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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.

State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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Crime & Justice

Patrons of Gay bar in New York City robbed of thousands

NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated

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The Eagle NYC (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – The New York City Police Department, (NYPD) confirmed that a series of robberies committed at The Eagle NYC, a Chelsea gay leather bar last Fall, had the three victims losing thousands of dollars after the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones.

NBC News Out correspondent Matt Lavietes reported the three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week, told NBC News that NYPD investigators believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Criminals use facial recognition to rob patrons at NYC gay bar:

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Florida

DeSantis targets Orlando non-profit over holiday drag show

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The Plaza Live venue, Orlando, Florida (Photo Credit: Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation)

ORLANDO – Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis escalated his war on the state’s LGBTQ+ community ordering a state agency to launch a complaint against a Orlando non-profit over a drag holiday event it hosted in which children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed the complaint on Friday against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation alleging the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old. 

“A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the foundation on Dec. 28 and during the performance sold alcoholic drinks at its Plaza Live venue. In the complaint, the agency states that the foundation used “Christmas-themed promotional materials” that did not give advance notice of the “sexually explicit nature” of the show’s contents. 

The complaint also states that the division sent the foundation a letter ahead of the show saying “sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance” and the foundation’s license could be subject to penalties if it did not ensure minors could not attend the event. 

In its capacity as a regulator of alcohol, the division attempting to revoke the foundation’s liquor license for six alleged counts of violating Florida statutes. 

When asked about the move by the DeSantis administration targeting the non-profit, Bryan D. Griffin, the spokesman for DeSantis said “Governor DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something.”

Orlando Weekly writer Matthew Moyer noted that The Plaza Live — besides serving as the performing home base of the Orlando Philharmonic — hosts a robust slate of touring bands, comedians, YouTubers and, yes, drag performers.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani released a statement to Orlando Weekly late Friday afternoon, condemning the state’s actions in no uncertain terms. “Governor Ron DeSantis’ culture wars are destroying people’s jobs and livelihoods. The very notion of shutting down a small business over a drag show is insane and extreme,” said Eskamani. “In the United States we do not allow the government to determine what we can read, see or hear or who we can gather with. Targeting drag performances limits everyone’s freedom of speech and is all a part of the Governor’s sick anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”

DeSantis previously filed a complaint against a popular restaurant and pub in the Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, alleging that it violated a public decency law in allowing children to attend a drag show.

The R house, is a unique casual fine dining establishment and lounge with an integrated gallery right in the heart of the vibrant Miami-Wynwood arts district named for Rocco Carulli, the executive chef as well as creator of the restaurant. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches! Make some time to check us out and experience R House.”

The complaint was filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on asking that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun & expression & freedom.”

The department cited multiple incidents of inappropriate drag performances with kids in the audience, including one in which a child “between the ages of ten and twelve” was “seen recoiling and turning away in her seat as a Brunch performer climbed on the back of the child’s bench, squatted, and gyrated a couple of feet above the child’s head.”

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Iowa

Iowa Governor notes ‘parental rights’ at anti-LGBTQ+ town hall

Reynolds and Republican lawmakers pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools

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Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed a town hall hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty Feb. 2, 2023, discussing “parental rights” legislation in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

By Robin Opsahl | DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators speaking at a “parental rights” event Thursday pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools and policies allowing students to socially transition without their parents’ consent.

“School choice” supporters gathered at Franklin Junior High School  in Des Moines Thursday evening for the town hall event, hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty. Reynolds cheered the passage of her private school scholarship plan in the first weeks of the 2023 session, and promised they were not done with education legislation.

“The last few years have provided so many reasons to be in this fight in the arena for kids,” Reynolds said. “And maybe for you it was how they were kept out of school wearing masks for no good reason. Maybe it was demonizing our country. Or an obsession with race in the classroom … I guess my message to you is, stay involved because parents and freedom still matter in Iowa.”

 A demonstrator yelled over Gov. Kim Reynolds speech while holding up a transgender pride flag at a Moms for Liberty Town Hall at Franklin Junior High School Feb. 2, 2023.
(Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Protesters tried to shout over Reynolds’ speech, with one demonstrator holding up a transgender flag. Others in the room cheered and shouted “USA” as police officers removed protesters from the room.

Supporters celebrated approval of the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, which gives students an account of $7,598 each year to use for private school tuition and associated costs. The national co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, said she was excited to hear about Iowa successfully passing ESAs, but said that’s just “one small little portion of issues that are facing public education.”

For years, she said, politicians were not paying much attention to education. But in Iowa and other states across the country, Descovich said parents are putting the issue “front and center” in their state’s policy agendas, and lawmakers in states like Iowa are listening to their requests to let families decide the best educational path for their children.

“I think I think parents want that now, you know, everything in society is more custom made, and so education should be a little bit more accessible and custom made,” Descovich said.

Seven Republican legislators answered questions from attendees about Iowa’s education system. Many questions were focused on class material and discussion around gender identity. Reynolds and parents brought up Linn-Mar Community School District as an example of what’s wrong with modern schools.

The school district has a “gender support policy,” which allows a student to meet with the school to discuss socially transitioning by using a different name, pronouns and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The district allows children to choose who is involved in those meetings with the school, and lets the child decide whether to involve their parent or guardian.

Lawmaker calls gender-affirming policies a ‘slippery slope’

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said school board members claimed the school could not reverse this policy because it would violate state and federal civil rights protections given based on gender identity.

House lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday banning school districts from letting a student use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth without written parental consent. House File 190 was also introduced Thursday to remove gender identity as a protected category from the state’s civil rights act.

“Mental illness should not be accommodated as a civil right,” Shipley said Thursday.

When a teacher asked the legislators at the forum about studies that showed the use of a transgender child’s preferred name and pronouns lowers suicide rates, Shipley said there were conflicting reports how to help transgender children with mental health problems. But he said policies like Linn-Mar Community School District’s are a “slippery slope.”

Using a child’s preferred name and pronouns without their parents’ knowledge could lead to them undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender-affirming surgeries without their parents consent, he said. How to best support transgender people is a conversation the Legislature will be discussing a lot going forward he said.

“I know other states have done things to prohibit these therapies,” he said, referencing conversation therapy. “So I think this is a conversation we’re going to have to have as a state to really decide what is the best standards of practice of therapy, what do kids need to alleviate the dysphoria and form actual identities that can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”

Lawmakers address concerns about lack of choice access for special-needs students

Multiple parents also brought up concerns about how the ESA program will impact their special needs children. Legislators said they hoped to see expanded private school options for children with special needs, and were in discussions about potential future legislation to encourage more private institutions to special education students and offer more specialized educational programs.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he believes some private schools have not accepted special-education students because they didn’t have the resources. “And this bill was going to give them a lot more resources,” he said. “And so I’m hopeful that that alone is going to allow them to take a lot more special needs children.”

The conservative legislators assured the crowd that they would continue to provide parents more options for their children’s schooling going forward. Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, said Iowa’s decision to desegregate schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education shows the state has always been committed to school choice.

“And that is all we are asking, and yes, demanding, that we have the ability to educate our children in the best way at the best school that is appropriate for my child’s success. To prepare my boy, my girl, your child, for success,” Andrews said. “And that’s all school choice.”

Moms For Liberty: Giving Parents A Voice Town Hall – IOWA

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Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations.

They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register’s Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa’s 4th District elections.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

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Missouri

FBI joins investigation of threats against LGBTQ+ bars in St. Louis

Since September of 2022 the FBI has been on heightened alert over violence against LGBTQ+ facilities, groups and events

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St. Louis Grove Neighborhood Business Association/Facebook

ST. LOUIS – The FBI has joined the investigation into violent threats of bombs and shootings against three LGBTQ+ bars in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis this past weekend. A fourth threat against a children’s playground and adult café that was scheduled to hold a drag queen story hour is also being looked into by the FBI.

The three establishments, PRISM STL, Just John, and Rehab, are all located on Manchester Avenue in the city’s trendy Grove neighborhood and entertainment district. According to St. Louis’ alternative weekly press outlet The Riverfront Times, late Saturday afternoon, the bars received calls from an individual threatening violence.

Around 4 p.m. at Prism, bartender Jordan Cox answered the phone. “The caller off the bat started talking about how they were the Joker, and they were going to blow up the bar, send bombs and shoot up everybody,” Cox said, adding that it sounded like at least two people were on the other line.

Just John bar owner John Arnold said he received a voicemail around the same time.

“They said they were going to come in at 3 a.m. and burn the place down,” Arnold says. “And that they were fed up with us ‘fags’.” The same voicemail named a Just John employee whom the caller liked. “They told us to make sure he wasn’t there,” Arnold added.

St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK NBC 5 reported that a bartender at Michael Klataske and Sean Abernathy’s bar PRISM actually spoke to the suspect.

In the incident regarding the fourth location, CBS affiliate KMOV 4 reported that the FBI is also investigating threats against a children’s playground and adult café called Urban Fort in South City. The owner said they received violent threats and were forced to tighten security and change the date, time and location of a scheduled story time lesson featuring a drag performer.

Photo Credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Since September, the FBI has been on heightened alert over violence against LGBTQ+ facilities, groups and events. A threat assessment distributed by the Department of Homeland Security after November Club Q mass-shooting in Colorado Springs warned that hate criminals and violent domestic extremists could increase threats to the LGBTQ+ community “due to their responses to legislative or societal changes in the United States.” related to LGBTQ+ issues, and conspiracy theories involving the LGBTQ+ community.”

In the bulletin issued by DHS, the HSI agency noted: “Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado—which remains under investigation—we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker.

Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement, “The investigation is ongoing.”

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Missouri

Rabbi & 11-year-old son testify against anti-trans legislation

Daniel Bogard and his family are part of an interfaith movement led by Missouri clergy aimed at stopping bills targeting the LGBTQ community

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Courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bogard

ST. LOUIS, MO. — Rabbi Daniel Bogard should be spending this Shabbat preparing for tonight’s service at the synagogue he leads in St. Louis, Central Reform Congregation. Instead, he’s defending his family from death threats and planning his next trip to the state capitol, two hours away in Jefferson City, where Republicans hold a super majority in the state legislature and the governorship. 

That’s also where the state GOP is pushing forward six bills: Three that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children and three more that would prohibit them from competing in school sports according to their authentic gender identity. Every year for the past few years, Bogard said he has testified against bills like these.

“Every year, again and again and again,” he said. “And it’s dehumanizing and degrading and genuinely traumatic.”

In fact, Missouri lawmakers have filed the most anti-LGBTQ+ bills of any state, according to a database from the American Civil Liberties Union that tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide. The ACLU called this the “most dangerous” session of the Missouri Legislature for the LGBTQ+ community it’s seen in years. 

“The Republicans said that targeting trans kids is the single most important agenda on their list, especially targeting trans because it is their top priority this session. And I think, ‘What the fuck?’” said the rabbi. “We had, I don’t know, 50, 60 Jews who showed up in the state capitol with 25 hours’ notice to protest these bills last Tuesday.”

That day, Bogard was one of a half dozen fellow Jewish as well as Christian clergy who spoke out against the legislation, many of them testifying at a marathon, nine-hour hearing focused on student-athletes. 

Bogard’s 11-year-old eldest son testified, and boy’s grandmother was there in support. The young man told lawmakers he was there to represent his nine-year-old brother and a friend, who are both transgender.

“I have to be here because you, the Missouri government, keeps trying to take away what they have a passion for. Why do you keep trying to take things from these kids? Kids just want to have fun, playing sports, not being stressed having to come here to tell you to let them play,” he said. “This has affected my brother, because now he is scared he will not get to do what he loves.” 

The Blade agreed to not disclose either boy’s name or their faces for their protection. “I’ve had a half dozen death threats in the last year,” Bogard said. “It’s taken a huge toll. It colors everything about how I see the world at this point. I find hope really hard, which is tough as a rabbi.”

And this week wasn’t the first time the rabbi’s oldest son testified, he said. But he draws the line at putting his youngest child in the hot seat. 

“My 11-year old, he’s been testifying for years now,” Bogard told the Blade. “We don’t allow our child who’s trans to testify because, first of all, he’s only nine. But they are so cruel in that testimony room. They’re cruel, and they say awful things. I mean, they call you groomers in the testimony room. They tell you you’re mutilating your child. They ask children if they’d like to be taken away from their parents, and why their parents are forcing them to believe these things. They ask children what their genitals look like.”

“So, we don’t, we don’t let our nine-year old go there,” he said, noting his child does have plenty of support, and not just from him and his wife, Rabbi Karen Bogard and their oldest son. 

“My kid lives the life that every trans kid deserves. He is embraced and supported by every single one of his relatives, our friends, and the school and his teacher. They threw him a party on the one-year anniversary of his transition. The rabbi made him a kippah in the colors of the trans flag,” the pink, white and blue banner which was designed by Navy veteran and trans activist Monica Helms. 

Bogard’s nine-year-old attends a school which is greatly supportive of the effort to win hearts and minds at the capitol. “The school sends a senior level person to testify against every single one of these bills,” he said. “That’s the world my kid lives in.” 

To give other children like his a chance to live in a better world, even briefly, Bogard teamed-up with PROMO senior director of public policy and advocacy Shira Berkowitz last year, to start Camp Indigo Point, a summer camp for trans youth, at a secret location in Missouri.

“We thought we were going to get 20 kids from this area,” Bogard said. “And we ended up filling every one of the 97 bunks that we had for kids at the facility we had rented out, and had 60 kids on the waitlist. Those kids come from 27 states. It was the most magical thing, the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Bogard said the entire staff at the camp, except for him, is trans and nonbinary. It’s efforts like this and the work he and other cisgender parents do at the capitol that has won him admiration and allies, including one woman who describes herself as an Orthodox feminist.

“The efforts to take away trans rights in Missouri — and attack and erase all LGBTQ+ people in our state — have felt like repeated gut punches as we see more and more bills proposed and work to build up the energy to travel to the capitol week after week to testify. It often feels like more than enough to break a person,” Rori Picker Neiss, Maharat and executive director of the JCRC in St. Louis, told the Blade. “And yet what continues to inspire me each day are these brave kids and their resilience, the parents who fight for them to the ends of the earth, and the faith leaders who refuse to allow religious language to be coopted for harm.”

Bogard and others making this effort do more than testify, they lobby the lawmakers. “Many of these Republicans will tell you in private how much they don’t like these bills and don’t want to be a part of them, but they feel like they have to.” 

And what about those who are pushing the bills forward, such as Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden? Bogard calls them “disgusting” and “enablers of fascism.” 

“They are the people who are torturing my family, because it’s good politics for them,” he said. “I think it’s fascism that’s rising here. I think that’s what this is and that’s what we’re facing. It’s white Christian nationalism, certainly, and it’s taking over red states.” 

As the Blade has reported, families from Texas, Florida and other states of hate are fleeing to sanctuary states like California, Connecticut and Massachusetts because of the kinds of bills being considered in Missouri. Even though Bogard has deep roots in St. Louis, he confessed moving away is something his family may have to consider. 

“I don’t know a loving parent of a trans kid in a red state who isn’t up at night, terrified that they’re going to need to flee,” he said. “I live in the house that my grandpa built, that my dad grew up in, that I grew up in, that my kids are growing up in. My folks are here at home, very close to us and who love their grandkids. My mom came down to testify with us. My brother’s here, his family, my niece.

“I’m terrified we’re going to need to flee the state, because if they give me the choice between doing what is right for my child, and staying, that’s not a choice. The great fear is, government goons showing up at your door to take your child away.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Newsom on federal court allowing domestic violence abusers guns

“These three zealots are hellbent on a deranged vision of guns for all, leaving government powerless to protect its people”

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LA Blade file photo, California Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

NEW ORLEANS – On Thursday, a three judge panel from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that the federal law prohibiting individuals from “possessing a firearm while under a domestic violence restraining order” is unconstitutional.

Judge Cory Wilson, a Trump appointee, writing in the majority opinion in United States v. Rahimi, stated the federal law targeting those believed to pose a domestic violence threat could not stand under the Bruen test, a significant U.S. Supreme Court June 23, 2022 decision which requires that gun laws have a historical analogy to the firearm regulations in place at the time of the Constitution’s framing and the Second Amendment.

CNN reported that the 5th Circuit panel was not persuaded by the historical parallels put forward by the US Justice Department, which was defending the conviction of a person who possessed a firearm while under a domestic violence restraining order that had been imposed after he was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The Justice Department argued that the domestic violence law was analogous to 17th-and 18th century regulations that disarmed “dangerous” persons.

Ian Millhiser a lawyer and constitutional expert reporting for Vox noted

The immediate impact of this decision is that Zackey Rahimi, who “was subject to an agreed civil protective order entered February 5, 2020, by a Texas state court after Rahimi’s alleged assault of his ex-girlfriend,” may not be convicted of violating the federal ban on gun possession by domestic abusers.

More broadly, because the decision was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which presides over federal lawsuits in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, this federal law can no longer be enforced in those three states.

In Sacramento, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement after the judicial panel struck down the federal law:

“Now, a federal appeals court has ruled domestic abusers have the right to carry firearms. Where is the line? Who’s next?

“Judge Cory Wilson, Judge James Ho, and Judge Edith Jones.

“These three zealots are hellbent on a deranged vision of guns for all, leaving government powerless to protect its people. This is what the ultra-conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court wants. It’s happening, and it’s happening right now.

“Wake up, America – this assault on our safety will only accelerate. This is serious – and it’s coming to California. We are probably only weeks away from another activist judge, Judge Roger Benitez, striking down California’s bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. California will continue to fight against these extremist judges to protect our residents’ right to be free from gun violence.”

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Congress

FBI probes Santos GoFundMe scheme & separate SEC complaint

Republican Rep. George Santos faces yet another law enforcement probe, this time over allegations he ran a GoFundMe scam in 2016

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Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) being trailed by reporters Tuesday, January 31, 2023 (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) faces yet another law enforcement probe, this time over allegations that the congressman ran a GoFundMe scam in 2016 by crowdsourcing for a U.S. Navy Veteran and his cancer-stricken service dog before absconding with the money.

POLITICO reported on Wednesday that the veteran, Richard Osthoff, furbished text messages to FBI agents who were working on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is reportedly conducting a parallel investigation into Santos’s campaign finances.

The news comes a day after Santos resigned from his two committee assignments following a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) announced on Twitter Wednesday that he filed a complaint against Santos with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “for violating federal securities law.”

Torres wrote that his GOP colleague “illegally operated as a broker without a license, raising funds from unsuspecting investors for Harbor City Capitol, a 17 million dollar Ponzi Scheme.”

Last month, Torres and fellow New York Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman filed a U.S. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) complaint against Santos over his alleged violations of campaign finance laws. And over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Justice reportedly asked the FEC to yield to federal prosecutors – likely a sign that the campaign finance issues are the subject of a criminal probe.

Santos reportedly faces investigations by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has been embroiled in controversy since his arrival to Washington following revelations that nearly every part of his biography and identity were complete fabrications.

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits memorial to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN — Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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Crime & Justice

Suspect in 29 year old murder of Trans woman arrested

“Forensic evidence” was found at the scene of the crime that eventually led to the arrest of James William Grimsley

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Terrie Ladwig, 28, was found murdered in her Concord, Calif. apartment on Dec. 2, 1994. (Photo Credit: Concord Police Department)

CONCORD, Calif. – The suspect in the murder of Terrie Ladwig, a 28-year-old trans woman beaten and strangled in her Concord apartment on Dec. 2, 1994, has been arrested in Utah by a Salt Lake City Police and United States Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force a spokesperson for the Concord Police Department announced Monday.

Lieutenant Sean Donnelly told reporters that “forensic evidence” was found at the scene of the crime that eventually led to the arrest of James William Grimsley, 55. “I can tell you it was a violent scene, looked like there was a violent struggle between Terrie and the suspect,” said Donnelly.

Asked if police were classifying the case as a hate crime, Donnelly responded: “You know we’re not certain of the motive but that is certainly a possibility.” 

In an article published by the Contra Costa Times on December 2, 2004, a decade after the murder, the Times reported:

Concord police Detective Mike Warnock said he thinks the Ladwig case is solvable. The department has pulled it out of the cold case file within the past year. “Individuals who were originally interviewed are being reinterviewed,” Warnock said.

Ladwig’s husband, Steven Ladwig, was quickly cleared as a suspect in 1994. He had been on a submarine at sea and then at his Navy base in Bangor, Wash., when his wife was killed.

The Ladwigs were married in July 1994, Steven Ladwig told the Times after the killing. He considered his wife, who was born Larry Earl Thompson Jr., female. She was preparing to have gender-reassignment surgery, he said.

After their marriage, Ladwig went back to sea. He had returned to base when, on Nov. 28, Terrie Ladwig called to say someone was trying to break down the apartment door.

No one called police, Warnock said, but Steven Ladwig rushed home. According to a coroner’s report, he found his wife beaten and strangled on their bed. There was no sign of forced entry and she had a small amount of alcohol and methamphetamine in her blood. Neither Steven Ladwig nor his wife’s family could be located for this story. Warnock said police have not heard from them for years.

Warnock said one theory is that someone reacted violently after finding out that Terrie Ladwig was a biological man.

ABC7 Bay area reported that police say the suspect in Ladwig’s murder, Grimsley, is a truck driver. They won’t say how they linked him to the killing but do say, “There is forensic evidence in the case.” They had been working closely with the FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office over the last six to eight months to make the arrest.

Grimsley is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on $1 million bail pending an extradition hearing to return him to California. Grimley’s first court appearance in Salt Lake City was scheduled for Wednesday.

Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL TV 5 reported it was not immediately known how long Grimsley, who would have been 25 at the time of the killing, has been living in Utah. Court records show Grimsley as having a West Valley City address in 2018, and he may have been living in Kearns in 2008. His criminal history in Utah includes one minor traffic violation.

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