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Sex trafficking bill prompts Craigslist to drop personal ads

Widespread crackdown on “all sorts of sex spaces, from dating sites to webcams” feared

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Craigslist, gay news, Washington Blade

Craigslist last week pulled the plug on its popular personal ads.

The U.S. Senate last week voted 97-2 to approve an anti-sex trafficking bill that would subject websites to criminal prosecution and civil litigation if they accept advertising, knowingly or unknowingly, linked to both coerced sex-trafficking as well as sex work engaged in by consenting adults.

The Senate’s lopsided passage of the bill, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, came one month after the House passed an identical version of the measure. The White House has said President Trump will sign the bill.

The Senate’s action assuring the bill would become law prompted Craigslist to immediately drop its personals ads, including its widely read “men seeking men” personals site. It cited potentially harmful legal fallout from the FOSTA bill as its reason for doing so.

“U.S. Congress just passed HR 1865, ‘FOSTA,’ seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully,” Craigslist states in a message posted on its site.

“Any tool or service can be misused,” the message says. “We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day,” says its message.

“To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through Craigslist, we wish you every happiness!” Craigslist says in its message.

The action by Craigslist raised questions about whether other online sites that include sexually oriented content, including sex or dating hook-up sites like the gay site Grindr, would follow Craigslist and shut down their sites.

Grindr did not respond to a Washington Blade inquiry seeking Grindr’s thoughts on the FOSTA bill and how it might impact its operations.

The popular Reddit site, which includes links and postings by its members on a wide range of subjects, shut down its sex work “subreddits” sections, according to the Free Speech Coalition.

Several advocacy organizations representing Internet service providers and civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, expressed strong opposition to the FOSTA bill prior to the votes by the House and Senate to approve it.

They argued that the legislation would be a threat to free speech and limit the free flow of content on the Internet. Opponents say existing federal law already allows state and federal prosecutors to go after criminal activity on the Internet such as sex trafficking and that the FOSTA bill would hinder rather than help in efforts to crack down on trafficking.

They also expressed concern that the bill’s provision amending the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which has exempted website operators from liability for third party content in which the website has no involvement, could result in widespread censorship and curtail the growth of online commerce.

That 1996 law has been credited with enabling the Internet to grow and flourish without excessive restrictions that could have prevented its exponential growth over the past 20 years.

Supporters of the bill, however, have argued that FOSTA is needed to remove what they say has been uncertainty over whether prosecutors have legal authority to go after the growing use of online sites by criminals to promote sex trafficking. Supporters point to court rulings that prevented prosecutors from pursuing websites linked to trafficking on grounds that the Communications Decency Act would not allow them to penalize the sites.

“The bill amends the federal criminal code to specify that the violation for benefiting from ‘participation in a venture’ engaged in sex trafficking of children, or sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, including knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitation of the violation,” according to a report on the bill released by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which worked on the bill.

The committee report says the bill also gives state attorneys general authority to bring a civil action in federal court against an Internet operator found to have “knowingly” participated in sex trafficking or that aided or abetted sex trafficking.

Many of the bill’s supporters, including senators and House members supportive of LGBT rights, have cited an investigation by the Senate committee into the website Backpage.com and its alleged complicity in accepting sex trafficking ads as their reason for supporting FOSTA.

Backpage had become known as a site where sex workers advertised their services. Sex worker advocacy groups have said the overwhelming majority of the ads were for sex between consenting adults, which enabled sex workers to operate safely at indoor locations and avoid having to ply their trade on the streets.

But Senate investigators reported finding that some Backpage employees coached people involved in sex trafficking of both adults and minors how to write their ads to avoid suspicion that they were engaging in sex trafficking. A number of senators monitoring the investigation said the findings show that websites such as Backpage put profits from the sale of their ads ahead of the dangers and harm brought about by sex trafficking.

Backpage denied it did such things and insisted it had been working with authorities to identity any sex trafficking operators attempting to use its site.

In a joint statement released on the day the Senate passed FOSTA, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who chairs the committee and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed their strong support for the bill.

“We simply cannot sit idly by any longer while websites aid and abet child sex traffickers,” Nelson said. “The cost of further inaction is far too high.”

Thune thanked the many witnesses that testified in favor of the bill by telling their stories about being victimized by sex trafficking. “Today’s vote pushes back against the growth of illegal sex trafficking on the Internet,” he said.

A coalition of civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, voiced their opposition to FOSTA and the House version of the bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, in an Aug. 4, 2017 letter.

“We appreciate and support the bill sponsors’ deep commitment to fighting human trafficking,” the letter states. “But the approach of SESTA, to create substantial new federal and state criminal and civil liability for the Internet intermediaries that host third-party speech, will lead to increased censorship across the web and will discourage proactive efforts by intermediaries to identify and remove trafficking material from their services,” the letter says.

In a separate letter it sent to senators on March 19, shortly before the Senate voted on the FOSTA bill, the Human Rights Campaign expressed concern that the bill would have a negative impact on “the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, including members of the transgender community and people of color.”

The letter, written by David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, says many of the websites likely to be targeted under the FOSTA and SESTA legislation “serve as a critical tool for distributing comprehensive health and safety information, such as HIV prevention and treatment information as well as access to community support services.”

Stacy adds in the letter that, “As written, both bills in their current form are likely to compromise both anti-trafficking efforts and harm reduction goals.”

“The Human Rights Campaign has long supported efforts to combat sex trafficking, including the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which enhanced the federal government’s authority to address this problem,” the letter says.

Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition, a California-based group that represents the adult film industry, said the FOSTA bill approved by Congress could have a profound impact on LGBT websites involved in dating or hookups.

“We are expecting a widespread crackdown on all sorts of sex spaces, from dating sites to webcams,” he said. “The law does not differentiate between consensual sex work and sex trafficking, and creates major liabilities for any online platform, from an escort site to Twitter, where people interact directly,” Stabile said.

Asked if he thought sites like Grindr could be held legally liable under the legislation, he said the Free Speech Coalition believes they can.

“Under FOSTA, dating sites and apps would be legally liable if someone were to use the site in a way that’s construed as sex trafficking,” he said. “This law was written so broadly and poorly that we expect that we’ll see the widespread closure of any forum that could potentially be used in a trafficking case.”

Stabile said he’s certain that civil liberties advocates will challenge the law’s constitutionality in court, but that will take a while to happen and in the meantime many sites will likely censor anything that hints of commercial sex regardless of whether it’s between consenting adults.

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National

Over half of states sue to block rule protecting LGBTQ+ students

Twenty-six GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over changes to Title IX which are due to take effect August 1, 2024

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Typical classroom in a New Jersey school via the office of the New Jersey governor. (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

By Shauneen Miranda | WASHINGTON — Twenty-six GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over changes to Title IX aiming to protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination in schools.

Less than a month after the U.S. Department of Education released its final rule seeking to protect against discrimination “based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics,” a wave of Republican attorneys general scrambled to challenge the measure.

The revised rule, which will go into effect on Aug. 1, requires schools “to take prompt and effective action when notified of conduct that reasonably may constitute sex discrimination in their education programs or activities.”

The lawsuits hail from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

All of the attorneys general in the 26 states suing over the final rule are part of the Republicans Attorneys General Association.

Various advocacy groups and school boards have also tacked onto the states’ legal actions. The lawsuits carry similar language and arguments in vehemently opposing the final rule. They say the new regulations raise First Amendment concerns and accuse the rule of violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

LGBTQ+ advocates say the revised rule offers students a needed protection and complies with existing law.

“Our kids’ experience in schools should be about learning, about making friends and growing as a young person. LGBTQ+ students deserve those same opportunities,” Sarah Warbelow, vice president of legal at the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in an emailed statement. “In bringing these lawsuits, these state attorneys general are attempting to rob LGBTQ+ students of their rights, illustrating a complete disregard for the humanity of LGBTQ+ students.”

GOP states band together against new regulations

In the most recent effort, Alaska, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming sued the Biden administration on Tuesday, accusing the Department of Education of seeking to “politicize our country’s educational system to conform to the radical ideological views of the Biden administration and its allies.”

The lawsuit claims that under the updated regulations, teachers, coaches and administrators would have to “acknowledge, affirm, and validate students’ ‘gender identities’ regardless of the speakers’ own religious beliefs on the matter in violation of the First Amendment.”

In another lawsuit, a group of Southern states —  Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina — sued the administration in federal court in Alabama over the new regulations.

Republican Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said President Joe Biden “has brazenly attempted to use federal funding to force radical gender ideology onto states that reject it at the ballot box” since he took office.

“Now our schoolchildren are the target. The threat is that if Alabama’s public schools and universities do not conform, then the federal government will take away our funding,” Marshall said in a press release.

The lawsuit also drew praise from Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said “Biden is abusing his constitutional authority to push an ideological agenda that harms women and girls and conflicts with the truth.” He added that the Sunshine State will “not comply” and instead “fight back against Biden’s harmful agenda.”

Individual states sue the administration 

Meanwhile, some states have opted to file individual lawsuits against the administration.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration late last month in federal court in Amarillo. Paxton filed an amended complaint earlier this week, with two new plaintiffs added.

In an April 29 press release, Paxton said the Lone Star State “will not allow Joe Biden to rewrite Title IX at whim, destroying legal protections for women in furtherance of his radical obsession with gender ideology.”

Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration earlier this month in federal court in Oklahoma. The state’s education department also filed a separate suit against the Biden administration.

A hodgepodge of states

 

In late April, Republican attorneys general in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration in federal court in Kentucky.

The states argued that the U.S. Education Department “has used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making.”

Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana also sued the Biden administration in late April, echoing the language seen in the other related lawsuits. Seventeen local school boards in Louisiana also joined the states.

Earlier this month, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota also brought a collective legal challenge to the final rule.

A spokesperson for the Education Department said the department does not comment on pending litigation but noted that “as a condition of receiving federal funds, all federally-funded schools are obligated to comply with these final regulations.” They added that the department looks forward “to working with school communities all across the country to ensure the Title IX guarantee of nondiscrimination in school is every student’s experience.”

The department has yet to finalize a separate rule that establishes new criteria for transgender athletes. So far, 24 states have passed laws that ban transgender students from partaking in sports that align with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

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Shauneen Miranda

Shauneen Miranda is a reporter for States Newsroom’s Washington bureau. An alumna of the University of Maryland, she previously covered breaking news for Axios.

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The preceding article was previously published by the States Newsroom and is republished with permission.

News From The States brings expert, on-the-ground reporting from all 50 states together in one place.

State government greatly affects our daily lives, but many people don’t know if it’s working for them. States Newsroom exists to ensure that people from Oregon to Florida and Arizona to Maine have free access to a constant stream of high quality reporting about their state governments, policies and politics.

National audiences need this too. News From the States brings together daily reporting and commentary from States Newsroom’s affiliates, legacy partners and independent nonprofit content partners. Constantly updated, with curated featured stories and highlighted trends, it illuminates state government across the U.S. like never before.

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Louisiana

Trans bathroom restrictions heads to Louisiana governor’s desk 

The bill would also require a trans man, even one who has transitioned via hormones & gender affirming surgery, to use women. facilities

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Rep. Roger Wilder walks back to his desk on the House floor. (Louisiana Illuminator/Allison Allsop)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGUE, La. – The Louisiana Senate easily passed a controversial bill restricting what bathrooms, changing rooms and sleeping quarters transgender people use in public facilities, sending it to the governor’s desk for action. 

House Bill 608 by Rep. Roger Wilder, R-Denham Springs, passed the Senate on a 29-10 vote after less than 15 minutes of discussion. Senate President Pro Tempore Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, voted with Republicans on the bill. Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews, D-Monroe, voted against the bill but later added her name as a co-author. 

Wilder’s bill, which he’s dubbed the “Women’s Safety and Protection Act,” would segregate all bathrooms, changing and locker rooms as well as sleeping quarters by sex in public schools, domestic violence shelters and correctional facilities, prohibiting transgender people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. 

When he presented his bill to the House last month, Wilder was unable to point to a specific incident in Louisiana in which a woman or girl was harmed by a transgender woman at a public restroom or changing facility. 

Kate Kelly, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, was not immediately able to confirm Landry’s plans for the bill. The arch-conservative governor has openly supported other anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including two that restrict the discussion of gender and sexuality in K-12 schools

The bill also defines the terms “man,” “woman,” “girl,” “boy,” “male” and “female.” These definitions specifically exclude gender identity, which the bill does not define. 

Wilder’s proposal was carried on the Senate floor by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who authored a law that prevents transgender people from competing in women’s sports

The bill was opposed by several LGBTQ+ rights advocates who argued the bill needlessly harms transgender people. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates there are approximately 20,000 transgender people living in Louisiana

“This bill represents a deeply troubling attempt to deny the humanity and dignity of an already vulnerable population by seeking to eliminate legal recognition of gender identities beyond the binary,” SarahJane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, said at a committee hearing on the bill last week

Transgender people tend to experience higher rates of domestic violence and have higher suicide rates than people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. While many domestic violence shelters already turn away transgender people, Wilder’s bill would require they do so unless they have the space to offer separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms for transgender people. 

While Wilder pitched his bill as a way to keep women and girls from feeling uncomfortable or unsafe when men enter private areas, the legislation would require a transgender man, even one who has transitioned via hormones and gender affirming surgery, to use facilities designated for women. 

A transgender man is a man who was assigned female at birth. Transitioning refers to actions taken by a transgender person to align their bodies with their identified gender. 

The bill would allow anybody who experiences, or is expected to experience, direct or indirect harm as a violation of the bill to sue, including someone who is retaliated against for pointing out a violation. 

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

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

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

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire passes 3 anti-Trans bills in one day, more to come

New Hampshire appears poised to become one of the most risky states for transgender youth and adults in the Northeast

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New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu speaking at the National Governors Association, September 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | CONCORD, N.H. – On Thursday, the New Hampshire Legislature passed three separate anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting transgender people in sports, schools, and medical care.

All three bills are now headed to the Governor Chris Sununu’s desk for final passage, but he has not yet indicated whether he will sign the bills. However, the governor previously joined 24 other Republican governors in a letter opposing President Biden’s Title IX rules that bar discrimination against transgender people in schools. More anti-trans bills are expected to be heard and potentially voted on next week.

Among the bills that passed were:

  • House Bill 1205: This bill bars transgender youth from participating in sports that match their gender identity from grades 5-12. If a student’s “biological sex” is unclear or challenged, the law requires that “other evidence” of their assigned sex at birth be provided. This provision has been interpreted to potentially require genital inspections. Senator Ruth Ward, when confronted with these concerns, stated, “There are ways of finding out whether you’re a male or female… I would check with the coach or medical physician for the team,” which did not alleviate concerns. Similar laws have been blocked in courts in West Virginia and Ohio.
  • House Bill 1312This bill is similar to “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” legislation that has been passed in a variety of other Republican-controlled states nationwide. It defines LGBTQ+ topics as “objectionable” and requires two weeks of notice before any curriculum or course material used for instruction around sexual orientation or gender identity is introduced and could allow parents to opt their children out. Democrats argued that the bill was overly broad and could require notice for any book dealing with gender identity and sexuality, including books depicting heterosexual relationships. Similar concerns were used to dismiss a law in Iowa in court after a judge determined that merely mentioning a husband and wife could run afoul of the law.
  • House Bill 619: House Bill 619 bars bottom surgery for transgender youth in the state. Although such surgeries are exceedingly rare and no evidence was presented that they are occurring in New Hampshire, the bill sets a precedent that elected officials should have a say over the healthcare decisions of individual transgender patients and their doctors. Importantly, the law also prohibits referrals out of state, which could limit options and information for transgender youth.

Two more bills are still being considered in the state and may be heard next week. House Bill 1660 would bar Medicaid coverage for any gender reassignment surgeries for those under 18, including chest masculinization or feminization surgeries. Courts have recently ruled that such bars on coverage is unconstitutional, including landmark rulings from the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal. Also pending is House Bill 396, which could roll back discrimination protections for transgender people and would allow for discrimination in bathrooms, sports, competitions, correction centers, mental health hospitals, and more.

New Hampshire appears poised to become one of the most risky states for transgender youth and adults in the Northeast. All surrounding states have passed significant protections for transgender people, including “shield” laws that protect the privacy of patients seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare across state lines. Should nondiscrimination protections be rolled back, transgender people may face a confusing landscape over such simple questions as whether they are allowed to use the bathroom as they travel through the state. Similarly, regional sporting events could be heavily impacted.

The votes in New Hampshire previously came down to the wire in the House. For every bill listed, a number of House Democrats voted yes, were marked as present not voting, or missed the vote and were recorded as absent.

Although Democrats do not hold a majority in the House, more than 12 Democrats failed to vote “no” on virtually every bill when they were heard in the House, allowing the bills to pass. Some legislators have contended that this is due to the size of the New Hampshire House, which consists of 400 members, leading to many members missing votes due to illness.

This issue seemed to affect Democrats more severely than Republicans for most votes, and even motions for reconsideration on separate days similarly failed. Notably, the “objectionable materials” bill passed by only a single vote, with 13 Democrats not voting or abstaining.

Reacting to the votes, Linds Jakows, Founder of 603 Equality, said, “Today, the so-called ‘Live Free or Die’ State sent a harmful message to LGBTQ Granite Staters, especially transgender young people, by attacking their healthcare, opportunities for inclusion at school, and access to learning about people like them. Now, Governor Sununu must clearly affirm that these bills have no place in a state that just 6 years ago, became the first entirely Republican-controlled state legislature to update its nondiscrimination law to include trangender people. In 2018 he said repeatedly that ‘it’s the right thing to do.’ Mr. Sununu, treating transgender people with dignity and respect is still the right thing to do.” 

Remaining votes are scheduled for next week. Meanwhile, Governor Sununu has not indicated whether or not he will sign the bills that have passed.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Congress

House ethics complaint filed over GOP staffer’s anti-trans email

“You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again!” 

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Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), in 2012. (Screenshot/YouTube San Diego City Beat)

WASHINGTON — A federal government employee has filed a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee over an email they received from Matthew Donnellan, chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (W.Va.), which contained combative and anti-trans language. 

The Washington Blade has seen the correspondence between the parties, in which the confrontation was apparently kicked off when the congresswoman’s top aide received an email that included the sender’s preferred pronouns in the signature box, triggering his reply.

Donnellan wrote, “As a father, it is disgusting that anyone would ever tell my son or daughter that something is wrong with them and they should take sterilizing hormones or have surgery to cut off their genitals.”  

“The fact that you support that ideology by putting pronouns in your signature is awful,” he said, adding, “You’re disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t email me or anyone from my office ever again.” 

A senior government official told the Blade in a written statement that the email was not out of character for Donnellan:

 “I’ve heard from two colleagues several months apart about two separate transphobic emails, using identical language, from Matthew. Unfortunately these emails—though inconsistent with the typical collegiality one would expect from a Chief of Staff on the Hill—is likely a reflection of both increased partisanship on the Hill and a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right.

“Not only is this virtual, hate-filled temper tantrum unbecoming of a Chief of Staff, inappropriate, and unprofessional, it also hurts his boss’s constituents. DC is built on congressional staff, members of Congress, and executive officials being able to put aside their differences to find unlikely areas of commonality where they can work together. 

“Even some of the most progressive members, like [U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.)] have partnered with some of the most conservative members, like [U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio)], respectively, when they can find common ground. 

“Matthew’s refusal to work with an agency department or office just because a staffer has pronouns in their signature isn’t just hateful—it means he’s cutting off opportunities to deliver results for his boss’s constituents, especially in a divided Washington.”

Donnellan told the Blade by email that his response to the government employee is “a reply I send to anyone who uses pronouns or pushes gender ideology in any way.” 

“No one is ‘born in the wrong body’ and it’s horrific to tell anyone that they need genital mutilation surgery or sterilizing drugs,” he said. “People who push gender ideology, actively or passively, are awful and should be confronted every single time.”

“If the blunt reality of the terrible things that they are pushing is offensive to them then they should strongly reconsider what it this they believe and the harm that they are doing rather than simply trying to conform to liberal luxury beliefs,” Donnellan said. 

Addressing the complaint filed against him, Donnellan said, “I haven’t heard anything from Ethics and doubt that I will, they generally don’t waste their time with sheltered progressives being forced into the real world for the first time.”

A House Ethics Committee spokesperson declined to comment when asked if they could confirm receipt of the complaint.

Asked whether Miller might object to the way that she and her Congressional office are represented with these confrontational email exchanges, Donnellan said his boss’s “motto is ‘cut the bull’, and gender ideology is some of the biggest bull there is.”   

On Friday, the congresswoman’s son Chris Miller placed third in the Republican primary contest for West Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrissey secured his party’s nomination in a decisive victory with 33 percent of the vote. 

Leading up to the election, trans issues had emerged as a dominant focal point as the GOP candidates squared off against each other, with Miller’s campaign attacking Morrissey with allegations that he had profited from “the trans agenda” and backed a drug company that “helps turn boys into girls” when working as a healthcare lobbyist in Washington.  

In one ad that was paid for by a super PAC chaired by his father, Miller said the pronouns used by Morrissey are “money-grubbing liberal,” an interesting charge to level at the conservative Republican attorney general of West Virginia (even notwithstanding the fact that those three words are not pronouns but, rather, nouns and verbs.)

Declaring preferred pronouns in workplace email signatures has become commonplace in both the public and private sector, whether for purposes of sending an affirming message to transgender and gender expansive employees and officers or to mitigate the chances that either they or their cisgender counterparts might be unintentionally misgendered. 

The Biden-Harris administration has pushed for agencies to adopt the practice along with other measures and policies to advance the rights and wellbeing of trans and gender expansive employees across the federal government. 

In a 2021 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of updated guidance on the agency’s email signature block, Michael Watts, director of civil rights for the U.S. Forrest Service, noted that “There are plenty of gender-neutral names out there, or names from other cultures that might not give you enough information to know their gender.” 

While the inclusion of pronouns was not made mandatory at USDA, he urged employees to “strongly consider taking this small but important step toward supporting inclusiveness in the workplace.” 

“The use of pronouns in our email signatures and getting into the habit of including pronouns in our introductions doesn’t really cost us anything,” Watts added, arguing that the move constitutes “a meaningful exchange to others and makes it easier for people to be respectful in how they address each other.”

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. 

Official guidance published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for administering policies across the U.S. federal civil service, stipulates that agencies should “take steps to provide the option for employees to include the pronouns they use in employee systems and profiles, including email signature blocks, employee directories and employee profiles.”

Some have gone further, such as by adding pronouns to email signatures for all employees, as the U.S. Department of State did in 2023, while others like USDA have established, as official policy, that “employees are encouraged to include their pronouns in the first line of their email signature block (e.g. he/him/his). Signature blocks are a simple and effective way for individuals to communicate their identified pronouns to colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

“For example,” the USDA writes, “adding pronouns to signature blocks also has the benefit of indicating to the recipient that you will respect their gender identity and choice of pronouns.”

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Congress

Bill to support LGBTQ+ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation & should be able to access services and care”

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Washington Blade/Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ+ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ+ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Bonamici, Chair of the Equality Caucus’ LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Rep. Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQI+ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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Federal Government

CDC issues warning on new “deadlier strain” of Mpox

As LGBTQ+ Pride month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention

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JYNNEOS Mpox vaccine. (Photo Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-CDC)

ATLANTA, Ga. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a health advisory regarding a deadlier strain of the Mpox virus outbreak which is currently impacting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the CDC, since January of 2023, DRC has reported more than 19,000 suspect mpox cases and more than 900 deaths. The CDC stated that the overall risk to the United States posed by the clade I mpox outbreak is low.

The risk to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who have more than one sexual partner and people who have sex with MSM, regardless of gender, is assessed as low to moderate the agency stated.

While no cases of that subtype have been identified outside sub-Saharan Africa so far, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the escalating epidemic in Congo nevertheless poses a global threat, just as infections in Nigeria set off the 2022 outbreak according to a WHO spokesperson.

The spokesperson also noted that as LGBTQ+ Pride month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention including being vaccinated.

The CDC advises that while there are no changes to the overall risk assessment, people in the United States who have already had Mpox or are fully vaccinated should be protected against the type of Mpox spreading in DRC. Casual contact, such as might occur during travel, is not likely to cause the disease to spread. The best protection against Mpox is two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.

The CDC also noted the risk might change as more information becomes available, or if cases appear outside DRC or other African countries where clade I exists naturally.

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U.S. State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ+ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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The White House

White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ+ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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The White House is lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ+ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

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Mississippi

ACLU files complaint over Title IX violations in Mississippi school

Allegations include forcing these students to abide by a “biological sex” dress code, enduring repeated and severe harassment and bullying

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Harrison County School District Mississippi School Board Meeting May 6, 2024. (Photo Credit: Harrison County School District MS/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | GULFPORT, Miss. – The ACLU has filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over the consistent, deliberate, and cruel mistreatment of transgender and gender-nonconforming students in the Harrison County, Mississippi School District.

Allegations include forcing these students to abide by a “biological sex” dress code, enduring repeated and severe harassment and bullying, and removing transgender and gender-nonconforming students from school-related functions in violation of Title IX. Previously, the school made national news for forcing a transgender girl, as well as a cisgender gender-nonconforming girl, to miss graduation for wearing a dress and pants, respectively.

The complaint was primarily brought by A.H., a transgender 16-year-old girl who attends Harrison Central High School. After being told by her band teacher that she could wear a black dress to a regional band concert evaluation, she received compliments from her fellow bandmates.

However, when HCHS Principal Kelly Fuller saw her in the hallway, she balked, saying, “You know you can’t wear that right? Boys can’t wear skirts or dresses,” and then added, “you can’t represent our school dressed like that.” She then forced her mother to bring “boys clothes” or threatened to send her to in-school reassignment.

Civil rights complaint detailing A.H. being threatened after wearing a dress.

The incident that appears to have triggered the complaint was not the only time A.H. has suffered harassment and abuse over her gender identity in the school district. Previously, when she entered the girls’ restroom in eighth grade, she was screamed at by a teacher to the point of tears. She was then forced to use the teacher’s restroom. In ninth grade, a hall monitor confronted her on her way to the bathroom, demeaned her, and asked, “What are you?”

She also alleges severe bullying and harassment from other students with no resolution from the school. She even received a suspension after being targeted by bullying in the classroom. One student allegedly repeatedly called her a “fa***t” and a “tr***y” in the presence of a teacher while class was in session. No action was taken until A.H. stood up for herself and told the student to stop harassing her loudly in the classroom. As a result, A.H. was written up and suspended for two days.

Transgender student suspended after telling a student to stop harassing her.

A.H.’s story is not unique in the district: the district has recently made national news after excluding a transgender girl, as well as a cisgender gender-nonconforming girl, from their own graduation due to their attire. The transgender girl, identified as L.B., was denied entry to her own graduation for wearing a dress and adhering to the girls’ dress code. Another cisgender student, identified as Jai, wore black pants to her graduation in accordance with her usual gender expression and was barred from attending. She was even told that she could remove her pants under her graduation gown, but if her pants were on under her gown, she would not be allowed to walk.

The following summer, the school released a “biological sex” dress code that mandates students “follow the dress attire consistent with their biological sex.” Boys are required to “wear shorts or pants, and shirts and footwear” and are banned from wearing items commonly associated with girls, such as skirts, dresses, and blouses. Girls must “wear dresses or skirts or shorts or pants, and shirts or blouses and footwear.” The policy appears to violate Title IX, as 34 CFR 106.31(b)(4) states that students cannot be subjected to different rules of behavior, sanctions, or treatment based on their sex. Numerous courts have ruled that sex-based dress codes violate Title IX, including the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, which stated, “Based on the plain language and structure of the statute, we conclude that Title IX unambiguously encompasses sex-based dress codes.”

The ACLU is seeking five remedies for A.H. and students in the Harrison County School District.

  • They seek an order for the district to adopt gender-neutral dress code policies.
  • They demand that the school stop targeting, surveilling, and disciplining students based on sex.
  • The school should adopt policies and procedures for promptly and equitably responding to reports of discrimination.
  • The school should be made to provide mandatory training for District employees about non-discrimination and compliance with federal anti-discrimination lawss
  • The school should issue a written apology to A.H. for discriminatory conduct.

The complaint will be a significant test of how the Biden administration handles a major Title IX complaint concerning gender identity and expression, following recent updates to Title IX guidance.

Additionally, the complaint emerges in the wake of the death of transgender teenager Nex Benedict in Oklahoma, where similar longstanding allegations of harassment and abuse led to an ongoing formal investigation into the school district.

More than 20 GOP-led states are suing the Biden administration over new Title IX rules, arguing that they have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students despite Title IX protections. It remains uncertain whether these lawsuits will impact prohibited dress codes, which have been successfully challenged under Title IX even before the new rules.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Federal Government

U.S. Justice Dept. takes major step toward reclassifying marijuana

“Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I’m committed to righting those wrongs”

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President Joe Biden discusses his administration's move toward reforming drug policy on cannabis (Screen capture: X)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday took a major step toward loosening the federal government’s regulation of marijuana by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which outlines a proposal to reclassify it under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The move comes pursuant to the Biden-Harris administration’s April 30 announcement of plans to recategorize cannabis as a Schedule III substance, which could substantially lessen the criminal penalties for those convicted of using, possessing, selling, distributing, or cultivating the drug.

A 60-day public comment period will begin after the NPRM is published on the Federal Register, along with a concurrent review of the proposed regulatory reforms by an administrative law judge assigned by the DEA.

Since the CSA was passed in 1971, cannabis has been listed under Schedule I, the category reserved for drugs that are considered to be the most dangerous and lacking any currently accepted medical use in the U.S.

In a press release, a senior administration official noted that “marijuana is currently classified higher than fentanyl and meth – the drugs driving our Nation’s overdose epidemic.”

President Joe Biden posted a video on X in which he said the proposal to house cannabis under the Schedule III regulatory regime constitutes “an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana,” the president said. “It adds to the action we’ve taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and more for tens of thousands of Americans.”

“Look folks no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “Period.”

The president added, “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it.”

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