Schiff vs Nunes: California congressmen battle over truth
At stake: America
Donald Trump has moved the bright red line of political propriety so often, many politicos only briefly expressed outrage, then shrugged upon release of a new Trump re-election campaign video calling those Democrats who didn’t applaud his State of the Union speech ‘un-American.” The ad opens with an avalanche of concrete irony, as Trump reads from the teleprompter, saying: “I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.”
The ad doubles-down on Trump complaining about Democrats at a Feb. 5 rally in Ohio.
“You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild – they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news – really positive news, like that – they were like death and un-American. Un-American,” Trump said, as his supporters nodded and smiled. “Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
“They certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much,” says the president whose propensity for divisiveness and scalping the English language has raised fears of an unintended nuclear war. The ad identifies Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and oddly, out Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin as “disrespecting our people” and “disrespecting our country” as “disgraceful” Democrats.
Not unexpectedly, the camera lingers on excruciatingly unimpressed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, a familiar target of giddy GOP hatred. Images of Pelosi’s marathon speech Feb. 7 demanding a House vote on DACA will soon appear in Republican campaign spots.
But while Trump may be pounding his chest and fluffing the midterms, the real battle royale playing out behind closed doors and on television screens around the globe is between the top ranking Californian Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee—Devin Nunes and LGBT ally Adam Schiff, respectively.
The two started out as cordial bipartisan investigators into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. But that changed mid-March after Nunes took a midnight run to fetch secret intelligence information, some of which he revealed without consulting committee members or even other Republicans before calling a press conference.
“The intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters, a conclusion he derived from reviewing “dozens of [intelligence] reports.” Though the surveillance was legal under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, Nunes was “alarmed” that such information, including with some “unmasked” names, had circulated throughout the government.
Nunes dashed to the White House to brief Trump, who later said he felt “somewhat” vindicated for his false claim that President Obama “wiretapped” him at Trump Tower. It turned out the White House was Nunes’ secret source.
A month later, Nunes recused himself from the House Intelligence probe into Russian meddling, only to resurface this year for “Memogate,” referring to a secret memo based on classified FBI information calling into question that FISA warrant into investigating Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Paige, who the FBI deemed a Russian spy. The FBI beseeched Nunes and Trump not to release what Schiff called the “deliberately misleading” memo, which was “materially different” from the one committee members voted to make public. Meanwhile, Republicans refused to simultaneously release Schiff’s properly vetted Democratic counter-memo.
Reporters asked if the White House was Nunes’ source for that memo, too, as yet another attempt to derail Independent Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice to quash the investigation.
“Devin Nunes has shown more loyalty to Donald Trump than the Constitution or the rule of law. The release of this sloppy, cherry-picked memo is a blatant partisan attempt to smear law enforcement and Mueller’s investigation. We can’t let them get away with it,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Devin Nunes, Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and their enablers have shown no interest in the truth–only misleading the American public and discrediting a criminal investigation,” Griffin continued. “We need every Member of Congress on both sides of the aisle to stand against this manipulation of national security. History is watching. Silence makes you complicit. For the sake of the country, stand up and do something.”
“The occupant of the Oval Office is not the least bit of a champion for democracy,” Schiff told University of Pennsylvania students on Feb. 1. “The threat from Russia to our democracy is now far less than the threat from within. There is nothing Russia can do to us that rivals what we are doing to ourselves right now.”
Memogate is important, said Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, because it’s “laying a predicate for the administration to interfere with the justice system….The effort then, with that midnight run, was to put the government on trial. The effort now is to put the government on trial.”
“And the way they’re trying to put the government on trial is by suggesting that there is this cabal in the FBI, this secret society, this rampant corruption within FBI and DOJ, and that’s the real story,” Schiff continued. “So, forget about what the Russians did, forget about what the Trump campaign did.”
Schiff received a standing ovation when a student asked about the Justice Department: “It’s not [Trump’s] Justice Department. It’s the United States of America’s Justice Department.”
The DOJ will determine defense of LGBT rights, including the challenge to Trump’s ban on transgender servicemembers in the military.
At the end of his talk, an older woman choked up and thanked Schiff for “standing in the gap for us and in this country, for us to save the democracy. We’re just so grateful.”
The White House
Biden recognizes Transgender Day of Visibility
Statement comes against backdrop of anti-Transgender laws
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a proclamation that recognizes the Transgender Day of Visibility.
“Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves,” reads the proclamation. “Today, we show millions of Transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom.”
Biden said “Transgender Americans shape our nation’s soul — proudly serving in the military, curing deadly diseases, holding elected office, running thriving businesses, fighting for justice, raising families and much more.”
“As kids, they deserve what every child deserves: The chance to learn in safe and supportive schools, to develop meaningful friendships, and to live openly and honestly,” he said. “As adults, they deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American, including equal access to health care, housing, and jobs and the chance to age with grace as senior citizens. But today, too many Transgender Americans are still denied those rights and freedoms.”
Biden notes “a wave of discriminatory state laws is targeting Transgender youth, terrifying families and hurting kids who are not hurting anyone.”
“An epidemic of violence against Transgender women and girls, in particular women and girls of color, has taken lives far too soon,” he added. “Last year’s Club Q shooting in Colorado was another painful example of this kind of violence — a stain on the conscience of our nation.”
The full proclamation is below:
| TRANSGENDER DAY OF VISIBILITY, 2023 |
– – – – – – –
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
| Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves. Today, we show millions of Transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom.|
Transgender Americans shape our Nation’s soul — proudly serving in the military, curing deadly diseases, holding elected office, running thriving businesses, fighting for justice, raising families, and much more. As kids, they deserve what every child deserves: The chance to learn in safe and supportive schools, to develop meaningful friendships, and to live openly and honestly. As adults, they deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American, including equal access to health care, housing, and jobs and the chance to age with grace as senior citizens. But today, too many Transgender Americans are still denied those rights and freedoms. A wave of discriminatory state laws is targeting Transgender youth, terrifying families and hurting kids who are not hurting anyone. An epidemic of violence against Transgender women and girls, in particular women and girls of color, has taken lives far too soon. Last year’s Club Q shooting in Colorado was another painful example of this kind of violence — a stain on the conscience of our nation.
My administration has fought to end these injustices from day one, working to ensure that Transgender people and the entire LGBTQI+ community can live openly and safely. On my first day as president, I issued an executive order directing the federal government to root out discrimination against LGBTQI+ people and their families. We have appointed a record number of openly LGBTQI+ leaders, and I was proud to rescind the ban on openly Transgender people serving in the military. We are also working to make public spaces and travel more accessible, including with more inclusive gender markers on United States passports. We are improving access to public services and entitlements like Social Security. We are cracking down on discrimination in housing and education. And last December, I signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, ensuring that every American can marry the person they love and have that marriage accepted, period.
Meanwhile, we are also working to ease the tremendous strain that discrimination, bullying, and harassment can put on Transgender children — more than half of whom seriously considered suicide in the last year. The Department of Education is, for example, helping ensure that Transgender students have equal opportunities to learn and thrive at school, and the Department of Justice is pushing back against extreme laws that seek to ban evidence-based gender-affirming health care.
There is much more to do. I continue to call on the Congress to finally pass the Equality Act and extend long-overdue civil rights protections to all LGBTQI+ Americans to ensure they can live with safety and dignity. Together, we also have to keep challenging the hundreds of hateful state laws that have been introduced across the country, making sure every child knows that they are made in the image of God, that they are loved, and that we are standing up for them.
America is founded on the idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives. We have never fully lived up to that, but we have never walked away from it either. Today, as we celebrate Transgender people, we also celebrate every American’s fundamental right to be themselves, bringing us closer to realizing America’s full promise.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2023, as Transgender Day of Visibility. I call upon all Americans to join us in lifting up the lives and voices of Transgender people throughout our nation and to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination against all Transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-seventh.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
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”
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.
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.”
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.”
BREAKING: Police in the Kentucky State House Chamber are forcefully removing people who are protesting SB 150, which they consider to be an extreme anti-trans bill. @LEX18News pic.twitter.com/urqwPa9Ij0— Ricky Sayer (@RickyReports) March 29, 2023
SB 150 protesters had arms linked together, preventing police from removing them all at once. @LEX18News pic.twitter.com/gd0XvdrF4L— Ricky Sayer (@RickyReports) March 29, 2023
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”
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.
Bill would require US foreign policy to promote LGBTQ+, intersex rights
U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) among measure’s sponsors
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.”
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
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 , “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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant, & the @TNDeptofSafety & @TNHighwayPatrol are assisting local law enforcement & first responders at the scene.— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) March 27, 2023
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:
The tragedy of the latest mass shooting is listening to Tennessee politicians who refuse to call it a shooting but who engaged in behavior that caused this to be more likely when they glorify guns. Tennessee Rep @AndyOgles, is this you with your family? pic.twitter.com/LJGnUKqJdA— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) March 27, 2023
The White House
Vice president to visit three African countries with criminalization laws
Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week
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.
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
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:
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
We're so glad to say that #HB31 and #HB207 -passed by #nmleg – is officially signed into law by @GovMLG! We will continue to love, affirm, and protect all #LGBTQ people here!#EQNM30th pic.twitter.com/3eUx5LLlvC— Equality New Mexico (@equalitynm) March 25, 2023
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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