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Duncan Hunter, Charlottesville and ubiquitous white supremacy

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, third from left, stands next to Kris Wyrick flashing the “OK” sign at a Fourth of July event. (Screenshot from Hunter’s Twitter feed, via CQ Roll Call)

White supremacy is becoming publicly more ubiquitous under the reign of Donald Trump, thanks in part to the permission he gave two years ago this week to consider violent white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and white nationalists the moral equivalent of civilized demonstrators advocating for peace, for equality and human rights at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, like Trump, longtime LGBTQ-hater Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter also appears to be trying to appeal to both sides of the racist divide while leaning into xenophobia in California’s 50th Congressional District.

Around 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into unaware counter-protesters on the second day of the infamous “Unite the Right” rally,  killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Fields was subsequently convicted of first degree murder and other crimes in a Virginia state court and pleaded guilty to 29 federal crimes in a deal to avoid the death penalty.

But while Fields may be gone, Trump’s amoral comments linger on. Two hours after the murder, as much of America held their collective breath—aghast at the images of a car plowing full speed into a crowd, tossing bodies in the air before retreating, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke saying the rally would help “take our country back,” tiki torch-bearing white supremacists yelling “Jews will not replace us” and Neo-Nazis violently beating counter-demonstrators— Trump said “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

After intense criticism of his anointing victimhood status on Neo Nazis, two days later, reportedly with reluctance, Trump called racism “evil’ and slammed white supremacy. After still more criticism, on Aug. 15, Trump said: “you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

This was not the first time Trump incorrectly and unabashedly espoused moral equivalency on “both sides.” Last June 18, April Ryan, White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, asked Trump if he would apologize to the Central Park Five, whom he had publicly blamed for the 1989 rape of a white jogger in a full-page pre-trial ad demanding the death penalty. Ryan’s question was tied to director Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed Netflix documentary “When They See Us” showing how police coerced confessions from one Latino and four black teenagers. Years later, a convicted rapist confessed to the crime, backed up by DNA evidence, resulting in the five being totally exonerated in 2002.

“Why do you bring that question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up. You have people on both sides of that,” Trump told Ryan on the White House lawn. “They admitted their guilt. If you look at [prosecutor] Linda Fairstein and you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case, so we’ll leave it at that.”

Many have become numb to Trump’s racist hutzpah. But others are trying to emulate him. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who helped launch the ban against transgender people serving in the military, has the audacity to run for reelection despite facing federal felony charges for campaign finance violations. Now he’s been caught by CQ Roll Call changing answers on a white supremacist connection he first tried to dodge.

A Hunter staffer defended a photo of the Republican member of Congress posing with a man flashing the “OK” sign symbolizing white power at a Fourth of July event, identified by The Times of San Diego as Kristopher Wyrick.

“Congressman Hunter does not know this person, or what his views may be, but to ensure there is no confusion, we are in the process of taking that particular picture off his social media pages,” district office director Michael Harrison told Roll Call in an email.

“Congressman Hunter has never supported or been accused of supporting white supremacy and if anyone were to espouse any such beliefs in a photo with Congressman Hunter they did so without his knowledge or consent, particularly a stranger in the a parade who wanted to be in a picture with Congressman Hunter,” he added.

The photo was deleted from Hunter’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. But Wyrick and his bigotry were not unknown to Hunter’s community after Wyrick appeared before the San Diego Unified School District wearing a Nazi Iron Cross tee shirt arguing against an initiative to protect Muslim students. Specifically, according to a San Diego Union Tribune article, he was blasting the renowned Council on American-Islamic Relations, which right wing extremists such as Frank Gaffney Jr. defame as “national security threats” who want to introduce Sharia law into public schools.

Like Wyrick’s diatribe, Hunter’s 2018 campaign ads against his Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is a devout Christian of Palestinian-Mexican American heritage, feature similar bigotry.

“Given that Hunter has a history of Islamophobia, including the way he shared his deadly actions in Iraq that claimed civilian lives, I think it’s clear this individual is making a white supremacist hand sign in the presence of a congressman, who shared it proudly,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s communications director,  says of the July Fourth photo.

But sharing an anti-Muslim ideology doesn’t mean the two men posing together knew each other – until a 2017 video surfaced indicating that they do.

“I know him personally. And I know his family personally. And he’s a great man,” Wyrick says in the video.

Wyrick also expresses pride in his white identity. “People can call me a white supremacist all they want, I wear that label as soon as I wake up in the morning,” he says in the video.

Roll Call confronted Harrison with the video and Hunter’s deputy chief of staff backtracked, saying the Republican member of Congress had seen Wyrick at some local community events.

“Alpine is a small community. It’s not unusual for the congressman to frequent different places around his district,” Harrison said in July. “Congressman Hunter is not friends with this individual and does not socialize with him.”

However, “Harrison conceded that Hunter’s father and predecessor in Congress, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, ‘has mentioned [Wyrick] a couple of times,’” Roll Call reported.

Before Campa Najjar, a young businessman and former Obama administration official, mounted a serious challenge in 2018, losing only by four points in the ruby red Orange County congressional district, Hunter expected an easy reelection in the seat he and his father have held the seat since 1981.

 

However, Hunter now faces several primary challengers, including gay Republican Carl DeMaio, and the indicted congressman may need supporters like Wyrick, as indicated by his resurrecting his ugly, inflammatory 2018 attacks on Campa-Najjar for the 2020 race.

“At this point, it’s pretty clear that Congressman Hunter has lost all ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. It’s one scandal after another, one embarrassing news story after another, one potential crime after another, one courtroom appearance after another,” Campa-Najjar said about the July Fourth photo.

Carlos Algara, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis, thinks xenophobia and racism will play a “vital role” in the race for the 50th CD.

“Our research suggests that Hunter is laying the groundwork in a campaign filled with blatant appeals at mobilizing whites with high degrees of racial resentment to rescue his bid,” Algara told Roll Call in an email.

In a July 8 interview with CBS 8 San Diego, Wyrick creates his own “both sides” argument—confirming he made the “OK” sign but calling it a “giant joke against the left.”

“It is just the OK symbol,” Wyrick says, denying he’s a white supremacist. “It means nothing else.”

But another photo posted to Facebook in 2018 shows Wyrick wearing the logo of the American Guard, which the Anti-Defamation League calls “hardcore white supremacists.”

There are other photos suggesting Wyrick jokes around with that “OK” sign often. One photo provided by progressive activist William Johnson, shows Wyrick and several others posing with the “OK” salute in an undated photo on the United Patriot National Front Facebook page. Also in the photo is Antonio Foreman, who Johnson says participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Other photos show Wyrick “pummeling” protesters.

In an interview with freelance reporter Alexander Zaitchik for his 2016 book “The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump’s America,”  Wyrick describes Hunter as a friend and a customer at his Alpine ATV and motorcycle repair shop.

“It was clear it was more than just a handshake kind of thing,” says Zaitchik.

Wyrick tells Zaitchik that his decision to move to Alpine was “because the majority of people out here are white people. … There wasn’t many of us in the neighborhoods where we grew up, around Santa Ana or Anaheim.”

Wyrick echoes another old racist sentiment Trump recently revived when he told three US-born and one naturalized congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries.

“Why don’t you go back to Mexico and make it great? Don’t bring a s—hole over here,” Zaitchik quotes Wyrick as saying, noting that the repairman also patrols the Mexican border as a civilian.

Though Facebook deleted the United Patriot National Front page, there is no indication that the group—or any of the other hate groups with which Wyrick has apparently been associated—has dissipated.

Between Hunter’s renewed inflammatory attacks on Campa-Najjar and Trump’s habit of stoking hatred, racism and lies—on August 12, the Washington Post calculated Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days— the reelection races of these two white supremacist Republicans could get very, very ugly.

 

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Texas

Texas AG’s effort to persecute families of trans youth blocked

PFLAG received demands from Paxton to turn over documents, communications, & info related to its work helping families with trans adolescents

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Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse. Austin, Texas. (Photo Credit: Travis County Texas government)

AUSTIN, Texas – Travis County District Court Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel today blocked the latest effort by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to persecute Texas families with transgender youth, temporarily halting the Attorney General’s demand that PFLAG, Inc. turn over information and documents about its support of families in Texas seeking gender-affirming medical care for their transgender youth.

PFLAG National, a nonprofit group that supports LGBTQ people and their families, sued the Republican Texas Attorney General late Wednesday in Travis County District Court, arguing that the demand from Paxton’s office was “a clear and unmistakable overreach.”

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, and Transgender Law Center, who filed a new lawsuit on behalf of PFLAG National and requested a temporary restraining order against the Attorney General’s investigative demands on Wednesday evening, issued the following joint statement:

We’re grateful that the Court saw the harm the Attorney General’s Office’s intrusive demands posed for PFLAG National and its Texas members — and is protecting them from having to respond while we continue to litigate the legality of the office’s requests. We now will return to court to seek an extended and ultimately permanent block so that PFLAG can continue supporting its Texas members with transgender youth in doing what all loving parents do: supporting and caring for their children.”

On February 9, PFLAG National received civil demands from the Attorney General’s Office to turn over documents, communications, and information related to PFLAG National and the organization’s work helping families with transgender adolescents.

related

PFLAG National is a plaintiff in two lawsuits filed against restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for adolescents in Texas: one lawsuit Loe v. Texas, challenging S.B. 14, the state’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors, and PFLAG v. Abbott, challenging the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) rule mandating investigations of parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary healthcare.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, Transgender Law Center, and the law firm Arnold & Porter represent PFLAG, Inc. in this newly filed case.

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Oklahoma

HRC triggers U.S. Dept. of Ed investigation of Owasso Schools

HRC’s letter regarded Owasso Public Schools failure to respond to harassment that may have contributed to the death of Nex Benedict

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Photo Credit: Owasso Public Schools, Owasso, Oklahoma.

WASHINGTON — On Friday the U.S. Department of Education informed Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Kelley Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the tragic death of Nex Benedict (he/they), a 16-year-old non-binary teen of Choctaw heritage.

This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Nex’s tragic death.

The letter from the Department of Education reads: “the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District). Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“Nex’s family, community, and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+)  community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation–we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex, and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment, and discrimination,” Robinson added.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.
  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. In addition:

  • Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.
  • Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program— the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

The full text of the letter from the Department of Education in response to HRC can be found here.

The full text of the initial letter from HRC President Kelley Robinson to Secretary Cardona can be found here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty pleas in Planned Parenthood arson attack

The men also discussed and researched how to attack the Dodger Stadium’s electrical room on a night celebrating LGBTQ+ pride

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Planned Parenthood clinic Costa Mesa (Photo Credit: Costa Mesa Health Center of Costa Mesa)

SANTA ANA, Calif. – An Orange County man pleaded guilty Thursday to a firebombing attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa in March 2022 and planning to attack an electrical substation in Orange County, and further admitted to plotting an attack on Dodger Stadium last June on the Dodger’s annual Pride night game.

Tibet Ergul, 22, of Irvine, pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility and one misdemeanor count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 30 and faces a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.

According to his plea agreement, in February and March 2022, Ergul and Chance Brannon, 24, of San Juan Capistrano, California, agreed to use a Molotov cocktail to damage a Planned Parenthood clinic in Orange County.

Ergul and Brannon, who at the time was an active-duty U.S. Marine, targeted the clinic because it provided reproductive health services and they wanted to encourage others to engage in similar violent acts. Ergul and Brannon also wanted to make a statement about abortion; scare pregnant women away from obtaining abortions; deter doctors, staff and employees at the clinic from providing abortions; and intimidate the clinic’s patients.

On March 12, 2022, in Ergul’s garage, Ergul and Brannon knowingly assembled a Molotov cocktail. During the early morning hours of March 13, 2022, Ergul and Brannon – disguised in dark clothing, masks, hoods and gloves – drove to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa, ignited the Molotov cocktail and threw it at the clinic’s entrance, intentionally starting a fire. Due to the fire and the damage it caused, the clinic was forced to temporarily close and reschedule approximately 30 patient appointments.

Ergul further admitted that in June 2022, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, he and Brannon planned to use a second Molotov cocktail to attack another Planned Parenthood clinic. Ergul and Brannon abandoned this plan after seeing law enforcement near the targeted clinic.

Ergul also conspired with others, including Brannon, to damage a Southern California Edison electrical substation to debilitate Orange County’s power grid. Ergul and his accomplices planned to attack the substation by using firearms or a Molotov cocktail that Ergul possessed in his garage. Ergul and Brannon consulted with an associate about surveillance, drone operations and firearms.

In March 2023, Ergul messaged an associate to say he had found a substation in Orange to target. Ergul sent the associate aerial photographs of the substation and suggested doing a “drive-thru” at 3 a.m. Ergul also sent Brannon a letter in which he wrote: “The rifle is in a box in my room waiting to be used in the upcoming race war,” and he discussed a desire to murder politicians and journalists. Ergul and Brannon did not carry out this attack prior to their arrest in this case.

During the early summer of 2023, Ergul and Brannon also discussed and researched how to attack the Dodger Stadium parking lot or the stadium’s electrical room on a night celebrating LGBTQ+ pride, including by using a device that could be detonated remotely, Ergul admitted in his plea agreement. Brannon and Ergul exchanged sabotage manuals and discussed doing “dry runs” to “case” the stadium. Law enforcement arrested Ergul and Brannon two days before Dodger Stadium’s scheduled “Pride Night.”

Ergul, who has been in federal custody since June 2023, is the third and final defendant to plead guilty in this case.

Related

Brannon, who also has been in federal custody since June 2023, pleaded guilty in November to four crimes: conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility – a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Brannon’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 15.

Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Florida, who has been in federal custody since July 2023, pleaded guilty on Jan. 19 to one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. Batten’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 15.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated this matter. The Costa Mesa Police Department and the Costa Mesa Fire Department provided substantial assistance.

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National

Judy and Dennis Shepard discuss Nex Benedict, anti-LGBTQ+ laws at DC event

Nonbinary Okla. high school student died last month after fight

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Dennis and Judy Shephard speak at the Raben Group’s D.C. offices on Feb. 29, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Amber Laenen)

WASHINGTON — Judy and Dennis Shepard on Thursday reflected on Nex Benedict’s death and the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country during a discussion the Raben Group hosted at their D.C. office.

The discussion, which MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated, took place less than a month after Benedict died.

Benedict, who was nonbinary, passed away on Feb. 8 after students at their high school in Owasso, Okla., assaulted them in a bathroom. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among those who have publicly responded to Benedict’s death, which took place after they endured months of bullying. More than 300 advocacy groups have demanded Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ removal and called for a federal investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education’s “actions and policies” that have facilitated a “culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

“Parents are doing whatever they can to protect and encourage and support kids, and you have these what I call evil, evil people around the country pushing these laws,” said Dennis Shepard.

He noted lawmakers around the country are pushing anti-LGBTQ+ laws and other efforts that include the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Dennis Shepard also highlighted an effort to defund gender studies programs at the University of Wyoming.

“[It is] the old white male, Christian geezers who want to go back to the days of the 50s when they had that superior arrogant attitude,” he said. “They’re losing it and they don’t want to, so they’re passing everything they can.”

“What happened to Nex is a result of that,” added Dennis Shepard. “They feel like Henderson and McKinney felt when they took Matt out on the prairie.”

Matthew Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998, after Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyo. Then-President Barack Obama in 2009 signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law.

“If you’re considered different, you’re in fear of your life right now because you don’t fit in and it’s got to stop,” said Dennis Shepard.

Judy Shepard echoed her husband, noting this moment is “the last gasp of the fight against the community.” 

“In my heart, I know this is a moment in time, and it’s going to pass. But also in that time, all these young people, everyone in the community is afraid, but young people are being terrorized,” she said. “It just shouldn’t be happening.”

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Missouri

Missouri teachers using affirming ‘pronouns’ could face felony crime

The proposed law prescribes penalties beyond a felony charge in the form of forcing the person convicted to register as a sexual offender

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State Representative Jamie Ray Gragg opens a session of the Missouri House of Representatives in February 2024. (Photo Credit: Missouri House of Representatives)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A new bill introduced in the Missouri legislature would put teachers on the sex offense registry if they “contribute to social transition” of a trans youth- including pronouns, haircuts, information, and more. It would make the actions of the teacher “contributing to social transition” a class E felony.

House Bill 2885 was introduced by Republican State Representative Jamie Ray Gragg (District 140 Christian County), a first term lawmaker who has previously publicly expressed strong anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints as well as being anti-abortion rights. He sits on four House committees; Children and Families, Elementary and Secondary Education, Healthcare Reform, and Subcommittee on Appropriations- Education.

In the bill, the language reads:

  1. A person commits the offense of contributing to social transition if
    2 the person is acting in his or her official capacity as a teacher or school counselor and
    3 the person provides support, regardless of whether the support is material, information,
    4 or other resources to a child regarding social transition.
    5 2. The offense of contributing to social transition is a class E felony.
    6 3. As used in this section, the following terms mean:
    7 (1) “Child”, a person under eighteen years of age;
    8 (2) “Social transition”, the process by which an individual adopts the name,
    9 pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing or haircuts, that match the
    10 individual’s gender identity and not the gender assumed by the individual’s sex at birth;
    11 (3) “Teacher”, as that term is defined in subdivisions (4), (5), and (7) of section
    12 168.104.

The proposed law prescribes penalties beyond a felony charge in the form of forcing the person convicted to register as a Tier I sexual offender with required annual registration.

Missouri legislative political watchers told the Blade late Thursday that the measure probably will die in committee hearings and should it make it to the floor of the House, passage is unlikely.

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said

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New York Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo Credit: State of New York)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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Texas

Texas AG: PFLAG must provide names, details of trans members

On Thursday, a legal filing by PFLAG National revealed that Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas was seeking identification of trans members

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaking with Republican voters in 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General/Facebook)

By Erin Reed | AUSTIN, Texas – In a legal filing Thursday, PFLAG National sought to block a new demand from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that would require the organization to identify its Texas transgender members, doctors who work with them, and contingency plans for anti-transgender legislation in the state.

Paxton’s civil investigative demand, issued on Feb. 5, calls for extensive identifying information and records from the LGBTQ+ rights organization. PFLAG, in its filing to block the demands, describes them as “retaliation” for its opposition to anti-transgender laws in the state and alleges that they violate the freedom of speech and association protections afforded by the United States and Texas constitutions.

The demands are extensive. The letter to PFLAG National demands “unredacted” information around claims made by Brian Bond, PFLAG’s Chief Executive Officer, in a legal fight against the ban on gender-affirming care in the state. Bond’s claims highlighted that PFLAG represents 1,500 members in Texas, many of whom are seeking contingency plans if SB14, the ban on gender-affirming care, takes effect.

Per the lawsuit, PFLAG National states that it would be required to disclose Texas trans youth members, including “complete names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, jobs, home addresses, telephone numbers, [and] email addresses.” It also states they would need to hand over documents and communications related to their medical care, hospitals outside the state, and “contingency plans” discussed among members for navigating the new laws on gender-affirming care in Texas.

You can see see some of the questions asked in the civil investigative demand here:

Demand for full information.
Demands that include substantiation of claims by Brian Bond, CEO of PFLAG National; these claims include the existence of 1,500 families in Texas.
Demands that include contingency plans on going out of state or moving.

The demands also encompass communications with out-of-state healthcare organizations, including QMed in Georgia, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Plume. Previous reports have revealed similar civil investigative demands issued to these out-of-state healthcare providers, seeking information on all patients from Texas who have received their gender-affirming care in Washington State at Seattle Children’s Hospitals. Seattle Children’s Hospital, in a legal response, argued that such care, conducted entirely within the state of Washington, falls outside Texas’s jurisdiction. It further contended that Washington has a shield law prohibiting the sharing of protected private information related to transgender and abortion care with out-of-state entities. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

This is not the first attempt by Attorney General Ken Paxton to identify transgender people in the state. The filing points to a previous attempt to “compile a list of individuals who had changed their their gender” on Texas driver’s licenses. This is part of a “pattern of seeking identifying information about anyone who is transgender in Texas,” according to the filing.

PFLAG National alleges that the demands are an “overly broad, unreasonably burdensome fishing expedition” that violates its member’s rights to freedom of petition, association, speech, and assembly.

It also alleges that they are a violation of prohibitions on unjustified searches and seizures, and that the use of civil investigative demands are an attempt to get around judicial decisions that have blocked Paxton from making similar requests in ongoing court fights. The organization also alleges retaliation for standing up for transgender families in the state.

“These Demands are a clear and unmistakable overreach by the OAG in retaliation for PFLAG successfully standing up for its members, who include Texas transgender youth and their families, against the OAG’s, the Attorney General’s, and the State of Texas’s relentless campaign to persecute Texas trans youth and their loving parents,” the filing reads.

In an interview with Mandy Giles, founder of Parents of Trans Youth and former PFLAG Houston president, she concurs with the allegation of retaliation, stating, “Paxton would retaliate against PFLAG… the families can’t defend themselves. They are too scared to be visible. They can’t fight back, they can’t fight for their kids, they can’t fight for themselves, or their trans loved ones. When PFLAG stepped up to help, it was a saving grace. To have them be attacked this way feels like we all are getting attacked.”

When asked about the specific demands for contingency plans, she paused to collect herself, stating, “This is the families worst fear… that something that was offered to them for protection could come back and hurt them…. the nerve of Paxton asking for families escape plans when he was the reason they were escaping.”

Sadie Hernandez, communications manager for Transgender Education Network of Texas, stated that while Paxton was targeting transgender people now, the methods overlap with other fights in the state for reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy. “The way they are coming after trans folks has been seen in the way they are going after abortion rights. We have an idea of what is in their playbook.”

She also emphasized the unique impacts these enforcement efforts have on marginalized communities within the trans community, such as undocumented immigrants, “When we talk about folks disproportionately impacted, immigrant and undocumented trans folks who can’t leave the state, or if you are in a border checkpoint can’t even leave the area to receive any kind of gender-affirming care…there will be a lot of folks left out of being able to access care.”

Responding to the Lawsuit, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Law Practice Karen Loewy stated, “The Attorney General’s demand of PFLAG National is just another attempt to scare Texas families with transgender adolescents into abandoning their rights and smacks of retaliation against PFLAG National for standing up for those families against the State’s persecution.But PFLAG members’ rights to join together for mutual support, community, and encouragement are strong and we will fight to protect them.”

PFLAG National is represented in the case by Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas, The Transgender Law Center, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas provided several funds that they work with, including the Frontera FundFund Texas ChoiceTEA FundAvow, and Lilith Fund.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman 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.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Florida gay man found guilty of threatening a member of Congress

Lawyers for Stanzione noted that he told federal agents that “he feels offended by Santos and does not want him in his (gay) community”

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USCG Station Eatons Neck Officer-in-Charge BMCS Erich White, disgraced former U.S. Rep. George Santos, and Capt. Eva J. Van Camp, former Commanding Officer U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, April 2023. (Photo Credit: USCG Public Affairs)

MIAMI, Fla. – On Feb. 22, following a two-day trial, a federal jury in Ft. Lauderdale convicted a man for calling the office of former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in Washington D.C. and threatening to kill Santos and another person. 

On Jan. 29, 2023, Frank Stanzione, 53, of Boynton Beach, Florida, made a telephone call from his residence in Boynton Beach to the office of a member of the United States House of Representatives. Stanzione left a voice message for the member that stated the following:

[Victim 1 former Rep. Santos] you fat fucking piece of shit fucker. You better watch your mother fucking back because I’m gonna bash your mother fucking fucker head in with a bat until your brains are splattered across the fucking wall. You lying, disgusting, disgraceful, mother fucking fucker. You mother fucking piece of shit. You’re gonna get fucking murdered you goddamn lying piece of garbage. Watch your back you fat, ugly, piece of shit. You and [Victim 2 Redacted] are dead.

The Congress member’s chief of staff reported the message to the United States Capitol Police (USCP) the next morning. The USCP began investigating the voice message as a threat and determined that it was made from a telephone number assigned to Stanzione. 

On Jan. 31, 2023, USCP special agents went to the address associated with the telephone number and interviewed Stanzione. USCP confirmed that Stanzione had left the voice message for the Congress member. Stanzione found the telephone number on an online search engine. 

In a motion to dismiss, lawyers for Stanzione noted in the interview he told federal agents that “he feels offended by Santos and does not want him in his (gay) community.” He said he left the message to make Santos “feel like a piece of shit.”

The court filing described Stanzione as “a long-standing, active advocate for gay rights.”

In the motion to dismiss, Stanzione claimed his prosecution was “retaliatory and vindictive” and “based upon his exercise of political speech related to gay rights.”

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“Others who have allegedly committed similar acts,” his attorneys stated in the motion, “have not been prosecuted.”

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and Chief J. Thomas Manger of USCP announced the guilty verdict. The USCP – Threat Assessment Section investigated the case.

Stanzione will be sentenced in May and faces penalties including up to five years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

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Oklahoma

LGBTQ+ groups call for removal of Okla. education official

Walters appointed anti-transgender activist Chaya Raichik to serve on the Oklahoma library board “despite her not living in Oklahoma

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Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters with anti-LGBTQ+ extremist Libs Of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik on Feb. 6. (Raichik/selfie on Waters Okla. State Facebook Page)

WASHINGTON – A coalition of more than 350 advocacy groups issued a letter on Wednesday calling for the removal of Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters along with a federal investigation into the “actions and policies” by the Oklahoma Department of Education that have facilitated a “culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

The letter comes as the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict earlier this month, a day after they were allegedly assaulted in a school restroom and after enduring months of bullying, has drawn national attention to, and scrutiny of, the state’s policies targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ Oklahomans, particularly youth.

An investigation into the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death is ongoing. LGBTQ+ advocates including Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson have called for independent probes by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education.

“Superintendent Ryan Walters is responsible for fostering a culture of violence and hate,” the letter argues. “Just a month ago, he passed an emergency rule to prevent an Oklahoma teen who was fearful of being bullied from changing his gender on school files,” and he also “called for the firing of a principal who performed in drag on weekends, which led to violent threats against the educator.”

Additionally, the letter notes, Walters appointed anti-transgender activist Chaya Raichik, creator of the anti-LGBTQ+ social media account Libs of TikTok, to serve on the Oklahoma library board “despite her not living in Oklahoma and having no credentials for the position.” 

Per a press release from GLAAD, “Signers span Oklahoma-specific civil rights groups, churches and faith denominations, legal groups and unions, and more, to national education and youth advocacy groups, civil rights organizations, women’s rights leaders and equality groups in neighboring states.”

Among the national nonprofit organizations are the American Association of School Librarians, the Center for American Progress, GLAAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), GLSEN, HRC, the Interfaith Alliance, It Gets Better, Lambda Legal, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Movement Advancement Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Education Association, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Women’s Law Center, PFLAG National, the Rainbow Youth Project USA, the Trevor Project and the Transgender Law Center.

The release notes they were joined by public figures who include Kristin Chenoweth, Demi Lovato, Cynthia Nixon, Jonathan Van Ness, Tommy Dorfman, Alok, Peppermint, Emma Roberts, Amy Schneider and K.D. Lang.

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National

APA passes policy supporting gender-affirming care

The American Psychological Association, representing 157,000 members, has issued a resolution calling for an end to trans care bans

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The American Psychological Association headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Harrison Keely)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Feb. 28, the American Psychological Association announced in a historic policy resolution that it opposes gender-affirming care bans for transgender youth.

The association, the largest psychological organization in the world with 157,000 members, declared, “Government bans on gender-affirming care disregard the comprehensive body of psychological and medical research supporting the positive impact of gender-affirming treatments,” and resolves the organization’s support for the necessity of that care for transgender youth and adults. 

The policy, which passed 153-9, is the strongest yet from the organization in support of gender-affirming care and represents a major consensus among leading psychologists on the importance of gender-affirming care for youth and adults.

President Cynthia de las Fuentes, speaking of the new policy resolution, states, “It sends a clear message that state bans on gender-affirming care disregard the comprehensive body of medical and psychological research supporting the positive impact of such treatments in alleviating psychological distress and improving overall well-being for transgender, gender diverse and nonbinary individuals throughout their lives.”

The policy includes several findings and resolutions, such as:

  • Gender affirming medical care is medically necessary – “the APA underscores the necessity for access to comprehensive, gender-affirming healthcare for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary children, adolescents, and adults”
  • The organization opposes bans on gender affirming care – “the APA opposes state bans on gender-affirming care, which are contrary to the principles of evidence-based healthcare, human rights, and social justice, and which should be reconsidered in favor of policies that prioritize the well-being and autonomy of transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary individuals”
  • Being trans is not “caused” by autism or post-traumatic stress – “legislative efforts to restrict access to care have involved the dissemination of misleading and unfounded narratives (e.g., mischaracterizing gender dysphoria as a manifestation of traumatic stress or neurodivergence, and equating affirming care for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary youth with child abuse), creating a distorted perception of the psychological and medical support necessary for these youth and creating a hostile environment that adversely affects their mental health and wellbeing.”
  • False information on trans care needs to be combatted – “APA supports efforts to address and rectify the dissemination of false information to ensure the well-being and dignity of transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary individuals”
  • Discrimination, non-affirmation, and rejection risks suicide – “gender-based bias and mistreatment (e.g., discrimination, violence, non-affirmation, or rejection in response to gender diversity) pose significant harm, including risk of suicide, to the well-being of children, adolescents, adults, and families.”

Previously, the organization has released several policies supporting the rights of transgender individuals, such as a policy against conversion therapy and a policy opposing discriminatory laws and practices.

However, this policy goes much further than any of those, directly supporting gender-affirming care as medically necessary and opposing misinformation that emerges in legislative hearings targeting care.

Although virtually all major medical organizations in the United States have issued policies affirming the importance of care for transgender individuals, few rebut anti-trans talking points as comprehensively as this recent policy.

The policy emerges amid an international debate on gender-affirming care and seems to directly counter many claims made in hearings targeting such care. For instance, Representative Gary Click in Ohio attributed the increase in transgender individuals coming out in recent years to autism, using those claims to justify passing a ban on care.

Pamela Paul, in her recent New York Times piece criticizing trans care, similarly suggested that neurodivergence and obsessive-compulsive disorder could cause gender dysphoria. The APA policy directly refutes such notions by a significant margin.

The resolution also directly counters the claim that there is no scientific consensus on gender-affirming care. Conversion therapy organizations such as the Gender Exploratory Therapy Association, now renamed Therapy First after its previous name became associated with conversion therapy, have asserted that “there is no genuine medical consensus” on transgender care. Groups opposed to transgender rights, like the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, which has strong connections to SPLC-designated hate groups and pseudoscience networks, have argued that there is a “lack of clinical consensus” on the appropriateness of gender-affirming care.

However, the resolution’s passage by an overwhelmingly large margin suggests otherwise. The council of representatives, an elected body of leaders representing the consensus of the association’s 157,000 members, can be seen as accurately reflecting the views of psychologists from the world’s largest psychological organization.

Though the policy document may not convince Republican officials to back off on targeting trans care, it will be important in court fights moving forward. Findings of fact from places where gender affirming care bans have been overturned often point to the professional consensus on the importance of care.

Similarly, the document will be an important rebuttal to increasing misinformation around transgender care. Other professional organizations are similarly in the process of releasing updated policies themselves which will bear watching in the coming days.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman 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.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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