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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.”

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Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court allows hold to continue on trans care ban

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd”

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An advocate for the trans community protests outside the Senate Chamber while inside lawmakers debated and passed HB 68 that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and bars transgender kids from participating on sports teams, December 13, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

By Megan Henry | COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Supreme Court of Ohio rejected a request by the state to narrow a temporary restraining order against Ohio’s gender-affirming care ban for trans youth.      

Wednesday’s decision allows the case to continue in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, where a trial is scheduled for July 15. 

“This decision was correct,” Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio’s legal director, said in a statement.

“The state’s request was egregious. The scope of the temporary restraining order was necessary and appropriate to prevent the constitutional violations and other irreparable harm that would immediately occur if HB 68 were permitted to take effect. Our legal battle will continue until this cruel restriction is permanently overturned.”

The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on March 26 against the portion of House Bill 68 that prohibits gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The lawsuit said HB 68 violates four sections of the Ohio Constitution — the single-subject rule, the Health Care provision, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Course of Law provision.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two families whose 12-year-old transgender daughters would lose access to gender-affirming health care. 

Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook issued the temporary restraining order on all of HB 68 on April 16. In addition to preventing transgender youth from starting hormone therapy and puberty blockers, the bill also prevents trans athletes from playing middle and high school sports. 

On April 22, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed an emergency motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to try to stop the restraining order — arguing Holbrook “acted beyond the scope of his powers.” He also said the injunction is illegal since it applies to all of Ohio, not just the two plaintiffs. 

“The state’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ because it could not enforce an unconstitutional statute was utterly absurd,” Harper Seldin, American Civil Liberties Union’s senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

“Far from creating an emergency, the challenged temporary injunction merely maintains the status quo in Ohio – that trans youth be permitted to access life-saving medical care with support from parents and doctors.”

HB 68 was supposed to take effect April 24. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed HB 68, but lawmakers voted to override his veto. 

In two separate concurring opinions, Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine and Democratic Ohio Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner took shots at one another.

“Although we deny the relief requested today, this case raises an important issue: Is it appropriate for one judge in a single county to issue a statewide injunction that goes beyond what is necessary to provide interim relief to the parties in the case,” Justice DeWine questioned.

“The other concurring opinion in this case offers a full-throated defense of universal injunctions and fulminates against this court ever taking up the issue. Unlike the other concurring justice, I will reserve judgment until we are presented with a case that properly presents the issue and we have had the benefit of adversarial briefing. … This court should address the propriety of the issuance of universal injunctions for the purpose of granting interim relief in an appropriate case.”

Justice DeWine was joined by Justices Patrick Fischer and Joseph Deters in his concurrence.

In her own concurrence, Justice Brunner took issue with Justice DeWine’s citation of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“A stay is not an injunction. The Ohio Constitution, unlike the federal Constitution, has a single-subject rule for legislation that results in multi-subject legislative acts being facially unconstitutional,” Brunner wrote. “The very nature of a facial constitutional violation is that the offending law violates the Constitution in every circumstance.”

Brunner wrote that if a law that is facially unconstitutional may not be applied to an individual, then it may not be applied to anyone else.

“Similarly, a temporary restraining order based on a substantial likelihood that a law is facially unconstitutional may not be limited to just the parties in the case. Moreover, when the court hearing such a challenge has jurisdiction over the state as a party-defendant, it has the power to enjoin the state from applying the law, regardless of the law’s subject matter.”

Brunner then explained why she chose to write her own concurrence in the first place.

“My colleague’s concurring opinion is more akin to a political statement than a legal one, which is why I have written this opinion,” Brunner concluded.

Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States. Children’s hospitals across Ohio, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, and the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians all opposed HB 68.

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Megan Henry

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

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

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

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

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

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire lawmakers roll back existing trans protections

New Hampshire’s Senate passed HB396, repealing some discrimination protections for transgender people that the state passed in 2018

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New Hampshire State House in Concord. (Photo Credit: State of New Hampshire)

By Erin Reed | CONCORD, N.H. – In 2018, New Hampshire passed a non-discrimination law that included transgender people through an all-Republican legislature. On Wednesday, the state legislature repealed some of those protections, clarifying that such protections do not apply to bathrooms, sports, locker rooms, corrections centers, and mental health treatment centers.

The state is one of the first to roll back existing protections for transgender people and now allows for private bans of transgender people in bathrooms, locker rooms, sports, and more. The bill now heads to Governor Sununu’s desk and is the fourth anti-LGBTQ+ bill passed this year in New Hampshire.

The bill repealing protections is House Bill 396, and it was the subject of a contentious 192-184 vote earlier this year before passing the Senate yesterday. It states that though transgender people are still part of the “law against discrimination,” those protections are removed in “limited circumstances in which classification of persons based on biological sex is proper because such classification serves the compelling state interests of protecting the privacy rights and physical safety of such persons and others,” seemingly arguing that transgender people are inherently unsafe. It then outlines the specific places where discrimination against transgender people is now legal in New Hampshire:

  • Bathrooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Athletic or sporting events
  • Prisons, houses of correction, and juvenile detention centers
  • Mental health hospitals
  • Treatment centers

You can see the full bill here:

Importantly, the bill legalizes this kind of discrimination by private entities, meaning that all bathrooms in New Hampshire, including those run by private businesses, may exclude transgender people at the discretion of whoever is in charge of those bathrooms.

This could create a very confusing landscape for transgender people, who will have to research the policies of every private entity each time they wish to use a bathroom. Other similar bathroom bans have typically only applied to schools or public buildings. While the bill does not mandate that private entities exclude transgender people from bathrooms, it explicitly allows them to do so.

The State of New Hampshire added transgender people to its nondiscrimination law in 2018. Governor Sununu, who signed that law, stated, “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die spirit. If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

At the time, Christian organizations criticized him for “failing to stand by Christian principles.” Shanon McGinley of the state conservative think tank Cornerstone Action said in response to the protections in 2018, “We MUST strengthen the Christian base of the NH legislature to improve our chance of winning critical votes in the next legislative session.”

It would appear that those strategies were successful. Whereas the nondiscrimination protections passed with large majorities in 2018, many of those protections were successfully reversed yesterday. Though it is unclear if Governor Sununu will sign the bill on his desk, he has recently supported anti-trans measures, such as signing a letter opposing President Biden’s Title IX protections.

New Hampshire has been a particularly rough state for transgender people this year when it comes to legislation. Just last week, the state passed three anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including a “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, a sports ban that includes provisions for potential genital inspections, and a ban on surgery and referrals for transgender youth. Likewise, a Medicaid ban on some transgender care is currently pending a final vote in the Senate. Should all four bills be signed into law by the governor, New Hampshire will become one of the riskiest states in the Northeast for transgender people of any age.

Courtney Reed, Policy Advocate at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said of the bill’s passage, “Today is another grim day in New Hampshire. Nobody wins when we try to make discrimination law. HB 396 undermines the right to equal protection under the law for transgender people – and we urge Governor Sununu to veto this dangerous bill once it reaches his desk, keeping in tradition that the Granite State respects the rights of LGBTQ+ people.” 

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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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Southern California

Triple A: Memorial Day travelers get a break at the pump

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.15, which is nine cents lower than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Gas prices continued downward for a fifth straight week, giving some Southern California Memorial Day travelers the chance to fill up for about $4.50 a gallon or even less in a few areas, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.15, which is nine cents lower than a week ago. The average national price is $3.61, which is one cent higher than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.11 per gallon, which is ten cents less than last week, 27 cents less than last month, and 25 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.13, which is ten cents lower than last week, 23 cents lower than last month, and 29 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.16, which is five cents lower than last week, 17 cents lower than last month, and 30 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $5.02, which is ten cents lower than last week, 28 cents lower than last month and 25 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.17 average price is five cents less than last week, 15 cents less than last month, and 36 cents higher than a year ago today.

“With an all-time record number of Southern California travelers expected for this Memorial Day getaway weekend, the gas price drops are providing some welcome relief,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe. “Those travelers who are planning out-of-state trips should expect to pay even less when they fuel up for their return, since California continues to be the only U.S. state with a gas price average above $5 a gallon.”

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on May 23, averages are:

052324 FINAL CHART CA

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

Meet Fabian, an artist, an advocate and Founder/Executive Director of the Homeboy Art Academy. Fabian and his team are bringing hope and healing through art thanks to the support of LA County’s Creative Recovery Grant, which is funded by the American Rescue Plan.

LA County is using $1.9 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to address LA County’s most urgent inequities. Visit LACountyandYou.com to see more stories from people who have received support to help themselves, their families and business get equitably back on their feet.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

LA County Rent Relief Program is Now Open 

Following a successful initial launch, the Los Angeles County Rent Relief Program is set to open for a second round of applications. Landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to receive up to $30,000 per rental unit to cover past-due rent and other eligible expenses incurred since April 1, 2022.

The application window is open through Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at 4:59 p.m. To learn more about the eligibility criteria, and to receive a direct link to the application when it goes live, visit the LA County Rent Relief Program website at lacountyrentrelief.com.

At Your Service

Supporting Young Learners

LA County Library is excited to introduce the new Summer Stars tutoring program, which offers free in-person tutoring for students in grades 1-6. This initiative aims to provide extra support in reading and math to help young learners excel.

The Summer Stars tutoring program features two 4-week sessions:

  • Session 1: Reading, June 18 – July 11, 2024
  • Session 2: Math, July 16 – August 8, 2024

Sessions run from Tuesday to Thursday each week. Appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and space is limited.

For more information and to complete an interest form, visit LACountyLibrary.org/summer-stars.

Out and About

Tribute to Veterans and Military Families

Join Los Angeles County this weekend for a special day in support of those who’ve served. The event includes a ceremony honoring veterans, resource fair, equipment displays, food trucks, live music, and lots of family fun!

Admission and parking are FREE.

Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 10 A.M. to 1 P.M.

Arcadia County Park
405 S Santa Anita Ave, Arcadia, California 91006

Photo Finish

(Photo Credit: Los Angeles County/Mayra Beltran Vasquez)

Join in on all the fun at the LA County Fair. Don’t miss out – this is the final weekend of the 2024 season!

Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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Political commentary & analysis

Urgent concerns arise when congressional staff face ethics investigations

Ultimately, how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has a long established public record of vitriol and hate speech directed at LGBTQ+ people.(File photo Washington Blade/Michael Key)


WASHINGTON -Congressional staff tend to avoid engaging in conduct that could reflect poorly on the members they represent or that which would otherwise bring them out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

Last week, however, was the second time in which I broke a story about a chief of staff on Capitol Hill who found himself the subject of a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the body whose primary responsibility is investigating reports of unethical and unlawful conduct by America’s elected representatives.

In the first, Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a report against Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss’s top aide because he had placed stickers over a transphobic sign that the far-right Georgia congresswoman had displayed outside her office. 

The second complaint came from an official with the Biden-Harris administration over an especially combative and anti-trans email that was sent by the highest-ranking deputy in a West Virginia Republican’s Congressional office.

The two cases are not otherwise analogous. As the emissaries of lawmakers who are responsible to their constituents, staff should be held accountable for out-of-bounds behavior like sending offensive emails to harass colleagues on Capitol Hill or in the federal government. 

By contrast, decorating a poster in the Longworth House Office Building without permission is hardly a crime that should be escalated to the Ethics Committee, particularly not when the poster is offensive to members of a marginalized community and was hung in the first place to provoke a colleague across the hall who has a trans daughter.

If a monthslong probe exploring whether a career Hill staffer had brought discredit upon the House of Representatives with his stickers was not absurd enough, it was kicked off by none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been guilty of that charge virtually every day since she was elected. (Recall, for instance, that she has called for violence against her political opponents, including by publishing a video on social media in which she said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves the death penalty.)

A member of Congress wields a tremendous amount of power relative to even the seniormost Capitol Hill staff, a fact that was brought into sharp relief for Auchincloss’s chief of staff as he sought to defend himself against not just the committee’s investigation but also an affidavit by the Capitol Police in support of an arrest warrant along with threats and harassment so severe that his home was monitored by law enforcement.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment when I reached out last week to confirm receipt of the complaint filed against the GOP staffer, just as they had refused to provide information about the status of the case initiated by Greene’s report.

The committee’s Senate counterpart is even more of a black box.

An article by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government accountability group, notes that in the recent indictment of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, “the shocking details revealed by the allegations seemingly had no end.”

The evidence against him was sufficiently flagrant and longstanding, the article argues, to “beg the question: Is the Senate incapable of finding and rooting out potential corruption before it becomes a crime?”

Part of the problem, according to CLC, is that the Upper Chamber’s ethics committee provides no means by which a complaint can be seen through to its investigation and resolution. The public knows very little about what the committee does, perhaps because the committee does very little: a study in 2023 found that none of the 1,523 reports that were filed over a period of 15 years resulted in any formal disciplinary sanctions.

Obviously, full transparency is impossible when sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect the integrity of an investigation. However, and especially if we are going to continue seeing complaints against Congressional staff rather than the lawmakers they serve, the committees should provide more insight into their processes and decision making.

Measures could include safeguards designed to mitigate the risk of unfair outcomes when investigations are brought by members of Congress and target those who have far less power. A mechanism requiring the investigators to share more information about cases under their review, to the extent possible, would also be wise — because even when the alleged conduct by a staffer may warrant a complaint, time and resources might be better spent rooting out misconduct by members of Congress, which is almost always far more consequential. 

We should also contend with the question of whether ethics committees are ever the appropriate place to explore and adjudicate allegations against staffers, since members are fully capable of enforcing the rules in their offices. 

As demonstrated by the long and tortured process through which George Santos was finally booted from Congress, getting rid of an elected lawmaker is far more difficult than, say, firing a chief of staff. 

Ultimately, perhaps the right question is: how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employees as well as for their constituents and Congressional colleagues?

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Christopher Kane is the White House Correspondent and Capitol Hill reporter for the Washington and Los Angeles Blade newspapers.

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California Politics

Assemblyman Ward introduces AB 1955 to outlaw forced outing

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards”

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Members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, with Assemblymember Chris Ward speaking, at Equality California Advocacy Day 2023. (Photo Credit: Equality California)

SACRAMENTO – On Wednesday, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, chair Sen. Susan Eggman, (D- San Joaquin County), and co-sponsor Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) introduced AB 1955: Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth Act (SAFETY Act) to ensure all of the state’s students have a safe and supportive environment to learn, regardless of their gender identity.

The legislation introduced coincided with Harvey Milk Day, honoring the slain LGBTQ+ rights activist and politician. In 2009, the State of California established Milk’s birthday, May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. On this day, Californian’s remember his life, accomplishments, and the LGBTQ+ community’s continuing fight for recognition and equality under the law.

More than a dozen school districts in California have proposed and/or passed forced outing policies to require teachers to notify parents if their child identifies as transgender. 

Transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ youth are at risk due to this recent growing trend of forced outing policies. These efforts have led to a measurable impact on the mental health of California’s LGBTQ+ students, and can lead to a rise in bullying, harassment, discrimination, and more.

Since July 2023, when the Chino Valley Unified School District school board passed their first forced outing policy, over 700 calls were made to the Rainbow Youth Project Crisis hotline by LGBTQ+ youth from the Chino area alone. Rainbow Youth CEO Lance Preston told the Blade in an interview last Fall: “That is how toxic even discussing these issues [forced outing] makes the environment for queer kids who live there.”

Among those opposed to the implementation of the forced outing policies is the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and the State Attorney General Rob Bonta.

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond addressing the Chino Valley Unified School District school board, July 20, 2023.
(Photo by Kristi Hirst for the LA Blade)

Last summer the State Superintendent had traveled to Chino to state his opposition to the policy. Addressing the board, Thurmond cautioned the policy may “not only fall outside of the laws that respect privacy and safety for our students, but may put our students at risk because they may not be in homes where they can be safe.”

His words echoed a warning issued by California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a letter sent to Chino Valley Unified School’s Superintendent Norman Enfield and the Board. Bonta expressed serious concern over the proposed Parental Notification policy, emphasizing the potential infringements on students’ privacy rights and educational opportunities.

“By allowing for the disclosure of a student’s gender identity without their consent, Chino Valley Unified School District’s suggested Parental Notification policy would strip them of their freedom, violate their autonomy, and potentially put them in a harmful situation,” Bonta wrote. “Our schools should be protecting the rights of all students, especially those who are most vulnerable, and should be safeguarding students’ rights to fully participate in all educational and extracurricular opportunities.”

In October of 2023, San Bernardino California Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs issued a preliminary oral injunction against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, further halting the enforcement of the policy.

Chino Valley Unified joined several other Southern California school districts which passed similar policies. A Riverside County Superior Court judge denied a motion on Friday morning, Feb. 23, to issue an injunction seeking to stop the Temecula Valley Unified School District from enforcement of two controversial polices on transgender notification to parents or guardians and a ban on teaching of critical race theory.

Attorney General Rob Bonta listens intently to a member of the LGBTQ+ community in a August 2023 presentation. (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General)

School districts in San Diego County and Orange Counties have also passed similar policies.

The SAFETY Act will do three things one passed by the legislature and if signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, which is likely: Prohibit school districts from implementing forced outing policies, provide resources for parents and students to navigate conversations around gender and identity on their own terms, and ensure teachers or school staff are not retaliated against for refusing to forcibly out a student. 

Assemblymember Chris Ward who spoke with the Blade prior to the bill’s introduction stressed that the primary goal of AB 1955 is to take politics out of the classroom, have teachers teach not act as the gender police. “Nothing should ever prohibit the child-parent relationship nor dictate policies that are politically motivated,” he told the Blade.

“Had I not had a single supportive adult in my life, I never would have been able to find the strength to come out to my family, or to teach them what I had learned about who I am on my own,” said Kai, a Northern California-area LGBTQ+ youth. “Please don’t let another child endure the consequences of that support system being taken away due to forced outing policies. That’s why I support AB 1955.”

Equality California’s Executive Director Tony Hoang noted in response to the introduction of AB 1955:

“Across the country and here in California, LGBTQ+ young people are under attack from extremist politicians and school boards seeking to ban books, terrorize teachers, and make transgender youth afraid to be themselves at school. 

This critical legislation will provide resources for parents and families of LGBTQ+ students to support them as they have conversations on their own terms, protect LGBTQ+ students from isolation and bullying, and provide critical safeguards to prevent retaliation against teachers and school staff who foster a safe and supportive school environment for all students. 

Forced outing policies remove opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to build trust and seek out resources that best fit their coming out experience. LGBTQ+ youth and their families deserve to have these conversations at home and in a way that makes sure that students are safe and supported.”

“Under California law, schools are required to support and affirm LGBTQ+ students, which includes addressing students by the name and pronouns that match their identity and respecting their decisions about coming out,” said Becca Cramer-Mowder, legislative advocate at ACLU California Action. “By targeting transgender and nonbinary youth, forced outing policies violate state and federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. The SAFETY Act strengthens existing protections that ensure that all California students are safe and treated fairly at school.”

Sen. Eggman, who cosponsored AB 1955, echoed Assemblymember Ward in a late afternoon phone call with the Blade Tuesday: “We need to take our time see what works best cooling down the forced outing momentum. The average parent just wants to have their kids safe. Our goal is not parental rights fight, schools should not be getting in between parents and kids- the goal is getting support so that all kids are safe.”

In a separate statement Eggman said:

“School campuses should be safe places for students to learn and grow as their authentic selves. The SAFETY Act is a critical piece of legislation that seeks to protect everyone on school campuses, especially LGBTQ+ students. When and how a person comes out is a conversation that should be reserved for a student and a parent, not arbitrarily forced on unsuspecting youth by a school administration.”

“Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn,” said parent, former teacher, and Our Schools USA co-founder Kristi Hirst. “Forced outing policies harm children, condemn taxpayer dollars to be wasted on attorneys, and do nothing to improve public education in our state or across the country.”

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Texas

Texas AG Ken Paxton sues to stop new gender identity guidelines

Texas Attorney General aims 75th lawsuit at Biden Administration this one to halt compliance of gender identity mandates in the workplace

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Collin County Labor day picnic in Plano on Sept. 2, 2023. (Photo Credit: Azul Sordo for the Texas Tribune)

By Nina Banks | AMARILLO, Texas – Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and members of the Biden Administration to contest LGBTQ+ workforce protections.

The guidance, released last month, states that denying an employee accommodations for their gender identity, such as prohibiting an employee to use the bathroom of their gender identity, is unlawful workplace harassment. The guidance isn’t legally enforced and instead it serves to distinguish what constitutes harassment under the EEOC.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday argues that the EEOC specifically targeted Texas with its new guidance, as some Texas employers do not have to comply with federal policies meant to prohibit discrimination. Paxton claims the guidance would force Texas to reevaluate its agencies, causing “irreparable harm” to state finances and sovereignty, and redefine “sex” under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Yet again the Biden Administration is trying to circumvent the democratic process by issuing sweeping mandates from the desks of bureaucrats that would fundamentally reshape American law,” Paxton said in a statement. “Texas will not stand by while Biden ignores court orders forbidding such actions and we will hold the federal government accountable at every turn.”

This is Paxton’s 75th lawsuit against the federal government since Biden was inaugurated in January 2020. Paxton has long portrayed himself as the bulwark against Biden’s agenda and has positioned Texas at the forefront of the largest conservative legal battles of the day.

This lawsuit parallels a motion from October 2022 where Paxton sued the Biden administration over a 2021 EEOC guidance that explained the parameters then for gauging harassment and the Supreme Court’s stance on Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A longtime adversary to gender-affirming policy, Paxton claimed the 2021 guidance forced the Biden Administration’s “political agenda” onto Texas. In that case, the U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of Paxton, concluding that the Biden Administration’s protections for LGBTQ+ employees were too extensive.

Paxton filed this lawsuit, like many of his legal challenges, in Amarillo, where one judge hears nearly all cases—Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump as the first judge appointed directly from a religious liberty law firm. Kacsmaryk previously worked at First Liberty, a Plano-based conservative Christian law firm, where he frequently litigated cases involving abortion, contraception and gender identity.

Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.

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Nina Banks’s staff photo

Nina Banks is the Tribune’s Dallas Press Club Foundation reporting fellow based in Arlington where she is studying communications at Tarrant County College. She is managing editor of the student-run newspaper, The Collegian, and hosts the staff’s podcast, The First Draft. When Nina isn’t hunched over her laptop, you can find her sipping on boba tea.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama

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President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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Federal Government

National Park Service clarifies uniform policies for all events

National Park Service issued a memo clarifying uniform policies for employees from attending any event.

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Stonewall National Monument NPS park rangers marching in 2021 NYC Pride parade. (Photo Credit: NPS/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

NPS Email outlining the change May 9, 2024

In a follow-up, the park service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that park service participation in Pride “could imply agency support … on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the park service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the park service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

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Pride Parade Celebration from the Department of the Interior at Stonewall

One park service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

Park service resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

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San Francisco Pride NPS contingent.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain national parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and tribal engagement.) This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy — specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-park service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

 

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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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Colorado

Colorado GOP tells parents the Democrats “turn more kids trans”

In a party-wide mass mailing the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools

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Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Screenshot/YouTube 9News Denver)

DENVER, Colo. – In a party-wide mass mailing Tuesday, the Colorado Republican Party is urging that all of the state’s parents pull their children from public schools because, according to the GOP leadership, “Democrats are using schools to “turn more kids trans.” 

In the email blast, Republicans allege: “Our next policy aims to save Colorado children from progressive Democrats who want to turn more kids trans by requiring teachers to use “pronouns” that do not make any sense and cause gender confusion.”

The email continues with an attack recent legislation signed into law by the state’s openly gay Governor Jared Polis:

“Sadly, with Democrats in the super majority in Denver, Non-Legal Name Changes- House Bill 24-1039, passed and was signed into law by Governor Polis. The bill, sponsored by four far-left progressives, two of whom do not know their own genders and do not have children, requires teachers in public schools to use “pronouns” for kids with gender confusion that do not align with their actual scientific gender, without parental consent.

If your child decides he identifies as a girl because he is angry with you, or all of his friends are doing it, the Colorado government will actively encourage his new fetish by allowing him to identify as “she,” “they,” or whatever nonsensical terms your son’s teachers and peers may dream up…all without notifying you of your child’s disturbing behavior, which should be treated rather then encouraged. 

The goal here is clear; the Colorado legislature seeks to break down the family unit while convincing kids that government knows best.”

Colorado has long been prominent in the culture wars over LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and being ground zero for the Evangelical Christian movement attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans.

Focus on the Family, founded in 1977 in Southern California by James Dobson, and based in Colorado Springs, has been one of the leading major conservative self labeled “family values” groups that has actively battled over same-sex marriage, equality rights, and trans rights.

NBC News affiliate 9News Denver reported:

Colorado Republicans’ 2022 nominee for Governor, Heidi Ganahl, issued a similar call for families to abandon the public education system last year. 

Speaking to the Truth and Liberty Conference in Woodland Park, which mixed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with calls for Christian dominance of government, Ganahl said children should be removed from public schools and placed in church-run schools.

Ganahl said Colorado’s public schools teach “that parents are not to be trusted, that government is God, that sexual deviance is King.” 

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