The top uniformed official in the U.S. Army on Thursday undermined recommendations from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender military service — which led to President Trump’s ban on transgender people in the armed forces — by asserting their presence has had no negative impact on unit cohesion.
But Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also undercut efforts the other way in support of transgender military service by saying it’s “not a civil rights issue” and by asserting the U.S. military has the prerogative to set necessary standards for troops.
Milley, along with Army Secretary Mark Esper, made the remarks during congressional testimony on the the posture of the Army under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation against Trump’s transgender military ban.
Gillibrand, who cited concerns about unit cohesion in the aftermath of the anti-trans recommendations, asked the Army officials if transgender service — first allowed in the Obama years under former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter before Trump tried to ban it — had resulted in any problems. Both officials replied it had not.
Esper, who had previously said the issue of transgender service “hasn’t come up” in talks with soldiers, reported no new problems with unit cohesion.
“Nothing has percolated up to my level,” Esper said. “When I made that comment, I was questioned about if I met with soldiers and talk about these issues, what do they raise? And as I said then…young kids tend to raise the issue in front of them at the day. It could be that they’re performing all-night duty or didn’t get their paycheck, and this was just not an issue that came up at that moment in time.”
Milley echoed the sentiment, saying in response to Gillibrand’s question about whether transgender troops have caused a problem with unit cohesion, “No. Not at all.”
“We have a finite number,” Milley said. “We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely because we’re concerned about that and want to make sure that they are in fact treated with dignity and respect and no have precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, moral and all sorts of things.”
The evaluation that transgender service hasn’t negatively affected unit cohesion stands in contrast to the report produced by Mattis to justify Trump’s transgender ban, which was made public last month by the White House.
“[U]ndermining the clear sex-differentiated lines with respect to physical fitness; berthing, bathroom and shower facilities; and uniform and grooming standards, which have all served the branches well to date, risks unnecessarily adding to the challenges faced by leaders at all levels, potentially fraying unit cohesion, and threatening good order and discipline,” the report says.
Aaron Belkin, director of the San Fransico-based Palm Center, said in a statement Milley’s testimony speaks volumes about transgender service and undermines Mattis’ conclusions.
“It is telling for the Army chief of staff to acknowledge there have been ‘zero’ problems with cohesion, discipline or morale just weeks after a DOD report, ostensibly based on months of research, insisted that transgender troops pose a risk to cohesion, discipline and morale,” Belkin said.
Although courts have enjoined the Trump administration from enjoining its ban on transgender military service, Gillibrand said the transgender military ban that Trump is seeking and the Mattis recommendations could still be harmful.
“Transgender service members have now seen the department’s recommendation and are on notice that if the policy is implemented, they will get kicked out for seeking care or treatment for their gender dysphoria,” Gillibrand said. “I’m worried that this uncertainty will have a negative impact on these individuals, but also on their units and that fear of these recommendations will stop these soldiers from seeking care.”
Asked by Gillibrand what the Army is doing to ensure readiness “in the light of the pale that been case on the future of transgender soldiers,” Esper insisted they’re being treated fairly.
“We continue to treat every soldier, transgender or not, with dignity and respect, ensure that they’re well-trained and well-equipped for whatever future fights,” Esper said. “With regard to accessions, our accession folks understand that we are operating under the Carter policy, if you will. We’ve had some persons already join, transgender persons join, and we will continue to assess them and train them and treat them well in accordance with that policy.”
But Gillibrand expressed skepticism, saying the recommendations against transgender service “is different from treating everybody with dignity and respect.”
In the wake of a letter from Democrats seeking information on the process that led Mattis to come to his recommendations against transgender service, Gillibrand asked the officials about the degree to which they had input, citing objections to the recommendations from the American Medical Association about its conclusions.
When Gillibrand asked who represented the Army on the panel of experts Mattis convened, Milley said it was Vice Chief of the Army Gen. James McConville. When Gillibrand asked if any medical experts were included on the panel, Milley said he was unsure, but knew McConville “consulted with lots of internal folks, medical professionals, absolutely yes.” Gillibrand asked Milley to submit to the Senate Armed Services Committee the names of the experts who were consulted, and Milley agreed.
Milley also offered additional information about the nature of the panel of experts Mattis convened to reach his conclusions against transgender service. The Army chief of staff offered to provide Gillibrand the exact names at a later time.
“Each of the service vices, I believe, was on it,” Milley said. “There were several DOD folks. I’m pretty sure the panel was led by the DOD P&R, if I remember right, the under secretary for personnel and readiness.”
But the last word in the exchange wasn’t favorable to transgender service. Asked by Gillibrand if the two had spoken to transgender soldiers, they said they’ve had those exchanges, but not after the recommendations were issued. That’s when Milley pushed back by asserting the military’s right to institute standards.
“My view is that we have an Army that is standards-based,” Milley said. “It has always been standards-based. It will remains standards-based for medical, physical, psychological, conduct, etc. And those soldiers or those applicants, people who want to assess into the Army that meet those standards, and they’re rigorous standards, if you meet those standards, then you’re on the team. If you don’t meet the standards for whatever reason, then you’re not on the team. It’s that simple.”
Those standards, Milley said, may mean certain individuals are unable to serve in the armed forces regardless of what civil rights advocates think.
“This is not an issue, in my view, this is not a civil rights issue,” Milley said. “This is an issue of standards and maintaining deployability and the combat effectiveness and lethality of the United States Army, and I think I speak for the other service chiefs as well.”
Belkin told the Blade he agrees with Milley that issue isn’t about civil rights, but transgender service is in the best interest of military readiness.
“And the research as well as lessons from two years of inclusive policy and 18 foreign militaries that allow transgender service is that treating everybody according to the same standards is what’s best for readiness,” Belkin said. “The problem with the Trump ban is that it is based on scientific distortions, cherry-picked data and double standards that apply only to transgender troops, and no one else.”
Victory Institute urges Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn for FCC
Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role
WASHINGTON – The LGBTQ Victory Institute submitted a letter Monday with more than 375 signatories urging Senate leadership to confirm Gigi Sohn’s nomination for commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.
Sohn, whose appointment has been languishing since October 2021, would be the first LGBTQ person ever to serve in that role where she would become the tie-breaking vote on the bipartisan-led commission.
“Gigi is one of the nation’s leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic
communications networks,” the Victory Institute wrote in its letter. “Gigi has worked across the country to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy. During this time, she has worked across the industry, notably as Counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler.”
Despite these qualifications – and the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to nominate her for a third time – Sohn’s confirmation has been delayed amid coordinated attacks by industry lobbyists, conservatives on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and right-wing media organizations.
Fox News, Breitbart, and the Daily Mail have recently focused on Sohn’s membership on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a respected organization that has come out against a pair of laws that were enacted in 2018 amid the panic over child sex trafficking.
The laws, according to the Los Angeles Times, “have proved to be largely ineffective for their stated purpose and rife with adverse side effects,” with the EFF writing that they “will not stop sex trafficking and will instead make stopping it harder.” Regardless, the matter has nothing to do with the work in which Sohn would be engaged at the FCC.
Nevertheless, these attacks on Sohn, an out lesbian, dovetail with efforts to link the LGBTQ community with child sexual abuse and exploitation. The EFF came out in support of Sohn, too, arguing that the attacks against her were “dog whistles.”
“Democrats can’t claim to support LGBTQ rights while failing to stand up to blatant bigotry targeting one of their own nominees,” Evan Greer, director of the digital rights organization Fight for the Future, told the Los Angeles Times. “If they remain silent and complicit, this will become a go-to strategy to tank LGBTQ nominees to any public position,” she said.
According to research provided by GLAAD, one of the groups that signed the Victory Institute’s letter, “These criticisms [of Sohn] have led extremists, especially those from the QAnon movement, to conclude that Sohn supports sex trafficking and is participating in a secret plot by Democrats and other ‘far left elites’ to silence conservatives.”
Former U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called Sohn a “she-male” and “fringe lunatic,” claims that prompted other users to make death threats against her, according to research provided by GLAAD.
Separately and in the past, Sohn earned criticism for her social media posts, including one authored by the acclaimed actor and comedian Issa Rae that Sohn shared, which read: “Your raggedy white supremacist president and his cowardly enablers would rather kill everybody than stop killing black people.”
Trump to weaponize Feds against trans Americans if reelected
He detailed these plans in a video shared on the platform Rumble, which is popular among conservative and far-right users
PALM BEACH – Former president Donald Trump promised to weaponize the might of the federal government against transgender Americans if voters send him back to the White House next year.
He detailed these plans in a video shared on the platform Rumble, which is popular among conservative and far-right users.
Some would restore policies enacted during his administration by executive orders that were overturned by President Joe Biden, while other proposals were more extreme or would face an unclear path to implementation because they would require acts of Congress.
Trump began by inveighing against guideline-directed medical care for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors – practices that are approved by every major mainstream American and international scientific and medical institution with relevant clinical expertise.
“I will sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age,” Trump said, promising also to urge Congress to ban certain procedures for minors nationwide.
“I will declare that any hospital or healthcare provider that participates in the chemical or physical mutilation of minor youth will no longer meet federal health and safety standards for Medicaid and Medicare and will be terminated from the program immediately,” the former president said, referring again to healthcare interventions whose safety and efficacy has been demonstrated in hundreds of peer reviewed studies in scientific and medical journals.
Trump also said he would create a private right of action allowing for lawsuits against doctors and healthcare providers for administering or facilitating access to treatments for transgender and gender non-conforming youth.
Democrats should be studying Nicola Sturgeon and the forceful response she’s given to the UK’s efforts to hold back trans rights. Dismissing this fight as a distraction will only get you so far–take it head on, put your values up front, and don’t hesitate. https://t.co/ZC9W2uKgIT— Gillian Branstetter (@GBBranstetter) February 1, 2023
“The Department of Justice will investigate big pharma and the big hospital networks to determine whether they have deliberately covered up horrific long term side effects of sex transitions in order to get rich at the expense of vulnerable patients,” Trump said.
The former president then looked beyond healthcare, promising to erase transgender people from schools and refuse to recognize them by the U.S. government.
“My Department of Education will inform states and school districts that if any teacher or school official suggests to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body, they will be faced with severe consequences including potential civil rights violations for sex discrimination and the elimination of federal funding,” Trump said.
As part of credentialing for America’s teachers, messages promoting “the nuclear family” and child-rearing by “mothers and fathers” would be required, Trump said, adding that he would ask Congress to “pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female and they are assigned at birth.”
“The bill will also make clear,” Trump said, “that Title IX prohibits men from participating in women’s sports and we will protect the rights of parents from being forced to allow their minor child to assume a gender which is new and an identity without the parents’ consent.”
Trump concluded his message with the false assertion that gender dysphoria “was never heard of in all of human history” until “the radical left invented it just a few years ago.”
Transcript of Trump’s remarks:
The left wing’s gender insanity being pushed on our children is an act of child abuse. Very simple. Here’s my plan to stop the chemical, physical and emotional mutilation of our youth.
On day one, I will revoke Joe Biden’s cruel policies on so-called gender affirming care. Ridiculous. A preposterous test that includes giving kids puberty blockers, mutating their physical appearance, and ultimately performing surgery on minor children.
Can you believe this? I will sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age. I will then ask Congress to permanently stop federal taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or pay for these procedures and pass a law prohibiting child sexual mutilation in all 50 states.
It will go very quickly. I will declare that any hospital or healthcare provider that participates in the chemical or physical mutilation of minor youth will no longer meet federal health and safety standards for Medicaid and Medicare and will be terminated from the program immediately.
Furthermore, I will support the creation of a private right of action for victims to sue doctors who have unforgivably performed these procedures on minor children. The Department of Justice will investigate Big Pharma and the big hospital network to determine whether they have deliberately covered up horrific long term side effects of sex transitions in order to get rich at the expense of vulnerable patients. In this case, very vulnerable.
We will also investigate whether Big Pharma or others have illegally marketed hormones and puberty blockers which are in no way licensed or approved for this use.
My Department of Education will inform states and school districts that if any teacher or school official suggests to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body, they will be faced with severe consequences, including potential civil rights violations for sex discrimination and the elimination of federal funding. As part of our new credentialing body for teachers, we will promote positive education about the nuclear family, the roles of mothers and fathers, and celebrating rather than erasing the things that make men and women different and unique.
I will ask Congress to pass a bill establishing the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female, and they are assigned at birth.
The bill will also make clear that Title IX prohibits men from participating in women’s sports. And we will protect the rights of parents from being forced to allow their minor child to assume a gender which is new and an identity without the parent’s consent.
The identity will not be new, and it will not be without parental consent. No serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender, a concept that was never heard of in all of human history. Nobody’s ever heard of this. What’s happening today? It was all when the radical left invented it just a few years ago.
Under my leadership this madness will end. Thank you very much.
GOP Trans City Councilwoman says she’s uniquely positioned
“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom- of reason if & when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up”
Note: Other portions of Jennifer Williams’ interview with The Washington Blade were featured in a previous article alongside interviews with four other LGBTQ officeholders
TRENTON, N.J. – Jennifer Williams, who is the first LGBTQ person on the Trenton (N.J.) City Council and one of the state’s first openly transgender officeholders, connected with the Washington Blade last week to discuss topics including how she reconciles her gender identity with her membership in the Republican Party.
While Williams is grateful for her broad base of support, including from progressive Democrats, it perhaps did not come as a surprise considering her record as a longtime LGBTQ advocate and public servant who chaired the municipal Republican Party in Trenton and served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment for 14 years.
Plus, Williams said in emailed responses to questions from the Blade that her views on LGBTQ matters are closer to those held by Democrats than by Republicans.
“If I have to put my views on LGBTQ policy issues in one mainstream bucket, I would clearly be more aligned with national and New Jersey Democrats on our rights, equalities and freedoms than the Republican National Committee’s platform and what some GOP leaders espouse,” Williams said.
“That important difference between the two major parties is why it is integral that I stay and fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry and discrimination,” she added.
Williams sees her position as an elected official who is both trans and a Republican as an opportunity to effectuate positive change from within her own party.
“Other LGBTQ folks may not understand why I try to advocate on the right and in the Republican Party,” she said. “But all I know is that until I am no longer the first LGBTQ or transgender person [whom] many Republican leaders meet, we will always have to worry about legislative actions or executive orders against us.”
Williams said she is in a unique position, and one that is imbued with a big responsibility:
“If I can be effective in helping some bad Republicans rethink their opinions of who we are,” she said. “Maybe we can get some of them to ‘tap the brakes’ on anti-LGBTQ legislation coming down the pike.”
“I have a ‘particular set of skills,’” Williams added, “And I feel called to use them to help protect our community.”
The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century by abolitionists who sought to fight for individual freedoms, liberties, self-determination and happiness, Williams noted, even if some GOP leaders do not demonstrate those values where it concerns LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ Americans “really do need to be in the corridors of power and at the table where decisions are made,” Williams said. “Coming from the same home state as Marsha P. Johnson, who did so much for us so long ago, I know how important my being a [member of the] City Council can be.”
Of course, Williams said, she is not alone. LGBTQ officeholders across the country are putting into practice the idea that representation is crucially important in the fight for equal rights no matter who they are or where they have been elected, she said.
“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom and of reason if and when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up,” Williams said.
Despite the proliferation of state and local anti-LGBTQ bills, particularly proposals targeting the trans community, Williams sees reason to be hopeful.
“What is exciting is that we have gone from [Virginia state Del.] Danica Roem being the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature just over five years ago to where now, she is running for [Virginia] Senate and there are at least eight other transgender legislators,” Williams said.
The visibility of LGBTQ officeholders tends to encourage other members of the community to run for public office, she said.
“That is wonderful, and I think is what we need to duplicate and triplicate wherever we can,” Williams said, adding that the LGBTQ Victory Fund “is working very hard at this.”
Justice Dept. eyes criminal probe of Santos’ campaign finances
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, has addressed the controversies minimally
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to hold off on law enforcement activity over Republican Rep. George Santos (Ny.) as federal prosecutors conduct their own criminal probe into the congressman’s campaign finances.
The news, first reported Friday by the Washington Post, was confirmed Saturday by The Blade via a Justice Department source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak with the press.
The attorney who filed the FEC complaint against Santos previously told The Blade that the agency would yield to the Justice Department if prosecutors initiate a criminal probe—indicating that in Washington the matter would be overseen by the Department’s Public Integrity Section.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James are also looking into Santos’s financial conduct, while the congressman has simultaneously been enmeshed in controversies over his compulsive lying, having fabricated virtually every part of his life and identity.
As of this publication, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not responded to a request seeking comment. McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, have addressed the controversies only minimally, telling reporters they have no plans to ask Santos to step down until or unless criminal proceedings against him are underway.
Santos voted for McCarthy’s bid for speakership in each of the 15 ballots that were required to unite the House GOP conference behind him due to the objections of a couple dozen ultra-conservative members who were able to delay the vote and extract painful concessions because of the party’s narrow control of the House majority.
Related: Rep. George Santos faces growing questions over campaign spending
Ruben Gallego announces run for Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat
Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation- refusing to abandon the filibuster
WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona announced plans to run for the Senate in 2024, setting up a possible three-way race if newly declared Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema decides to seek reelection for her seat representing the Grand Canyon State next year.
Gallego disclosed his forthcoming senatorial bid on Monday, sharing a video on Twitter in which the congressman accused Sinema of breaking her promises to Arizonans in favor of advancing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions.
A spokesperson for Sinema’s office declined to comment. On Friday, Sinema told Arizona Radio Station KTAR: “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are,” adding, I’m staying focused on the work.”
If elected, Gallego, whose announcement video was recorded in English and Spanish, would become Arizona’s first Latino senator.
Sinema became the first bisexual member and, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the second LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively.
Last year, she was widely credited for her role in the Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, hailed as the most significant pro-LGBTQ legislative achievement since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
However, since her election to the Senate, Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation by refusing to abandon the filibuster and tacking to the right on fiscal issues.
The Arizona Democratic Party executive board voted to censure Sinema last January for voting with Republicans to preserve the filibuster at the expense of a voting rights bill.
On Dec. 9, Sinema announced her decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, pledging not to caucus with Republicans and promising that “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior.”
Sinema has also come under fire during her tenure in the Senate for taking positions seen as favorable to the drug industry and Wall Street, seemingly in exchange for financial backing from these and other affiliated interests.
For instance, in 2021 The Guardian reported that “In the current Congress, Big Pharma appears to have zeroed in on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, as one of their lead obstructionists to help kill or gut the Democrats’ drug pricing plan. In the 2020 election cycle, pharmaceutical political action committees suddenly funneled more money to her than they did the whole six years she served in the US House.”
ACLU: 120 new anti-LGBTQ bills in the first few weeks of 2023
“Across the country, trans people & families are gearing up to fight back- prevent every one of these bills from becoming law”
NEW YORK – Lawmakers across the country have introduced more than 120 anti-LGBTQ bills so far this year, according to a press release issued Thursday by the ACLU, America’s largest and best-known litigation and lobbying group for individual rights and civil liberties.
In a press release announcing the findings, the ACLU introduced a digital dashboard, which summarizes the proposed anti-LGBTQ policies, organizes the bills by category, and tracks their progress through state legislatures.
“These bills represented a coordinated effort to deny transgender people our freedom, our safety, and our dignity,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.
“Across the country, trans people and our families are gearing up to fight back and prevent every one of these bills from becoming law,” he said in the press release.
Last year, the ACLU reports there were a record breaking 278 bills targeting LGBTQ people, of which 20 have become law. The group’s litigation team has fought against “bills across the country restricting access to gender-affirming health care, barring trans people from updating identity documents, and denying transgender students equal access to school facilities and activities, as well as defending inclusive policies from political and legal attacks.”
Additionally, the ACLU has brought lawsuits challenging book bans that target materials with LGBTQ characters or themes and represented parties in litigation over a Texas law that criminalizes parents who facilitate their trans children’s access to guideline directed, medically necessary healthcare treatments and procedures.
The number of new anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals seen in the first few weeks of 2023 is especially remarkable considering that some state legislatures have not yet begun filing new bills.
In a Washington Blade article published Wednesday, activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed said that in addition to the fact that lawmakers are now on track to eclipse last year’s record number of anti-LGBTQ bills, the proposals introduced so far this year have tended to be more extreme and cruel than in years past.
The ACLU has categorized them in seven primary focus areas: healthcare access, schools and education, free speech and expression, access to accurate IDs, Weakening Civil Rights Laws, Public Accommodations, and Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills.
The ACLU’s press release describes each of these types of legislative proposals:
- Health Care Access
- Lawmakers are targeting access to medically-necessary health care for transgender people. Many of these bills ban affirming care for trans youth, and can even create criminal penalties for providing this care. 35 bills target health care access for transgender people.
- Schools & Education
- State lawmakers are trying to prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports, force teachers to out students, and censor in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. 58 bills target LGBTQ rights in schools and educational settings.
- Free Speech & Expression
- Despite the safeguards of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, politicians are fighting to restrict how and when LGBTQ people can be themselves, limiting access to books about them and trying to ban or censor performances like drag shows. 19 bills target freedom of speech and expression for LGBTQ people.
- Access to Accurate IDs
- These bills attempt to limit the ability to update gender information on IDs and records, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. Four bills target the right to accurate identity documents for transgender people.
- Weakening Civil Rights Laws
- These bills attempt to undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses, and even hospitals to turn away LGBTQ people or refuse them equal treatment. Seven bills seek to weaken existing civil rights laws.
- Public Accommodations
- These bills prohibit transgender people from using facilities like public restrooms and locker rooms.
- Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills
- These bills don’t quite fit in any of the other categories, but nonetheless target the rights of LGBTQ people. Examples include restrictions on marriage and bills preempting local nondiscrimination protections. Five bills target LGBTQ people and rights, including proposed amendments to define transgender people out of existence.
Reports indicate George Santos was a drag queen in Brazil
Santos’ alleged financial malfeasance & potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations
WASHINGTON — Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was a drag performer in his native Brazil about 15 years ago, according to a Reuters article published on Wednesday that quoted two former acquaintances.
Despite the online circulation of photos appearing to show the congressman dressed in drag, Santos denied the report on Thursday.
“The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag queen or ‘performed’ as a drag queen is categorically false,” tweeted the New York Republican. “The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.”
“I will not be distracted nor fazed by this,” added Santos.
The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or “performed” as a drag Queen is categorically false.— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 19, 2023
The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.
I will not be distracted nor fazed by this.
Bruna Benevides of Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transsexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA, in a Jan. 1 tweet in response to a New York Times story about Santos said his drag name was Kitara Ravache.
BREAKING: a Brazilian drag performer and others claim George Santos was a drag performer under the name Kitara Ravache. Not confirmed but certainly looks like Santos.— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) January 18, 2023
Important context here that Republican electeds have directed hate and violence towards the drag community. pic.twitter.com/IOvwiHYlUq
Benevides has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment. A source in Rio de Janeiro said she had “never heard” that Santos was a drag queen when he lived in Brazil.
Steven Grattan, a Reuters reporter in São Paulo, on Thursday posted to his Twitter page a video that appears to show Santos in drag in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói.
The drag queen in this video sent to me by an anonymous source appears to be wearing the exact same dress, necklace, and earrings as Kitara Ravache in Brazilian drag queen Eula Rochard’s photos that’s been circulating online, alleging it is U.S Rep. George Santos Santos4Congress pic.twitter.com/0Vr60lRVLf
— Steven Grattan (@sjgrattan) January 19, 2023
Santos has taken a hard-right stance on social issues, keeping company with his most extreme Republican colleagues who have increasingly targeted organizers of all-ages drag events with false accusations that performers are abusing or exploiting children.
In contrast with most House Republicans and the entirety of Republican leadership, these lawmakers have not distanced themselves from Santos amid the scandals that have unfolded over his apparent financial improprieties and compulsive lying about his life, identity, and career.
Several GOP U.S. House members, joined last week by more than a dozen Republican elected officials serving in or near Santos’s 3rd Congressional District in New York, have demanded Santos’s immediate resignation.
The congressman’s alleged financial malfeasance and potential violations of campaign finance laws have triggered investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, while Brazilian authorities have revived fraud charges that were brought against him in 2008 over a stolen checkbook.
Also on Wednesday, two military veterans told CNN Santos had set up a GoFundMe to help finance lifesaving surgery for their pitt bull and then absconded with the money.
GoFundMe issued a statement to CNN on the company’s decision to remove the fundraiser from its platform:
“When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer. The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform. GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”
The men said Santos stopped responding to their messages requesting access to the crowdsourced funds. They never received the money, and once the dog’s cancer reached an advanced stage they had to panhandle to afford to euthanize her.
Santos denied the report in a statement to CNN.
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story
Latino Leaders Network honors gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria
Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg
WASHINGTON – Openly gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria became the latest recipient of the Latino Leaders Network’s Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award during the organization’s Tribute to Mayors on Wednesday night.
The biannual event, which was held at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C., was attended by more than 80 mayors – including Eric Adams of New York and Francis Suarez of Miami, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors – along with other elected representatives like Rhode Island Lieutenant Gov. Sabina Matos.
Also in attendance were high profile government officials including Julie Chavez Rodriguez, senior advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, as well as Esteban Moctezuma and Batbayar Ulziidelger, ambassadors of Mexico and Mongolia to the U.S.
Upon receiving the award, Gloria expressed gratitude for the “open door policy” with which the Biden-Harris administration has welcomed input from the nation’s mayors, particularly with respect to issues concerning immigration. He said San Diego is a better and more prosperous city by virtue of its close proximity to the southern border.
Gloria also remarked on how “far we’ve come as a community,” noting his identity as an openly gay man with Puerto Rican, Filipino, Native American, and Dutch heritage who learned from his parents – who worked as a gardener and hotel maid – that one should “leave things better than you found them.”
Introducing Gloria was the award’s namesake, Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor and California gubernatorial candidate, who said the latest honoree embodies the principle that, “when we break a glass ceiling and open up the door, we do that because we know we got there on the shoulders of others, and we say, ‘this door is open to all of us.'”
“When we celebrate mayors who bring us together and unite us at a time when the country is so divided, we should really celebrate,” Villaraigosa said.
The Latino Leadership Network presents the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award to “a mayor from a city with a significant Latino population who has exhibited an outstanding commitment to bringing diverse communities together.”
Last year’s honorees were Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)
Matt Schlapp’s accuser files civil action alleging sexual battery
An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union
WASHINGTON – The Republican staffer who went public early this month with allegations of sexual assault against high powered conservative activist Matt Schlapp filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday against Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, for $9 million.
According to the complaint, the couple and “others associated with and acting in concert with them” were engaged in “dishonest efforts” to “discredit Mr. Doe,” thereby causing him to suffer “damages, including and without limitation embarrassment, humiliation, stress, and reputational harm.”
Mr. Doe told NBC on Jan. 5 that when he was working for Herschel Walker’s senatorial campaign last October, Schlapp fondled him while the two were headed back to their hotel from an Atlanta bar.
An influential figure in conservative politics, Schlapp serves as chair of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
An attorney representing the Schlapps, Charlie Spies, issued a statement Tuesday denying the allegations in the civil complaint.
The “Schlapp family is suffering unbearable pain and stress due to the false allegation from an anonymous individual,” the statement reads. “No family should ever go through this and the Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counter-lawsuit options.”
Before joining the corporate law firm Dickinson Wright, Spies served as election law counsel to the Republican National Committee and as chief financial officer and counsel to Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2008 presidential campaign.
Quantity, cruelty of anti-LGBTQ state bills raise alarm bells
“We really need to support local LGBTQ organizations- lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those in conservative & rural states”
WASHINGTON – When the Washington Blade connected with activist and legislative researcher Erin Reed on Tuesday to discuss the new anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country, it was just as the news of an especially hateful proposal came across her desk.
Senators in West Virginia had teed up an anti-trans law that would criminalize “displays” that “shall include, but not be limited to, any transvestite and/or transgender exposure, performances, or display to any minor.”
The move recalled anti-LGBTQ laws from the 1960s that criminalized the very existence of transgender and gender non-conforming persons as well as drag performers, while providing pretexts for police raids of LGBTQ establishments like the Stonewall Inn, Reed said.
For example, she said, many states once enforced dress codes that required people to wear at least three articles of clothing consistent with their sex assigned at birth.
Likewise, the West Virginia bill raises alarming questions about whether transgender parents and teachers in the state might be prosecuted, with a potential five-year prison sentence, said Reed, who is herself a transgender parent.
Additionally, the proposed legislation is “unconstitutionally vague,” written so broadly that it would presumably become illegal to screen the film “Mrs. Doubtfire” or perform certain Shakespearen plays for an audience of minors if the measure were to pass, Reed said.
Less than three weeks into 2023, state legislatures have introduced nearly as many anti-LGBTQ bills as were introduced in the entirety of last year – and qualitatively, many of these new bills are more hateful than anything we have seen in decades, Reed said.
“I see an increase in both the number and in the cruelty towards transgender people,” she said.
There are “new pieces of proposed legislation that go further than bills in 2021 and 2022,” such as by “banning gender affirming care through age 26 in Oklahoma,” and others that “target the drag community in ways that haven’t happened in 30 to 40 years.”
Fear and hate mongering over all-ages drag performances has been ratcheted up in the right-wing ecosystem, fueled by conservative media figures like Matt Walsh and Tucker Carlson, as well as social media accounts like Libs of TikTok and extremist militias, Reed said.
According to the ACLU, “As drag reality competitions and drag brunches become increasingly popular, backlash in the form of armed protests and intimidation of drag performers has followed.”
Consequently, Reed said, this year for the first time anti-LGBTQ legislation has included measures targeting drag performances – with, so far, a dozen new bills. And the concern is not just that many of these proposed laws are draconian, like Nebraska’s bill that would prohibit patrons younger than 21 from attending a drag show.
“Whenever I see those [laws] being proposed, I also see militant organizations storming in” to LGBTQ bars, schools, hospitals, and venues that host drag queen story hours, Reed said. “I see people trying to break into drag events and successfully doing so,” disrupting them with violence and intimidation, she said.
“What I read into [the impetus behind these laws] is these legislators want to change the uniform of the people doing the storming,” from militias comprised of far-right citizens to “people wearing badges.”
Making matters worse, Reed said, there are “lots of cases where drag events have asked for local protection and not received any protection whatsoever.”
Last month, organizers of a drag queen story hour-style event in Columbus, Ohio, had to cancel after they said police failed to work with them to protect participants from demonstrators affiliated with far-right groups like the violent neo-fascist Proud Boys. (Police dispute the organizers’ account of events.)
The ACLU notes that, “Amidst this wave of anti-drag legislation and violence, drag performers and host venues across the country are moving to higher security or cancel performances altogether.”
Looking at the slate of new statewide legislative proposals, many are a continuation of similar anti-trans themes that have emerged in recent years, but “we’re seeing scary attempts to escalate things,” Reed said.
For instance, bills that restrict or prohibit guideline-directed healthcare for transgender and gender non-conforming youth were introduced and passed in several states in 2021 and 2022, but new measures proposed this year would target adults as old as 26.
“It makes me wonder what their ultimate goal is,” Reed said. “To ban transitions entirely?”
Every mainstream medical organization with relevant clinical expertise recommends age-directed gender affirming care according to clinical practice guidelines that are supported by a bevy of research and updated regularly to ensure best practices.
Still, right-wing figures have demagogued the issue and characterized responsible medical care as “experimentation” and child abuse.
Reed noted there are some “new wrinkles” in anti-trans healthcare bans that have been proposed this year.
For instance, she said, Indiana proposed folding gender affirming care into practices that would be outlawed under a conversion therapy ban – thereby conflating supportive and medically necessary healthcare with an abusive, ineffective practice that has been rejected by mainstream science and medicine.
Across the board, Reed noted, there is an increasing reliance on executive authority. This was previewed toward the end of last year, she said, pointing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s weaponization of the state medical board and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s weaponization of the Department of Family and Protective Services to, respectively, ban gender affirming care and prosecute parents for child abuse for facilitating their trans children’s access to gender affirming care.
‘The fight is on the state level right now‘
Amid the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation, Reed emphasized the need for coordinated action by the U.S. Congress, the Biden-Harris White House, progressive and pro-equality legal actors, and state legislatures, as well as local and national LGBTQ groups.
She noted that pro-equality interests have focused significant time, attention, and money urging Congress to pass the Equality Act, which is commendable and necessary, while the courts can provide (and, often, have provided) a path toward effectuating pro-equality policy.
At the same time, Reed said, for the foreseeable future federal legislators are unlikely to find a path forward for any major bills impacting LGBTQ people, while relying on the judiciary – particularly with the U.S. Supreme Court as it is currently construed – is far from a safe bet.
By contrast, “at the state level, we’ve seen the GOP focus time and attention and money and efforts on changing state laws,” she said, adding, “it’s important that we do the same.”
Likewise, Reed said, “I also think we really need to support our local LGBT organizations and help lift them up as much as possible,” particularly those located in more conservative and rural states, which largely do not earn commensurate resources and support.
“In places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia, we need to help the people who live there,” Reed said, but also in blue states where significant progress toward LGBTQ equality has been made but there is still room for improvement. “Don’t neglect your own backyard.”
For instance, she said, the gay and trans panic defense is still legal in some progressive states.
“One of the biggest problems for people in some of these states criminalizing [healthcare for trans people] is they don’t have resources to travel out of state,” Reed said, noting that POLITICO has reported on the plights of people who have been forced to flee states with anti-trans laws.
And while “We have to take care of those people,” Reed said, people should not be in a position where they must flee their home states. “We need federal action and federal protections,” she said.
Thankfully, there is some movement on pro-LGBTQ state bills. Reed said she has seen more this year compared to last year, which is “a bit promising.” She highlighted bills such as the proposal to protect gender affirming care in Maryland, access to bathrooms for trans youth in Minnesota, the ability to change information on birth certificates in West Virginia, and adoption by trans parents in Montana.
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