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Lupe Valdez’s campaign for the ‘everyday Texan’ could make LGBT history

Democratic victor in May 22 run-off will take on anti-LGBT Gov. Abbott

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Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is running to become governor of Texas. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

You can count many ways in which former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez’s election as the next governor of Texas would be a milestone victory.

She could become the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States. She could be the second Latina governor. Her victory as a Democrat would unseat an anti-LGBT incumbent and represent a change for the Republican stronghold state.

But in an exclusive interview Monday with the Washington Blade, Valdez wasn’t focused on those milestones and said the focus of her bid for the Democratic nomination to unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was on the “everyday Texan.”

“The everyday Texan is finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, to get ahead and stay ahead, and our current governor has more interest in his special issue than the everyday Texan,” Valdez said. “I’m committed to making the everyday Texan and, of course, the other folks, the LGBT, the minority actually have a say in the everyday Texas.”

Despite that focus, Valdez, who served four terms as Dallas County sheriff from 2005 to 2017 until she resigned to kick off her campaign, acknowledged being the first openly gay person elected governor in the United States would be significant.

“It would definitely say that Texas is what we actually believe it is — an inclusive state that welcomes all the people,” Valdez said. “And so therefore, I think my election would actually come out and stand strong in saying that this is not the old Texas, this is not the Texas of the past. This is a new Texas that is welcoming and will accept everybody.”

Valdez has competition for the distinction of being the first openly gay person elected governor. Other gay candidates seeking to become governor are Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in Colorado and state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) in Maryland. Bisexual Gov. Kate Brown is seeking re-election in Oregon and bisexual actress Cynthia Nixon is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York. In Vermont, transgender businessperson Christine Hallquist is running for governor.

A win for Valdez would be a win for the LGBT community not just because she could be the first openly gay person elected governor, but also because she’d be taking out one of the most anti-LGBT governors in the country.

Among other things, Abbott has signed an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” adoption bill into law, urged the Texas Supreme Court to undermine the 2015 ruling for marriage equality nationwide, and called a special session of the state legislature for the sole purpose of passing anti-transgender bathroom legislation, which lawmakers ultimately rejected.

Valdez said Abbott’s tenure has “been harmful to everything, not just the LGBT,” including Texans as a whole and other minorities, such as Muslims and immigrants.

“I don’t believe that’s the Texas brand, and I want to show him,” Valdez said. “Discrimination is not acceptable in any shape, so we need to continue to fight against the bathroom bill. I’m trying to find a decent way to say this madness that is ‘show me your papers’ bills and discrimination bills. They’re unpopular with the majority of Texas. Yes, there’s a small percentage that is in favor, but the majority of Texas is not, so we need to start governing for the majority of Texas.”

If elected governor, Valdez said she’d take Texas in the opposite direction and seek to pass pro-LGBT bills, including legislation enacting a statewide prohibition on anti-LGBT discrimination.

“I’m going to fight for everybody, including the LGBTQ community,” Valdez said. “We have to have a comprehensive non-discrimination protections bill. We have to have a hate crimes protections bill, and we have to find some way of having health care that is culturally competent. Say that in a mouthful, but it’s true that we need to be sensitive to the HIV folks and transgender folks.”

With studies showing 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, Valdez also said making changes to assist the LGBT homeless population is an important task.

“You have the homeless youth that are kicked out, and there’s still old Texas attitudes, and they’re kicked out of the homes because they’re LGBTQ,” Valdez said. “In a homeless situation, the parents have to sign for the child to be able to go into a shelter. If he’s LGBTQ, the parent doesn’t even want to talk to them. How are they going to sign for it? We have to make arrangements for that.”

The potential of Valdez to become the first openly gay governor and unseat an anti-LGBT incumbent won her the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which declared its support for Valdez in March. The Human Rights Campaign hasn’t yet made an endorsement in the race.

Annise Parker, who’s CEO of the Victory Fund and won historic elections herself to become an openly gay mayor of Houston, said having a lesbian Latina defeat an anti-LGBT governor would “have enormous consequences for Texas and the entire country.”

“With a primary win this month, Lupe will set up a general election battle that puts positive solutions against the divisive politics Gov. Abbott thrives on – and in a deep red state with a legislature hostile to LGBTQ equality,” Parker said. “Electing a Democratic governor in Texas will be tough, but a victory would be transformational. With Lupe in the governor’s mansion, we know hateful legislation is dead on arrival, and legislators will be forced to focus on policies to improve people’s lives, not make them more difficult.”

Lupe Valdez as Dallas County sheriff. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

But Valdez has to overcome an additional step before she wins the Democratic nomination to take on Abbott. Although Valdez won a plurality of the vote in the March 6 Democratic primary, the race now proceeds to a run-off with businessperson Andrew White, who was the runner-up. The run-off is set for May 22.

White has his own faction of support, including an endorsement from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, but Valdez said her experience makes her the clear choice to become the Democratic nominee.

“I’m going to laugh here,” Valdez said. “I’m an Army veteran, I was a federal agent for over 20 years, I was the sheriff of Dallas County for the last 13 years. By the way, Dallas County is the ninth largest county in the United States, the sheriff’s department is the seventh largest department in the United States. I oversaw over 2,500 employees and I had a budget of over $160 million. The experience is what already talks.”

Valdez faces an uphill challenge in her bid to unseat Abbott in a traditionally Republican state. A Quinnipiac poll in April found she trails him by nine points, with Abbott leading 49-40 percent. Meanwhile, White has a similar standing and trails the incumbent by seven points, with Abbott leading 48-41 percent.

But Valdez said that poll is a good sign because Democrats in Texas in recent years have never had anything close to those numbers.

“Excuse me? Ten points is the closest we’ve been in over 10 years,” Valdez said. “The prior people that have run against have not gotten that close, and we haven’t even started running against him. We’re not even calling him out or going to him on anything. We’re just fighting right now in the Democratic primary. If we’re within 10 points, that’s the best any candidate has done in quite a while, and we haven’t even started with him.”

Valdez also said she isn’t afraid of a challenge, citing her beginnings in San Antonio as one of eight children of parents who were migrant farm workers.

“My favorite phrase on that, people keep saying, ‘This is an uphill challenge,'” Valdez said. “Excuse me? What kind of other challenges do we have? As an LGBTQ Latina from very humble beginnings, I don’t know if you know my story…I grew up in the poorest zip code and the highest crime in San Antonio. What other challenge have I had except uphill? That’s all we know is an uphill battle. So, I’m getting pretty good at these.”

With President Trump having occupied the White House for more than a year, Valdez also reflected on his presidency. In the aftermath of a transgender military ban, revocation of bathroom protections for transgender students and “religious freedom” executive actions, Valdez said Trump betrayed his campaign promise to be a friend to LGBT people.

“He started out his campaign saying that he was going to have LGBTQ rights, and he started out with that, but then he turned around and pulled some of the stuff he’s been pulling,” Valdez said. “All that says is — how do you politely say two-faced? I don’t know how you can politely say he said something for the campaign just to get people on your side, and then you turn around and do something else.”

Asked whether she’d seek to shield the Texas National Guard from the transgender military ban, Valdez said she’d “fight to stop some of his actions,” recalling her own experience being a lesbian in the military under an anti-gay ban at the time of the Vietnam War.

“Back then, there was no protection,” Valdez said. “I know what it feels like to be left out there with no protection. I know what it feels like to not have people support you. So, of course, I’m going to fight to put these protections [in]. The transgender people are of value to the National Guard, to the military, they’re of value. They wouldn’t have been accepted in the first place if they weren’t of value.”

Pressed on how she’d fight the transgender military ban, Valdez talked about statewide LGBT non-discrimination protections and the recent fight against the bathroom bill.

“We’re going to go back to the same thing, the comprehensive non-discrimination protections, the hate crimes protections and there is already a strong push in Texas for transgender protections,” Valdez said. “The bathroom bill was totally against transgender, and there were so many middle-class families who came up and fought and said, ‘Look at my child. My child is transgender and they’re causing no harm to your school.’ So there’s already a strong fight in Texas and we will build on that so we can pass laws to stop the discrimination against the transgender.”

Lupe Valdez in the Army National Guard. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

On whether sexual orientation has emerged as an issue in her campaign, Valdez said it hasn’t come up and that marks a significant change from when she first ran for sheriff in 2004.

“I’m going to tell you a little story and that sometimes causes me pain. When I ran for sheriff 13 years ago, I went to the Latino Police Officers’ Association. I went to their leadership, and I said, ‘I would appreciate your endorsement,'” Valdez said. “One member literally said to me, ‘We are not going to endorse an f-ing lesbian. You will embarrass us and you will cause us nothing but embarrassment to our association.’ I mean, I can literally remember walking out of there with literally my heart in my feet because it was so painful.”

But Valdez said her victory as sheriff in the 2004 election proved that anti-gay member’s predictions were incorrect and “a majority of Dallas did not feel that way.”

“I was an out lesbian when I won,” Valdez said. “So, the majority of Dallas did not feel that. Are there people that still feel that way? Yes. But I don’t believe that is the majority of Texas. I do believe there are some loud, very loud voices against it. But I do believe they’re in the minority. As you become less positive, less powerful, you yell harder. And these people are yelling very hard because they’re not going to be the majority.”

Although Valdez said she hasn’t yet encountered opposition based on her sexual orientation in her gubernatorial campaign, she expects that to change when she secures the Democratic nomination and challenges Abbott head on.

“Remember we’re in the Democratic primary,” Valdez said. “I don’t think those will come until we get in the general. Most of the Democrats in Texas are pretty progressive and the state party has taken a stand for non-discrimination protections against LGBTQ…So, I don’t think I’ll run into those issues in the primary. Where those issues will come up, I’m sure, is in the general.”

Valdez’s race isn’t the only statewide contest in Texas attracting national attention. Another high-profile race is Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who’s up for re-election this year and has a strong anti-LGBT record that includes introducing a constitutional amendment that would have blocked the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling for same-sex marriage.

A recent Quinnipiac poll put O’Rourke within striking distance of Cruz in November. Although the poll found 47 percent of Texas residents support Cruz, 44 percent back O’Rourke.

Valdez was initially reluctant to comment on the U.S. Senate race, saying she’s focused on her own, but conceded having both herself and O’Rourke on the Democratic ticket in November would have significant potential advantages.

“Of course, I want him to win,” Valdez said. “Of course, I would work with him and together both our campaigns would bring in some strong votes. He’s weak on the Hispanic vote. I’m very strong on the Hispanic vote, so a combination of both of us would more than likely bring out more voters.”

With Valdez and O’Rourke mounting strong challenges in Texas, the state could soon shift from being a “red” state to “purple” state, and a “blue” if demographics keep shifting to more a diverse population.

But Valdez said the change for a difference in election outcomes is already present because “Texas is not a red state, it’s a non-voting state” and her effort is focused on getting to the polls voters who haven’t cast ballots before.

“We’re going to go the grassroots and pull out these folks that have not been voting,” Valdez said. “And the fact is that happened with Hillary, all these people just assumed that Hillary was going to win, so we’re not going to go vote. I think Trump has been the best thing that happened to the Democrats because they’re all excited and they don’t want to see this happen again, so you have more people coming out to vote.”

Valdez said the victories of Democrats in recent special elections throughout the country and the strong Democratic turnout in the March 6 primary in Texas demonstrates Democrats are ready to head to the polls to make change.

“Something is happening, something is awakening our voters,” Valdez said. “I don’t know if it’s new voters, or the old voters just deciding maybe they better get out and vote, but we’re going to push for both of those, we’re going to push for new voters and we’re going to push for the voters that haven’t voted before. If you don’t vote, this is what we get. You need to vote to change it. You want stuff like Trump to continue, stay home, but none of us want that, so we’re going to push and get our message out and get folks to get out and vote.”

Lupe Valdez as Dallas County sheriff. (Photo courtesy Valdez campaign)

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Pennsylvania

Kenyatta may become first LGBTQ statewide elected official in Pa.

Penn. state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is running for auditor general is an active surrogate in the Biden-Harris 2024 reelection campaign

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President Joe Biden, Malcolm Kenyatta, and Vice President Kamala Harris (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

PHILADELPHIA County, Penn. — Following his win in the Democratic primary contest on Wednesday, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is running for auditor general, is positioned to potentially become the first openly LGBTQ elected official serving the commonwealth.

In a statement celebrating his victory, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President Annise Parker said, “Pennsylvanians trust Malcolm Kenyatta to be their watchdog as auditor general because that’s exactly what he’s been as a legislator.”

“LGBTQ+ Victory Fund is all in for Malcolm, because we know he has the experience to win this race and carry on his fight for students, seniors and workers as Pennsylvania’s auditor general,” she said.

Parker added, “LGBTQ+ Americans are severely underrepresented in public office and the numbers are even worse for Black LGBTQ+ representation. I look forward to doing everything I can to mobilize LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians and our allies to get out and vote for Malcolm this November so we can make history.” 

In April 2023, Kenyatta was appointed by the White House to serve as director of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

He has been an active surrogate in the Biden-Harris 2024 reelection campaign.

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The White House

Biden announces action plan targeting pollutants in drinking water

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters following an Earth Day event on April 22, 2024 (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

WASHINGTON — Headlining an Earth Day event in Northern Virginia’s Prince William Forest on Monday, President Joe Biden announced the disbursement of $7 billion in new grants for solar projects and warned of his Republican opponent’s plans to roll back the progress his administration has made toward addressing the harms of climate change.

The administration has led more than 500 programs geared toward communities most impacted by health and safety hazards like pollution and extreme weather events.

In a statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, “President Biden is leading the most ambitious climate, conservation, and environmental justice agenda in history – and that means working toward a future where all people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community.”

“This Earth Week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in disadvantaged communities while creating hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, which are being made more accessible by the American Climate Corps,” she said. “President Biden is delivering on his promise to help protect all communities from the impacts of climate change – including the LGBTQI+ community – and that we leave no community behind as we build an equitable and inclusive clean energy economy for all.”

Recent milestones in the administration’s climate policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance on April 10 of legally enforceable standard for detecting and treating drinking water contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“This rule sets health safeguards and will require public water systems to monitor and reduce the levels of PFAS in our nation’s drinking water, and notify the public of any exceedances of those levels,” according to a White House fact sheet. “The rule sets drinking water limits for five individual PFAS, including the most frequently found PFOA and PFOS.”

The move is expected to protect 100 million Americans from exposure to the “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to severe health problems including cancers, liver and heart damage, and developmental impacts in children.

An interactive dashboard from the United States Geological Survey shows the concentrations of polyfluoroalkyl substances in tapwater are highest in urban areas with dense populations, including cities like New York and Los Angeles.

During Biden’s tenure, the federal government has launched more than 500 programs that are geared toward investing in the communities most impacted by climate change, whether the harms may arise from chemical pollutants, extreme weather events, or other causes.

New research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that because LGBTQ Americans are likelier to live in coastal areas and densely populated cities, households with same-sex couples are likelier to experience the adverse effects of climate change.

The report notes that previous research, including a study that used “national Census data on same-sex households by census tract combined with data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the National Air Toxics Assessment” to model “the relationship between same-sex households and risk of cancer and respiratory illness” found “that higher prevalence of same-sex households is associated with higher risks for these diseases.”

“Climate change action plans at federal, state, and local levels, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must be inclusive and address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBT people,” the Williams Institute wrote.

With respect to polyfluoroalkyl substances, the EPA’s adoption of new standards follows other federal actions undertaken during the Biden-Harris administration to protect firefighters and healthcare workers, test for and clean up pollution, and phase out or reduce use of the chemicals in fire suppressants, food packaging, and federal procurement.

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Maine

Maine’s Governor Mills signs trans & abortion sanctuary bill into law

Despite a series of bomb threats against legislators in the state, Gov. Janet Mills has signed a trans & abortion sanctuary bill

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Maine Governor Janet T. Mills congratulates members of Maine Women's Basketball. In March the team won the America East championship. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

By Erin Reed | AUGUSTA, Maine – On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills of Maine signed LD 227, a sanctuary bill that protects transgender and abortion providers and patients from out-of-state prosecution, into law.

With this action, Maine becomes the 16th state to explicitly protect transgender and abortion care in state law from prosecution. This follows several bomb threats targeting state legislators after social media attacks from far-right anti-trans influencers such as Riley Gaines and Chaya Raichik of Libs of TikTok.

An earlier version of the bill failed in committee after similar attacks in January. Undeterred, Democrats reconvened and added additional protections to the bill before it was passed into law.

The law is extensive. It asserts that gender-affirming care and reproductive health care are “legal rights” in Maine. It states that criminal and civil actions against providers and patients are not enforceable if the provision or access to that care occurred within Maine’s borders, asserting jurisdiction over those matters.

It bars cooperation with out-of-state subpoenas and arrest warrants for gender-affirming care and abortion that happen within the state. It even protects doctors who provide gender-affirming care and abortion from certain adverse actions by medical boards, malpractice insurance, and other regulating entities, shielding those providers from attempts to economically harm them through out-of-state legislation designed to dissuade them from providing care.

You can see the findings section of the bill here:

The bill also explicitly enshrines the World Professional Association of Transgender Health’s Standards of Care, which have been the target of right-wing disinformation campaigns, into state law for the coverage of transgender healthcare:

The bill is said to be necessary due to attempts to prosecute doctors and seek information from patients across state lines. In recent months, attorneys general in other states have attempted to obtain health care data on transgender patients who traveled to obtain care. According to the United States Senate Finance Committee, attorneys general in Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas attempted to obtain detailed medical records “to terrorize transgender teens in their states… opening the door to criminalizing women’s private reproductive health care choices.”

The most blatant of these attempts was from the Attorney General of Texas, who, according to the Senate Finance Committee, “sent demands to at least two non-Texas entities.” One of these entities was Seattle Children’s Hospital, which received a letter threatening administrators with arrest unless they sent data on Texas patients traveling to Seattle to obtain gender-affirming care.

Seattle Children’s Hospital settled that case out of court this week, agreeing to withdraw its Texas business registration in return for Texas dropping its investigation. This likely will have no impact on Seattle Children’s Hospital, which has stated it did not treat any youth via telemedicine or in person in Texas; the hospital will be able to continue treating Texas youth who travel outside of Texas to obtain their care. That settlement was likely compelling due to a nearly identical law in Washington that barred out-of-state investigations on transgender care obtained solely in the state of Washington.

The bill has faced a rocky road to passage. A similar bill was debated in January, but after coming under intense attack from anti-trans activists who misleadingly called it a “transgender trafficking bill,” the bill was voluntarily withdrawn by its sponsor.

When LD 227 was introduced, it faced even more attacks from Riley Gaines and Libs of TikTok. These attacks were followed by bomb threats that forced the evacuation of the legislature, promising “death to pedophiles” and stating that a bomb would detonate within a few hours in the capitol building.

Despite these threats, legislators strengthened both the abortion and gender-affirming care provisions and pressed forward, passing the bill into law. Provisions found in the new bill include protecting people who “aid and assist” gender-affirming care and abortion, protections against court orders from other states for care obtained in Maine, and even protections against adverse actions by health insurance and malpractice insurance providers, which have been recent targets of out-of-state legislation aimed at financially discouraging doctors from providing gender-affirming care and abortion care even in states where it is legal.

See a few of the extensive health insurance and malpractice provisions here:

Speaking about the bill, Gia Drew, executive director of EqualityMaine, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to see LD 227, the shield bill, be signed into law by Governor Mills. Thanks to our pro equality and pro reproductive choice elected officials who refused to back down in the face of disinformation. This bill couldn’t come into effect at a better time, as more than 40% of states across the country have either banned or attempted to block access to reproductive care, which includes abortions, as well as transgender healthcare for minors. Thanks to our coalition partners who worked tirelessly to phone bank, lobby, and get this bill over the finish line to protect community health.” 

Related

Destie Hohman Sprague of Maine Women’s Lobby celebrated the passage of the bill despite threats of violence, saying in a statement, “A gender-just Maine ensures that all Mainers have access to quality health care that supports their mental and physical wellbeing and bodily autonomy, including comprehensive reproductive and gender-affirming care. We celebrate the passage of LD 227, which helps us meet that goal. Still, the patterns of violence and disinformation ahead of the vote reflected the growing connections between misogyny, extremism, and anti-democratic threats and actions. We must continue to advocate for policies that protect bodily autonomy, and push back against extremist rhetoric that threatens our states’ rights and our citizens’ freedoms.”

The decision to pass the legislation comes as the Biden administration released updated HIPAA protections that protect “reproductive health care” from out-of-state prosecutions and investigations.

Although the definition of “reproductive health care” is broad in the new HIPAA regulations, it is uncertain whether they will include gender-affirming care. For at least 16 states, though, gender-affirming care is now explicitly protected by state law and shielded from out-of-state legislation, providing transgender people and those seeking abortions with protections as the fight increasingly crosses state lines.

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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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State Department

State Department releases 2023 human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ+ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ+ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ+ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The full report can be read here.

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Florida

Gov. DeSantis denounces ‘weaponization’ of book challenges

‘They’re going to be holding many teachers accountable,’ he said signing a bill restricting nonparents to 1 book challenge per month

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“Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

By Michael Moline | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The DeSantis administration plans to punish teachers and principals deemed to be exploiting public school book challenges to, in the governor’s view, “weaponize” Florida’s parental rights laws.

DeSantis leveled that charge Monday during a news conference in Pensacola. On Tuesday, he raised it again during a second news conference in Jacksonville, where he signed legislation restricting nonparents to one book challenge per month.

The challenges come under state law allowing anyone to complain about the content of classroom materials they deem objectionable or pornographic. The laws require removal of challenged books pending reviews that can take considerable time. DeSantis began trying to tone down the situation in February, in advance of the 2024 legislative session.

 Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a news conference on April 16, 2024, in Jacksonville. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

“Manny, in the Department of Education, they’re going to be holding many principals or teachers accountable who are weaponizing this,” DeSantis said Tuesday, referring to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

DeSantis cited Sarasota County teachers who “papered over every book in the classroom, saying, ‘Oh! You can’t have books! The state’s not letting me show you books! That’s a lie. That’s not true. That’s performative.

“And so, that’s somebody who’s entrusted to teach kids putting their political agenda over the best interests of the students’ education and their access to learning. That’s wrong; that’s not going to stand in the state of Florida. So, we don’t have time for your activism; we don’t have time for your nonsense. We have a process in place to empower parents,” the governor said.

Teachers told the Sarasota Herald Tribune in January 2023 that they feared prosecution if they put students in contact with unvetted books.

The Phoenix asked the administration for an explanation of any investigations launched or punishment inflicted on school employees but hasn’t heard back yet.

Rebuttal

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar issued a rebuttal in the form of a written statement.

“It’s important to remember that Gov. DeSantis’ full throated support is the reason why fringe groups who do not represent the majority of Floridians and often do not have students in the classroom have felt so comfortable removing books off shelves and making Florida the leader in the nation on book banning,” Spar said.

 Andrew Spar, president, Florida Education Association. Credit: FEA

“This rule does nothing to fix the vague language that caused the issue in the first place, no matter how much the Governor and Commissioner Manny Diaz try to shift blame. Schools, teachers, and media specialists have long been asking for guidance on this issue and once again, instead of providing students what they need, Florida’s elected and appointed officials decide to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility,” Spar continued.

The American Library Association has reported that the bulk of the book challenges nationally come from conservatives.

“Recent censorship data are evidence of a growing, well-organized, conservative political movement, the goals of which include removing books about race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries that do not meet their approval,” the association says in a written statement on its website.

“Using social media and other channels, these groups distribute book lists to their local chapters and individual adherents, who then utilize the lists to initiate a mass challenge that can empty the shelves of a library,” the association continues.

Florida saw 2,672 titles challenged during 2023, it says.

Meanwhile, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida during the 2022-2023 school year, which accounted for 40% of the national total.

One challenge per customer

The new law (HB 1285) restricts challenges by people without children in a school district to one per month, while parents and guardians remain free to issue unlimited challenges.

 Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Credit: Florida Department of Education

That would still allow 12 challenges by nonparents per year, Diaz observed during Tuesday’s news conference. However, “Anyone who creates a cottage industry of going around the state and just creating challenges just to gunk up the system and put schools in arrears as far as reviewing these books, that person won’t be able to do it anymore,” Diaz said.

DeSantis complained that the news media have inflated challenges against classic books and biographies of important Americans while playing down other materials, including LGBTQ content, that he considers unsuitable for young kids or even pornographic.

“They’ve said, ‘Oh, you know, you’re not having Rosa Parks’ — and yet that’s on the summer reading list. Things about Hank Aaron, a book of the month from the Department of Education. So that’s clearly a bad-faith challenge, just trying to create a narrative,” DeSantis said.

“Some of those bad-faith actions have been done from people within the school system who are doing that to try to create a narrative. So, Manny will be able to hold those folks accountable because clearly there’s nothing in Florida law that would tell you to do that,” he continued.

Spar observed: “What Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Manny Diaz always seem to forget when they attack public schools is that they have failed public schools through their punitive policies that have worsened the teacher and staff shortage and kept teacher and staff pay low. It is clear their political agenda is more important than the needs of Florida’s students.”

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Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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

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Louisiana

Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education decries new Title IX rules

“The Title IX rule changes recklessly endanger students and seek to dismantle equal opportunities for females”

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Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley being interviewed on WVLA-TV NBC 33 local news. (Screenshot/YouTube WVLA)

BATON ROUGE, La. – In a letter sent out Monday to all Louisiana school districts, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley warned that administrators should not comply with new federal rules that extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ students.

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised final rule of Title IX policy protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse was issued by the U.S. Department of Education last Friday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

In his letter, reported by NOLA.com/The Advocate, Brumley said the federal rules, which take effect Aug. 1, would force schools to allow transgender girls to use girls’ restrooms and locker rooms. He also said the rules would compel teachers to call students by their preferred names and pronouns — a requirement that would appear to conflict with a bill in the Louisiana Legislature to protect teachers who refuse to refer to students by pronouns that don’t match their sex assigned at birth.

Related

Brumley said he believes the rules would also conflict would a 2022 state law that bans transgender girls and women from participating on female sports teams at the K-12 school or college level, NOLA.com/The Advocate reported.

“The Title IX rule changes recklessly endanger students and seek to dismantle equal opportunities for females,” he wrote in the April 22 letter.

Restating his “staunch opposition” to the federal rules, Brumley said “it remains my position that schools should not alter policies or procedures at this time.”

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during a call with reporters Thursday that the administration sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

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North Carolina

Raleigh N.C. Moms for Liberty panel touts anti-LGBTQ+ agenda 

Panelists argued that public schools are trying to undermine parental rights and advocate for Critical Race Theory and “gender ideology”

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Panelists at Wednesday’s Moms for Liberty in Raleigh – Photo: Ahmed Jallow

By Ahmed Jallow | RALEIGH, N.C. – At a town hall meeting in Raleigh on Wednesday night sponsored by the organization Moms for Liberty, national and local leaders of the conservative group blamed unsafe schools, among other reasons, as the cause for North Carolina teachers leaving the profession, rather than low pay.

Roughly 50 people attended the event, which featured the group’s co-founder Tiffany Justice and panelists, including local Moms for Liberty organizers and supporters. The North Carolina Republican Party’s nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Michele Morrow attended the event but did not speak.

Moms for Liberty was founded in Florida in 2021 and gained prominence for its opposition to COVID-19 school closures and mask mandates.

It is now a national organization with chapters in 48 states, including 20 in North Carolina. The group has shifted its focus to curriculum content and calls for limitations on discussions of gender, sexuality, and DEI in schools. The group also calls for the removal of books they believe are inappropriate for certain age groups.

On Wednesday, former Union County Education Board Chair Melissa Merrell was hailed for her resistance to state officials’ efforts aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in 2021. The school board’s decision in 2021 to do away with quarantines and contact tracing for students exposed to COVID-19 sparked controversy.

Merrell served on the school board from 2014 to 2022.  

Merrell, who is now a Union County commissioner, claimed that new teachers replacing those lost to retirement and other factors are “indoctrinated” and that her county is being targeted. “The ones that are coming in have certainly been indoctrinated in their universities and their internships,” she said. “I truly believe that Union County has a target, that there is an agenda to change Union County. And so, they are moving in in mass droves.”

Mary Summa of the conservative NC Values Coalition credits State Rep. Tricia Cotham’s switch to the Republican Party as a turning point. “She saw the light and became a Republican,” Summa said. “It changed the game for us because we had an agenda that included a Pro-life bill, the Save Women’s sports bill which we tried for several years to get passed.”

Restorative justice practices prioritize making amends over punishment, but Moms of Liberty see this as one of the reasons for the rise in school violence. “What we’ve seen in schools across the United States and in North Carolina are programs and practices like restorative justice, which means kids aren’t being held accountable for their for their actions, there is no consequence for this type of behavior,” said Justice.

She cited a recent incident caught on social media at a Forsyth County high school. A student has been charged with misdemeanor assault and is facing expulsion after allegedly slapping a teacher in the face twice, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Throughout the discussion, panelists argued that public schools are trying to undermine parental rights and advocate for Critical Race Theory and “gender ideology.” Speakers called for schools to stop working with outside groups, such as educational nonprofits and health organizations.

“Our children are being taught to hate America, to hate the Christian values and the principles of liberty that America was founded upon …” said Abigail Prado, chair of Moms for Liberty’s Union County chapter. “Our children are not being educated. They are being indoctrinated.”

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Ahmed Jallow

Reporter Ahmed Jallow covers education as well as politics and elections

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The preceding article was previously published by the NC Newsline and is republished with permission.

NC Newsline is a Raleigh-based nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to fearless reporting and hard-hitting commentary that shines a light on injustice, holds public officials accountable, and helps improve the quality of life throughout North Carolina.

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

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Texas

Texas Governor Abbott: “We Want To End” trans teachers

Abbott announced in a keynote speech to the Young Conservatives of Texas an intention to “end” trans and GNC teachers being able to teach

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addresses Young Conservatives of Texas convention in Dallas Saturday April 20. (Photo Credit: YCT/Twittwr)

By Erin Reed | DALLAS, Texas – During a session at the 2024 Young Conservatives of Texas Convention held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas this weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott stated that trans and gender nonconforming (GNC) teachers must be “ended” in the state. 

This statement follows crackdowns on transgender teachers in various Republican-controlled states in the United States. Book bans“Don’t Say Gay” legislation, and anti-drag laws have increasingly been weaponized against all transgender and GNC individuals, especially within educational settings. In Texas, many of these laws have been blocked due to being likely unconstitutional; however, this has not prevented the governor from making one of his strongest statements yet in support of overt discrimination toward transgender people.

The statement, first reported by journalist Steven Monacelli, addresses a teacher in a small town in Texas. Abbott, who repeatedly refers to the teacher as a “man dressed as a woman,” states that the teacher’s mere presence “normalizes the concept” of being transgender or GNC—a concept Gov. Abbott then asserts the state should try to prohibit. He states, “This kind of behavior is something we need to end in the state of Texas.”

Abbott said:

Up the street from where we are right now is Lewisville, Texas. In Lewisville, Texas, in the high school, recently, as in just a month ago, they had a high school teacher who was a man who would go to school dressed as a woman in a dress, high heels, and makeup. Now, what do you think is going through the mind of the students that’s in that classroom? Are they focusing on the subject that this person is trying to teach? I don’t know. What I do know are these two things. One is this person, a man, dressing as a woman, in a public high school in the state of Texas, he’s trying to normalize the concept that this type of behavior is okay. This type of behavior is not okay. And this is the type of behavior that we wanna make sure we end in the state of Texas.”

Within hours, multiple GOP officials in Texas signed onto Abbott’s call to ban trans and GNC teachers from teaching. These include Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi and multiple Texas State legislators and candidates such as Briscoe Cain and Brent Money. Their reaction to Abbott’s comments are in line with the Texas GOP platform passed in 2022 that call extensive restrictions on trans and GNC individuals in schools.

It is important to note that federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. A Supreme Court decision, Bostock vs. Clayton County, specifically stated that Title VII protections around nondiscrimination in the workplace apply to trans and GNC people. That court decision is currently being used to overturn anti-trans laws in Title IX cases in schools as well as bathroom banssports bans, and more.

Recent efforts have targeted transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals within state school systems. For example, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was recently extended to apply to transgender teachers who share pronouns or use titles different from their sex assigned at birth. This law forced a transgender female teacher to go by Mr. and use he/him pronouns in the classroom or face termination. Similarly, a nonbinary teacher was banned from using the title Mx. in school.

A recent case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, blocked that Florida law as likely in violation of the First Amendment. Like Governor Abbott, attorneys for the state of Florida argued that transgender teachers in the classroom were a “distraction” to students and that a trans woman teacher was harming her students’ education with her mere existence and expression of her identity. The judge, however, struck down this notion, noting that the trans woman teacher had higher test scores than the district average.

It remains to be seen whether Gov. Abbott and the Republican Party of Texas will lean into anti-trans politics going into the 2024 elections. The willingness of some influential Texas Republicans to endorse Gov. Abbott’s position in the video suggests that they might. If so, there is evidence that this could harm candidates who are in tight races in the state and espouse such positions. For instance, in 2023, candidates running on anti-trans issues experienced significant defeats nationwide, including the defeat of 70% of all Moms For Liberty candidates in school boards.

Regardless of electoral consequences, the state has become harsher for transgender people in recent years. Attorney General Ken Paxton has continued to subpoena medical records of transgender individuals who cross state lines to obtain care. He has also attempted to obtain lists of PFLAG members, including addresses and phone numbers.

Abbott has not been much better: under his leadership, transgender families across the state were investigated under the premise that providing medical care for their transgender youth amounted to child abuse. This latest statement from Gov. Abbott shows an intent to continue weaponizing state powers against transgender and gender-nonconforming people in Texas.

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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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U.S. Federal Courts

Okla. trans bathroom law appealed after federal judge dismisses it

One of the defendants was state Superintendent Ryan Walters, the most vocal advocate of outlawing school bathroom use by gender identity

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An Oklahoma City federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit that the families of three transgender students had filed in 2022 to challenge a law regulating school bathroom use by biological sex. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

By Nuria Martinez-Keel | OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – A lawsuit challenging an Oklahoma law affecting transgender students’ use of school restrooms has been appealed after being dismissed in Oklahoma City federal court.

The families of three transgender students sued the Oklahoma State Department of Education in 2022 to overturn Senate Bill 615, which they said is unconstitutional and a Title IX violation. 

SB 615 required school restrooms to be used according to a person’s biological sex, not their gender identity. A single-occupant restroom also must be available as an alternative.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma appealed U.S. District Judge Jodi W. Dishman’s decision to throw out the lawsuit. Last month, Dishman fully dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

The dismissal was “mildly surprising” because it means the judge didn’t just disagree, but found the plaintiffs’ claims to be meritless, said Devraat Awasthi, an ACLU legal fellow working on the case. 

The ACLU of Oklahoma has appealed Dishman’s decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“SB 615 is a law that elevates the privacy and safety interest of cisgender students above those of transgender and nonbinary students, and that violates the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law,” Awasthi said. “That’s a promise that all Oklahomans care about, and I think that we are vindicating that important commitment by bringing this appeal.”

Dishman ruled in favor of the state Attorney General’s Office, who contended treatment based on gender identity doesn’t amount to sex discrimination under Title IX.

The three plaintiffs don’t present a danger to fellow students, the judge wrote in her court order, but she decided striking down the law could create a safety issue.

“If the Court adopted Plaintiffs’ position, any biological male could claim to be transgender and then be allowed to use the same restroom or changing area as girls,” Dishman wrote. “This is a major safety concern.

“However, if Plaintiffs’ arguments were adopted, it would put school officials in the position of either having to conduct a subjective analysis of the sincerity of an individual’s gender identity or merely take their word for it.”

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the case.

 State Superintendent Ryan Walters speaks during an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting Aug. 24 in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

One of the defendants was state Superintendent Ryan Walters, the head of the state Education Department. He has been one of the most vocal advocates of outlawing school bathroom use by gender identity, saying it puts female students at risk.

“The (U.S.) District Court was correct in recognizing the real physiological differences between men and women, and the real interest of parents in protecting their kids,” Walters said in a statement. “Oklahomans strongly oppose the radical left trying to force young girls to share bathrooms with boys, and I will always fight to protect our students.”

Walters also has been a supporter of Oklahoma laws that prohibit gender-affirming medical care for minors and that block transgender girls from playing in women’s sports. He pursued new rules at the Education Department to prevent students from retroactively changing prior school records to match their gender identity.

Laws like these embolden bullies and put transgender students at risk, Awasthi said. 

He pointed to the death of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student from Owasso who had reported bullying. A medical examiner’s report found Benedict, 16, died by suicide on Feb. 8, a day after the student was in a fight in a school restroom. 

“I think an important facet of laws like this in general is it gives cover to bullies and to bigots in our society because it makes them think their kind of discriminatory intent is supported by the state,” Awasthi said. “It kind of gives almost permission for that kind of horrible treatment to occur in our public schools.”

Walters called this argument around Benedict’s death a “grotesquely distorted radical, progressive, Democrat narrative” in a Fox News opinion piece he published on Thursday. Walters’ editorial repeatedly referred to Benedict as a girl, despite the Benedict family having said this is an inaccurate description of who the student was. 

About a dozen other states had passed similar bathroom bills by the time Oklahoma’s governor signed SB 615 into law. Legal challenges have succeeded in overturning similar legislation elsewhere in the country. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand two rulings from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed students’ rights to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.

New rules the U.S. Department of Education introduced on Friday include gender identity protections in Title IX.

A co-author of SB 615, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said several Oklahoma lawmakers worked on the bill’s language to “give that safety and that security to the kids.” He said the legislation’s authors chose not to borrow bill language from other states. 

“I think that might have helped some in it being able to stand up (in court) because we had so many different eyes on it and so many people working on it,” West said.

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Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Oklahoma Voice and is republished with permission.

Oklahoma Voice provides independent, nonpartisan reporting that holds officials accountable and elevates the voices of those too often sidelined by the political process.

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

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Montana

ACLU sues Montana over gender markers on driver’s licenses

The Montana Department of Justice quietly adopted a new policy for changing gender markers on Montana driver’s licenses

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Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen being interviewed by local media. (Photo Credit: Montana Department of Justice)


By Nicole Girten | HELENA, Mont. – The Montana Department of Justice quietly adopted a new policy for changing gender markers on Montana driver’s licenses that would require transgender Montanans to provide an amended birth certificate, as opposed to only requiring a note from a doctor.

That’s according to a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Montana on Thursday, which is asking the court to declare the new Motor Vehicle Division policy unconstitutional. The lawsuit targets a rule enacted by the state’s health department in 2022 which plaintiffs claim bans transgender applicants from changing the sex marker on their birth certificate.

This lawsuit follows other legal challenges in recent years involving legislation and rules regarding changing gender markers on birth certificates in the Treasure State. A law passed during the 2021 legislature restricting changes to birth certificates was found unconstitutional and there are two other ongoing lawsuits surrounding a 2023 law defining sex as binary in statute.

Defendants listed in the lawsuit include Attorney General Austin Knudsen, the Montana DOJ, Gov. Greg Gianforte, the Department of Public Health and Human Services and DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton.

A spokesperson for Gov. Gianforte said Thursday the governor “stands by the bill he signed in 2023 that brings the long-recognized, commonsense, immutable biologically-based definition of sex — male and female — into our state laws.”

“It is no surprise the ACLU would wade into Montana to challenge commonsense, immutable biological facts to advance its far left agenda,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

A DPHHS spokesperson said the department does not generally comment on on-going litigation and a spokesperson for the DOJ did not respond to emailed questions in time for publication.

Plaintiffs include a former Montana resident and transgender woman, Jessica Kalarchik, who is looking to change the gender marker on her birth certificate, and Jane Doe, a transgender woman looking to change the gender marker on both her birth certificate and her driver’s license.

Plaintiffs claim the 2022 rule, the 2023 law and the new DMV protocol go against protections in Montana’s constitution.

Plaintiff Doe avoids using public restrooms and changing rooms for fear of mistreatment or violence. She’s already faced mistreatment from people in her life after coming out, according to the lawsuit.

Doe worries about showing her identification documents with her gender assigned at birth to someone who may react negatively.

“Ms. Doe is typically perceived as female, so anytime she is forced to present an identity document that incorrectly identifies her as male, she is forced to ‘out’ herself as transgender,” the lawsuit read. “As Ms. Doe’s appearance has shifted, her driver’s license no longer matches her appearance, and she has experienced increasing issues with this disparity.”

Kalarchik, 49, is a transgender woman and veteran who was born in Butte and currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with her wife, Renee. She’s looking to have the gender marker amended on her birth certificate for similar fears of retaliation as Doe. The lawsuit said she has previously experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination in both her personal and professional life.

Kalarchik started hormone therapy in 2022 and has legally changed her name and sex marker on both her Alaska driver’s license and her Social Security card.

The lawsuit said the 2022 rule and Senate Bill 458, which defines sex as binary and passed in 2023, prevent Kalarchik from changing the gender marker on her birth certificate.

DPHHS announced in February the department was reinstating the 2022 rule, which only allows changes to birth certificates in the event the gender marker was listed incorrectly as a result of a data entry error and does not authorize changes “based on gender transition, gender identity, or change of gender.”

“The effect of the 2022 Rule is to categorically ban transgender applicants from obtaining birth-certificate amendments to reflect the sex they know themselves to be,” the lawsuit said.

The rule was first enacted as the state was in ongoing litigation surrounding a similar law passed in 2021, Senate Bill 280, which restricted transgender Montanans’ ability to amend the gender markers on their birth certificates.

The court temporarily blocked SB 280 in 2022, and the state needed to re-institute the previous process for changing birth certificates as litigation continued – which only required an applicant to submit a supporting affidavit. But the state did not, and instead passed the 2022 rule. The court found the state in contempt for going against the preliminary injunction and also found SB 280 to be unconstitutional.

In February, DPHHS said the 2022 rule aligns with SB 458, the sex definition bill sponsored by Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, who also sponsored SB 280. There are two open lawsuits against SB 458. Brereton said in the February announcement DPHHS “must follow the law, and our agency will consequently process requests to amend sex markers on birth certificates under our 2022 final rule.”

Plaintiffs are claiming the 2022 Rule, the new MVD policy, and SB 458 (within the context of amending birth certificates and driver’s licenses) are not constitutional. The lawsuit argues the policies violate protections in the Montana constitution for privacy, equal protection under the law, and against compelled speech.

The lawsuit says the policies are inherently discriminatory and require compelled speech in that in order to comply, transgender people have to “misidentify themselves by a sex designation that does not accurately state their sex.”

The filing said the “essential danger” of these policies are they “require transgender Montanans to carry identity documents that are contrary to the sex they know themselves to be” and therefore increase risk of potential discrimination or violence.

Plaintiffs are asking to establish a class that would include all transgender people born in Montana who currently or in the future wish to change the gender marker on their birth certificate or driver’s license.

Postscript

After publication, the Montana Department of Justice reached out to the Daily Montanan to say the Motor Vehicle Division’s policy to change a sex marker has not changed.

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Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Daily Montanan and is republished with permission.

The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and politics beneath the Big Sky.

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

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