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Transphobic comment overshadows LGBT media gathering

New NLGJA President Sharif Durhams is ‘mortified’

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Marshall McPeek, meteorologist for WSYX-TV/WTTE-TV in Columbus, OH and Sean Lewis, anchor at WGN-TV in Chicago, in tweet photo posted by Mary Emily O’Hara.

Openly gay Columbus, Ohio meteorologist Marshall McPeek, a longtime member of NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, apparently skipped all the references to the importance of respecting transgender people in the NLGJA Stylebook and its recent supplement on terminology. In a crassly symbolic display of the murky chasm between a mission statement and practice, McPeek opened his remarks at NGLJA’s closing reception Sept. 8 in Palm Springs with “Ladies and gentlemen, things and its” in welcoming the audience.

Monica Roberts (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Black TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts yelled at the stage: “Oh no, he did not….There are no Things or Its here!” And though an immediate tweet by them reporter Mary Emily O’Hara on McPeek’s comment went viral.

Initial reaction was that apparently no one else in the room rose with a similar public condemnation. However, Jason Parsley, Executive Editor of South Florida Gay News, notes that not everyone was paying attention. “I was in the room,” he tells the LA Blade. “I did hear the emcee say “Ladies and Gentlemen” but I must have tuned out after that because I did not hear the “things and its” remark. Nor did I hear Monica scream out. I had no idea anything offensive was said until the emcee publicly apologized. At that point I asked several people around me what the hell was said. No one that I spoke with knew. I suspect there were others in that room that also missed those remarks. Later when I learned from a tweet what had been said I was obviously disgusted and appalled.”

McPeek subsequently apologized, as did NLGJA. “People were understandably hurt and offended by last night’s remarks. As journalists, we understand uniquely that words matter. We apologize and are committed to working to make NLGJA more inclusive and diverse,” NLGJA’s statement read.

“No Mr. McPeek and by extension, NLGJA and FOX News [an event sponsor], there were no ‘things and its’ in that Hotel Zoso room that September 8 night. There were trans, gender non-conforming (GNC) and non-binary (NB) people in there,” Roberts wrote. “How do you think that ‘things and its’ comment, which has been derisively and sometimes violently spat at the trans community by all transphobic comers over the last few years made us feel?”

NLGJA President Sharif Durhams (photo courtesy CNN)

“When I heard about the comment, I was mortified,” incoming NLGJA’s first African American President Sharif Durhams (Senior Editor, CNN Digital) said in a statement to the Los Angeles Blade. “People have used slurs about my race and sexual orientation. There are comments that are painful and that you can’t take back. We’re supposed to provide a space that’s safe.

“We have and have had transgender and non-binary members on our board of directors, and we listen to them. Transgender and non-binary members pitch panels, and we ask them to lead those panels. Transgender and non-binary members weigh in when we change our stylebook and when we work with media organizations on fixing problematic coverage. We’re going to continue to do all of that,” he continued.

“I spent our entire conference talking with members and potential partners about programming I want to launch around coverage of transgender people. We’re going to do that, too,” Durhams said. “The whole point of this is to expand the circle of people who lead this organization. We’re going to ask more people to join us, and they will have a say in what we do next.”

Durhams also responded to questions about NLGJA receiving funding from Fox News. “Members of NLGJA and other LGBTQ journalists work there, and their employer is supporting them. We want to promote fair, accurate coverage of our community by all news organizations, so we’re working with as many as we can,” he said.

Fox News did not reply to a request for comment from NBC News/Out, which ran a report on the incident Sept. 10 — but Tony D’Angelo, general manager of Fox 28 and ABC 6, the two stations where McPeek works, condemned the comments “to the highest degree,” saying they were “hurtful and offensive.”

“Marshall’s comments in no way reflect the values of Sinclair Broadcast Group,” D’Angelo wrote in an email statement to NBC News. “We are an inclusive workplace that prides itself on all employees feeling comfortable and welcome. Sinclair has supported the important work of NLGJA and its member journalists and we were saddened by his comments.”

Also saddened by McPeek’s comments were many of the other participants at the NLGJA convention, as well as attendees at the 10th annual national convening of LGBT editors and bloggers put on by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the Arcus Foundation. This year #LGBTMedia2018 was organized in conjunction with NLGJA, coordinated by NLGJA Executive Director Adam Pawlus.
“We’re waiting for feedback from the convening’s attendees about the new format before deciding what to do next year,” Haas Jr. Senior Program Director Matt Foreman told the LA Blade.

Unfortunately, McPeek’s offensive transphobic comment overshadowed what was otherwise a very interesting and productive four days of networking, education and professional development—and totally obscured the incredible contributions by a number of trans presenters.

Bethany Grace Howe and Brian Malte (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Convening MC Bethany Grace Howe, for instance, is a writer at HuffPo, and doctoral student at the University of Oregon where she is gathering facts and statistics about trans identity and the development of defense-related emotions. She also has a casual side-splitting sense of humor that disrupted the furrowed-brow thinking as we followed presenters such as digital archivist Matt Dellinger, who provided resources for archival storytelling and Brian Malte, executive director of Hope and Heal Fund, as he talked about working with the Williams Institute to research the relationship of gun violence to the LGBT community beyond the shooting at Pulse nightclub, a research report expected out next November.

Kei Williams (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

There were also a number of personal development and intense off-the-record exchanges. Kei Williams, a queer transmasculine identified designer, writer, public speaker, organizer and founding member of Black Lives Matter Global Network in New York, led convening attendees in a series of “get-to-know-you” questions that broke down personal barriers some folks didn’t know were up: “Who are your people?” There was an off-the-record exchange with former Equality California Jim Carroll about his candid reflections on the battle over Prop 8, still a sore subject to many, and an on-the-record discussion with Evan Wolfson, former founder of the successful Freedom to Marry campaign who is now advising organizations on winning movement strategies and reminded everyone that marriage equality wasn’t a gift from the Supreme Court but was a hard-won victory changing hearts, minds and laws. Wolfson also said that while the times may be dark, he operates from a place of hope, recognizing that the LGBT community has made substantial progress and should fight building on success, no matter the brief setbacks.

Evan Wolfson and Bethany Grace Howe (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

And there was a lively discussion about how to cover LGBT issues in red states, with Think Progress’ Zack Ford (celebrating his birthday!) and Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden in hearty dispute with the panelists’ conclusions.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, AARP’s Nil-Quartelai Quartey, and Jason Rosendez, USAgainstAlzheimer’s Latino Network (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

And with the new format, LGBT media conveners got to attend NLGJA panels — such as Google fundamental tools for journalists, “Dead Names” and Real Lives in Obituaries, HIV & AIDS stories with HIV Plus Magazine’s Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall, and Gay and Graying, moderated by Palm Springs trans City Councilmember Lisa Middleton with AARP’s senior advisor and LGBT liaison Nil-Quartelai Quartey (who asked: “what keeps you up at night?”) and Jason Rosendez, Director of USAgainstAlzheimer’s Latino Network, who described alzheimer’s disease as “the second inconvenient truth.” There are an estimated 1 million LGBT seniors, a number expected to double by 2030— “the first out generation to grow old,” said Middleton; another estimate projects adults over 65 will outnumber children under 18 by 2035.

Monica Roberts, Brooke Sopelsa, Jacob Anderson-Minshall,Ina Fried, Bethany Grace Howe and Dawn Ennis, Trans 101 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

One of the most moving panels was entitled very simply “Trans 101” with Ina Fried, Brooke Sopelsa, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Bethany Grace Howe, with Monica Roberts asked to join from the audience, and MCed by Dawn Ennis. But it was anything but simple. Axios’ Ina Fried,  a longtime member of NLGJA, remembered Los Angeles Times transgender sports columnist Mike Penner who publicly transitioned into Christine Daniels, with the help of friends like Ina and support from LA’s MCC Church. Christine was heralded and spoke at NLGJA’s 2007 convention, but was inwardly tormented, “de-transitioned,” and committed suicide Nov. 29, 2009. The LA Times, which had supported her transition, struggled to explain what happened. Ina and others who remembered Christine – and Mike – were still sad on the late afternoon of Sept. 8, 2018.

Cathy Renna, Beverly Tillery, Dennis and Judy Shepard of the Matthew Shepard Foundation (Photo by Karen Ocamb)’

NLGJA also held plenaries, the most stirring of which was the Michael Triplett Series: Matthew Shepard 20 Years Later with Dennis and Judy Shepard of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Beverly Tillery, executive director of New York’s Anti-Violence Project, with longtime communications expert Cathy Renna serving as host. It was 20 years ago that University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was lured out of a local bar by two men, beaten, tortured and left to die hanging on a remote fence near Laramie, Wyoming on the night of Oct. 6, 1998. He died six days later of head injuries. His death became a media firestorm as reporters focused on what role his being gay played in his murder.

After reading news coverage, Renna left her New York office at GLAAD and flew to Wyoming to help Dennis and Judy Shepard deal with the massive media descending on them as the perpetrators went to trial. Matt would have been 42 this December. “If you’re under 45, you’re one of ours,” Dennis noted. “If we can’t take care of him, we can take care of the rest of our kids.” Judy said she is “angrier now than when she first started doing this work,” with hate crimes rising in this new political climate.

Tillery confirmed the rise, attributing it to “the anti-American rhetoric spewed by President Trump and this administration,” adding that now the violent attacks are “in our safe spaces,” like the Pulse nightclub. “They’re coming for our community,” she said. Judy Shepard noted the “fatal flaw” in the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 does not include mandatory enforcement or reporting, letting states like Mississippi claim to have no hate crimes. “We need to figure this out,” she said, since law enforcement doesn’t know what they’re looking for. Judy stressed the importance of reaching out to straight allies: “Honestly, they’re just waiting to be asked. We’re really interested and we have money,” she said to much laughter. “To be blunt—you all need to suck it up because we really need your help.”

Mitchell Gold asked about the role anti-LGBT religious bigotry plays. “Religion is really our biggest roadblock to acceptance and equality for the LGBT community,” Judy Shepard said. “If it changed, it would change everything.” But the solution right now, she said, is to vote in the midterms. Judy also noted that she and Louvon Byrd “took over” the Human Rights campaign twitter feed on Sept. 7 to talk about the need to report hate crimes. James Byrd Jr was murdered by three white supremacists on June 7, 1998, dragged behind a pickup truck on an asphalt road for three miles until his body fell apart. The Shepards and the Byrd family worked together to get the federal hate crimes law passed.

A.J. Gibson (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Other NLGJA plenaries included “That’s So Hollywood,” moderated by Steve Holzer with West Hollywood-based author and TV host A.J. Gibson, Dr. Jon Paul Higgins, and Chris Azzopardi who made Jane Fonda cry when he asked her why gays love women of a certain age and a plenary featuring Monica Roberts, Donna Rossi, Karl Schmid, and David Begnaud, who talked about his reporting on the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—he is reporting on Hurricane Florence right now.

Bil Browning and Matt Foreman (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

The other benefit of the NLGJA and #LGBTMedia2018 convening was the personal networking. Bilerico Project founder Bil Browning, now with LGBTQ Nation, was given a “thank you” award by Matt Foreman for organizing the LGBT Media Convenings for many years. And I was surprised to learn that Cynthia Laird, editor of the Bay Area Reporter and Paul Schindler, editor of Gay City News in New York had never met, though each has toiled in the land of LGBT journalism for decades. Schindler said he and Duncan Osborne have launched the laborious task of digitizing and preparing old news clippings and remembrances in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, anticipating that mainstream media will probably rely on facile information minus the nuances of the LGBT sensibility.

Cynthia Laird and Paul Schindler (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

This is only some of what occurred during the Haas LGBT Media Convening and the NLGJA convention – overshadowed by the casual, offensive transphobic remark made by Marshall McPeek. But for those in the rooms where it happened, new friendships, new insights and new data will surely inform reporting on LGBT issues going forward.

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West Hollywood

WeHo City kicks off WeHo Pride with José Sarria Drag Pageant

The City kicked off WeHo Pride festivities with the annual Harvey Milk Day events celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community

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City of West Hollywood kicks off WeHo Pride with José Sarria Drag Pageant for Harvey Milk Day. (Photo: Mike Pingel/WEHO TIMES)

By Mike Pingel | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood kicked off WeHo Pride festivities with the annual Harvey Milk Day events celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community.

Organized by the City of West Hollywood and West Hollywood Drag Laureate Pickle and is co-sponsored by the Imperial Court and by Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath, Third District, the second annual José Sarria Drag Pageant took place on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, West Hollywood Park Aquatic and Recreation Center Respite Deck.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES
West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

José Sarria was the first openly gay person to run for office in the United States, helped pave the way for Harvey Milk’s successful run for office, was a well-known drag performer under the name the Window Norton, and founded the International Imperial Court System, which is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ organizations in the world. The Drag Pageant competition will be hosted by West Hollywood Drag Laureate Pickle, and several drag icons will be honored. Judges will include Queen Mother Karina Samala and Emperor Eugene Maysky of the Imperial Court, Landon Cider, Anil Patel, Nyx, and Kyra Jete.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

Pageant contestants included Queen Angelina, Bilella Fierce, Cruella Brazil, Bych Nastee, and Linda Recessionista. They were judged on presentation, talent and personality.

Pickle announced the winner at the end of the pageantry. And that winner is… Queen Angelina!

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

In addition to the Drag Pageant, the event will include a voter registration table, a Harvey Milk photo opportunity, and typewriter poetry provided by Pride Poets. Pride Poets is a cohort of LGBTQ poets who create custom poetry for the public on typewriters. Pride Poets was founded by former West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace for the City’s LGBTQ Arts Festival in 2019. The participation of Pride Poets in this event is funded by a City of West Hollywood Arts Grant.

West Hollywood Harvey Milk Day 2024 – Photo by Mike Pingel for WEHO TIMES

WeHo Pride Weekend will take place from Friday, May 31, 2024 to Sunday, June 2, 2024 and, in addition to the WeHo Pride Parade, will include the free WeHo Pride Street Fair; WeHo Pride Presents Friday Night at OUTLOUD; the OUTLOUD Music Festival; the Women’s Freedom Festival; the Dyke March; and more.

The WeHo Pride Arts Festival will take place from Friday, June 14, 2024 to Sunday, June 16, 2024. WeHo Pride celebrations will include a diverse array of LGBTQ community group programming from May 22 to June 30 as part of visibility, expression, and celebration.

The WeHo Pride Arts Festival is organized by the City’s Arts Division. The City of West Hollywood is committed to providing accessible arts programming for residents and visitors and the City’s Arts Division delivers a broad array of arts programs including Art on the Outside (temporary public art), Urban Art Program (permanent public art), Summer Sounds, Winter Sounds, the WeHo Reads literary series, Free Theatre in the Parks, Arts Grants for Nonprofit Arts Organizations, Library Exhibits and Programming, the City Poet Laureate Program, Drag Laureate, Drag Story Hour, Human Rights Speakers Series and the WeHo Pride Arts Festival Weekend. For additional information, please visit www.weho.org/arts.

For nearly four decades, the City of West Hollywood has been home to one of the largest Pride celebrations in the nation. Hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and allies from around the world traditionally make West Hollywood their regular destination during Pride season.

OUTLOUD Music Festival information is posted at www.weareoutloud.com.

Additional information about WeHo Pride 2024 is posted at www.wehopride.com.

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Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel has written six books, Channel Surfing: Charlie’s Angels & Angelic Heaven: A Fan’s Guide to Charlie’s Angels, Channel Surfing: Wonder Woman, The Brady Bunch: Super Groovy after all these years; Works of Pingel and most recently, Betty White: Rules the World. Pingel owns and runs CharliesAngels.com website and was Farrah Fawcett personal assistant. He also works as an actor and as a freelance publicist.

His official website is www.mikepingel.com

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty plea in Grindr cyberstalking, sextortion & id theft of gay men

He targeted young gay men on Grindr to obtain their sexually explicit photographs & videos consensually & used them to extort money or sex

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Joseph P. Kinneary United States Courthouse in Columbus, Ohio is home to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo Credit: The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Omoruyi O. Uwadiae, 28, of Chicago, offered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, May 22 to cyberstalking, sextortion and identity theft crimes. His scheme involved dozens of victims in multiple states, including Ohio, Colorado and Washington.

According to his plea documents, Uwadiae admitted to obtaining sexually explicit photographs and videos from potential victims and then using the content to threaten them. Uwadiae threatened to distribute the explicit material widely on the internet and specifically to victims’ friends, family members, employers and others.

The defendant demanded money from some victims. From others, he demanded they meet him, have sex with him, or make damaging admissions such as admissions that they were racist. On multiple occasions, Uwadiae carried through with his threats. He sent sexually explicit photographs and videos to the victims’ friends, family members (including at least one victim’s mother, at least one victim’s brother, and at least one victim’s sister), employers and acquaintances, and also posted sexually explicit photographs and videos widely on the internet.

Multiple victims had not publicly disclosed their sexual orientation, which Uwadiae’s actions disclosed, contrary to their wishes. The defendant also used victims’ identifications to create false accounts on social media and post personal information about the victims online.

Uwadiae targeted young gay men on Grindr and other online sites. He would obtain their sexually explicit photographs and videos consensually and then use them to extort. In some cases, he posted their nude images on Male General without their consent and then demanded money or other things of value to take down the images. Male General is a blog marketed to gay men containing, among other things, boards where users can post images and text.

For example, one victim was a student at The Ohio State University who communicated with Uwadiae on Grindr. Uwadiae ultimately demanded that the victim either pay him $200 or have sex with him. When the victim did not comply, Uwadiae created false social media accounts using true photos of the victim, stating, “this guy is gay, see pics for evidence.” The victim had not disclosed his sexual orientation to his family and had told Uwadiae he was concerned that his family would react negatively if they learned he was bisexual.

Uwadiae was charged in the Southern District of Ohio in April.

As part of his plea, Uwadiae pleaded guilty to 22 total counts. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of cyberstalking (punishable by up to five years in prison), seven counts of making interstate communications with the intent to extort (up to two years in prison) and seven counts of unlawfully using a means of identification (up to five years in prison).

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the guilty plea offered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Columbus, Ohio Police Department.

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California Politics

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry Prop 8 Repeal

California voters will vote to take the defunct ban on same-sex marriage out of the state constitution in November

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Speakers at Thursday's press conference included: Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California; Eddie Martinez, Executive Director of Latino Equity Alliance & Huntington Park Council Member; Mario Trujillo, Mayor of Downey; Terra Russell-Slavin, Esq., Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center; Mark Gonzalez, LACDP Chair Em. and Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition. (Photo Credit: Click Strategies)

By Rob Salerno | LOS ANGELES – Leaders of a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups hosted a rally at the Mi Centro LGBT Community Centre in Los Angeles Thursday to launch the Southern California referendum campaign to repeal the discriminatory definition of marriage in the state constitution in November.

“California is a beacon of equality. Our state should always protect fundamental civil rights for all people and fight discrimination wherever it exists,” Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, told the launch rally. “The bottom line is that your freedom to marry is on the ballot in November. Let’s show the rest of the country that Californians stand up for freedom and equality.”

California voters narrowly affirmed Proposition 8, which added a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution, in 2008. The ban was eventually struck down under the due process clause of the US Constitution in decisions between 2010 and 2013, but the unenforceable ban remains in the state constitution.

But many observers are nervous that the extremely right-wing Supreme Court could reverse previous rulings that supported same-sex marriage, which could enable the ban to snap back into effect. These fears became acute when the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision reversed decades of precedent by ending the right to abortion. 

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas openly suggested that the ruling implied that the Supreme Court should overturn previous decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and intercourse.

“We know that there is a well-funded, well-organized group of extremist people who want to chip away the gains we have gotten over the last few years,” Bamby Salcedo, President & Chief Executive Officer of TransLatin@ Coalition told the rally. “This freedom to marry initiative isn’t just for gay or lesbian people. It’s for all of us.”

Terra Russell-Slavin, Chief Impact Officer of Los Angeles LGBT Center, recalled how her organization campaigned the last time marriage equality was put to voters.

“We’re having many of the same conversations today we had in 2008, but this time, with Californians who are on the right side of history. With the majority of Angelenos and Californias who understand that we share a special bond as caretakers of our community. That’s what makes us family, and that’s what will make us win in November,” Russell-Slavin said. 

Speakers at the rally acknowledged that equality activists have had to do more outreach to minority communities in the years since Proposition 8 passed. 

Eddie Martinez, a Huntington Park city councilor and executive director of the Latino Equity Alliance, reflected on how queer Latinos reached out to parents, neighbors, and community leaders to build common cause after exit polling revealed that Latinos mostly supported the marriage ban.

“Latine LGBT activists and organizations knew it was time to be united and to educate our community about marriage equality,” he said. “We went to communities that voted up to 60% [for Prop 8] to have one-on-one conversations on marriage equality and other issues of importance to the Latine community, such as immigration and workers’ rights. Our fight was intersectional.” 

State legislators unanimously agreed to put a repeal question before voters last summer. 

Last week, the state Democratic Party announced it is supporting passage of the Freedom to Marry ballot measure.

California isn’t the only state considering a freedom to marry ballot question in November. Voters in Hawaii and Colorado will also be deciding on propositions to repeal their constitution’s marriage bans. 

“This is going to set the precedence for others to understand the importance of including these initiatives in their state constitutions,” Salcedo says. “We invite you to talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors, around your dinner table, to bring this issue to light because this is important to all of our communities.”

LGBTQ leaders launch SoCal Freedom to Marry campaign for Prop 8 Repeal

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Louisiana

Louisiana Legislature passes ‘Don’t Say Gay or trans’ bill  

Horton’s bill also prohibits “covering the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity” during any extracurricular and athletics events

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State Rep. Dodie Horton, (R-Haughton), debates her bill on the House floor. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGE, La. – Discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Louisiana’s K-12 public schools could soon be restricted after the state Senate approved a far-reaching anti-LGBTQ+ bill Thursday. 

Senators sent House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools, to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law. It passed on a 28-7 vote, with Democratic Sens. Katrina Jackson-Andrews of Monroe and Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge joining Republicans in support of the bill.

The Legislature approved the same bill last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed it, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action 

Horton’s bill restricts discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, except for topics in approved curricula. This would allow discussion of a romantic relationship in a book but not mentions of a teacher’s family, for example. Horton said in committee her bill would also block discussion of heterosexuality and cisgender identity. Cisgender refers to anyone whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. 

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

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

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students. 

“Having sexualized personal discussions between educators and students in our classrooms are not appropriate, and they can rob our children of their innocence while imposing suggested influence over their developing young minds,” Horton said when her bill came up in committee. 

When asked whether the bill would have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students, Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who was tasked with carrying the bill in the Senate, said that was not the intent of the proposal. 

“It’s good to have a safe place where parents can have some confidence, for instance, if there is an LGBTQ employee, I think letting parents know ‘OK, I’m fine with that person, because I know they can’t talk to my child about their sexual orientation, no more than I would want a promiscuous male or female teacher to talk to my child about their sexual partners,’” Mizell said. 

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

The Senate rejected a series of amendments Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, proposed that would have restricted the bill’s limitations to only K-8 grades, defined the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” excluded extracurricular activities, and limited the effect to only classroom instruction rather than discussion between teachers and students. Jackson-Andrews also sided with Republicans in rejecting the amendments. 

A separate proposal, House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, is slated to be discussed by the Senate next week. It prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission. 

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Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished by permission.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence.

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ+ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at joint press conference at the White House on May 23, 2024.

WASHINGTON — The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ+ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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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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