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Nancy Pelosi: The famous Leader you may not know

With midterms looming, the former — and future? — House Speaker talks impeachment, Equality Act, AIDS and more

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Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi whips up the crowd at the June 11, 2017 #ResistMarch in West Hollywood with support from Reps. Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff, Judy Chu, and Mark Takano. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is the embodiment of the feminist adage “the personal is political.” She celebrated part of her 78th birthday at an LGBT equality weekend in Palm Springs, which she declared a “fabulous” fundraiser for the Democratic effort to “take away” the House from the Republicans in the November midterm elections.

Pelosi is so confident of victory, she told the Los Angeles Blade that out Rep. Mark Takano will be the next chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee come Jan. 2019. Naming names for leadership positions has rankled some Democrats who do not want Pelosi to assume she will be re-elected House Speaker. But with her track record as a strategic political thinker and vote-counter, a prolific fundraiser and one of the most recognizable leaders of the opposition to President Donald Trump and the conservative Republicans who bow his way, Pelosi is frank and assured.

“‘We will win. I will run for speaker. I feel confident about it. And my members do, too,” the Boston Globe reported May 1 on Pelosi’s meeting with the Globe’s editorial staff. “It’s important that it not be five white guys at the table, no offense,” referring to the president meeting with the top two leaders from the House and Senate. “I have no intention of walking away from that table.”

Pelosi’s track record includes passage of the profound change in healthcare. “The White House played a major role in getting the votes for ObamaCare, but it couldn’t have passed without Pelosi,” The Hill reported in February 2016. “Former White House deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle called her ‘a force of nature’ in convincing Democratic members to vote yes.”

After the Affordable Care Act narrowly passed on March 21, 2010, Pelosi noted that women would no longer be charged more because of their gender—women were no longer a pre-existing condition. But the year before, she also predicted “fire and brimstone” and “shock and awe” from across the aisle. “They’re coming after us,” Pelosi told House Democrats in 2009.

Many of the darts thrown at Pelosi over the years have been acid-tipped with LGBT-hatred. “One of the things the Republicans like to do around the country is to represent me as a LGBTQ first and foremost supporter. I represent San Francisco, which they caricaturize as being a gay haven and capitol. And that’s something we’re very proud of,” Pelosi told the Los Angeles Blade in a 30-minute interview on April 27. “But the fact is the country is going to leave them behind because people have a different level of respect because of the work the LGBTQ community has done in many areas to end discrimination and in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Pelosi says HIV/AIDS and passage of the Equality Act are top priorities. “The Equality Act is something that really should be appreciated in a very special way because it really is transformative,” Pelosi says. “It just changes everything. It says whether it’s credit or housing or job discrimination or you name it—you can no longer discriminate. Well, you shouldn’t discriminate to begin with. But it makes it a part of the Civil Rights Act to protect [LGBT] people.”

The strategy around the Equality Act is actually a good example of how Pelosi has worked with changing LGBT leadership over the years.

“We moved to Equality Act because we believe the discrimination went well beyond discrimination in the workplace.

“Certainly, ENDA [the Employee Non-Discrimination Act] was very important to us as a priority until we realized we need to do more than ENDA—we need to open the Civil Rights Act and to put equality issues in the Act. And this is a big step forward in our opposition to discrimination that permeates our discussion of the workplace, whether it’s people of color, women, the LGBTQ community,” Pelosi says.

Of course, “we’re always talking about fighting for [LGBT equality] as we did when President Obama was president,” Pelosi says. “This is a big part of what President Obama did, a big part of our priorities.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi sworn in as the first female Speaker of the House Jan. 4, 2007.

Pelosi says when she first conferred with LGBT leadership about what was legislatively possible to get done, they came up with three things: Hate Crimes legislation “which was beautiful—Matthew Shepard’s mother came, [out then-Rep.]Barney Frank shared his personal story, it was really quite a lovely experience and it was not only good for the LGBTQ community, it was good for America.”

The second LGBT legislative endeavor was supposed to be ENDA, ending discrimination in the workplace. “But the community came forward and said, ‘No, our priority is the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. So do that second. And that we did. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a fabulous experience. It was again, expanding freedom,” she recalls.

“And then the courts and the community and all the rest took us to marriage quality— that was something the courts had to speak to so that whatever happened would be sustainable. That was a tremendous victory. So that left one thing. I mean, of course funding for HIV/AIDS and the rest of that— but that is and has been happening. But in terms of new legislation, that left ENDA and as we were reviewing our prospects for that, it was determined that we had to go bigger.”

But getting there was not as easy as snapping a finger. “What was really important about that was that the African American community has been very possessive of the Civil Rights Act. They’re not inclined to open it up because they don’t things to be subtracted from it and in this climate that could happen. But when David Cicilline introduced the bill, many of us were there but standing right next to him was [civil rights icon Rep.] John Lewis, with the imprimatur of the Black Caucus in the Congress.” The late NAACP icon Julian Bond had also been a strong proponent, Pelosi added.

“It’s a priority for us. A day doesn’t go by that we’re not speaking out against discrimination in the workplace and any other place,” she says. “And we would hope that we could do something with the Republicans on that between now and January—but we know in January, we’ll be able to go forth with an agenda that is not only proactive in what it does but also removes all doubt that we won’t have any of these other bills that enshrine discrimination in our laws.”

To be sure, enshrining discrimination into law seems to be a subtextual plan of the Trump/Pence administration with more information leaking out about Pence’s behind-the-scenes machinations involving the ban on transgender service members serving openly in the military. The Human Rights Campaign is so concerned they recently published a report, “Meet The Real Mike Pence,” with the subheadline: “Mike Pence is an extremist who is amassing power and exerting influence with less scrutiny than any vice president in U.S. history.”

One way Pence is accumulating power and influence is by raising money for 2018 Republican candidates, including in California. After Pence popped down to Calexico to take a photo-op on the border, he got down to his real business. “Pence and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield hosted a “roundtable discussion” at a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Monday. For a donation of between $10,000 and $100,000, some of the party’s biggest donors got the chance to schmooze with two of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. And thanks to a special fundraising mechanism and increasingly lax campaign finance rules, most of that money will get funneled to nearly two dozen vulnerable House colleagues — including California Republican Reps. David Valadao, Jeff Denham and Steve Knight,” the Sacramento Bee reported May 1.

From Beverly Hills, Pence headed to Arizona for a rally where he praised racist Senate candidate, Trump-pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio who Pence called “a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law,” adding, “I’m honored to have you here.” As of April 19, Real Clear Politics shows out bisexual Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema winning over all three Republican primary candidates. That could change if GOP voters consolidate after the primary.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posed with many candidates at the 2018 California Democratic Convention, including Lt. Gov. candidate Eleni Kounalakis.

Pelosi’s focus is on winning the House. “We are going to be focusing on the economy in our debate,” she says. “That is what elections are about across the board. And the success that we have had in recruiting candidates and we have the A-Team on the field, the very terrible numbers of President Trump means that they have over 40 retirements. The mobilization has never been bigger. People see the urgency. They want to take responsibility and that gives us opportunity.”

While many of the energized youth are fans of Rep. Maxine Waters’ call for Trump’s impeachment, Pelosi thinks that is not a winning strategy. “Maxine and I go back well before we went to Congress. So count me as a Maxine fan. But I do say focusing on impeachment is a gift to the Republicans,” she says. “What we have to do is focus on the economic insecurity of American families and people. It’s about their apprehensions and their aspirations. And that’s what we need to be talking about.

“If there’s any movement to impeachment, it will have to come with data about what happened, vis a vis the law, and it will have to be bipartisan and we’re a long way from that,” Pelosi says. “So I do not think that talking about impeachment as our message for the election is a winning formula. Should people talk about it if they believe in it—that’s up to them. But in terms of our unifying message, it’s about the economy— our better deal. We think the American people have gotten a raw deal from the Republicans. We have a better deal—better jobs, better pay, better future. And we’re very proud of that economic message. It’s a message of unity in our party. It’s a winning message and that’s how we’re going forward.”

While impeachment may not be a winning electoral strategy, the concern about the erosion of democracy is. Pelosi says she was pleased to see some senators challenge new Sec. of State Pompeo during his confirmation hearing, pointing out that some of his negative LGBT public policy views “are not the views of the United States.”

But, Pelosi notes with more than a hint of dismay, Pompeo is “an employee of the president of the United States. It’s about the president. This president has been a great showman. He’s done a good job in winning the election. He’s the president. But what he is doing is harmful to our country and even if you voted for him, you would have to see that this is not constructive. And it’s not unifying. Our founders gave us guidance. They said E Pluribus Unum—from many, one. They couldn’t imagine how many that would be but we had to be one. And these Republicans in power—they can’t say from many one, except some people we would exclude and discriminate against.” Though Pompeo’s record “is of concern,” she hopes “with new responsibility, he will act responsibly. We’ll see.”

Pelosi also shares the concern of Rep. Adam Schiff, her appointee to the House Intelligence Committee, about the “dismantling of our democratic institutions that President Trump is so set upon, whether it is dismantling and discrediting the press, which I think is the greatest guardian of our freedom—freedom of press, dismantling of our Justice Department and law enforcement, in terms of the FBI, ignoring the system of checks and balances that exists in our Constitution, which is the strength of our country.”

Pelosi is also concerned about Trump getting rid of regulations. “They’re protections,” she says. “If he has an objection to something, let’s discuss that, make it better or not, if we think it’s the best it can be.” But it’s critical to recognize that “he is destroying the protections for clean air, clean water, food safety, consumer protections,” and the other protections, including the rollback of protections for LGBT people.

“The president is anti-governance. He doesn’t really believe in the role of government in improving people’s situations,” Pelosi says. “So it’s a comprehensive approach to dismantling democratic institutions. One of the reasons people should be very concerned is because the president is doing nothing to protect our electoral system, our democracy. The Russians have disrupted our election and he won’t look into it at all. And that’s a very, very bad course of action. Why not? We’re concerned about how he’s not dealt with sanctions on Russia,” among other issues. “But how does he explain not protecting our electoral system? That is the basis of our vote, our vote is the basis of our democracy, and the president is not upholding his constitutional responsibility to protect and defend our Constitution and our democracy that goes with it.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (center) at the #ResistMarch in West Hollywood June 11, 2017. Pictured: (Top row left to right: West Hollywood City Councilmember John D’Amico, #ResistMarch founder/organizer Brian Pendleton, West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman, West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem John Duran, LA County Assessor Jeff Prang, Middle row: West Hollywood City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath, LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, (unidentified), Rep. Judy Chu. Bottom row: Rep. Maxine Waters, Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, Sue Dunlap, President & Ceo Planned Parenthood/LA. Photo by Jon Viscott for the City of West Hollywood)

While young people at the #ResistMarch in West Hollywood last year were stirred up by Leader Pelosi’s rhetoric, it was clear they knew she was important—but not really who she was and why she was so passionate about LGBT equality.

Some of it is centered in Pelosi’s Catholicism, which is not the set of beliefs the Catholic Church espoused during Prop 8 and other political-religious battles. “As a Catholic, I was raised to respect every person. We’re all God’s children. In my family, there was never any question about that,” she says. “In Baltimore, we did have a growing LGBT community—we didn’t call it that then but it was part of our lives and it was not any question that we would be any more respectful of one person than another. It wasn’t even an issue with me and I didn’t ever even describe it or associate it with Catholicism because Catholicism taught me something different. It didn’t teach me discrimination. It taught me respect. And so it prepared me very well, my Catholicism, for being a representative in San Francisco.”

During the 1980s, with the unchecked rise of AIDS, the Vatican came under intense criticism for sticking to its absolute prohibition against using condoms, coupled with Pope John Paul calling homosexuality “intrinsically evil.”

Pelosi seems momentarily speechless. “I think the Church’s position that people could not use condoms—it’s so hypocritical, I can’t even go to that place,” she says. “The Church may make a proclamation but they make a proclamation that people should not be using any contraception or birth control at all—it’s all about having a child. So while people are faithful to their religion, they are certain practicing what they need for the size and timing of their family, according to meeting their responsibility to the free will that God has given all of us.”

Ironically, because San Francisco “took a very big bite of that wormy apple called AIDS,” the Church “was more sympathetic to people when they had HIV/AIDS because they needed help then they were to people who weren’t infected. It was the strangest, strangest thing,” Pelosi says.

“It’s a funny thing. The Catholics—and I’m surrounded by Catholics—but the Catholics that I grew up with and I lived with in California were always respectful of the Church, of the Pope, of our faith, and never thought it was in any way a barrier to us doing what we believed. And sometimes that was diametrically opposed to what their public statements were.”

Not that she thinks the Church is immune to criticism. “There’s no question the Catholic Church in California was a participant in Prop 8 in a negative way,” Pelosi says. “We were on the other side of that. But to me—it was their problem. It wasn’t anything that was any moral imperative to me for me to follow the Church in enshrining discrimination in the law in California.”

Pelosi also does not concur with churches that pontificate about the “non-negotiable” – being gay, marriage equality, euthanasia, birth control, all generally lumped together. The commonality is the certainty that “all interactions between people are about producing a child. Then you cannot have birth control, family planning or any of that and you cannot have homosexual relations,” she says. “I view that as kind of their problem. It’s not the reality of life and it’s not about respecting the dignity and worth of every person.”

But, Pelosi adds, “I’m not making any judgments about how each of us honors our free will and our sense of responsibility that goes with it.”

Pelosi is also guided by a moral imperative that young people may not understand today—the deep, personal impact of AIDS.

California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 1996

“Some people criticized me for talking about AIDS on my first day in Congress and I realized that it was not just about getting funding for AIDS research and prevention and care but it was about ending discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS,” adding that California has been a “tremendous resource” throughout the years for intellectual, political and economic response to the disease.

Pelosi responds viscerally when asked about losing friends. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. A little flower girl in my wedding. My dear, dear friends in the community in San Francisco. We were going to two funerals a day. I was visiting people in the hospital all the time and quite frankly, when I say losing people,” Pelosi says, “I lost friends because I just walked away from them because they were not treating people with HIV and AIDS with respect. They would say to me, ‘I don’t know why you hire that caterer – don’t you know that everybody there has HIV?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t bother to come to my house any more if that’s your attitude.’ It just changed my whole view of them.”

Within the span of her life and political career, Pelosi has personally experienced the heartbreak of HIV/AIDS and the political battles to fund and find a cure.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi with friends fighting HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s. (photo courtesy Rep. Pelosi)

“I’ll never stop missing some of my dearest dear friends from then,” she says. “Of course we went from funerals to people saying help me make out my will because this is going to end soon, to those very same people looking for a job and then wanting to get married. So everything has improved but I would never have thought 30 years ago when I started all this in Congress that we still wouldn’t have a cure for AIDS. We’ve improved the quality of life, we’ve sustained life. Everything is better but it’s not over, not finished.”

It appears that the quality of simultaneously never forgetting while always looking forward is a key motivating factor for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

This article is an expanded version of the cover story for the commemorative first weekly print edition of the Los Angeles Blade. It is the featured story for the Washington Blade, as well.

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Maine

Maine House passes proposed trans & abortion shield law

Republican critics of bill to protect professionals who provide reproductive & gender-affirming care repeated disinformation to argue against

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March for Queer & Trans Youth Autonomy in Washington D.C. 2023. (Michael Key/Washington Blade)

By Evan Popp | AUGUSTA, Maine – After hours of contentious debate that stretched late into the night, the Maine House on Wednesday approved a proposed “shield law” designed to protect the state’s health professionals who provide reproductive and gender-affirming care from being targeted by other states’ bans or restrictions on such treatments.  

The chamber passed LD 227, sponsored by Anne Perry (D-Calais), by an 80-70 mostly party-line vote, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed (with the exception of Democratic Rep. Bruce White of Waterville). The bill will now move to the Senate. 

“What this bill intends to do is to shield — and that’s why it’s called a shield law — the providers who provide this care while in the state of Maine … from another state coming in to enforce their laws on this state,” Perry said. “It is a sovereignty issue.”

The measure comes as many Republican-led states have sought to curb access to reproductive care following the overturning of federal abortion rights in 2022 and have also targeted gender-affirming care for transgender youth. So far, in reaction to such efforts, 22 states and Washington, D.C. have passed shield laws protecting abortion and eleven of those states and D.C. also have protections specifically for gender-affirming care.

The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted down a separate shield law proposal in January. The text of LD 227 was subsequently introduced and advanced by the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee last month. 

During the House debate on the bill Wednesday night, Democratic supporters said the bill is needed to ensure health professionals can provide legally-protected care without fear of being targeted by out-of-state actors. 

In contrast, Republicans repeated claims that the bill would facilitate criminal activity — arguments that legal experts have said are not based in reality. They also expressed concern that the measure would hamstring law enforcement by preventing them from sharing information and expressed their general opposition to gender-affirming care for minors and reproductive health rights like abortion. 

In his speech, Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) argued the bill would make it easier for traffickers to find safe haven in Maine, claiming the measure would allow for kids to be brought to the state without parental consent for the services mentioned in the proposal. 

The argument that LD 227 represents an attack on parental rights was also invoked by numerous opponents of the legislation. 

“I have only scratched the surface of the problems with this bill,” Morris said, also citing issues with the process, including the late introduction of the measure and a lack of publicly-available text. 

Bill proponents say claims that the bill would facilitate kidnapping and trafficking are blatant lies. And legal authorities, including Attorney General Aaron Frey, have also pushed back against such arguments. Frey told Maine Morning Star that the bill makes “no changes to criminal law, nor does it legalize any currently illegal behavior.”

“There is no reading of the bill that would authorize criminal acts, like kidnapping or trafficking,” Frey stated. 

Furthermore, in response to concerns about the bill, lawmakers on the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee narrowed it to provide protections specifically for health care professionals and those who assist them, rather than offering protections for any person. Colleen McCarthy Reid, a legislative analyst from the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis, said the change was meant to emphasize the bill’s intended use following the claims about child trafficking and kidnapping. 

During Wednesday’s debate, opponents of the bill also said they were worried about the bill’s impact on law enforcement. Rep. Scott Cyrway (R-Albion) referenced the opposition of the Maine Sheriff’s Association to LD 227. Cyrway said the provisions in the bill that prevent law enforcement from sharing information to aid another state’s investigation into a legally-protected health activity in Maine would hamper the ability of police to work with colleagues in other places to address criminal activity. 

LD 227 does prevent police from knowingly providing information for an interstate investigation into legally-protected health activity or arresting someone in relation to such treatment. However, it provides some exceptions to these rules, including: if federal law requires action, if police have a good faith belief a warrant is valid in Maine, or if there isn’t enough time to comply with the provisions of LD 227 and there is a compelling need for action because of an imminent danger to public safety. 

Republicans attack gender-affirming care

Opponents of LD 227 also denounced gender-affirming care in general during Wednesday’s debate. They said the bill would allow kids to come from out of state to get what they referred to as treatment that cannot be reversed. Multiple Republicans claimed gender-transitioning services are unproven and dangerous for youth.

“This bill will allow doctors to mutilate beautiful bodies, completely throw a child’s fertility away, and hide and ignore true mental health issues and struggles,” said Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo). 

However, proponents of the measure such as Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland) pointed out that reproductive health care and gender-affirming care are legally protected in Maine and that LD 227 does not change the extensive regulations in place for such treatments, particularly when it comes to youth. 

As Maine Morning Star previously reported, parental consent is needed in most cases for minors to obtain gender-affirming care. A law in Maine passed last session allows for people who are at least 16 years old to receive non-surgical gender-affirming hormone therapy — not gender reassignment surgery — without a parent’s consent, but only under a set of specific circumstances.   

Furthermore, Democrats pointed out that myriad health care organizations support gender-affirming care as necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.  

Providers say they fear prohibitions on such services will lead to worse mental health outcomes for transgender youth, with the American Medical Association calling efforts to curb gender-affirming care “a dangerous intrusion into the practice of medicine.”  

Rep. Sam Zager (D-Portland), a family physician, said safe and effective gender-affirming care is crucial to young people’s mental health and overall well-being. 

“People whose gender identity does not match their assigned gender I believe deserve access to evidence-based health care for their full being, just like everybody else. So health care practitioners can’t be intimidated …from providing it,” he said. 

Lawmakers push back against Republican AGs’ letter

In pushing for passage Wednesday, multiple Democrats also referenced a letter about the bill penned in March by 15 Republican attorneys general from around the country. In the letter, the officials argued a shield law would be unconstitutional and said they would “vigorously avail” themselves of “every recourse our Constitution provides” if the bill passed.  

Democratic lawmakers called the letter an egregious attempt to intimidate legislators and a prime example of why the state needs a shield law in the first place. Proponents also cited actions such as those taken by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued investigative subpoenas to a Washington state hospital that he alleged violated Texas law by providing gender affirming care to Texas youths.  

“At its core, this bill is about our state’s sovereign ability to set and enforce our state’s laws without interference from Texas, Tennessee or Kentucky,” said Rep. Amy Kuhn (D-Falmouth). 

Following Wednesday’s vote, Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund praised lawmakers for passing the bill. 

In a news release, the group’s vice president of public affairs Lisa Margulies said, “Maine is one step closer to protecting our providers of essential medical care from hostile attacks by out-of-state extremists.” Margulies applauded lawmakers who voted for the bill “in the face of vile rhetoric and lies, political posturing and threats of violence.” 

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Evan Popp

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College. He joins Maine Morning Star following three years at Maine Beacon writing about statewide politics. Before that, he worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Maine Morning Star and is republished with permission.

Maine Morning Star is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news site covering state policy and politics — and how they impact the lives of Maine people. We aim to hold powerful people and institutions accountable and explain how their actions affect communities from Kennebunk to Caribou.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Tennessee

Tennessee lawmakers: “Recruiting” for trans youth care a felony

The bill was passed alongside an abortion bill that would make it illegal for adults to help minors obtain abortions without parental consent

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Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville. (Photo Credit: State of Tennessee)

By Erin Reed | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Republican-controlled Tennessee Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make it a felony to help a transgender youth obtain gender-affirming care.

Read broadly, the bill could apply even to those providing information about healthcare resources and laws in other states to youths in Tennessee. The bill borrows old language from anti-gay rhetoric of decades past around “recruiting” to further clamp down on information given to transgender youth about healthcare.

It signals a new phase in the fight over transgender care in the United States, potentially having nationwide repercussions and pitting the state against others that have passed shield laws protecting patient healthcare from out of state investigations.

The bill is Senate Bill 2782. The language of the bill was amended before its passage Thursday, stating that any adult who “recruits, harbors, or transports” a minor in Tennessee for the purpose of gender-affirming care could be guilty of a Class C felony, which carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

 Read broadly, it could prohibit discussing healthcare options available in other states with transgender youths or providing maps of “safe states” for transgender healthcare to a transgender youth, though some legal experts say that this reading is constitutionally dubious and could violate first amendment protections.

You can read the amended bill here:

The bill is not the first to target transgender people, although it is the first to specify that it applies over state lines. Some gender affirming care bans in the United States have also banned “aiding and abetting” gender affirming care, such as in Mississippi and Iowa. Those bans have sparked concern that even counselors, voice therapists, and LGBTQ+ organizations could be targeted for “aiding and abetting” transgender youth obtaining care.

The Tennessee bill was passed alongside an abortion bill that would make it illegal for adults to help minors obtain abortions without parental consent, also dubbed an “abortion trafficking” law.

If passed, Tennessee would become only the second state to enact such a law after a similar one in Idaho was blocked in court. The Idaho law uses identical language, barring “recruiting, harboring, or transporting” a pregnant minor seeking an abortion. Together, these laws represent the latest in the cross-pollination between attacks on gender-affirming care and reproductive freedom that have become increasingly common in recent years.

This has in turn led to several states passing “safe state,” “shield,” or “sanctuary” laws for transgender people and those seeking or providing abortions or gender-affirming care. Currently, 15 states have enacted legislation or policies declaring themselves “sanctuary states” for gender-affirming care and reproductive healthcare

. These shield laws assert that other states cannot subpoena healthcare legally provided within their borders, and that they maintain jurisdiction over their own territories. These shield laws have already made an impact; Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently attempted to subpoena medical records from Seattle Children’s Hospital, which informed him that it could not comply due to Washington’s shield law.

You can see a state map of shield laws currently in effect here:

The fight over transgender rights is spilling into a battle over jurisdictional issues that have not been litigated in over a century and a half. In response to a recent proposal in Maine to pass a shield law, 16 Republican attorneys general signed a letter authored by the AG of Tennessee stating their intention to sue Maine if they pass a law that would bar complying with requests for patient healthcare information from across state lines.

similar letter, written by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and signed by 18 Republican AGs, announced similar opposition to shielding abortion records. In response, the Maine Legislature passed LD227, making it the potential 16th state to enact such a shield law, despite legal threats from Republican states like Tennessee.

The Tennessee bill is slated for a subcommittee hearing on April 16th. If the bill passes, there could be a showdown between the state and other states that have acted to protect their transgender citizens and citizens seeking abortions. Likewise, there could be an enormous chilling effect on providing information about transgender healthcare to minors in the state.

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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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Ohio

Trans student bathroom ban bill passes Ohio House Committee

HB 183 would require Ohio K-12 schools & colleges mandate students only use bathroom or locker room that matches their sex assigned at birth

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Gender-neutral bathroom at Grant High School, Portland Oregon. (Screenshot/YouTube KGW NBC News Portland, Oregon)

By Megan Henty | COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bill that would ban transgender students from using the bathroom and locker room that matches up with their gender identity passed out of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee Wednesday by a 10-5 party line vote.

State Reps. Beth Lear, R-Galena, and Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, introduced House Bill 183 which would require Ohio K-12 schools and colleges to mandate that students could only use the bathroom or locker room that matches their sex assigned at birth. It would also prohibit schools from allowing students to share overnight accommodations with the opposite sex.

HB 183 now awaits further consideration in the House, which is next scheduled to be in session April 24. 

Parents, grandparents, and school superintendents asked Bird for this bill, he said. 

The American Medical Association officially opposes policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities consistent with gender identity.

HB 183 would not prohibit a school from having single-occupancy facilities and it would not apply to someone helping a person with a disability or a child younger than 10 years old being assisted by a parent, guardian, or family member.

State Rep. Gayle Manning, R- North Ridgeville, thought about bringing an amendment to the committee that would have carved colleges and universities out of the bill, but she decided against it. 

“I’m hopeful we will continue to have these discussions on the removal of higher ed,” she said. “The reason being, we’re talking about adults. Universities are similar to a city with the number of students that they have. Frivolous lawsuits that will increase the cost of tuition eventually and the cost of our families.” 

Manning voted in favor of the bill even though she hopes lawmakers can continue conversations to “find a better solution.”

Bird opposes taking the higher education component out of the bill. 

“The reason I oppose that is because we have college credit plus in Ohio,” he said. “We seventh graders going to college, kids in high school going to colleges and in that college environment, we got to make sure they are protected.”

State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, vocalized his disdain for the bill before the committee voted. 

“Here we are again … taking away school districts and colleges’ ability and their leadership to make decisions that are best for providing safe, equitable access for all Ohio students,” Miller said. “I hope that this doesn’t see the floor and doesn’t see the governor’s desk.”

More than 100 people submitted opponent testimony on HB 183 and more than 30 people submitted proponent testimony. 

“We do love and care about all kids,” Bird said when asked about all the backlash the bill has received. “Me and my Republican colleagues have heard from constituents all across the state. They may not have been loud. They may not have been vocal. They may not have come with a sign to the Statehouse, but we are here representing the vast majority of Ohioans who want protections.” 

Trans advocates speak out against HB 183

Transgender advocates hosted a press conference following the House Higher Education Committee to voice their opposition to HB 183. Trans Ohio Board Member Carson Hartlage said HB 183 is harmful to all students, including cisgender students.

“Most trans non binary and gender non conforming students only begin using restrooms that align with their gender identities after they’ve experienced some form of trauma when using a restroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth,” Hartlage said.

Thirty percent of LGBTQ+ students said they were prevented from using the bathroom that aligned with their gender, and 26% were stopped from using the locker room that aligned with their gender, according to Ohio’s 2021 state snapshot by GLSEN, which examines the school experiences of LGBTQ middle and high school students.

When looking specifically at transgender and nonbinary students, 42% were prevented from using the bathroom that aligned with their gender and 36% couldn’t use the locker room that aligned with their gender, according to the Ohio GLSEN report. 

Ohio’s first openly transgender public official and member of the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools’ Board of Education Dion Manley shared his concerns. 

“As a trans man is I’ve been going into men’s restrooms for 25 years without incident,” Manley said. “I go visit the schools on a regular basis. So these legislators want me to go into a girls restroom in the elementary school, middle school, and high school.”

Mallory Golski, civic engagement and advocacy manager at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said how Ohio was recently at the center of history in a positive way with Monday’s eclipse.

“We’re here reflecting on how we’re at the epicenter of another piece of history,” she said. “And unfortunately, we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike the fleeting blackout of the total solar eclipse, the history I’m talking about here today at the statehouse leaves transgender youth in the dark.”

Jeanne Ogden’s daughter would be directly impacted by this bill. Her daughter’s college classroom building does not have single-use restrooms in the building, forcing her daughter to go across the street to use the restroom. 

“These kids getting bullied and yes, their mental health is suffering,” said Ogden, the executive director of Trans Allies of Ohio. “Trans people are tired. Parents are exhausted.”

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Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Ohio Capitol Journal and is republished with permission.

The Ohio Capital Journal is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to connecting Ohioans to their state government and its impact on their lives. The Capital Journal combines Ohio state government coverage with incisive investigative journalism, reporting on the consequences of policy, political insight and principled commentary.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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National

Day of [no] silence, a call to speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ hate

GLSEN reframes its Day of Silence to confront the alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, the message is clear: the time for action is now

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GLSEN/Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – In a move to counteract the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, GLSEN, a leading national organization advocating for safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ+ youth, has announced a significant shift in its annual Day of Silence event. 

Traditionally observed as a silent protest against LGBTQ+ discrimination and bullying, this year’s event will transform into the Day of (No) Silence, calling on advocates, students, educators, and allies to actively speak out against the wave of exclusionary policies sweeping across the nation.

Scheduled for April 12, 2024, the Day of (No) Silence emerges in response to over 470 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures throughout the United States. The event’s reimagining encourages participants to leverage their voices, platforms, and votes to demand legislative support and protection for the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans and non-binary individuals.

“Education is the cornerstone of our democracy, yet it’s under attack by those with the  loudest voices pushing hateful agendas, using trans and queer students as pawns,” said GLSEN Executive Director, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. “From bathroom bans to book bans, the attacks on our education system are relentless and widespread. It’s on us, as adults, to rise up for every child’s right to a safe and inclusive education. That’s why this year, we refuse to remain silent. We’re rising together, using our collective voices to fight back against these injustices. While some students are silenced by censorship laws or unsafe school environments, if you can, I urge you to join us. Speak up, vote, use your platform, and support GLSEN programs. Together, let’s build a future where every student can thrive.” 

The organization has laid out a comprehensive action plan for participants to follow on April 12th, ranging from using social media platforms to share student stories and resources, participating in the National School Climate Survey, to educators creating an inclusive classroom environment through GLSEN’s Rainbow Library.

In an interview with The Blade,  GLSEN’s Director of Communications Madison Hamilton, expounded on the shift to Day of (No) Silence. “It is imperative, with the over 480 hateful anti LGBT+ bills that have been presented this year alone that we make this shift,” Hamilton said. “We have heard from students and educators in our network, telling us that they want to take action and speak out. The silent protest is just not working anymore.”

Hamilton also addressed the broader impacts of discrimination, highlighted by the tragic murder of 16-year-old nonbinary Oklahoma resident, Nex Benedict, a vivid reminder of the deadly consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ hate. GLSEN’s statement underscores the urgent need for accountability and a collective fight against extremism targeting queer and trans youth within the educational system.

“At GLESN we believe education is the cornerstone of our democracy. All this hate rhetoric leads to hate crimes. Nex was in that bathroom because politicians in Oklahoma required them to be in that bathroom,” Hamilton told The Blade, emphasizing that holding adults accountable for their hateful rhetoric against the community is imperative to creating a more inclusive society in schools and beyond. 

GLSEN offers resources for educators, including an action guide for creating supportive environments for LGBTQ+ students, and calls on allies to engage in various forms of advocacy, such as hosting events, volunteering, and fundraising, to support the cause.

As GLSEN reframes its Day of Silence to confront the alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, the message is clear: the time for action is now. By raising our voices, we can push back against discrimination, celebrate diversity, and pave the way for a future where all students can thrive, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

GLSEN is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to creating safe and inclusive K-12 schools for LGBTQ+ students. Founded over 34 years ago, it works tirelessly to combat harassment and discrimination through education, policy advocacy, and community building.
For more information on how to participate in the Day of (No) Silence and support LGBTQ+ youth, visit www.glsen.org.

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Louisiana

Severe weather doesn’t stop GOP anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Louisiana

As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity- a legislative committee met & quietly advanced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

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As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity in Louisiana Wednesday, a legislative committee met and quietly advanced two pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. (Allison Allsop/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGUE, La. – As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity in Louisiana Wednesday, a legislative committee met and quietly advanced two pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. 

The Louisiana House Committee on Education advanced House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, which prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission, along a party line 9-3 vote. 

House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public K-12 schools, also advanced on a 9-3 vote, with Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, joining Democrats in opposing the bill.   

The Legislature approved both bills last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed them, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action. A representative for Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican, filed a card in support of both Crews’ and Horton’s bills. 

Committee hearings on the same bills in previous years stretched on for hours with extensive public testimony, primarily from LGBTQ+ youth, but Wednesday’s hearing moved at an unusually fast clip, with many advocates stuck at home. 

The committee was scheduled to meet at noon, an hour before a tornado watch expired for Baton Rouge. Tornadoes had touched down in Slidell and Lake Charles in the morning, and flooding and storm debris blocked roads across the state. 

Just four people testified against the bills Wednesday. By comparison, more than 40 people testified against the same bills in 2023, and over 300 more filed cards in opposition but did not speak. 

The Louisiana Senate decided late Tuesday afternoon to cancel its committee meetings the next day to avoid the hazardous weather. Senators aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until Monday.

The House of Representatives canceled all but two of its six scheduled committee meetings, In addition to Education, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee also met at noon to discuss several election-related bills  

Advocates with Forum For Equality, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, called on House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, to cancel the two committee hearings.

Crews’ bill would require teachers and other school personnel to use a student’s given name and pronouns that align with their birth sex unless a student has permission from their parents to use their chosen name. 

Teachers would be allowed to disregard a parent’s choice to respect their transgender or nonbinary child’s preferred name and pronouns if they have religious opposition to doing so. 

Freiberg noted this double standard during the hearing, pointing out the bill was touted as a parental rights bill but allowed a parent’s choice to be invalidated. 

In an interview after the hearing, Crews said that while his bill supports parental rights, parents should not be able to eclipse somebody else’s religious rights. 

His bill does not have an exception for those who have a religious opposition to deadnaming or misgendering students. 

Deadnaming is when someone uses a transgender or nonbinary individual’s birth name, or “dead name,” against their wishes. Misgendering occurs when someone refers to an individual as a gender that they do not identify. 

At the core of Crews’ proposal is his belief that parents have the right to know whether their children are transgender. Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community say the bill would force transgender youth to out themselves to their parents or else be deadnamed and misgendered at school. They have raised concerns about what happens when parents find out — and don’t approve.

A survey from the Trevor Project found 38% of transgender women, 39% of transgender men and 35% of nonbinary youth have experienced homelessness as a result of parental rejection. 

Horton’s bill is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Her proposal is much broader and would apply to K-12 grades, whereas Florida’s law applies only to early grade students. 

Florida recently settled a lawsuit over the law filed by civil rights activists. As part of the agreement, students and teachers are permitted to discuss gender and sexuality as long as  it is not part of classroom instruction. 

Horton’s bill would not just apply to classroom instruction. It also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events, meaning it could potentially hinder student chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance and other LGBTQ+ student organizations. 

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students and made reference to a Caddo Parish teacher who she said bragged about confusing children with their sexual orientation. 

As written, the bill would also prevent discussion of heterosexuality and the cisgender identity. 

The bills will next be discussed by the full House of Representatives. 

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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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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge tosses suit against Calif. trans sanctuary state law

The law provides legal protections for families who come to Calif. to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live

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Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107), also referred to as California’s Transgender Sanctuary State Law.

In the dismissal without leave to amend, the court dismissed the lawsuit on Article III standing grounds, finding that the plaintiff failed to allege that SB 107 injured them in any way, and failed to allege any facts showing that SB 107 forced the plaintiff to divert staff time and resources.

SB 107 protects children and families seeking gender affirming care, as well as their health care providers, from bigoted anti-trans laws in other states that criminalize medically necessary health care that is legal in California. 

The Transgender Sanctuary State Law provides legal protections for families who come to California to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live, as well as doctors and staff providing such care in California. It implements various safeguards against the enforcement of other states’ laws that would penalize people for obtaining medically necessary care that is legal in California.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement following the U.S. District Court’s order granting the California Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107).

“No one should ever be marginalized for seeking the care they need,” said Bonta. “The court’s decision is a major win for transgender children and their families in California and across the U.S. amidst a growing assault on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. My office stands ready to defend SB 107 to ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals obtain the care that empowers them to lead healthier, happier lives.”

“Transgender people just want to live their lives authentically and in peace, and California is defending their right to do so,” said the law’s author, state Senator Scott Wiener. “This ruling shows once again that trans people are living authentically in California without any of the negative impacts on those around them of which right-wing zealots accuse them. California’s leadership is united in defending transgender people, and LGBTQ people generally, from the vicious attacks they face in other states. I thank Attorney General Bonta and his team for their incredible work securing this major civil rights victory.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Florida trans teacher can use ‘Ms.’ in classroom

“Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, you can set your clock by it”

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U.S. District Court building In Tallahassee, Florida. (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In Florida, a federal judge ruled that a transgender woman teacher no longer has to be referred to as “Mr.” or “teacher” in the classroom, citing first amendment protections.

Instead, she can use “Ms.” and female pronouns. This decision follows the passage of HB1069 in Florida, which mandated that teachers could not use pronouns that “do not correspond to his or her sex.”

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker enjoined the state from enforcing the law against her, stating, “The State of Florida has not justified this grave restraint, and so the United States Constitution does not tolerate it. Ours is a Union of individuals, celebrating ourselves and singing ourselves and being ourselves without apology.”

The plaintiff, Ms. Wood, a teacher at a Florida high school, has been known as “Ms. Wood” for four years. She regularly would write her name, title, and pronouns on the whiteboard and used these pronouns with students, faculty, and staff, as well as in her personal life. In evaluating Ms. Wood’s usage of her name, title, and pronouns, the judge determined that “The freedom to use the title ‘Ms.’ and to share her preferred pronouns at school is essential to her basic humanity.”

Ms. Wood’s ability to use her preferred title and pronouns was threatened following the passage of House Bill 1069. Enacted into law in 2023, House Bill 1069 prohibits all employees and contractors of public K-12 educational institutions from using their preferred personal titles or pronouns if those “do not correspond to their sex.”

After the law’s enactment, administrators informed Ms. Wood that she had to remove her pronouns and title from display and could not correct students who referred to her as “Mr.” or “him.”

The judge commenced his ruling with a scathing critique of the state, writing, “Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, some might say you can set your clock by it… The question before this Court is whether the First Amendment allows the State to dictate, without limitation, how public-school teachers refer to themselves when communicating with students. The answer is a thunderous ‘no.’”

The judge ultimately determined that prohibiting Ms. Wood from using her pronouns or title constituted an unconstitutional violation of her freedom of speech, deeming it a form of viewpoint discrimination.

In his decision, he refuted several arguments presented by the state, including the claim that Ms. Wood using “Ms.” could “impede her job duties.” He found this assertion to be unfounded, noting instead that as a teacher, Ms. Wood’s students achieved test scores higher than the district average.

Additionally, the state argued that Ms. Wood’s identity itself was at odds with the state’s teachings on gender and sexuality, and thus she could be barred. This argument, based on a novel legal theory, was found by the judge to be entirely unsupported by court precedent.

This case is not the only recent legal action addressing this topic. Two weeks prior, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that repeated and intentional misgendering could constitute a hostile work environment. Similarly, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that teachers do not have the religious right to misgender transgender students. While the Florida case did not grant Ms. Wood an injunction on the basis of a hostile work environment, it does not preclude the possibility that it might recognize she experienced such an environment in addition to the First Amendment violation identified by the judge when the case is fully heard.

It is important to note that although defendants are barred from enforcing the law against Ms. Wood, the injunction is currently limited only to the teacher. However, should other teachers be threatened with retaliation under similar circumstances, it is likely they would also prevail. Similarly, this case will likely be cited in other attempts to bar transgender students and teachers from using their pronouns in school settings nationwide.

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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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The White House

New Director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy named

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director

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Francisco Ruiz, incoming Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). (Photo Credit: Official White House photo)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Federal Government

FDA planning to lift ban on gay & bi sperm donors

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Rob Salerno | WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bi men.

The Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

Men who have sex with men have been barred from donating sperm since 2005

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bi, and trans people, and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed twenty years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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National

Unprecedented spike to ban library books, 65% increase in 2023

Efforts to ban or challenge library books across the nation has had a sharp focus on titles addressing LGBTQ+ themes

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Stacks of books being banned or challenged in schools & libraries in South Carolina. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News 60 Minutes)

CHICAGO, Ill. – The American Library Association (ALA) has reported an unprecedented spike in efforts to ban or challenge library books across the nation, with a sharp focus on titles addressing LGBTQ+ themes.

According to the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report for 2024, there was a 65% increase in censorship actions in 2023, with over 4,240 unique titles coming under scrutiny.

Leading the charge against these books for the third year in a row is “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, facing 106 challenges for its depiction of LGBTQ+ life and alleged explicit content. Other prominently challenged books include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, and “Flamer” by Mike Curato, all critiqued for similar reasons.

This wave of censorship is not confined to any single area but is a national phenomenon, with public libraries reporting a 92% uptick in censorship attempts. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles data on these challenges to inform the public about censorship’s reach and impact on libraries and schools. However, it emphasizes that the reported figures likely underrepresent the true scale of the issue.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, highlighted the broader societal implications of these censorship efforts. She pointed out that books addressing gender and sexual identity become battlegrounds over library content, with advocacy groups and political figures often at odds over access to these materials.

The ALA notes that the pushback against LGBTQ+-themed books is part of a wider trend of censorship, including objections to racial themes, sex education, and other content labeled as explicit. The organization defines a challenge as a formal request to remove library materials for reasons of content or appropriateness, acknowledging that many such disputes either go unreported or lead to preemptive removal by libraries in anticipation of controversy.

As the ALA gears up for another year of advocacy, it calls on supporters to contribute to its efforts to combat censorship and uphold the right to read. With the announcement of “Freed Between the Lines” as the theme for Banned Books Week 2024, the ALA aims to draw attention to and challenge the ongoing efforts restricting access to a diverse range of literary works.

These books, identified by the American Library Association as the most challenged due to their LGBTQ+ content among other reasons, reflect ongoing debates over censorship and access to diverse narratives in libraries and schools across the United States:

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, sex education, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“Flamer” by Mike Curato

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content, rape, drugs, profanity. Although not exclusively an LGBTQIA+ book, it includes significant themes relevant to queer experiences.

“Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, drugs, rape, LGBTQIA+ content.

“Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, sex education, LGBTQIA+ content.

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