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Kevin Jennings: new leadership at Lambda Legal

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Kevin Jennings is not a lawyer so why was he tapped to lead Lambda Legal, one of the LGBTQ community’s most important national organizations?

“Well that was sort of what I said when Lambda called me,” Jennings told the Los Angles Blade by phone before officially starting on Dec. 2. “They said, ‘We’re not looking for a lawyer. We have lots of brilliant lawyers. We’re looking for an experienced organizational leader,’ — and that I am. I’ve been a leader of the LGBT movement for over 30 years and this is really a critical time for a movement, particularly for Lambda. The right wing has a very clear strategy to use the court and all of [President]Trump’s horrific judicial appointments to roll back everything we’ve won over the last 40 years. Lambda is going to be a key player in stopping that.”

Jennings is “very excited” to be taking the helm at this pivotal juncture.

“Everything I’ve been working for my entire adult life since I marched in my first Pride in 1986 is at risk now.  We’re in real danger of losing things that we thought just a few years ago were safe. I’m very excited to be part of the resistance and making sure that doesn’t happen,” says Jennings, best known as the founder of GLSEN and assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration.

Jennings boldly underscores the lights up and pounds home the point.

“The right wing is coming for us through the courts,” he says. “This is their whole strategy. They’ve been planning this. People think a lot of things about the right wing — they are not stupid. Never underestimate them. They know exactly what they are doing. They are coming for us through the courts, and we know that, and we are waiting and we are ready.”

Jennings intends to emphasize the education aspect of Lambda’s incorporated name — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“The courts are going to be the central battleground,” Jennings says. “Much of what we’ve won could be taken away through the courts. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer right now. The courts are where it’s at and everybody needs to be paying attention to what’s happening in the courts.”

Jennings points to Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), as “the mastermind of the right wing litigation strategies” and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) as producer of their model legislation.

“They have very carefully invested over 50 years to build a whole infrastructure of organizations,” Jennings says. “They have the Federalist Society, where they have built a very sophisticated infrastructure that identifies young people in law school and begins training them and grooming them and preparing them for court appointments. They’re brilliant at what they do. I will give them credit. They play a long game. We’ve got to be just as smart on our side because they make strategic investments that they expect to pay off in 10, 20, 30, 40 years, and we’ve got to be just as strategic on our side.

“What they’re doing right now is they are reaping the investments with people like [Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh, investments they made decades ago. We’ve got to be doing the same thing. We’ve got to be investing in long term change in the same way they are,” says Jennings.

As a national leader and forever a teacher at heart, Jennings knows how to listen to the community’s needs and frustrations, including about the past several years at Lambda.

“I plan to build a plan for the organization that responds to those concerns and frustrations,” he says. “I know that there is a real need to address people’s frustrations that are out there and I come in aware of that and prepared to listen to those and to address them.”

The larger context for Jennings’ plan is Lambda’s 46-year history and its “very well documented track record of success” plus Jennings’ own superlative track record as a leader in the LGBTQ community for over three decades. Additionally, Jennings’ own story adds that degree of authenticity that he personally grasps LGBTQ issues that are too often overlooked or overshadowed.

“I grew up in a trailer park on an unpaved dirt road in an unincorporated town in rural North Carolina in a single parent family,” Jennings says. “My mother worked in fast food restaurants and cleaned people’s houses. That’s how she supported us. My entire childhood was below the poverty line. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I understand the needs of our community members who are struggling with poverty and other factors in a firsthand visceral way because I’ve lived there.”

Jennings intends to put his decades of experience to public use.

“We’ve got to help people understand the issues and explain them and teach people, and I think that that is where I, because of my background as an educator, can contribute a great deal to Lambda. We have to not just educate judges, we have to educate the public. We have to work in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

Jennings is intent on developing coalitions to strengthen the LGBTQ hand.

“Probably because I was a teacher, I believe strongly in the concept of playing well with others, and the leaders in this movement know me as someone who believes in the power of collaboration,” Jennings says. “Lambda already has a strong record of collaborating with other organizations and I plan to build off that reputation, as well as my own track record of collaborating with other organizations to strengthen those relationships because I believe that our movement is at its best when we’re all working together. We each have unique roles to play and when we’re collaborating and leveraging each others’ strengths, it makes the whole community stronger.”

He acknowledges that Lambda Legal has not always lived up to that reputation, such as at times during the up and down struggle over marriage equality.

“Prop 8 was a dark chapter in many ways in our community,” he says. But he emphasizes Lambda’s long participation in the Legal Round Table, which brings together all of the various groups that do litigation.

“I think that structures like that — bringing people together so that there is dialogue and people are trying to collaborate — are really important and I’m really committed to keeping those structures going and building even more of them.”

Out of that dialogue will come new strategies to deal with the shifting legal landscape of the Trump administration packing the courts with young lifetime appointees.

“Trump’s nominees fill one quarter of the seats on the nation’s Circuit Court of Appeals. He has seen more Circuit Court judges confirmed, more by this point in his presidency than any other past president in U.S. history,” says Jennings. “They have packed the courts systematically and carefully under Trump and they still have at least 14 months to go. The landscape has shifted dramatically against us, and we need to recognize that means that we are going to have to focus on developing a very robust distinct strategy.”

Given Trump’s legal legacy, victory for the LGBTQ community may look very differently for many years to come.

“Victory, on one level, is going to consist of stopping horrific things from happening,” says Jennings. “We’re going to have to be very selective and very strategic in how we use litigation to try to advance a proactive agenda.

“We’re going to have to be strategic in two ways,” Jennings continues. “Our selection of which circuits we bring cases in, and what arguments we make because in some circuits, we are going to be DOA [dead on arrival] because they have appointed such extremist judges. And we are going to be facing judges who subscribe to very different philosophies than the ones we have been used to encountering. We are going to have to make new kinds of targeting.”

Jennings says he’s “completely confident” in Lambda’s brilliant attorneys. “But we’re going to have to be very strategic when we are trying to advance good things,” he says. “We’re going to have to have a surgical approach to advance any positive things. It was never easy, but it has gotten exponentially harder, thanks to Trump.”

Kevin Jennings with the Concord GSA at the 1993 March on Washington (Photo courtesy Jennings)

Jennings cites his experience at GLSEN as an example of strategically reframing the argument.

“25 years ago when we were trying to get Gay/Straight Alliances [GSAs] instituted in schools around the country, the principals were telling kids they couldn’t start them,” says Jennings. “David Buckel, who was a Lambda attorney, found a piece of legislation called the Equal Access Act. This said that if you allow students to form clubs, you had to allow them to form any club they wanted to form. Now it was written intended to protect the rights of students to form clubs like bible clubs and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That was its intent. But David said we can use this to say you have to allow kids to form Gay/Straight Alliances. He was able to convince the courts to interpret it that way so that it protected the rights of kids to form GSAs.”

Jennings calls such creative thinking “judicial jujitsu.” No longer can LGBTQ and ally attorneys expect the courts to agree with old arguments.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that the right wing has politicized our judiciary so extremely, but since they’ve done it,” says Jennings, “we are not going to stand by and be idle. We are going to fight fire with fire.”

Photos of Kevin Jennings courtesy Lambda Legal

Please note: this story has been corrected to indicate Lambda’s 46-year history, not 41-years. Apologies. 

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Tennessee

Tennessee lawmakers: “Recruiting” for trans youth care a felony

The bill was passed alongside an abortion bill that would make it illegal for adults to help minors obtain abortions without parental consent

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Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville. (Photo Credit: State of Tennessee)

By Erin Reed | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Republican-controlled Tennessee Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make it a felony to help a transgender youth obtain gender-affirming care.

Read broadly, the bill could apply even to those providing information about healthcare resources and laws in other states to youths in Tennessee. The bill borrows old language from anti-gay rhetoric of decades past around “recruiting” to further clamp down on information given to transgender youth about healthcare.

It signals a new phase in the fight over transgender care in the United States, potentially having nationwide repercussions and pitting the state against others that have passed shield laws protecting patient healthcare from out of state investigations.

The bill is Senate Bill 2782. The language of the bill was amended before its passage Thursday, stating that any adult who “recruits, harbors, or transports” a minor in Tennessee for the purpose of gender-affirming care could be guilty of a Class C felony, which carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

 Read broadly, it could prohibit discussing healthcare options available in other states with transgender youths or providing maps of “safe states” for transgender healthcare to a transgender youth, though some legal experts say that this reading is constitutionally dubious and could violate first amendment protections.

You can read the amended bill here:

The bill is not the first to target transgender people, although it is the first to specify that it applies over state lines. Some gender affirming care bans in the United States have also banned “aiding and abetting” gender affirming care, such as in Mississippi and Iowa. Those bans have sparked concern that even counselors, voice therapists, and LGBTQ+ organizations could be targeted for “aiding and abetting” transgender youth obtaining care.

The Tennessee bill was passed alongside an abortion bill that would make it illegal for adults to help minors obtain abortions without parental consent, also dubbed an “abortion trafficking” law.

If passed, Tennessee would become only the second state to enact such a law after a similar one in Idaho was blocked in court. The Idaho law uses identical language, barring “recruiting, harboring, or transporting” a pregnant minor seeking an abortion. Together, these laws represent the latest in the cross-pollination between attacks on gender-affirming care and reproductive freedom that have become increasingly common in recent years.

This has in turn led to several states passing “safe state,” “shield,” or “sanctuary” laws for transgender people and those seeking or providing abortions or gender-affirming care. Currently, 15 states have enacted legislation or policies declaring themselves “sanctuary states” for gender-affirming care and reproductive healthcare

. These shield laws assert that other states cannot subpoena healthcare legally provided within their borders, and that they maintain jurisdiction over their own territories. These shield laws have already made an impact; Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently attempted to subpoena medical records from Seattle Children’s Hospital, which informed him that it could not comply due to Washington’s shield law.

You can see a state map of shield laws currently in effect here:

The fight over transgender rights is spilling into a battle over jurisdictional issues that have not been litigated in over a century and a half. In response to a recent proposal in Maine to pass a shield law, 16 Republican attorneys general signed a letter authored by the AG of Tennessee stating their intention to sue Maine if they pass a law that would bar complying with requests for patient healthcare information from across state lines.

similar letter, written by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and signed by 18 Republican AGs, announced similar opposition to shielding abortion records. In response, the Maine Legislature passed LD227, making it the potential 16th state to enact such a shield law, despite legal threats from Republican states like Tennessee.

The Tennessee bill is slated for a subcommittee hearing on April 16th. If the bill passes, there could be a showdown between the state and other states that have acted to protect their transgender citizens and citizens seeking abortions. Likewise, there could be an enormous chilling effect on providing information about transgender healthcare to minors in the state.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Ohio

Trans student bathroom ban bill passes Ohio House Committee

HB 183 would require Ohio K-12 schools & colleges mandate students only use bathroom or locker room that matches their sex assigned at birth

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Gender-neutral bathroom at Grant High School, Portland Oregon. (Screenshot/YouTube KGW NBC News Portland, Oregon)

By Megan Henty | COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bill that would ban transgender students from using the bathroom and locker room that matches up with their gender identity passed out of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee Wednesday by a 10-5 party line vote.

State Reps. Beth Lear, R-Galena, and Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, introduced House Bill 183 which would require Ohio K-12 schools and colleges to mandate that students could only use the bathroom or locker room that matches their sex assigned at birth. It would also prohibit schools from allowing students to share overnight accommodations with the opposite sex.

HB 183 now awaits further consideration in the House, which is next scheduled to be in session April 24. 

Parents, grandparents, and school superintendents asked Bird for this bill, he said. 

The American Medical Association officially opposes policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities consistent with gender identity.

HB 183 would not prohibit a school from having single-occupancy facilities and it would not apply to someone helping a person with a disability or a child younger than 10 years old being assisted by a parent, guardian, or family member.

State Rep. Gayle Manning, R- North Ridgeville, thought about bringing an amendment to the committee that would have carved colleges and universities out of the bill, but she decided against it. 

“I’m hopeful we will continue to have these discussions on the removal of higher ed,” she said. “The reason being, we’re talking about adults. Universities are similar to a city with the number of students that they have. Frivolous lawsuits that will increase the cost of tuition eventually and the cost of our families.” 

Manning voted in favor of the bill even though she hopes lawmakers can continue conversations to “find a better solution.”

Bird opposes taking the higher education component out of the bill. 

“The reason I oppose that is because we have college credit plus in Ohio,” he said. “We seventh graders going to college, kids in high school going to colleges and in that college environment, we got to make sure they are protected.”

State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, vocalized his disdain for the bill before the committee voted. 

“Here we are again … taking away school districts and colleges’ ability and their leadership to make decisions that are best for providing safe, equitable access for all Ohio students,” Miller said. “I hope that this doesn’t see the floor and doesn’t see the governor’s desk.”

More than 100 people submitted opponent testimony on HB 183 and more than 30 people submitted proponent testimony. 

“We do love and care about all kids,” Bird said when asked about all the backlash the bill has received. “Me and my Republican colleagues have heard from constituents all across the state. They may not have been loud. They may not have been vocal. They may not have come with a sign to the Statehouse, but we are here representing the vast majority of Ohioans who want protections.” 

Trans advocates speak out against HB 183

Transgender advocates hosted a press conference following the House Higher Education Committee to voice their opposition to HB 183. Trans Ohio Board Member Carson Hartlage said HB 183 is harmful to all students, including cisgender students.

“Most trans non binary and gender non conforming students only begin using restrooms that align with their gender identities after they’ve experienced some form of trauma when using a restroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth,” Hartlage said.

Thirty percent of LGBTQ+ students said they were prevented from using the bathroom that aligned with their gender, and 26% were stopped from using the locker room that aligned with their gender, according to Ohio’s 2021 state snapshot by GLSEN, which examines the school experiences of LGBTQ middle and high school students.

When looking specifically at transgender and nonbinary students, 42% were prevented from using the bathroom that aligned with their gender and 36% couldn’t use the locker room that aligned with their gender, according to the Ohio GLSEN report. 

Ohio’s first openly transgender public official and member of the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools’ Board of Education Dion Manley shared his concerns. 

“As a trans man is I’ve been going into men’s restrooms for 25 years without incident,” Manley said. “I go visit the schools on a regular basis. So these legislators want me to go into a girls restroom in the elementary school, middle school, and high school.”

Mallory Golski, civic engagement and advocacy manager at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said how Ohio was recently at the center of history in a positive way with Monday’s eclipse.

“We’re here reflecting on how we’re at the epicenter of another piece of history,” she said. “And unfortunately, we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike the fleeting blackout of the total solar eclipse, the history I’m talking about here today at the statehouse leaves transgender youth in the dark.”

Jeanne Ogden’s daughter would be directly impacted by this bill. Her daughter’s college classroom building does not have single-use restrooms in the building, forcing her daughter to go across the street to use the restroom. 

“These kids getting bullied and yes, their mental health is suffering,” said Ogden, the executive director of Trans Allies of Ohio. “Trans people are tired. Parents are exhausted.”

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

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

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

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

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National

Day of [no] silence, a call to speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ hate

GLSEN reframes its Day of Silence to confront the alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, the message is clear: the time for action is now

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GLSEN/Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – In a move to counteract the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, GLSEN, a leading national organization advocating for safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ+ youth, has announced a significant shift in its annual Day of Silence event. 

Traditionally observed as a silent protest against LGBTQ+ discrimination and bullying, this year’s event will transform into the Day of (No) Silence, calling on advocates, students, educators, and allies to actively speak out against the wave of exclusionary policies sweeping across the nation.

Scheduled for April 12, 2024, the Day of (No) Silence emerges in response to over 470 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures throughout the United States. The event’s reimagining encourages participants to leverage their voices, platforms, and votes to demand legislative support and protection for the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans and non-binary individuals.

“Education is the cornerstone of our democracy, yet it’s under attack by those with the  loudest voices pushing hateful agendas, using trans and queer students as pawns,” said GLSEN Executive Director, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. “From bathroom bans to book bans, the attacks on our education system are relentless and widespread. It’s on us, as adults, to rise up for every child’s right to a safe and inclusive education. That’s why this year, we refuse to remain silent. We’re rising together, using our collective voices to fight back against these injustices. While some students are silenced by censorship laws or unsafe school environments, if you can, I urge you to join us. Speak up, vote, use your platform, and support GLSEN programs. Together, let’s build a future where every student can thrive.” 

The organization has laid out a comprehensive action plan for participants to follow on April 12th, ranging from using social media platforms to share student stories and resources, participating in the National School Climate Survey, to educators creating an inclusive classroom environment through GLSEN’s Rainbow Library.

In an interview with The Blade,  GLSEN’s Director of Communications Madison Hamilton, expounded on the shift to Day of (No) Silence. “It is imperative, with the over 480 hateful anti LGBT+ bills that have been presented this year alone that we make this shift,” Hamilton said. “We have heard from students and educators in our network, telling us that they want to take action and speak out. The silent protest is just not working anymore.”

Hamilton also addressed the broader impacts of discrimination, highlighted by the tragic murder of 16-year-old nonbinary Oklahoma resident, Nex Benedict, a vivid reminder of the deadly consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ hate. GLSEN’s statement underscores the urgent need for accountability and a collective fight against extremism targeting queer and trans youth within the educational system.

“At GLESN we believe education is the cornerstone of our democracy. All this hate rhetoric leads to hate crimes. Nex was in that bathroom because politicians in Oklahoma required them to be in that bathroom,” Hamilton told The Blade, emphasizing that holding adults accountable for their hateful rhetoric against the community is imperative to creating a more inclusive society in schools and beyond. 

GLSEN offers resources for educators, including an action guide for creating supportive environments for LGBTQ+ students, and calls on allies to engage in various forms of advocacy, such as hosting events, volunteering, and fundraising, to support the cause.

As GLSEN reframes its Day of Silence to confront the alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, the message is clear: the time for action is now. By raising our voices, we can push back against discrimination, celebrate diversity, and pave the way for a future where all students can thrive, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

GLSEN is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to creating safe and inclusive K-12 schools for LGBTQ+ students. Founded over 34 years ago, it works tirelessly to combat harassment and discrimination through education, policy advocacy, and community building.
For more information on how to participate in the Day of (No) Silence and support LGBTQ+ youth, visit www.glsen.org.

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Louisiana

Severe weather doesn’t stop GOP anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Louisiana

As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity- a legislative committee met & quietly advanced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

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As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity in Louisiana Wednesday, a legislative committee met and quietly advanced two pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. (Allison Allsop/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Piper Hutchinson | BATON ROUGUE, La. – As severe weather shut down nearly every government entity in Louisiana Wednesday, a legislative committee met and quietly advanced two pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. 

The Louisiana House Committee on Education advanced House Bill 121 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, which prohibits the use of transgender and nonbinary youth’s chosen names and pronouns in public K-12 schools without parental permission, along a party line 9-3 vote. 

House Bill 122 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, which limits discussion of gender and sexuality in public K-12 schools, also advanced on a 9-3 vote, with Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, joining Democrats in opposing the bill.   

The Legislature approved both bills last year. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed them, and Republicans were unable to overturn his action. A representative for Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican, filed a card in support of both Crews’ and Horton’s bills. 

Committee hearings on the same bills in previous years stretched on for hours with extensive public testimony, primarily from LGBTQ+ youth, but Wednesday’s hearing moved at an unusually fast clip, with many advocates stuck at home. 

The committee was scheduled to meet at noon, an hour before a tornado watch expired for Baton Rouge. Tornadoes had touched down in Slidell and Lake Charles in the morning, and flooding and storm debris blocked roads across the state. 

Just four people testified against the bills Wednesday. By comparison, more than 40 people testified against the same bills in 2023, and over 300 more filed cards in opposition but did not speak. 

The Louisiana Senate decided late Tuesday afternoon to cancel its committee meetings the next day to avoid the hazardous weather. Senators aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until Monday.

The House of Representatives canceled all but two of its six scheduled committee meetings, In addition to Education, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee also met at noon to discuss several election-related bills  

Advocates with Forum For Equality, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, called on House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, to cancel the two committee hearings.

Crews’ bill would require teachers and other school personnel to use a student’s given name and pronouns that align with their birth sex unless a student has permission from their parents to use their chosen name. 

Teachers would be allowed to disregard a parent’s choice to respect their transgender or nonbinary child’s preferred name and pronouns if they have religious opposition to doing so. 

Freiberg noted this double standard during the hearing, pointing out the bill was touted as a parental rights bill but allowed a parent’s choice to be invalidated. 

In an interview after the hearing, Crews said that while his bill supports parental rights, parents should not be able to eclipse somebody else’s religious rights. 

His bill does not have an exception for those who have a religious opposition to deadnaming or misgendering students. 

Deadnaming is when someone uses a transgender or nonbinary individual’s birth name, or “dead name,” against their wishes. Misgendering occurs when someone refers to an individual as a gender that they do not identify. 

At the core of Crews’ proposal is his belief that parents have the right to know whether their children are transgender. Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community say the bill would force transgender youth to out themselves to their parents or else be deadnamed and misgendered at school. They have raised concerns about what happens when parents find out — and don’t approve.

A survey from the Trevor Project found 38% of transgender women, 39% of transgender men and 35% of nonbinary youth have experienced homelessness as a result of parental rejection. 

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

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

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

Horton said she didn’t believe teachers should discuss their “lifestyle choices” with students and made reference to a Caddo Parish teacher who she said bragged about confusing children with their sexual orientation. 

As written, the bill would also prevent discussion of heterosexuality and the cisgender identity. 

The bills will next be discussed by the full House of Representatives. 

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

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

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

Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge tosses suit against Calif. trans sanctuary state law

The law provides legal protections for families who come to Calif. to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live

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Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107), also referred to as California’s Transgender Sanctuary State Law.

In the dismissal without leave to amend, the court dismissed the lawsuit on Article III standing grounds, finding that the plaintiff failed to allege that SB 107 injured them in any way, and failed to allege any facts showing that SB 107 forced the plaintiff to divert staff time and resources.

SB 107 protects children and families seeking gender affirming care, as well as their health care providers, from bigoted anti-trans laws in other states that criminalize medically necessary health care that is legal in California. 

The Transgender Sanctuary State Law provides legal protections for families who come to California to obtain gender-affirming care that is inaccessible where they live, as well as doctors and staff providing such care in California. It implements various safeguards against the enforcement of other states’ laws that would penalize people for obtaining medically necessary care that is legal in California.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement following the U.S. District Court’s order granting the California Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the second amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 107 (SB 107).

“No one should ever be marginalized for seeking the care they need,” said Bonta. “The court’s decision is a major win for transgender children and their families in California and across the U.S. amidst a growing assault on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. My office stands ready to defend SB 107 to ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals obtain the care that empowers them to lead healthier, happier lives.”

“Transgender people just want to live their lives authentically and in peace, and California is defending their right to do so,” said the law’s author, state Senator Scott Wiener. “This ruling shows once again that trans people are living authentically in California without any of the negative impacts on those around them of which right-wing zealots accuse them. California’s leadership is united in defending transgender people, and LGBTQ people generally, from the vicious attacks they face in other states. I thank Attorney General Bonta and his team for their incredible work securing this major civil rights victory.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Florida trans teacher can use ‘Ms.’ in classroom

“Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, you can set your clock by it”

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U.S. District Court building In Tallahassee, Florida. (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In Florida, a federal judge ruled that a transgender woman teacher no longer has to be referred to as “Mr.” or “teacher” in the classroom, citing first amendment protections.

Instead, she can use “Ms.” and female pronouns. This decision follows the passage of HB1069 in Florida, which mandated that teachers could not use pronouns that “do not correspond to his or her sex.”

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker enjoined the state from enforcing the law against her, stating, “The State of Florida has not justified this grave restraint, and so the United States Constitution does not tolerate it. Ours is a Union of individuals, celebrating ourselves and singing ourselves and being ourselves without apology.”

The plaintiff, Ms. Wood, a teacher at a Florida high school, has been known as “Ms. Wood” for four years. She regularly would write her name, title, and pronouns on the whiteboard and used these pronouns with students, faculty, and staff, as well as in her personal life. In evaluating Ms. Wood’s usage of her name, title, and pronouns, the judge determined that “The freedom to use the title ‘Ms.’ and to share her preferred pronouns at school is essential to her basic humanity.”

Ms. Wood’s ability to use her preferred title and pronouns was threatened following the passage of House Bill 1069. Enacted into law in 2023, House Bill 1069 prohibits all employees and contractors of public K-12 educational institutions from using their preferred personal titles or pronouns if those “do not correspond to their sex.”

After the law’s enactment, administrators informed Ms. Wood that she had to remove her pronouns and title from display and could not correct students who referred to her as “Mr.” or “him.”

The judge commenced his ruling with a scathing critique of the state, writing, “Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem. It has occurred so frequently of late, some might say you can set your clock by it… The question before this Court is whether the First Amendment allows the State to dictate, without limitation, how public-school teachers refer to themselves when communicating with students. The answer is a thunderous ‘no.’”

The judge ultimately determined that prohibiting Ms. Wood from using her pronouns or title constituted an unconstitutional violation of her freedom of speech, deeming it a form of viewpoint discrimination.

In his decision, he refuted several arguments presented by the state, including the claim that Ms. Wood using “Ms.” could “impede her job duties.” He found this assertion to be unfounded, noting instead that as a teacher, Ms. Wood’s students achieved test scores higher than the district average.

Additionally, the state argued that Ms. Wood’s identity itself was at odds with the state’s teachings on gender and sexuality, and thus she could be barred. This argument, based on a novel legal theory, was found by the judge to be entirely unsupported by court precedent.

This case is not the only recent legal action addressing this topic. Two weeks prior, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that repeated and intentional misgendering could constitute a hostile work environment. Similarly, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that teachers do not have the religious right to misgender transgender students. While the Florida case did not grant Ms. Wood an injunction on the basis of a hostile work environment, it does not preclude the possibility that it might recognize she experienced such an environment in addition to the First Amendment violation identified by the judge when the case is fully heard.

It is important to note that although defendants are barred from enforcing the law against Ms. Wood, the injunction is currently limited only to the teacher. However, should other teachers be threatened with retaliation under similar circumstances, it is likely they would also prevail. Similarly, this case will likely be cited in other attempts to bar transgender students and teachers from using their pronouns in school settings nationwide.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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The White House

New Director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy named

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director

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Francisco Ruiz, incoming Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). (Photo Credit: Official White House photo)

By Amber Laenen | WASHINGTON – Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Federal Government

FDA planning to lift ban on gay & bi sperm donors

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Rob Salerno | WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bi men.

The Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

Men who have sex with men have been barred from donating sperm since 2005

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bi, and trans people, and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed twenty years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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National

Unprecedented spike to ban library books, 65% increase in 2023

Efforts to ban or challenge library books across the nation has had a sharp focus on titles addressing LGBTQ+ themes

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Stacks of books being banned or challenged in schools & libraries in South Carolina. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News 60 Minutes)

CHICAGO, Ill. – The American Library Association (ALA) has reported an unprecedented spike in efforts to ban or challenge library books across the nation, with a sharp focus on titles addressing LGBTQ+ themes.

According to the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report for 2024, there was a 65% increase in censorship actions in 2023, with over 4,240 unique titles coming under scrutiny.

Leading the charge against these books for the third year in a row is “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, facing 106 challenges for its depiction of LGBTQ+ life and alleged explicit content. Other prominently challenged books include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, and “Flamer” by Mike Curato, all critiqued for similar reasons.

This wave of censorship is not confined to any single area but is a national phenomenon, with public libraries reporting a 92% uptick in censorship attempts. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles data on these challenges to inform the public about censorship’s reach and impact on libraries and schools. However, it emphasizes that the reported figures likely underrepresent the true scale of the issue.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, highlighted the broader societal implications of these censorship efforts. She pointed out that books addressing gender and sexual identity become battlegrounds over library content, with advocacy groups and political figures often at odds over access to these materials.

The ALA notes that the pushback against LGBTQ+-themed books is part of a wider trend of censorship, including objections to racial themes, sex education, and other content labeled as explicit. The organization defines a challenge as a formal request to remove library materials for reasons of content or appropriateness, acknowledging that many such disputes either go unreported or lead to preemptive removal by libraries in anticipation of controversy.

As the ALA gears up for another year of advocacy, it calls on supporters to contribute to its efforts to combat censorship and uphold the right to read. With the announcement of “Freed Between the Lines” as the theme for Banned Books Week 2024, the ALA aims to draw attention to and challenge the ongoing efforts restricting access to a diverse range of literary works.

These books, identified by the American Library Association as the most challenged due to their LGBTQ+ content among other reasons, reflect ongoing debates over censorship and access to diverse narratives in libraries and schools across the United States:

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, sex education, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“Flamer” by Mike Curato

Reasons for challenges: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content, rape, drugs, profanity. Although not exclusively an LGBTQIA+ book, it includes significant themes relevant to queer experiences.

“Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, drugs, rape, LGBTQIA+ content.

“Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan

Reasons for challenges: Claimed to be sexually explicit, sex education, LGBTQIA+ content.

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Virginia

Bomb threat interrupts Drag Story Hour at Virginia gay bar

“We had a lot of neighborhood families with kids, babies & one grandmother in there, It was a great turnout, and we had to push them all out”

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From left, Tara Hoot and Freddie Lutz at Freddie's Beach Bar in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Freddie Lutz)

ARLINGTON, Va. – A Drag Story Hour event hosted by the Arlington, Va. gay bar and restaurant Freddie’s Beach Bar was interrupted by a bomb threat sent by email on Saturday, April 6, requiring parents and their children attending the event to exit the bar into its rear outdoor seating area and parking lot until police and a bomb sniffing dog searched the premises and found no trace of a bomb.

Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar, located in the Crystal City section of South Arlington, said the threatening email from an unidentified sender came during the first time he has hosted a Drag Story Hour event, which includes a drag performer reading children’s stories to children accompanied by their parents.

“We had a lot of neighborhood families with kids and babies and one grandmother in there,” Lutz told the Washington Blade. “It was a great turnout, and we had to push them all out to the back parking lot,” he said. “And they waited, which I thanked them for, until the coast was clear. And then they came back in.”

Lutz said that two protesters opposed to the drag event showed up outside Freddie’s on Saturday, at the time of the Drag Story Hour event. He said drag performer Tara Hoot, who conducted the Drag Story Hour at Freddie’s, told him before the event started that some of her previous Drag Story Hour events have been targeted with bomb threats and protesters.

“So, we were kind of prepared or I guess you could say psychologically prepared for it,” Lutz said. “And sure enough, we got an email threatening the bar and also me personally at my residence, which was a little unsettling,” he said, adding that nothing was found at his nearby South Arlington house.

In response to an inquiry from  the Blade, Arlington police released a brief statement about the incident.

‘At approximately 11:15 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the report of a bomb threat emailed to a business,” the statement says. “Responding officers made contact with the occupants, conducted a sweep of the business and found no evidence of criminal activity located at the restaurant during the sweep,” it says. “The investigation into the threat is ongoing.”

Hoot, who has been conducting Drag Story Hour events in the D.C. area for more than a year, said as many as eight of her past events have been targeted by hostile protesters or bomb threats, although no bombs have ever been found at the locations where the events have taken place.  

Hoot said like protesters targeting her previous events, the two protesters at the Freddie’s event, a man and a woman, cited their religious believes as their reason for opposing the Drag Story Hour event.

“They were spewing religious hate,” Hoot told the Blade. “They were trying to shame parents for bringing their kids.”

Hoot said she includes in the performances songs of interest to children and reads from children’s books such as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book that talks about bravery and other positive themes. “And then I give them bubbles and rainbow ribbons and we all color together,” she said. “It’s just fun and love and joy.”

Started in San Francisco in 2015 by an organization called Drag Story Hour, the story hour events have taken place across the country in libraires, bookstores, and venues such as restaurants and bars.

“In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves,” the organization says on its website. 

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