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Ros-Lehtinen talks retirement, slams Trump’s military trans ban

Florida Republican to leave Congress at end of term

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) speaks with the Washington Blade at her office on Capitol Hill on May 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) last week reiterated her criticism of President Trump over a host of issues that includes his effort to ban transgender people from the military.

“We’re looking at Americans who want to sign up and serve our country,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade on May 21 during an interview at her office in the Rayburn House Office Building. “These are the bravest individuals, the most patriotic folks that we would want there.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense when we are still fighting in so many parts of the world,” she added. “We need patriotic, committed, able to serve individuals, whether they are male, female, transgender.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989. She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1982 and was a member of the Florida Senate until 1989.

Ros-Lehtinen is the first Latina official elected to Congress. She currently represents Florida’s 27th congressional district that includes portions of Miami-Dade County and most of the city of Miami Beach.

Ros-Lehtinen in April 2017 announced she will retire from Congress at the end of her term.

She did not vote for Trump and pointed out to the Blade that she doesn’t “support him now.” Ros-Lehtinen nevertheless stressed Trump did not factor into her decision to leave Congress.

“It was just time to go,” she said. “Like the Bible says, to everything there is a season and this was the time to say OK, let’s try something new.”

Florida state Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach), who is gay, and University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former Health and Human Services secretary during the Clinton administration, are among the Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. Republican candidates include Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and María Elena Salazar.

Ros-Lehtinen described Richardson as “a great guy” who is running “a great grassroots campaign.” She nevertheless told the Blade she will support the Republican who wins the Aug. 28 primary.

“The voters have a wonderful array of folks,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “They’re all great candidates.”

David Richardson, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida state Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) is among those who are running for the seat that retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will vacate at the end of her term. (Photo courtesy of David Richardson for Congress)

LGBT rights are personal for Ros-Lehtinen, family

Ros-Lehtinen in recent years has emerged as one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of LGBT rights.

Ros-Lehtinen in 2012 became the first Republican member of Congress to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

She is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law. The U.S. House last June nearly unanimously approved Ros-Lehtinen’s resolution that condemns the crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.

Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade that she has no plans to leave the Republican Party. She added, however, the GOP will lose the support of young people and women if it continues to oppose “equality, fairness” and nondiscrimination efforts.

“We are in danger of losing the women’s vote and young people’s vote,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “The issue of equality is the cornerstone of getting these folks back.”

LGBT issues are also personal for Ros-Lehtinen and her family.

Her son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, is trans. Ros-Lehtinen and her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, in 2016 appeared in a public service announcement with Heng-Lehtinen that SAVE, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, produced.

Ros-Lehtinen said it was “a shock” when her son came out, but “we dealt with it as a family.” Ros-Lehtinen described him as a “good man with a lot of integrity.”

“Everything is getting a lot better, but it takes guts to come out,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “It’s not easy, so congratulations to him because it just takes a lot of courage.”

There is ‘no real equality’ in Cuba

Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Ros-Lehtinen remains a vocal critic of the Cuban government, even though Miguel Díaz-Canel last month became the country’s first president from outside the Castro family in nearly 60 years.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues as the director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), during a May 4 press conference in Havana said her organization is planning to submit proposals to the National Assembly that would extend marriage and other rights to LGBT Cubans.

The press conference took place ahead of CENESEX-organized marches and other events in Havana and in the city of Pinar del Río that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Ros-Lehtinen was quick to dismiss Mariela Castro and her organization’s efforts, noting gay men were among those who the Cuban government sent to labor camps in the years after the revolution. Ros-Lehtinen also pointed out the Cuban government until 1993 forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria.

Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for the camps, known by the Spanish acronym UMAPs, during an interview with a Mexican newspaper. Cuba in 2015 became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Cuba since 2008 has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries through its national health care system, but only a few dozen people have been able to receive them. Mariela Castro, who is a member of the National Assembly, voted against a 2013 proposal that sought to add sexual orientation to Cuba’s labor law because it did not include gender identity.

“They had so much backlash that now she is the one who wraps herself in the gay flag . . . and says that Cuba is very forward thinking and very accepting,” said Ros-Lehtinen, referring to Mariela Castro.

“There’s no real equality (in Cuba,)” added Ros-Lehtinen.

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro, leads an LGBT march through Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lawmakers haven’t ‘done enough’ on gun control

Ros-Lehtinen spoke with the Blade three days after a gunman killed 10 people at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

She said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), in March “defied” the National Rifle Association after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when he signed a bill that raised the minimum age to buy a gun in the state from 18 to 21 and banned the sale of bump stocks.

Ros-Lehtinen said she supports “common-sense” gun control efforts, including “red flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people who show signs they may be about to carry out an act of violence. The Blade asked Ros-Lehtinen whether Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and elected officials in general have done enough to address the issue.

“Shame on all of us,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “I’m not throwing anybody under the bus. We just haven’t done enough.”

Ros-Lehtinen spoke with the Blade nearly two years after a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi faced widespread criticism in the days after the massacre when they did not specifically mention the LGBT community in their public comments. Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade it is “a shame that Pulse did not get much attention in terms of action” around the issue of gun control as the shooting at Marjory Douglas did.

“Was it the age of the victims,” asked Ros-Lehtinen, referring to the bill that Scott signed in March. “I don’t know what it is. And then Texas is not getting any attention. I don’t know what happens with certain events that capture people’s attention.”

Rick Scott, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida Gov. Rick Scott visits a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., on June 14, 2016. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) applauded Scott for “defying” the National Rifle Association in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year and signing a bill that, among other things, bans the sale of bump stocks in his state. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

‘What happens in the world interests me greatly’

Ros-Lehtinen said she is unsure what she will do once she leaves Congress, but she told the Blade she would like to become a consultant or teach. Ros-Lehtinen added she hopes to remain engaged in international affairs with a specific focus on Latin America and the Middle East.

“It’s part of my DNA,” she said. “What happens in the world interests me greatly.”

Virginia

Virginia Senate subcommittee tables anti-Trans student athlete bill

SB 20, which would have exposed school districts to costly lawsuits for failing to protect trans students, was defeated in subcommittee

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Virginia State Senate (Photo Credit; Commonwealth of Virginia government)

RICHMOND – A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Arizona

Arizona Republicans introduce ‘no promo homo’ bill in 2022 session

“I’m extremely disappointed with the Arizona Republicans who continue to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia”

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Arizona Democratic State Rep. Daniel Hernandez is defending LGBTQ+ rights (Photo Courtesy of Rep. Hernandez)

PHOENIX – State Representative Jake Hoffman, (R-12), during a state House Education Committee meeting this week told fellow lawmakers that certain materials he discovered in schools is a foundational reason the committee should pass House Bill 2495

“This one is a teenager masturbating. Here’s another teenager masturbating. Here’s two teenagers engaged in sex,” said Hoffman, presenting what he alleged are examples of what was available to students although he admitted that the materials weren’t in all schools. “There is nothing more sacred than the innocence of a child,” said Hoffman who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill defines ‘sexually explicit materials’ as “Textual, visual or audio materials or materials accessed via any other medium” that depict any of the following matters:

A. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY OTHER LAW, A PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THIS STATE MAY NOT REFER STUDENTS TO OR USE ANY SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL IN ANY MANNER.

B. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION, “SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIALS” INCLUDES TEXTUAL, VISUAL OR AUDIO MATERIALS OR MATERIALS ACCESSED VIA ANY OTHER MEDIUM THAT DEPICT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

1. SEXUAL CONDUCT. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS PARAGRAPH, “SEXUAL CONDUCT” MEANS ACTS OF MASTURBATION, HOMOSEXUALITY, SEXUAL INTERCOURSE OR PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH A PERSON’S CLOTHED OR UNCLOTHED GENITALS […]

2. SEXUAL EXCITEMENT.  […]

3. ULTIMATE SEXUAL ACTS. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS PARAGRAPH, “ULTIMATE SEXUAL ACTS” MEANS SEXUAL INTERCOURSE […]

The bill’s definition of homosexuality as ‘sexual conduct’ has drawn sharp criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates including members of the Arizona Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Democratic State Rep. Daniel Hernandez accused Hoffman and other Republicans pushing for the bill’s passage as engaging in a campaign to turn back LGBTQ+ progress in the state to an earlier era under a law colloquially referred to as the ‘no promo homo,’ which banned the state’s schools from acknowledging or ‘promoting’ a so-called ‘homosexual lifestyle.’

“What this bill does is once and again try and erase the LGBTQ community from Arizona public schools, under the guise of protecting children,” said Hernandez, during the meeting.

“It’s not the mere of status of being a homosexual, it is the act of homosexuality, so the act of sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender. That is a completely different thing than you represented it to be,” Hoffman retorted.

In an email to the Blade Hernandez noted, “Republicans in the legislature are pushing legislation to effectively ban sex education in Arizona schools and roll back the clock. Even mentioning the LGBTQ+ community will be against the law. As someone who knows what it’s like to grow up under an antiquated law that keeps the LGBTQ community from being seen in the classroom, I can tell you this makes our kids less safe.”

Hernandez, who is campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Congress to represent the Second Congressional District, wrote in an email to supporters; “I’m extremely disappointed with the Arizona Republicans who continue to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia. So, I’m speaking out against this shameful targeting of LGBTQ children and erasure of the LGBTQ community. Because as one of four gay members in our state’s legislature, I have a duty to stand up for the LGBTQ Arizonans who can’t be in our state’s Capitol to defend their own rights.”

In 2019, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1346 which repealed the1991 law, which made it illegal for K-12 public schools to provide HIV prevention instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”

The law had been the subject of a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

New York blogger Joe Jervis reported that Hoffman has been in the national news this week as he is one of Arizona’s fake electors. In 2020 he was banned by Twitter for running a paid teenage pro-Trump troll farm with Charlie Kirk.

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Georgia

Georgia school official says gay art is same as Nazi flag

There are ongoing complaints that this current administration has been discriminatory against women, LGBTQ people & English language learners

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Courtesy of a Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary parent

ATHENS, Ga. – A display of student artwork at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens this past week created a controversy, when a poster that was hung in the collection by a faculty member for a student that had rainbow colors and the words; “Gay is OK,” was taken down by an school administrator who labeled it comparable to exhibition of a Nazi flag.

Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA-TV 11 reported that some parents whose children attend Oglethorpe said they are concerned about how this situation and others have been handled.

“There are ongoing complaints about this current administration has been discriminatory against women, being discriminatory against LGBTQ people, being discriminatory against English language learners or emerging bilinguals, emerging multilingual and Spanish speakers. So we have seen a pattern of inequity at our school and we have been asking for support at this point for years,” said Jemelleh Coes, a parent and professor at the University of Georgia. 

WXIA-TV 11 heard from staff and faculty at the school expressed their disagreement with the characterization of Oglethorpe. A current teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told the station: 

On behalf of a majority of the staff at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, we are disheartened that these words and actions have happened in our school building during this time. This does not represent why we chose this profession, and it does not represent the feelings, beliefs, values, and attributes our amazing school family has within these four walls. We are disheartened that there has been no action taken by CCSD or our building administration to rectify the divide that has been caused. We will continue to seek resolution and promote a community of love, acceptance, and tolerance within our building and community. 

Parents want action.

The Clarke County School District released a statement this week:

January 25, 2022

Dear Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary Community, 

I write this letter to acknowledge a situation at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary that has caused a great deal of anger and frustration in our community.

It has been alleged that a piece of student artwork was compared to Nazi symbolism. We have investigated the situation and are working to address the issues with all parties involved. To be clear, we condemn this comparison and discrimination in all its forms. 

The Clarke County School District embraces diversity and inclusion for all students and staff. We stand with our LGBTQIA+ community and are dedicated to proving our commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

To that end, we will continue having sensitive and appropriate conversations with our school communities.

Sincerely,

Brannon Gaskins
Acting Superintendent

Athens Pride weighed in on their social media accounts raising awareness on the issue and then asking people to donate to help LGBTQ people in need. 

Athens Pride is appalled to hear of the actions that transpired at a local elementary school. Our organization is committed to providing resources and support to LGBTQ+ students, parents, and community members- especially now. We are in contact with all parties involved, who at this time request privacy. We will keep the community updated on further information as it becomes available. We are reminded today that our school, city, and people have a lot of work to do to create true safe spaces for our children. Homophobia, Anti-semitism, and all forms of hate have should have no home here in Athens – especially in our public schools.”

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