In an era freckled with ironies, this one stands out like a big red blotch. In a Politico/Morning Consult poll published Oct. 9, half of America’s registered voters supported President Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. After three years and what many consider several impeachable offenses, the last straw was Trump bullying the president of Ukraine into finding dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter to help Trump’s 2020 re-election—or Trump would withhold missiles Congress already allocated for Ukraine’s defense against Russian advances.
The big red blotch? Trump’s wife Melania Trump’s stated mission as First Lady is her anti-cyber bullying #BeBest campaign. Yet she has continually ignored her husband’s bullying, including his mocking 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter. The Trump family’s Orwellian hypocrisy and profound lack of empathy has given permission to followers to imitate their heroes, resulting in proud, ugly national divisiveness and an uptick in hate crimes and bullying.
America in 2019 is in the throes of both a constitutional and moral crisis – one that particularly threatens the lives of vulnerable LGBTQ teens targeted by the hate effect of Trump and his minions. Nine years ago, on Sept. 21, 2010, out columnist Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better” campaign in a massive community response to an epidemic of six suicides by teens bullied for being or being perceived as LGBT. One month later, President Barack Obama posted a video lending his support.
“We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage; that it’s just some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. And for every young person out there you need to know that if you’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help,” Obama said on Oct. 21, 2010.
Nine years later, the outrage has become a toothless anti-bullying talking point that has virtually ignored the LGBTQ suicides of bullied 16-year-old Channing Smith, a junior at Coffee County Central High School in Manchester, Tenn., on Sept. 23 and bullied 15-year-old Huntsville High student Nigel Shelby in Alabama who took his own life last April.
“With Nigel’s situation he was already struggling with his identity, so he was going through some stressful times. And depression is real. A lot of people don’t understand that depression is a disease. And when you have a kid who is already depressed and going through a lot emotionally, for you to call him names that you shouldn’t call him or say stuff to them, it sometimes has a worse effect than it would on a child who is not struggling with depression,” Nigel’s mother Camika Shelby told Huntsville station WAFF48 the day she buried her son.
Jane Clementi agrees. Her son Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University, died by suicide on Sept. 22, 2010, after being cyber-bullied. Jane established a foundation to honor Tyler and created the anti-bullying #Upstander pledge whereby signers agree to refrain from using bullying words and actions and stand up at any time and to anyone who is bullying another.
Clementi, who is based in New Jersey, flew to Los Angeles to ask an anti-bullying question at the Oct. 10 HRC/CNN forum.
“I think it’s all important for them to understand that, even though there are so many major issues in this world, bullying is a significant problem, I believe a crisis epidemic right now, and it is a life-and-death matter for many families, including my own,” Clementi told the Los Angeles Blade. “That’s why it’s so important, to have these conversations and to ask them what they plan to do about the bullying crisis. Bullying situations are a mental health situation.”
Neither Donald nor Melania Trump have responded to her outreach, though the top presidential Democratic candidates have signed her pledge.
“Our youth are looking to what our leaders are doing, and we need to change that,” she said. “It’s hard to reach out to Mr. Trump, because he ignores us. We did reach out to him to sign our Upstander Pledge, as well. He did not respond at all.”
The Tyler Clementi Foundation seeks to “teach people to be in the spaces with the same character that we are in person,” Clementi said. “My philosophy or mission is to empower the bystanders, whoever and wherever they are, to call out the behavior, because we can’t be the social media police or the internet police everywhere.
“I definitely think we are in a turning point,” she continued. “This is a critical time in our history, and we need to move forward in a positive way of inclusion and celebration of differences and making sure that everyone has the same protection and right as everyone else, just as our Declaration declared. It’s taken us a long time to really get to see that or achieve that.”
Bullying is a mental health crisis all 2020 electoral candidates should address beyond the talking points that pretend to feign concern. What’s the plan to stem the epidemic?
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re a young LGBTQ person who needs to talk, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour helpline at 1-866-488-7386. If you are a transgender person of any age, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
Photo: Tyler Clementi and his mother Jane (Photo courtesy Jane Clementi)
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Ohio hospitals testify against a trans care ban
In a hearing, the presidents of some of the top pediatric hospitals in the United States testified against trans care bans
By Erin Reed | COLUMBUS, Ohio – Yesterday, Ohio held a hearing for House Bill 68, a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth and force those already on care to medically detransition.
The hearing was primarily for opponents of the bill—a prior proponent hearing had already happened a week earlier. Testimony stretched on for nearly eight hours, with those submitting testimony against the bill outnumbering supporters 7:1. Testimony came from a wide variety of professionals and those with lived experience, including transgender kids, their doctors, parents, educators, social workers, and more.
Perhaps the strongest testimony of the afternoon, though, came when presidents and leaders representing some of the top hospitals in the United States stepped forward and unequivocally condemned the bill, stating that it would have drastic negative health consequences for trans youth in their care.
At the beginning of the hearing, three leaders in US medical care testified together: Nick Lashutka, President of the Ohio Children’s Hospitals Association serving over 2,600,000 children in the region; Dr. Steve Davis, President of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the US News #1 ranked children’s hospital in the United States; and Dr. Shefali Mahesh, who represented Akron Children’s Hospital.
All of them delivered extremely strong testimony, dispelling myths about trans care. They testified that bans on care would harm an already extremely vulnerable population and that gender-affirming care was the best option for the few trans youth who do ultimately get cleared for medical transition.
Perhaps the strongest moment of the night was when Dr. Davis looked at the committee and pleaded, “You trust us on every other condition. Please, trust us on this one.”
Watch their incredible testimony here:
When Lashutka spoke, he testified that trans care at Ohio Children’s Hospitals is cautious and measured. He stated that in Ohio Children’s Hospitals, patients see multidisciplinary teams and often have long waiting periods before they obtain gender-affirming care.
He also noted that the percentage of youth obtaining gender-affirming care in Ohio is only 0.0003%, a tiny fraction not just of youth in Ohio, but also of trans youth in Ohio. He likewise dispelled the idea that teens are getting care without their parents’ knowing: “All treatment requires parental consent.”
Lashutka, addressing the idea that trans youth are too easily given medical treatments, stated that care is only given to patients meeting rigorous requirements: “Individuals diagnosed with this condition are insistent, consistent, and persistent for a lengthy period of time. The notion that kids declare a feeling and are immediately prescribed at one of our clinics is not true.”
Speaking next was Dr. Davis, who testified not just as the president of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but as a pediatric critical care physician with 35 years of clinical care experience. He stated, when discussing the gender-affirming care ban and its potential profound negative mental health effects on trans youth, “the most harrowing part of my job is informing parents that their child died, especially when their death was from a preventable suicide.”
He then stated that the gender-affirming care provided by his hospital is done only after “comprehensive assessments, rigorous mental health evaluations, and screening for comorbidities.” He rebuked the idea that hormone therapy in trans youth is done without thorough evaluation, stating that the average time of the evaluation period is “10-12 months.”
Lastly, he stated that there is no financial incentive to providing this care and that they do not make money on it – a reasonable claim given that hormone therapy tends to be relatively inexpensive, and that trans youth are not provided surgery in the Ohio Children’s Hospital system. He closed, stating, “You trust us on every other condition. Please, trust us on this one.”
Dr. Mahesh testified to another aspect of the bill. She stated that increasingly, doctors are having to provide care for patients who have been purchasing hormones off the internet. She indicated that, should a bill like this pass, black and gray market medication might become more common, and that patients would be driven to taking care into their own hands rather than trusting their doctors to administer their care.
Though opposing the bill in its entirety, Lashutka recommended four amendments should the bill pass. First, those already receiving care should be grandfathered in. Second, the “aiding and abetting” clause barring mental health doctors from referrals should be stricken. Third, allowing physicians to provide all information around care, which the bill bars.
Lastly, adding an exception for trans youth who show extreme dysphoria to get care. This last exception was passed in West Virginia’s ban on care.
Though hospital administrators have testified in other hearings in the past, this particular panel of healthcare leaders is perhaps one of the strongest seen in any hearing across the United States. The hospitals they represent and the number of patients they serve could give pause even to the most ardent supporters of the bill.
They are also enormously respected voices for all pediatric care in Ohio and even nationwide – many of the legislators in Ohio likely have children who went to these hospitals, and many of the legislators themselves likely did when they were younger. Their presence, along with the massive showing in opposition to the bill, may have made an impact; while some thought the bill would receive a vote immediately after the hearing, those plans appeared to be scrapped.
The hearing adjourned without a vote, and advocates for trans youth care left knowing they had given their all.
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.
Follow her on Twitter (Link)
Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoes trans youth healthcare ban
Transgender youth will continue to have access to gender-affirming medical care, provided the veto survives an override early next year
By Phoebe Petrovic / Wisconsin Watch | MADISON, Wi. – Transgender youth will continue to have access to gender-affirming care in Wisconsin after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, as promised, vetoed a Republican bill that would have banned medical transition for those under 18.
“This was obviously a bill that was begging for a veto … (and) messing with people’s lives,” he said at a closed ceremony on Wednesday morning, surrounded by 80 opponents of the bill including trans youth, health care providers and LGBTQ+ advocates — the “biggest veto” crowd he said he’d ever seen.
Afterward, Evers handed his veto pen to a young trans person with a hat crocheted in the blue, pink and white of the trans flag.
“This type of legislation, and the rhetoric beget by pursuing it, harms LGBTQ people and kids’ mental health, emboldens anti-LGBTQ hate and violence and threatens the safety and dignity of LGBTQ Wisconsinites,” read his veto message.
Evers joins five other governors in the nation who have rejected bills banning gender-affirming care for trans youth. Legislatures overrode those vetoes in all but one, Kansas. Wisconsin Republicans, just two Assembly members short of a supermajority, could override the veto later this session if even three Assembly Democrats are absent.
In an exclusive interview, Evers told Wisconsin Watch while he was confident the veto would survive, “we’re not gonna take anything for granted.” He said the bill shows the “real high” stakes of elections, made more so by gerrymandered political maps that have given Republicans an outsized advantage in the Legislature. The maps are being challenged before a newly liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“At the end of the day we’ll be in a better position there,” Evers said. “In the meantime, we’ll keep fighting.”
Gender-affirming care is best-practice, doctor-prescribed treatment endorsed by every major medical association in the United States. Peer-reviewed research has shown that social transition and medical care, such as puberty blockers and hormones targeted by the bill, improve the lives of those with gender dysphoria.
About 0.5% of adults and 1.4% of youth ages 13 to 17 in the United States are transgender, according to The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a leading researcher for LGBTQ+ people.
In Wisconsin transgender care for children is prescribed with the involvement of medical professionals and parents. It does not involve the use of medication until puberty and does not involve surgery in most cases until adulthood.
Yet 22 states have outlawed medical or surgical transition care for transgender youth, with 19 states passing bills this year alone during a historic and unprecedented period of anti-transgender policymaking. Some take effect next year; others have been temporarily or permanently blocked by courts.
A coordinated conservative and Christian nationalist movement has fueled the deluge. Wisconsin’s ban, introduced by Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, mirrored model legislation from the right-wing Family Policy Alliance, which strives to conform all levels of government to a “biblical worldview.”
Wisconsin Watch documented the importance of gender-affirming care for transgender youth in October, finding bans loom large for trans youth and their families.
“Rarely an appointment goes by where a family doesn’t ask about this: ‘If we started this care, will we be able to continue it?’ ” a UW Health doctor previously told Wisconsin Watch. The doctor’s name is being withheld because a colleague suffered sustained harassment and death threats after publicly discussing gender-affirming care. “I have seen firsthand that it has really impacted mental health.”
Evers sided with doctors in his veto message.
“I object to restricting physicians from providing evidence-based and medically appropriate care to their patients, restricting parents from making decisions with physicians to ensure their kids receive the health care they need and preventing patients from receiving that basic, lifesaving care,” Evers said.
A shared disinformation playbook has eased the passage of these bans across the country. In Wisconsin misinformation swirled around the bill, from an hours-long public hearing to debate on the Assembly floor.
For now, transgender youth will be able to access the care they need at the state’s two clinics, where social support is provided in early childhood and puberty blockers and hormones may be prescribed in adolescence.
“Especially important to me personally,” Evers added, “I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to the Legislature’s ongoing efforts to manufacture and perpetuate false, hateful and discriminatory anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric in our state.”
The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
Phoebe Petrovic is an investigative reporter covering disinformation at Wisconsin Watch and a 2022-2023 Law & Justice Journalism Project fellow. As a Report for America corps member from 2019-2022, Petrovic reported, produced, and hosted “Open and Shut,” a podcast series co-published with Wisconsin Public Radio examining the power of prosecutors.
Petrovic previously worked at WPR as a Lee Ester News Fellow, “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative Reporting as an editorial intern and NPR’s “Here & Now” as a temporary producer. Her work has aired nationally on all of NPR’s flagship news magazines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Yale University.
The previous article was previously published by the Wisconsin Watch and is republished with permission.
Wisconsin Watch is a project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ Inc.) — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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Incoming Penn. school board chair takes oath on banned books
Smith, an incumbent Democrat, who won re-election was sworn in as the new Central Bucks school board president after a vote by the board
BUCKS, Pa. – Newly appointed Central Bucks Board of School Directors, Karen Smith, was sworn into office Monday, however, unlike other her newly sworn fellow Board members who placed their hands on the more traditional Bible, Smith opted to use a stack of books on LGBTQ+ themes and race that had been banned by the previous board.
Smith, an incumbent Democrat, who won re-election on Nov. 7 was sworn in as the new Central Bucks school board president after a vote by the board. In her remarks she told the audience, “Thank you for your trust in me. I do not take this hand lightly. I feel it as a very heavy responsibility, and you have my word, I will do my best for everyone,” Smith said. “To my supporters, I am so very thankful. To those of you who have challenged me, I will do all I can to hear your voices and concerns.”
Fox News and conservatives including the former GOP-majority board members labeled one of the books Smith used to be sworn in to office as ‘sexually explicit.’ That book, “Flamer,” written by openly gay author Mike Curato, received a Lambda Literary Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2021. Curato is a Filipino-American writer and illustrator of children’s books.
Fox characterized ‘Flamer’ as “It tells the story of a character who is bullied at a Boy Scouts summer camp for “acting in a manner considered stereotypical of gay men.” The graphic novel includes characters discussing pornography, erections, masturbation, penis size, and an illustration that depicts naked teenage boys.”
Journalist Chris Ullery reporting for the Bucks County Courier-Times newspaper noted: Smith, named president of the board, and the other Democrats on the board have long cried foul as the former GOP-majority forged ahead with controversial library policy that critics said was a defacto book ban.
According to the Courier-Times, the book on top of the stack Smith was sworn in on was “Night” by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel, which was part of a February controversy over books.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported that a Central Bucks South High School librarian’s ninth grader sent him a quote from Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” said Wiesel.
The librarian included the quote along with a copy of Night in a library display; however, this was shortly after the former school board passed a “neutrality” policy that barred classroom displays advocating politics or social policy unless related to a lesson.
School officials at the direction of the former GOP-majority Board ordered the librarian to remove the display, though that order was rescinded the next day and the posters allowed. The incident went viral on social media generating a flood of criticism for the district, which later apologized and said it regretted the decision to remove the posters.
That neutrality policy, Policy 321, was one of four policies placed on a freeze by Smith and her colleagues when they took office on Monday.
Donna Gephart’s “Lily and Dunkin,” a copy Smith borrowed from Holicong Middle School for Monday, follows the story of the friendship between two eighth graders, a transgender girl and a boy with bipolar disorder.
“Lily and Dunkin” was said to contain “strong sexual content” by Woke PA and some parents who complained to the district, a claim Smith told the Courier-Times gave her pause.
“I read all the way through the book and there’s nothing. There’s not even a kiss,” Smith said.
The only reason Smith could determine for the “sexual content” warning was the fact that one of its main characters was transgender she said to the paper.
“Just the existence of a transgender student in the book was enough for some folks who want to challenge it, and it’s a beautiful story,” Smith added.
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calls it quits
Rep. Matt Gaetz who filed the motion to take the Speaker’s gavel from McCarthy, posted one word minutes after the news broke: “McLeavin'”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was dethroned from the speakership by ultraconservative members of his party in October, announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday that he will resign from Congress at the end of this month.
The congressman pledged to “serve America in new ways,” writing “I will continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office,” adding, “The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders.”
The move puts additional pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who was elected following McCarthy’s ouster and who is now charged with leading a fractious GOP conference that was already operating with a razor-slim majority.
Now, House Republicans might have only three votes to spare before they must seek help from Democrats to pass measures.
Far-right U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a McCarthy ally who has repeatedly criticized her colleagues for toppling his speakership and, last week, for voting to expel disgraced former GOP congressman George Santos, posted about Wednesday’s news on X.
Well..— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) December 6, 2023
Now in 2024, we will have a 1 seat majority in the House of Representatives.
Congratulations Freedom Caucus for one and 105 Rep who expel our own for the other.
I can assure you Republican voters didn’t give us the majority to crash the ship.
Hopefully no one dies.
Meanwhile U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Republican firebrand congressman who filed the motion to take the Speaker’s gavel from McCarthy, posted one word minutes after the news broke: “McLeavin.'”
McCarthy has served in the House since 2007.
First nonbinary US state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike
Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim
WASHINGTON — The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.
Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Girl.com Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it.
“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.
Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.
“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”
The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.
The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.
Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.
“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.
Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”
‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’
Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”
“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.
Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.
“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”
Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”
“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”
Moms for Liberty distances itself from co-founder Bridget Ziegler
In its annual Year in Hate & Extremism report for 2022, the SPLC says Moms for Liberty advances an anti-student inclusion extremist agenda
ORLANDO, Fla. – As outrage continues to build over the sexual battery allegations of Florida GOP chairman Christian Ziegler, accused of raping a woman he had known for 20 years according to a law enforcement affidavit, calls for his resignation and that of his wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler grows.
In a report by the Florida Center for Government Accountability journalist Bob Norman Tuesday, in an email sent to top Republican officials in Florida, embattled state GOP chairman Christian Ziegler characterizes himself as the victim of an ongoing rape investigation being conducted by the Sarasota Police Department.
The 40-year-old Ziegler calls it an “attack,” not on the victim in the case, but himself. He claims he’s being “targeted,” and notes that “anyone” can file a rape complaint. Ziegler promises to later reveal information about the “motive” and who was behind his ordeal.
“We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” wrote Ziegler. “Thank you to all who have reached out in support.”
Despite his denials and obfuscation of the report filed against him by Sarasota Police detectives, Ziegler refuses to step down which has Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis leading the chorus demanding Ziegler’s resignation.
“I said the other night when it came out, it’s, look, you’re innocent until proven guilty. There’s clearly things that are lodged against people that aren’t necessarily true. But I think when you have an investigation of crimes of this magnitude, I think that the mission has to come first,” the governor said Tuesday.
“It is not helpful to the mission to have this hanging over his head. I’ve said he should step aside. Paul Renner, the Speaker. Kathleen (Passidomo), Senate President. I think most people acknowledge that it’s just an untenable situation when you have things like that there,” he added.
“And so we’ll see what ends up happening. But I don’t know that you have any real standing with that hanging over you,” the governor acknowledged. DeSantis has been joined in his demands by Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who told the Associated Press Ziegler should step down rather than be a distraction during an important election year.
Ziegler and his wife are also being called out for the hypocrisy of admitting a sexual relationship with another woman even though they very publicly oppose and campaign against LGBTQ+ rights.
Cameron Driggers, the Executive Director of the Gainesville, Florida-based Youth Action Fund alongside Jack Petocz, the non-profit’s Vice-Chair, in a joint statement to the Blade on Tuesday said:
“The revelations regarding the abusive behavior of Moms for Liberty Co-Founder Bridget Zieglar and her Husband, Christian Ziegler, Chair of the Florida GOP, comes as no surprise to the young people who have faced their reign of terror over the last few years.
The fanatically anti-queer culture war raging in Florida is in large part thanks to the Zieglers, who have put young LGBTQ+ Floridians within the crosshairs of bigotry and targeted legislation. At the same time, they were engaging in a non-traditional lifestyle of their own. The shameful hypocrisy of the Zieglers knows no bounds.
If they possess even one ounce of decency, Christian and Bridget Zielger should resign from their positions of power immediately.”
Petocz and Driggers organized a statewide walk-out in protest of Florida’s infamous Parental Rights in Education bill colloquially known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law signed by DeSantis in March of 2022 and also led a successful effort to oust a far-right incumbent school board member in deep red Flagler County where they were attending secondary school.
Beyond the efforts of activists like Driggers and Petocz, other LGBTQ+ advocates are also calling out the Zielgers who have long backed the Florida governor’s efforts.
In May of this year, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the executive director of GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ students, said in a statement that DeSantis “is trying to turn back the clock on progress and erase LGBTQ+ people from existence.”
“He’s using vulnerable communities as political pawns in an attempt to gain power and further his own career,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “We know that inclusive curriculum and LGBTQ+ representation benefits all students, and every single major medical association in the U.S. supports gender-affirming care for youth. As Floridians continue to face attacks on their education, health care and bodily autonomy, we’re calling on legislators, advocates and allies to rise up with us and support LGBTQ+ youth.”
Moms for Liberty as a group has factored into these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ youth in general both in Florida and across the United States, leading the civil rights watchdog group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, to label the so-called “parental rights” group extremist.
In its annual Year in Hate & Extremism report for 2022, the SPLC says that Moms for Liberty advances an anti-student inclusion extremist agenda.
Bridget Ziegler is a sitting member of the Sarasota School Board and has been unabashed in her anti-LGBTQ+ agenda calling for removal of LGBTQ+ books from the libraries in the system and curtailing affirmation of the system’s LGBTQ+ minority student population.
The efforts by Ziegler and Moms For Liberty has had a chilling effect says Lance Preston, the Executive Director and founding CEO of Indianapolis, Indiana-based Rainbow Youth Project (RYP). The RYP offers no cost access to meaningful mental health and suicide prevention counseling, as well as reduced or no cost non-surgical healthcare assistance to trans and queer youth.
According to Preston, “Moms for Liberty claims to promote “traditional family values” and fights against what they label as “indoctrination.” Unfortunately, their actions have had severe consequences for countless young individuals struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Rainbow Youth Project has recorded over 23,000 crisis calls and live chats since April 2022, with approximately 4,361 of the callers specifically mentioning Moms for Liberty activities in their schools and communities as at least a major reason for their depression, isolation, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and even suicidal ideation, Preston noted.
“The hypocrisy would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. For instance, they profess to stand for “liberty” while attacking school children for sending the organization colorful cards begging the group to stop bullying LGBTQ+ kids. The group immediately condemned those youth, calling their cards “hate mail,” and sought to deny those kids their liberties under the First Amendment,” Preston said.
“Every LGBTQ+ youth deserves love, acceptance, and support during their difficult journey. It is heartbreaking to witness the harm caused by Moms for Liberty, who spread misinformation and stigma, perpetuating intolerance and prejudice. We will continue to call upon communities to stand against discrimination and work alongside us to create a world where LGBTQ+ youths can thrive, free from the fear of rejection or harm caused by anti-LGBTQ+ groups like Moms for Liberty,” Preston told the Blade.
“These allegations are incredibly serious and deserve a full investigation. Whether through elected office, GOP party leadership, or Moms For Liberty, the Zieglers have spent years telling people how to live and who to be. They’ve been the tip of the spear for right wing extremism in a state being hijacked by the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. Their desperation for power and complete disregard for people has been and will continue to be a stain on Florida’s history,” Brandon J. Wolf, National Press Secretary & Senior Director, Political Comms, for the Human Right Campaign said in an emailed statement to the Blade.
The Zieglers, amid accusations that Christian raped their sexual partner, are being abandoned because their right wing pals fear that people might figure out the truth: their “movement” is built on hypocrisy, lies, and inflicting harm on others to amass power, wealth, and fame. https://t.co/BDzQRdwxBi— Brandon Wolf (@bjoewolf) December 6, 2023
In addition to the political leadership calls for Ziegler’s stepping down, his wife now faces similar calls in Sarasota. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Sarasota County School Board member Tom Edwards called for his colleague Bridget Ziegler to resign from the board amid accusations that her husband sexually assaulted a woman who had been part of a three-way relationship with him and Bridget.
Edwards told the newspaper that last year’s School Board chairwoman has become too much of a distraction for the district.
“She is nothing but a distraction from before and only getting worse, and it will never go away as long as she sits there,” he said. “As a School Board member, my focus is on our students, their academic achievement and educational outcomes. It is not on the Zieglers’ escapades.”
Edwards added that the Zieglers, both Christian and Bridget, “cannot any longer be near children or public policy” because of their advocacy against critical race theory and the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools, which he said has caused damage to students’ mental health.
Edwards, the only openly gay member of the board, had been attacked publicly by a woman at a board meeting who referred to him as a ‘groomer,’ a homophobic and offensive slur during a public comments section of a board meeting. Bridget Ziegler, then Chair, refused to eject or silence the woman saying only that personal attacks in public comment happen to elected officials on all sides and that stopping the speaker would have only escalated tensions.
In an emailed statement received Tuesday morning by the Blade and other media outlets, current executives of Moms For Liberty and co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice said:
“We have been truly shaken to read of the serious, criminal allegations against Christian Ziegler. We believe any allegation of sexual assault should be taken seriously and fully investigated.
“Bridget Ziegler resigned from her role as co-founder with Moms for Liberty within a month of our launch in January of 2021, nearly three years ago. She has remained an avid warrior for parental rights across the country.
“To our opponents who have spewed hateful vitriol over the last several days: We reject your attacks. We will continue to empower ALL parents to build relationships that ensure the survival of our nation and a thriving education system. We are laser-focused on fundamental parental rights, and that mission is and always will be bigger than any one person.”
The fallout from the scandal over the Ziegler’s hypocrisy and allegations of rape and misconduct have also affected Moms for Liberty chapters in other states. According to Moms for Liberty the group has 300 plus chapters in 47 states.
The News-Item newspaper in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, reported that The Northumberland County chapter of Moms for Liberty is on pause as it breaks from the national organization, according to its chapter chair Clarissa Paige.
Paige said she formed the Northumberland County Chapter of Moms for Liberty in April 2022 out of concern for a lack of accountability and representation in county schools.
She said, “We hit significant milestones by ensuring school board members were accountable and supporting the elections of responsible community leaders.”
Paige, who has three children attending Warrior Run schools, has been outspoken against the curriculum she alleges to contain aspects of social-emotional learning or critical race theory, and threatened legal action against the school for reenacting a mask mandate.
Paige refuted claims by the Southern Poverty Law Center that Moms for Liberty spreads hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.
Paige is seeking nonprofit status for Northumberland County Academic Alliance, which she told The News-Item will continue to focus on parental rights in schools.
“The journey has always been the strength of our local community and we found all the support we need among us,” Paige said Monday. “We are going to continue to champion parental rights with dignity and integrity.”
Bridget Ziegler, and her husband Christian did not respond to requests for comment by the Blade Tuesday.
Iowa’s Supreme Court upholds anti-LGBTQ hate crime conviction
Robert Clark Geddes, 27, of Boone, Iowa, was arrested after leaving handwritten notes reading, “Burn that gay flag”
DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa State Supreme Court on December 1, upheld the conviction of a man who left threatening notes on the homes of people displaying LGBTQ Pride flags during the June 2021 Pride month.
Robert Clark Geddes, 27, of 1814 Eighth Street in Boone, Iowa, was arrested after leaving handwritten notes reading, “Burn that gay flag,” at four different houses in this small hamlet of 12,000 located 49 miles northwest of Iowa’s capital city.
According to a local media outlet, the Perry News in its June 23, 2021 reporting, Boone City Council member Elijah Stines was one of the victims of the hate crimes.
“Let me be very clear,” Stines said on Facebook. “I will never back down from standing up for the lives of my LGBTQ friends, family, constituents and all members of our community. My house was one of five locations in my ward alone that I know of that received a similar cowardly note this weekend. To everyone in the Boone LGBTQ community: There are so many more people here who will stand with you and ensure your safety than would threaten it. Call on us any time!”
Investigators determined that the four notes were “linked together by consistent handwriting, matching paper tear marks and marker bleed through on each page,” according to court records.
The victims were “annoyed and alarmed” by the notes, and Geddes “had no legitimate purpose to be on the property other than commit a public offense,” according to court records.
Associate Judge Stephan A. Owen, for the Iowa District Court for Boone County, found Geddes guilty and sentenced him to up to two years of probation.
On September 14, 2023, he appealed his convictions for trespass as a hate crime, arguing that the evidence of guilt was insufficient and that the convictions violated his constitutional rights of free speech and due process.
In its Friday ruling the high court disagreed noting: “The individuals’ display of the LGBTQ+ flag or flag decal on their own properties was an exercise of First Amendment rights; the defendant’s surreptitious entry onto those properties to post his harassing notes was not.”
The Associated Press reported that as the court noted, the rainbow flag has come to symbolize support for LGBTQ+ rights. The majority said the state statute in question does not criminalize speech, but rather conduct with a specific intent — trespassing because the property owners or residents had associated themselves with a protected class.
The AP also reported that in his dissent, Justice Matthew McDermott said there was no evidence in the record that the recipients of Geddes’ notes were members of the LGBTQ+ community or whether he believed they were, nor whether any of the residents had an “association with” an actual person in those protected classes. He noted that the Legislature chose the words “association with” rather than “solidarity with” when it wrote the hate crime law.
“As a symbol, a flag doesn’t independently create or express actual association with particular persons,” McDermott wrote, adding that, “Not everyone who displays a pirate flag is associated with actual pirates.”
LGBTQ resort communities threatened by climate change
LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis of worsening weather storms
By Cal Benn | WASHINGTON – As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.
The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.
President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more.
Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.
Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”
Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall.
“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr.
All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations.
Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind.
Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.
“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”
Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.
“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”
Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger.
“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said.
In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community.
Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities.
“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.
Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters
Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.
Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.
“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.
Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.
The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.
McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community.
“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon.
Stronger storms threaten Fire Island
Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.
Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”
“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin.
Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines.
Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines.
Cal Benn, is a journalism major at Emerson College who is in D.C. with the Washington Center, and is a Fall intern at the Washington Blade.
Benn’s work focuses on human rights, climate change and how the two issues intersect. They are also passionate about sustainability, advocacy and writing and enjoy skateboarding and playing with their cats when they are not writing.
US announces more sanctions for Ugandan officials
Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people and other groups.
“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”
Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.”
“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”
Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”
“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.
The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Queen Latifah among the Kennedy Center 2023 honorees
After decades of speculation about her sexuality, Latifah publicly acknowledged her partner Eboni Nichols and son Rebel in 2021
WASHINGTON – Rapper, actor, and singer Queen Latifah was among the honorees who were welcomed to the White House for a reception in the East Room on Sunday prior to the Kennedy Center Honors show, where she joined the latest class of inductees alongside singer Dionne Warwick, comedian Billy Crystal, Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, and opera star Renée Fleming.
“It’s a wonderful tradition at the White House to recognize the President and Mrs. Kennedy’s love of the arts and the culture in America — love that endures 60 years after his death, tragically,” President Joe Biden said in prepared remarks. “The anniversary was marked last month.”
The honor is “not just based on the length of the career or the scope of work or the height of fame but because of their unique place in the conscience and the very soul of our dynamic and diverse nation,” the president said. “You’re an incredible group.”
After decades of speculation about her sexuality, Latifah publicly acknowledged her partner Eboni Nichols and son Rebel for the first time during an acceptance speech at the BET Awards in 2021.
She is also the recipient of a Grammy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two NAACP Image Awards. Latifah was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 for her performance in “Chicago.”
Calling her “a natural storyteller,” Biden noted that Latifah released her first album at age 19. “In the studio, she rapped about everything from the pain of losing her brother to the abuse of power, respect for Black women to — the respect that Black women deserve, and how infinite love is the only hope for unity.”
“She’s also a skillful storyteller onscreen,” the president said, “The first woman in hip-hop to earn an Oscar nomination, which she did for her role in ‘Chicago'” and also “the first hip-hop artist with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
Biden also celebrated Latifah’s honorary degree in 2011 “from Delaware State University, my HBCU” and her other contributions “From serving as a mentor for young women of color to building housing in her hometown of Newark.”
“Tonight, Queen Latifah,” the president said, “you become the first female hip-hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, lifting — and fitting because it’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.” The award serves as proof, he said, “that anything is possible when we discover our own voice, write our own story, and share it with the world.”
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