” Waggoner said.

More to come…



Kentucky lawmakers override veto, anti-LGBTQ+ bill now law

“While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary. We will not lose in court. And we are winning in so many other ways”



Students and Trans advocates from all across Kentucky made their voices heard Wednesday to opposing SB150 (Photo Credit: Fairness Campaign)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Both chambers of the Kentucky Legislature voted Wednesday to override Governor Andy Beshear’s veto on Senate Bill 150, a sweeping bill that would severely restrict the lives of trans youth in the state.

The law will:

  • Ban gender-affirming medical care, including treatments that delay puberty, other forms of hormone therapy and surgery, for trans and nonbinary people under 18 years old. 
  • Require revoking the licenses of doctors who provide such services.
  • Tell public schools to block trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
  • Allow public school teachers to misgender trans students.
  • Prevent public schools from allowing educational presentations that study gender identity or sexual orientation.
Governor Andy Beshear (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear stressed that the bill conflicted with his faith and noted the bill’s repercussions would include an increase in LGBTQ+ youth suicides: “My faith teaches me that all children are children of God and Senate Bill 150 will endanger the children of Kentucky.” Beshear also called it, “too much government interference in personal healthcare issues and rips away the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children.”

Protestors rally in front of Kentucky State Capitol building prior to votes on SB 150 (Photo Credit: Fairness Campaign)

In an emailed statement to the Blade, Fairness Campaign Executive Director Chris Hartman reflected on the Assembly’s actions:

“While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary. We will not lose in court. And we are winning in so many other ways. Thousands of Kentucky kids came to the Capitol today to make their voices heard against the worst anti-trans bill in the nation. They are our hope for a Kentucky future that is more fair, more just, and more beautifully diverse and accepting than ever before.

I applaud the brave protesters who stood their ground in the Kentucky House gallery today before being removed by Kentucky State Troopers. Their chants and pain were heard by all in the chamber and were a necessary show of the grief and harm Senate Bill 150 will cause. Transgender children and their families in Kentucky are scared, rightfully so. We will do all we can to ensure they can continue to access the life-saving medical care they deserve.”

According to the Fairness Campaign Executive Director, “Brave, devastated protesters held each other in solidarity & chanted for 30 minutes in the House gallery before being taken out in zip ties by State Troopers.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Alabama School District agrees to adopt critical LGBTQ protections

“There is no amount of money in the world that could ever replace Nigel,” said Nigel’s mother. “You can’t put a price on a child”



Nigel Shelby (Family photo)

HUNTSVILLE, Al. – The family of Nigel Shelby, a Black, openly gay teenager who died by suicide after experiencing severe, unchecked anti-gay harassment and race discrimination while attending Alabama’s Huntsville High School, reached a settlement with the Huntsville City Board of Education, concluding the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Shelby’s parents following his tragic death.

Nigel was 15 when he died by suicide on April 18, 2019. His parents and estate subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the Huntsville City Board of Education and school administrator Jo Stafford for violating Nigel’s civil and constitutional rights.

Their complaint, filed in July 2021, alleged that Nigel was deprived of educational opportunities, and ultimately his life, because of deliberate indifference by the Board and Stafford to the anti-gay peer harassment Nigel was experiencing.

The lawsuit also cited a lack of adequate training to prevent and address such harassment, and school officials’ own intentional discrimination against Nigel based on his sexual orientation, nonconformance with sex-stereotypes, and race.

The settlement announced today requires the Board to implement a series of policy and training changes designed to better protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students from sex-based harassment, including by:

  • Making Title IX policy changes clarifying that sex-based discrimination includes conduct based on a person’s sexual orientation and nonconformity to gender stereotypes;
  • Ensuring additional, readily accessible resources and information on how to identify and report bullying and harassment, including harassment of LGBTQ students, are available for all district students and parents;
  • Implementing professional development and external training on best practices for all school administrators, faculty and other personnel who regularly interact with students or are involved in receiving or investigating bullying and harassment complaints, including harassment of LGBTQ students;
  • Hiring external consultants with expertise in schools’ prevention and response to LGBTQ harassment and racism to conduct a comprehensive review of the district’s relevant policies, practices, procedures, and training; conduct climate assessments; and make recommendations for improvement;
  • Conducting annual school climate surveys to identify and assess harassment and bullying in the district’s schools;
  • Developing and implementing district-wide procedures for electronically recording and tracking all incidents of bullying and harassment;
  • Continuing to implement a suicide prevention program for students and considering any improvements recommended by the external consultants; and
  • Providing annual reports for three years to counsel for Nigel’s family showing compliance with the non-monetary terms of the settlement.

The settlement also includes $840,000 in financial compensation to the family, including damages and attorneys’ fees.

The family’s legal complaint noted that students at his school routinely subjected Nigel to anti-gay slurs and told him that he should kill himself for being gay, resulting in him never feeling safe in the school environment.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that the school’s lead administrator for the freshman class, Jo Stafford, knew about the anti-gay harassment Nigel was experiencing, and the self-harm and suicidal ideation that resulted, yet took inappropriate action to address it, instead blaming Nigel for his own harassment, saying it was the price he had to pay for being gay.

The complaint notes that Stafford also mocked Nigel’s depression, telling Nigel and a classmate dance to “black people’s music” to make Nigel feel better. Stafford never informed Nigel’s parents about the harassment or mental health crisis he was experiencing, nor did she offer Nigel any professional help.

Nigel died by suicide approximately one week after a classmate had taken Nigel to Stafford for help out of concern over Nigel’s self-harming conduct and Nigel had told Stafford how deeply upset he was over the anti-gay harassment he was experiencing.

“There is no amount of money in the world that could ever replace Nigel,” said Camika Shelby, Nigel’s mother. “You can’t put a price on a child. This lawsuit was about bringing change. It was about acknowledging that there needs to be change. It was about saving someone else’s child so that they don’t have to go through the horrible tragedy that I have. I hope this settlement will help bring about that change.”

With more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced by state lawmakers in the past year, Alabama lawmakers have sought to advance a record number of bills targeting LGBTQ rights, including passing one of the most anti-transgender legislative packages in history. Currently, Alabama joins 24 other states that don’t have laws protecting LGBTQ students from bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We’re very pleased that Huntsville City Schools has agreed to make substantial changes to ensure that students like Nigel are protected during a time when LGBTQ students are under attack nationwide,” said Public Justice Students’ Civil Rights Project Director Adele Kimmel. “We know that LGBTQ students and students of color experience discrimination at disproportionately high rates, so it’s critical that schools take proactive steps to protect these students. By amending its Title IX policies to clarify that sex-based discrimination includes conduct based on sexual orientation and nonconformity to gender stereotypes, Huntsville is taking an important step in the right direction.”

In a press release, officials say the school board approved the agreement Tuesday.

“First and foremost, we continue to extend our thoughts and prayers to Nigel’s family, friends and school community,” Huntsville City Schools superintendent Christie Finley said. “While we understand nothing can replace the life of a student, it is our hope that the settlement will bring a sense of peace and closure for all involved.”

“All students have the right to go to school without fear of bullying and harassment for who they are,” said Joseph Wardenski, Founder & Principal of Wardenski, P.C., a civil rights law firm based in New York. “Nigel was denied that right. By bringing this lawsuit, Nigel’s parents are honoring his memory by ensuring that Huntsville will create a safer, more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.”

“While Camika and Patrick lost a son, the world lost a smart, handsome, funny young person with limitless potential,” said retired district judge Martha Lynn Sherrod, who served as co-counsel“We will not know what or who Nigel would have become, but his legacy inspires all of us to cherish, protect and advocate for our children without regard to sexual orientation. Dr. Martin Luther King said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ Injustice or insensitivity aimed at the LGBTQ community affects all of us, and we must continue to work to eradicate prejudice in any form. Schools are not an exception to this rule, but must remain at the forefront to protect our children.”

Nigel’s family is represented by Adele Kimmel, Alexandra Brodsky, and Mollie Berkowitz of Public Justice; Joseph Wardenski of Wardenski P.C.; and M. Lynn Sherrod and Kenneth B. Cole, Jr. of Conchin, Cole, Jordan & Sherrod.

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Bill would require US foreign policy to promote LGBTQ+, intersex rights

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) among measure’s sponsors



The Progress Pride flag flies in front of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on July 22, 2022. The International Human Rights Defense Act would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Three lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad through its public policy.

U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has sponsored the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Garcia, the former mayor of Long Beach, Calif., of Peruvian descent who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District, last November became the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress. Garcia on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the International Human Rights Defense Act is the first bill he has introduced. 

“These issues around global human rights are ones that unfortunately, many aren’t codified into law,” he said.

Garcia said the U.S. has “different levels of global involvement,” depending upon who is president. He added the bill is “a great way of codifying an important office for us at the State Department, but also a series of measures and reports that will ensure that we’re promoting (LGBTQ+ rights) abroad.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 announced the creation of the special envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. The White House in 2021 named Jessica Stern, who was previously the executive director of Outright International, a global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, to the position.

Former President Donald Trump tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a 2021 interview with the Blade said  the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

Markey and then-California Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act in 2021.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality and Equality California are among the 111 organizations that signed a March 24 letter to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is the ranking member of House State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee. The groups urged lawmakers to increase funding of the State Department’s Global Equality Fund to $40 million and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Inclusive Development Hub’s Protection of LGBTQI+ Persons to $30 million in fiscal year 2024. 

“We are grateful to you for your dedication to global LGBTQI+ rights programs over the last five fiscal years, including the additional $25 million increase to these programs within the Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act,” reads the letter. “These investments have provided flexibility to the State Department and USAID to scale already existing programs and develop new mechanisms to quickly deploy funding to LGBTQI+ organizations across the globe.”

“Even with these increases, the State Department and USAID continue to face significant funding gaps to address the needs of LGBTQI+ communities impacted by COVID-19, rising authoritarianism, and humanitarian crises,” adds the letter.

The White House has sharply criticized last week’s passage of a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ+ and intersex people in Uganda. Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday spoke about her support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

Garcia described the Uganda bill to the Blade as “awful” and added “a big part of why we’re having this discussion now is that there are countries across the world that are criminalizing same sex relationships.”

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U.S. Reps. Mark Takano & Adam Schiff call out Twitter homophobia

The LGBTQ+ community has become the target of a wave of abuse centered around the false & hateful lie they ‘groom’ children



Elon Musk appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (Screenshot/YouTube CBS)

WASHINGTON – California Democratic U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Mark Takano sent a letter Tuesday to Twitter CEO Elon Musk, taking the billionaire entrepreneur to task over the escalating hate speech on the platform.

“We have new data showing that Twitter is not adequately or consistently acting on the hate speech on the platform. We are reaching out to you again to understand how you are planning to combat this increase in harmful and hateful content,” the congressmen wrote.

The pair had sent a previous letter this past December [2022], “after multiple reports came out demonstrating that since late October, when you initiated numerous layoffs and changes at the company, hate speech has dramatically increased on Twitter.”

“Unfortunately, our [December 2022] letter was only met with open hostility and a false public attack that did not provide the requested data,” Schiff and Mark Takano wrote. “Your various tweets to our offices included a decrease in hate speech was followed by massive amounts of antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ comments and threats against us on both of our Twitter accounts.”

Citing a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released Monday, the congressmen noted: “[The] new study shows there was a 119% increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and slurs on the platform under your leadership. This follows a February study from CCDH which demonstrated the harms that you have brought to the platform by reinstating tens of thousands of accounts that were espousing antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, bigoted, misogynistic, and racist ideologies.

Most notably they found that just ten of these hateful accounts have accumulated over 2.5 billion impressions on Twitter since December. The theme of bad actors flooding your platform continued when you took over, as the ISD study also found “a ‘surge’ in the number of new accounts created immediately after Musk took over that posted at least some antisemitic content.”

The hateful ‘grooming’ narrative has jumped 119% under Musk

The volume of this narrative on Twitter has only grown under Elon Musk, with tweets and retweets mentioning the LGBTQ+ community alongside ‘grooming’ slurs jumping 119% since his takeover of the platform on 27 October 2022.

Often targeting educators, pride events, or drag story hour events, the ‘grooming’ narrative demonizes the LGBTQ+ community with hateful tropes, using slurs like “groomer” and “pedophile”. 

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has identified over 1.7 million tweets and retweets since the start of 2022 that mention the LGBTQ+ community via a keyword such as “LGBT”, “gay”, “homosexual” or “trans” alongside slurs including “groomer”, “predator” and “pedophile”.

“This isn’t an accident. Elon Musk put up the ‘Bat Signal’ to homophobes, transphobes, racists and all manner of disinformation actors, encouraging them to flood onto Twitter. Not only has Musk’s ownership of the platform coincided with an explosion of the hateful ‘grooming’ narrative, but Twitter is monetising hate at an unprecedented rate, ”Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate

Since Musk’s takeover, tweets containing the ‘grooming’ narrative have spiked several times. In particular, they spiked around tragic events like the Colorado Springs shooting.

Schiff and Takano then pointedly asked Musk:

• What steps is your company taking in response to the recent rise in hate speech on your platform and how do you plan to make these decisions available to the public? Additionally, what is your timeline for rolling out any of these changes?

• Your company has stated that human safety is a priority, but anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increased since the Colorado Springs Shooting. We have also seen a distinct rise in antisemitism on the platform. What is Twitter’s plan to increase safety for its users, and more specifically the LGBTQ+ community and the Jewish community?

• What is the current process for enforcing content moderation on your platform? How do you plan to make these processes transparent and available to the public and researchers?

• With the recent drastic reduction in the number of Twitter employees, including specialist content moderators, engineers, and safety team members, what is your company’s current capability and capacity to handle the risks arising from the extreme rise in hate speech, hate actors and the growth of hate communities? What is the current risk-assessment process and response timeline for viral hate speech and disinformation?

Elon Musk officially acquired Twitter on October 27 and tried to reassure advertisers and civil rights leaders that the platform wouldn’t “become a free-for-all hellscape” and would “continue to combat hate & harassment.” Despite these assurances, Musk quickly started reinstating previously banned accounts, including those of high-profile right-wing users such as former President Donald Trump. Notably, Musk has also reinstated at least two accounts — those belonging to anti-LGBTQ figure James Lindsay and right-wing satire site Babylon Bee — that previously violated the platform’s rules against hateful content.

Anti-LGBTQ accounts and figures including Libs of TikTok, Matt Walsh, and Christopher Rufo; prominent conservative politicians such as Reps. Mayra Flores (R-TX), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott; and right-wing media outlets and personalities Tomi Lahren, Charlie Kirk, the Hodgetwins, Donald Trump Jr., and Fox News all saw significant increases in their mentions in tweets with “groomer” rhetoric during the studied time period.

For instance, Libs of TikTok saw more than a 600% increase in the mentions, going from nearly 2,000 to almost 14,000, while Flores saw a nearly 6,000% increase, going from nearly 70 mentions to over 4,000.

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6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville who, according to police, identifies as transgender



Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo Credit: Nashville Metro Police Dept.)

NASHVILLE – In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun,” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Chief Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at The Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, who according to the chief, identifies as transgender.

According to Drake three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm 3 children and 2 adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (The 2 adults) and (The 3 children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All 5 patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

President Biden speaking on the Nashville shooting Monday morning via NBC News

Chief Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

Nashville Police Chief John Drake speaking on the Nashville shooting Monday morning via NBC News

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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The White House

Vice president to visit three African countries with criminalization laws

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week



Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Accra, Ghana, on March 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Harris' Twitter page)

ACCRA, Ghana — Vice President Kamala Harris this week will visit three countries in Africa that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Ghana on Sunday. They will travel to Tanzania and Zambia before returning to the U.S. on April 2.

Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Washington Blade last week reported LGBTQ+ and intersex Ghanaians remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that, would among other things, further criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex people and make advocacy on their behalf and allyship illegal. A Ghanaian representative who spoke during a March 20 meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work said the body is not an appropriate venue to discuss them.

“You know that a great deal of work in my career has been to address human rights issues, equality issues across the board, including as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Harris on Monday during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting and fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally. This is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change.”

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu, with whom Harris is scheduled to meet on Thursday, last month described LGBTQ+ rights as “imported cultures.” The Tanzanian government has also banned children’s books from schools because of their LGBTQ+-specific content. 

The State Department in 2019 recalled then-U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the Zambian government sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple who had been convicted of violating the country’s colonial-era sodomy law and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Then-Zambian President Edgar Lungu later pardoned the couple. Current Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, which whom Harris will meet on March 31, last September reiteated his government does not support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Harris arrived in Africa less than a week after Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ+ and intersex people. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the measure if signed “would impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

“The bill is one of the most extreme anti LGBTQI+ laws in the world,” she said on March 22 during her daily press briefing. “Human rights are universal — no one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or who they love.”

President Joe 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. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call that previewed Harris’ trip that she “is very much focused on opportunities in Africa and a positive message and the great things we can do in partnership with African countries. And you’re going to really see that as the theme of the trip, given Africa’s role in the world and what we think can be done with Africans, for the sake of Africans in the United States and the rest of the world.” 

“But that doesn’t mean that she would shy away from discussing difficult issues, and you know her track record on the LGBTQ issue,” added the official. “She spent her whole career fighting for rights of overlooked and marginalized people, including LGBTQ people.” 

The official further stressed the Biden-Harris administration “is very clear about the right for all people to live free of harm and discrimination and to realize their full potential and to fully participate in society.”  

“The vice president has been clear about that throughout her engagements in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it won’t be any different when she is in Africa,” added the official. “We have said, you know, including in recent days — expressed the concerns we have about certain developments that we’ve seen on the African continent, whether it’s laws or practices that are anti-LGBTQ. And that’s not consistent with what this administration stands for.” 

The official also said they “don’t think that is a choice between taking a firm stand on that set of really important issues and the big positive opportunity that the vice president sees in Africa and she’s going to emphasize on this trip.”

The Blade will provide further updates of Harris’ trip as they become available.

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Dolly Parton-Miley Cyrus duet about rainbows banned by school

The School District of Waukesha says the decision is supported by its Superintendent Jim Sebert & the Board of Education was not involved



Miley Cyrus & Dolly Parton performing together this past New Year’s Eve (Screenshot/YouTube)

WAUKESHA, Wis. – A decision by the School District of Waukesha banning Miley Cyrus’ song “Rainbowland” sung in a duet with Country superstar Dolly Parton from the Heyer Elementary School’s upcoming first-grade music concert because its too controversial has angered some parents and others labeling the decision an anti-LGBTQ move.

At issue are the lyrics:  “Living in a Rainbowland where you and I go hand in hand. Oh, I’d be lying if I said this was fine. All the hurt and the hate going on here We are rainbows, me and you. Every color, every hue. Let’s shine on through. Together, we can start living in a Rainbowland,” as well as, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in paradise… where we’re free to be exactly who we are.”

WTMJ 4, Milwaukee’s NBC News affiliate reported that a classroom teacher suggested the song to the music teacher. According to the school district, the music teacher checked with the principal to determine if the song would be acceptable to use in a first-grade music concert. The principal then checked with a central office administrator. The two reviewed the song alongside the district’s “Board Policy 2240 – Controversial Issues in the Classroom.” In accordance with the policy, they determined the song “could be deemed controversial.”

Instead, the song “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog was selected.

The School District of Waukesha says the decision is supported by its Superintendent Jim Sebert and at no time was the Board of Education involved.

FOX6 News Milwaukee interviewed a parent and others about the decision:

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Chicago area LGBTQ+ friendly bakery closing after hate campaign

“Closing our doors is the direct result of the horrific attacks, endless harassment, and unrelenting negative misinformation”



UpRising Bakery and Café in better times (UpRising Bakery and Café/Facebook)

LAKE IN THE HILLS, Il – The owner of UpRising Bakery and Café announced this week on social media that she is permanently closing the doors to her bakery after months of anti-LGBTQ+ stochastic terrorism that had already resulted in a hate crime last July after hosting drag show events and has continued unabated.

Corinna Sac, who opened the bakery in 2021, told media outlets that her shop has drawn criticism from local Proud Boys and other anti-LGBTQ+ groups, has been vandalized and her staff and customers have been harassed.

Sac noted that in recent months after the July incident the online hate-filled harassment and bullying campaign has dramatically increased. In a statement released by her on the shop’s social media accounts, Sac wrote: “Closing our doors is the direct result of the horrific attacks, endless harassment, and unrelenting negative misinformation about our establishment in the last eight months. From an award-winning bakery that donates to local organizations and supports diversity and inclusion, we have been rebranded by misinformation as ‘gay only’ and ‘pedophiles.’”

Days after 24-year-old Joseph I. Collins, a local member of the Proud Boys was charged with a hate crime on July 24 for allegedly smashing the establishment’s windows and spray-painting hateful messages on the building, the village of Lake in the Hills issued a letter prohibiting UpRising from hosting drag events in the future.

An Illinois police officer told The Los Angeles Blade he suspects conservative officials in Lake in the Hills, frustrated by the controversy over UpRising’s drag brunch, decided to enforce an ordinance that had not been enforced in the past. Should they choose to do so selectively, allowing some businesses to host events but not others, he said the scepter of a lawsuit becomes likelier. 

Sac noted that the dramatic decrease in sales as a result of the continued harassment which also included protestors and demonstrations at the store as well as the online harassment campaign.

In an interview with local journalist Amie Schaenzer, Sac says that she and her family have been doxxed to include her tax documents posted online and others have slammed her regarding her children, who are 8 and 10 years old, receiving free lunches at school through a state program, which is based on income.

“This has all become increasingly worrisome for us,” Sac said. “My kids are not OK with it, they are extremely anxious, they are very scared at home, and it’s very stressful for my whole family.”

That combined with struggling to keep her business afloat and pay thousand in state taxes led to her announcement this past week to close she told Schaenzer adding that she originally set a March 31 closing date.

UpRising Bakery and Café/Facebook

David Goldenberg, an attorney with the Anti-Defamation League, set-up a GoFundMe campaign to help keep the bakery open.

Goldberg wrote: “Sadly, UpRising Bakery is now at risk of closing at the end of March 2023 due to financial challenges brought on after weathering last year’s attacks from bigots. People will lose their jobs and those of us who believe in tolerance and love will lose a safe space. We cannot allow the haters to win.

Join me in supporting this incredible small business and team of employees – and ensure the UpRising Bakery stays open for years to come.” As of Saturday, March 25, the campaign has raised $43,056.

But Sac told Schaenzer she’s unsure if the funds will be enough for her to stay in business.

“We were very resolute in our decision to close,” said Sac, adding that she’s now in discussions with her team whether to try and stay open. “It means a lot to us that the community did stand up for us and for the fundraiser. Especially considering everything that’s been happening here, so, that has been amazing. But we just don’t know if we can make it work.”

She said she plans to decide in coming days if she will accept the GoFundMe funds in order to keep UpRising Bakery and Café open.

“We don’t know what we are going to do, yet we are discussing that as a team over the next two days together, and we will make a collective decision,” she said Thursday.

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New Mexico

New Mexico Human Rights Act; LGBTQ+ protections added

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive” – NM State Rep. Kristina Ortez



New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signing HB7 legislation (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

SANTA FE – New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ+ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For trans residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that House Bill 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signs HB 207 & 31
(Photo Credit: Equality New Mexico)

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said in a statement.

Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, the sponsor of House Bill 31 noted that the measure will benefit transgender New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure. “Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ+ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights. On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Gov. Grisham as she signed HB7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said HB7 co-sponsor Rep. Kristina Ortez. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and non-binary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, ACLU-NM managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the Governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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Kentucky Gov. vetoes sweeping anti-transgender youth bill

The Kentucky Legislature’s GOP supermajorities have enough power to override Beshear’s veto. The ACLU has said it will sue if that happens



Governor Andy Beshear (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

FRANKFORT – The Democratic governor of Kentucky vetoed a sweeping bill that would severely restrict the lives of trans youth in the state calling it, “too much government interference in personal healthcare issues and rips away the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children.”

Governor Andy Beshear also stressed that the bill conflicted with his faith and noted the bill’s repercussions would include an increase in LGBTQ+ youth suicides: “My faith teaches me that all children are children of God and Senate Bill 150 will endanger the children of Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Legislature’s GOP supermajorities have enough power to override Beshear’s veto. The ACLU of Kentucky has said it will sue in Federal court to try to block the measure from becoming law.

The bill would:

  • Ban gender-affirming medical care, including treatments that delay puberty, other forms of hormone therapy and surgery, for trans and nonbinary people under 18 years old. 
  • Require revoking the licenses of doctors who provide such services.
  • Tell public schools to block trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
  • Allow public school teachers to misgender trans students.
  • Prevent public schools from allowing educational presentations that study gender identity or sexual orientation.

Rebuking the Governor’s veto, state Republican Party spokesperson Sean Southard issued a statement saying: “Andy Beshear thinks it’s okay for children to have access to life-altering sex change surgery and drugs before they turn 18. Today, he revealed how radical he truly is.”

In an emailed statement Fairness Campaign Executive Director Chris Hartman wrote:

“We are so grateful Governor Andy Beshear chose to stand with Kentucky kids and their families today by vetoing Senate Bill 150. He has once again solidified his legacy as Kentucky’s most pro-equality governor. Labeled the “worst anti-trans bill in the nation,” SB150 allows the government to overrule parental rights at every turn. It denies parents the right to provide medically-supported healthcare for their kids. It allows teachers and school administrators to disrespect students by ignoring their names and pronouns, despite a parent’s wishes. It bans the discussion of LGBTQ topics in the classroom and forces transgender kids into unsafe restrooms at school. SB150 will only lead to disaster and despair for transgender Kentucky kids and their families. That’s why thousands of Kentuckians sent messages opposing SB150 and countless Kentucky doctors showed up in Frankfort to testify against it. We urge state lawmakers to read the governor’s veto message, listen to medical professionals, and sustain Governor Beshear’s veto.”

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